Arguments over same-sex marriage played out in the U.S. Supreme Courton Tuesday, but many religious groups opposed to gay marriage aren’t waiting for a ruling.
A court ruling expected two months from now could sanction same-sex marriage nationwide. In anticipation, some congregations and religious advocacy groups are re-emphasizing their teachings on marriage, fine-tuning their approach to gays and lesbians and bracing for legal battles and public criticism.
“The outcome of this decision will shape the landscape of the church’s ministry in the U.S. for generations to come,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. In an interview, he added, “If we have a redefinition of marriage across the board by judicial decree then the church will have a responsibility more than ever to articulate what marriage is in the first place.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S.’s largest Protestant denomination, is preparing a video series and booklets on marriage and how to address homosexuality, Mr. Moore said. The church is hosting symposiums for pastors on “teaching the biblical witness to marriage” while also “equipping them to minister to gay and lesbian people who don’t agree with us,” he said.
Gay marriage is already legal in 36 states plus the District of Columbia, and the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, released in March, showed support for gay marriage at an all-time high of 59%, nearly double the 30% support in 2004.
While many religious groups and congregations accept openly gay members, a segment of believers remains opposed to homosexuality and gay marriage and fears the ruling could further marginalize their position.
“We’ve reached a stage of vilification,” Wallace Henley a columnist for the Christian Post, wrote last week. American Christians who oppose gay marriage, he wrote, must be prepared to live like persecuted “first century Roman Christians.”
This month, a group of more than 30 religious leaders—including a Muslim imam, a Mormon bishop and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—signed an open letter to public officials urging them to respect the beliefs of those who oppose gay marriage.
“For many people, accepting a redefinition of marriage would be to act against their conscience and to deny their religious beliefs and moral convictions,” the letter says.
In Michigan, where gay marriage is illegal, the Roman Catholic Church is running television ads this week “honoring traditional marriage.” The church’s seven dioceses in Michigan are celebrating a year of activities to provide “a precise understanding of why marriage between one man and one woman is important for families,” according to its website.
A spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference, which is spearheading the effort, said the church believed it was important to “be part of the conversation.”
Other churches are developing ways to include gay worshipers while refusing to condone same-sex unions—a practice that could increase if same-sex marriage is legalized across the country.
For example, a few gay parents have wanted to baptize their children in the Greek Orthodox Church, which opposes same-sex marriage. Bishops and priests might consider applying a broad principle that allows for infants to be baptized even if their parents are living outside of church teachings—as long as their godparents are in good standing with the church, said the Rev. Nathanael Symeonides, ecumenical officer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
“The church would not deny the child,” he said, adding, “A priest would never have to deal with this until recently.”
The Rev. Nathan Lino, senior pastor of the Northeast Houston Baptist Church in Texas, said he is spending more time blogging and preaching about how to handle a possible legalization of gay marriage. His 12-year-old church of 1,000 congregants opposes homosexuality, but he said he is advising his followers to speak gently with their children and others who may have different views.
“We are teaching our people very practically to think through relationships with people in the LBGT community,” he said. One way is to promote a “holistic view” of marriage—that any deviation from the biblical view of marriage, including premarital sex, is wrong, he said.
Christians in his congregation aren’t advised to go into the corporate world “to crusade” against gay marriage, he said. But, if they are asked about it directly, “they have to be honest about it and face the consequences,” Mr. Lino said.