An Epic Christian ‘Fail’- Have Christian Leaders Been Asking the Right Question?

Sep 24, 2021 by David Fowler

An Epic Christian ‘Fail’- Have Christian Leaders Been Asking the Right Question?
The other week a preacher called to ask me a question. I emailed an answer and then emailed again to tell him to disregard it. My answer reminded me of a gathering a few years ago following a terrible decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. I realized I had made the same mistake with him that I believe the leaders of that gathering made.
My mistake ignored the advice of the late legal scholar Phillip Johnson: Make sure that you are asking all the right questions in the right order. 
He said that when we are “too eager to get to the answer,” we “may overlook some of the preliminary questions” because we “do not stop to reflect on why they are important and assume carelessly that [we] must already have answered them.”
Not paying heed to this was the problem with the national gathering, and my answer to the preacher, and, as you’ll see, even my own thinking.

The National Gathering

The gathering was held shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. In that case, the Court decided that three state’s law providing marriage licenses only to male and female parties could not be enforced because violative of the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause.  
The stated purpose of the presenters was to advise Christian policy organizations on what they should now consider doing. I left disappointed. There was not one word about how to challenge or limit the effect of Obergefell. It was all about protecting religious liberty and protecting speech about marriage.
In other words, the assumed first question was, “Can anything could be done to reverse Obergefell or limit its implications across the whole field of family law?” The assumed answer was no. So, the first and only question was, “How do Christians protect themselves?”  
This is not a bad question, but I have come to see that for Christians it is just not the first right question. 

The Preacher’s Question

The preacher’s question to me was a variation of the only question asked at that conference: How do I protect myself and our church from ever having to be forced to solemnize a same-sex marriage?
I understand why the pastor would ask that question. It is a practical question. And, pastors are not generally lawyers or policy people. The legal questions that should have been asked at the conference would never cross their mind. 
But, still, it was not the right first question.

What is the Right First Question?

From a God-centered perspective, the question that should be given ultimate controlling primacy over all others (and in all other situations, too) is: What would be the very best thing I or we could do that would tend toward and point to the glory of God?

How That Question Changes Everything

If that had been the first question asked at the gathering, leaders and participants would have had to examine this question: 
If the civil law now defines marriage without regard to male and female, as just any-two-people-will-do “marriage,” and if Christian ministers are now being asked by our state governments to carry out such a policy, would it be to the glory of God if Christian policy organizations encouraged the ministers to say, “No thank you. It denies the glory of God revealed in creating us male and female and in ordaining their union in marriage. Carry out your policy without us.”
Of course, the answer to this question would have to be a resounding yes, especially since no minister is required by law to carry out a state’s God-denying creational ordinance of male-female marriage and none of them would suffer any civil or criminal sanction for refraining.

But Would That Not Have Created Complications?

Sure, and I suspect that question caused some to turn to protective legislation. But if we had asked the previous question, then here would have been another next right question: 
Do we exist for the glory of God or for the sake of ease or convenience or any other thing that the present world system might value or give as a benefit for accepting its God-denying view of His creational ordinance of marriage? 
Taking the former as the correct answer would then have created another set of questions, but let me skip to the next-to-last one.  

The Penultimate Question

Here it is: 
If government benefits associated with government licensed marriages would be foregone if Christians and Christian ministers stopped participating in their state’s systemic denial of God’s creational ordinance of marriage, is there another way that Christians could have their non-government licensed marriages recognized for the purposes of receiving those governmental benefits?
After six years of work among a small but dedicated group of legal scholars, the answer is yes.  We have found a good and constitutionally sound answer to that question affirmatively. We will have legislation on it in January. 

Pointing the Finger at Myself

However, as just noted, it has taken me six years to work through these questions, and to be honest, I didn’t start with what would most glorify God either. I started with what could I do to reverse Obergefell. That, too, was not the first right question.
But in the process, I came to realize that if reversing Obergefell is the only thing I could that would bring glory to God in the context of that decision and its consequences, then I had a narrow view of the glory of God and of what our society most needs.
What I believe our society needs is a tangible demonstration by those into whose hearts God has shone “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) that seeing Him in His now glorified state, because we will then be like Him (I John 3:20) is the pearl of greatest price and worth.

The Final Question

Given that there is a constitutional way forward by which Christian minsters can solemnize a couple’s marriage without having to sign state forms that on their face repudiate God’s creational ordinance of marriage, will they support it? Will they encourage their congregates to support it? Will professing Christian legislators support it?
In Tennessee, we will find out beginning in January. We will begin to find out where the glory of God ranks among Christian priorities, even if the world is against us.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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