Supreme Court Concerns
With the United States Supreme Court set to announce soon its decision on a case involving the issue of gay marriage — a decision which could have the effect of radically redefining the God-ordained, millenia-old institution of marriage — growing concern is being expressed by some Christian leaders and cultural conservatives that a ruling in favor of gay marriage could have the effect of potentially opening the door for Christian non-profit organizations and even Christian churches which hold to the traditional understanding of marriage having their tax-exempt status revoked. Should such a scenario unfold, it could have a devastating impact upon such Christian organizations and churches, including the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which clearly affirms biblically-defined marriage in its Confession of Faith: “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is is lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time.” (Westminster Confession of Faith 24.1; Scripture proof texts: Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6; Rom. 7:3; Prov. 2:17)
Ministers and other church officers in the OPC solemnly promise before God in their ordination vows to uphold the church’s confessional standards and their teachings, including their teaching on the doctrine of marriage. The OPC’s confessional standards can only be changed by action of the General Assembly through a complicated, time-consuming process, and it is highly unlikely that the church would ever consider changing this basic definition of marriage or allowing for “wiggle room” on the question of gay marriage.
What would happen if such a scenario (i.e., the threat of losing tax exempt status for not supporting gay marriage) should play itself out? In such circumstances some Christian organizations and churches would no doubt capitulate and compromise their principles by going along with the redefinition of marriage, just to keep in the good graces of popular thinking and thus avoid having their tax exempt status revoked. Such churches and organizations would thereby lose the integrity and moral authority of their witness, and would show by their compromise that their real loyalty lies with mammon (money) rather than God (Matt. 6:24). They might also find themselves experiencing losses of both membership and financial support on the part of members or former supporters who become upset by their compromise. Other churches will accept such punitive taxation as a cross to bear for the sake of their Christian witness. They will retain the moral authority and integrity of their Christian witness, but very likely at the cost of shrinking financial support and further cultural marginalization. Larger church communions such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Church and various independent megachurches might be able to absorb such punitive taxation without too much difficulty, but smaller denominations (like the OPC) would likely find themselves having to further trim back their ministries and having to close many of their churches. Still other churches may refuse, on principle, to pay such punitive taxation, and will perhaps find ways to operate “underground” (perhaps in ways similar to Christians in China who are involved in the many unregistered and thus “illegal” underground churches there). Whichever route these churches and organizations take, such circumstances would present them with many challenges and difficulties.
What should we as believers do in light of these recent Supreme Court concerns? What should we think of all this? Here are just a few thoughts I have on this subject.
First of all, I think it may be premature to worry too much about churches losing their tax exempt status over this issue. Even if the Supreme Court rules in a way that officially endorses gay marriage, I suspect that few gay activist organizations would go after the tax exempt status of churches. After all, orthodox Christian churches are not the only religious bodies which support the traditional definition of marriage (and thereby stand opposed to gay “marriage”). Various non-Christian religious bodies are also strongly in favor of traditional marriage and thus strongly opposed to gay marriage, including Orthodox Jews, traditionalist Muslims, etc. If activist gay organizations were to seek through punitive litigation to strip Christian churches of their tax exempt status due to such churches’ position on gay marriage, but did not bring similar litigation against Muslim Mosques or Jewish Synagogues or traditionalist Hindu Temples, then the anti-Christian bias which many of us suspect is already there, barely under the surface, would become so blatant and obvious that I think we would see a strong backlash against such intolerance. Gay activist organizations have been very savvy, strategically-speaking, in promoting their agenda, so I think they would see going after the tax exempt status of Christian churches, to the exlusion of non-Christian religions, to be strategically-unwise.
On the other hand, I do think that non-profit Christian organizations (such as Christian schools and charities) could face threats to their tax-exempt status, more likely so than churches, should the Supreme Court rule in favor of gay marriage.
Of course, I could be completely wrong about all of this. While I don’t think churches face any imminent threat of losing their tax-exempt status, we as followers of Christ must be prepared for anything. Our world and our culture in the United States have been changing so rapidly in recent decades that almost anything is possible. Whatever the future holds, we must continue to be faithful to Christ and to our confession of faith, whatever opposition or persecution may threaten us.
Another thing to keep in mind in all of this cultural madness is that even if the Supreme Court rules in a manner that has the effect of redefining marriage to include “gay marriage,” that will not change the reality of real marriage, as defined by God and observed throughout the millenia of human history. “Gay marriage” is, quite frankly, a legal fiction. A gay couple who gets legally-wed may be “married” in the eyes of the State; but they are not truly married in the eyes of Almighty God. Man-woman marriage is an ordinance of the Creator God, not an invention of humanity nor a mere product of thousands of years of social evolution. Therefore only God has the authority and right to define marriage (which He does through both natural and biblical law). Neither popular sentiment nor the civil government can change the reality of what actual marriage, as defined by Almighty God, is. Gay marriage only exists in the land of make-believe, not in the real world as God created it. Real man-woman marriage in the eyes of God will continue as long as history continues, even if faux-marriages such as “gay marriage” are legalized by a civil authority with an anti-Christ disposition.
Finally, I would encourage all of us to pray earnestly for the Justices of our Supreme Court as they make this significant decision. Pray for God to give them wisdom and humility, and pray that they might make this decision with great care and in the fear of God. A decison on their part to redefine the God-ordained institution of marriage would amount to a collective shaking of the fist in the face of the Almighty, and they would surely answer to the ultimate Supreme Court, the Tribunal of Almighty God, on Judgment Day, should they commit such a blasphemy. For the sake of their spiritual well-being, and for the sake of our nation’s well-being, let us be in earnest prayer for them in the days ahead.