When my grandchildren ask me what I did during the culture wars, I’ll tell them I served behind enemy lines, in Massachusetts.
For more than 20 years, I served as a pastor and worked at newspapers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As a pastor and concerned citizen, I worked against the Gay Rights Bill, originally proposed by then-State Representative Michael Dukakis. As a newspaper editor and political correspondent at the State House in Boston, I covered rallies, debates, legislative hearings, and Constitutional Conventions that had same-sex marriage as their focal point.
Now, what seems to have been inevitable has occurred. Massachusetts leads the nation in permitting homosexuals to hold “wedding ceremonies.”
We can blame the craven and vote-mongering politicians. We can hold accountable the pro-homosexual activists. Certainly both groups deserve some of the blame for the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts. The bulk of the responsibility for the cultural setting that led to such a decision, however, rests squarely upon the church.
There are several reasons for this assertion. Let’s look at just three of them.
Laxity Regarding the Sanctity of Marriage
The church has fallen down in its responsibility to teach about the sanctity of marriage. According to numerous studies, those who think of themselves as Christians, and regularly attend churches, are at least as likely to divorce as are members of the rest of society. George Barna writes, “Born again Christians are just as likely to get divorced as are non-born again adults. Overall, 33% of all born again individuals who have been married have gone through a divorce, which is statistically identical to the 34% incidence among non-born again adults.”1
This results, naturally, from acceptance within churches of the cultural norm regarding marriage, divorce, and sexuality. Churches have clubs for the recently divorced, include cohabiting couples in their ministries, and celebrate weddings of Christians to non-Christians. Seldom is heard a discouraging word.
Affirmation, however, is the watchword in many churches. Church signs sport a rainbow to indicate that they are inclusive of all perspectives — especially affirming of homosexuality. Mainstream churches routinely celebrate “unions” of same-sex couples, while maintaining that they will not perform “marriages” for the same couples. On May 17, as Massachusetts legalized the first such “marriages,” R. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote:
As expected, the religious enablers of the homosexual movement were celebrating this “victory” and getting themselves ready for a week of busy wedding schedules. In Cambridge, a multi-faith service called “Blessings on the Eve of History” was held at the historic Christ Church on Sunday night. According to The Washington Post, the service featured ministers and rabbis fanning out in the congregation to bless homosexual couples. In the sermon, Rev. Steven Charleston acknowledged that opponents of same-sex marriage believe such unions “will end civilization as they know it.” He continued: “Perhaps they are right.” The Post reported that the congregation greeted that line with “wild applause.”2
A paucity of Biblical teaching is at the core of the culture wars in general and the crisis regarding marriage in particular. Alleged churches teach from the social agenda rather than God’s word. Tickling the ears of those who will have no part of the Word of Life, these “religious leaders” perpetuate the course of American society away from its Christian memory.
Conservative commentator and well-known evangelical Cal Thomas, wrote on May 19:
“Pro family” groups have given it their best shot, but this debate is over. They would do better to spend their energy and resources building up their side of the cultural divide and demonstrating how their own precepts are supposed to work. Divorce remains a great threat to family stability, and there are far more heterosexuals divorcing and cohabiting than homosexuals wishing to “marry.” If conservative religious people wish to exert maximum influence on culture, they will redirect their attention to repairing their own cracked foundation. An improved heterosexual family structure will do more for those families and the greater good than attempts to halt the inevitable.3
Division in the Ranks
Another way in which the church has helped to create the current situation is through a lack of unity. Out of a combination of political naiveté and mistrust, Massachusetts conservative and Christian groups held one another at arm’s length during the political run-up to the decision by the Supreme Judicial Court. While pro-homosexual rallies routinely drew hundreds of willing and vocal participants, pro-marriage events involved dozens.
Leaders of two of the major pro-marriage groups in Massachusetts often withheld information regarding their plans and schedules from all but their own members. One such leader asked me not to publicize his events because he didn’t want the opposition — the other pro-marriage group — to know what he was doing. He also complained to me that the other group was stealing his members. The result was smaller rallies in which few outside the membership of a particular organization were present. African-American clergy held their own events.
Jealousy between statewide and national organizations also played its part in the debacle in the Bay State. One major Massachusetts activist took offense at the involvement of Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. This publisher of a statewide conservative newspaper wrote several pieces decrying Dobson’s involvement. The content of a “news analysis” titled “Focus on the Family Continues to Use Gay Marriage in Massachusetts as a Means of Making Money” leaves little to the imagination.4 Another editorial by the same publisher asks, “Will ‘Focus on Family’ Push Pres. Bush and Massachusetts into Civil Unions, the Same as California?”5 This well-meaning, concerned Christian man also took aim at the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.
Disagreement between Christians is legitimate. In fact, many Christians are concerned as to whether the Federal Marriage Amendment, which seems to leave the door open for “civil unions,” is worthy of their support. But this turned into a turf war in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, the pro-homosexual lobby, not all of whom agreed that “marriage” was something worth pursuing, banded together in a united, politically savvy movement.
Loss of Our Prophetic Voice
It is the task of the church to both teach and exhibit morality in our “crooked and depraved generation.” Who will listen, however, to a church mired in its own series of moral scandals? Immorality abounds in the churches. And it’s not just the Roman Catholic churches. Protestant churches have enough scandals of their own.
In 1999, the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, leader of the National Baptist Convention, was imprisoned for using his position to bilk and steal more than $4 million. His scam was discovered when his wife burned down a home that Lyons had bought for his mistress.
Jim Bakker was not only involved in an illicit affair, but also allegations that his “ministry,” PTL, had been cheating its followers out of millions of dollars. He was jailed for the latter offense.
Many churches today have no moral compass themselves. They cannot cry out against the excesses and immorality of a generation when they have no basis upon which to base their complaint. According to a January 2004 Barna Update:
Based on interviews with 601 Senior Pastors nationwide, representing a random cross-section of Protestant churches, Barna reports that only half of the country’s Protestant pastors — 51% — have a biblical worldview. Defining such a worldview as believing that absolute moral truth exists, that it is based upon the Bible, and having a biblical view on six core beliefs (the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize), the researcher produced data showing that there are significant variations by denominational affiliation and other demographics.6
If absolute moral truth does not exist for more than half of the nation’s Protestant pastors, then we have nothing to say to the nation on moral issues.
The church has lost its influence with society because it sends mixed messages and because it has no leg to stand upon when it strays from its Biblical moorings. Barna, based upon his constant polling and research on the church, wrote in 2002 that the church “is not among the top dozen influences these days — a far cry from the way things used to be.”7
Because of our timidity, naiveté, and poor understanding of our own faith, the church is often viewed as inconsequential in American society today. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where numerous polls indicate that the majority of the people oppose same-sex marriages, yet the concerns of the Christians are simply swept aside.
Yes, I fought in the trenches in the culture wars. I served in a place that suffered substantial losses. Yet, I know God reigns. If only His people would act like it.
1. Barna Update, www.barna.org. “Born Again Adults Less Likely to Co-Habit, Just as Likely to Divorce,” August 6, 2001.
2. Commentary on website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ( http://www.cbmw.org/rbmw/) “A Day That Will Live in Infamy — May 17 in Massachusetts.”
3. Posted at www.TownHall.com.
4. www.massnews.com, January 6, 2004.
5. www.massnews.com, February 26, 2004.
6. Barna Update, www.barna.org, “Only Half Of Protestant Pastors Have A Biblical Worldview,” January 12, 2004.
7. Barna Update, www.barna.org, “ Barna Responds to Christianity Today Article,” September 17, 2002.