One of the hot political topics over the last several years has been the issue of marriage as it relates to the LGBT or homosexual community. With the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision today and 2012 being a major election year, we’re certainly going to be hearing a lot of rhetoric surrounding this topic once again.

This has become a major rallying point for many in the conservative community, especially the [incredibly] influential evangelical movement in America. The standard position among Evangelical Christians has been one against the redefining of marriage. Thus many conservatives have funded campaigns to legally define marriage as being between a man and a women. At the outset I want to make it very clear that I believe and agree with the conservative position on this issue.

This is a theological issue. God ordained marriage as being between a man and a woman. Every culture has a basic framework for this family relationship because every culture grew out of God’s initial creation as described in the book of Genesis. The question I seek to tackle here is how we, the church, ought to engage in this discussion as we move forward into the 21st century.

This is a divisive issue. As a result of its divisiveness, it is used (like abortion and immigration) as a political weapon in campaigns to pit groups against one another and influence votes. Other than division, very little ever results from the political campaign rhetoric.

Losing the war of words

This debate has shifted, and although some “battles” have been won on the conservative side, the momentum has begun to slide to the other side, because the phraseology of the debate has changed. Such as in the debate over abortion, where we, conservatives, are now deemed “anti-abortion”, whereas they are “pro-choice”. Likewise, an ever so slight wording change has shifted the discussion over marriage. The discourse has moved from that of marriage to civil rights. We are now the “anti-rights” camp, and they, “pro-rights.” As a result, the generation called “Millennials” (those born between 1980 and 2000) are now moving into voting age and are largely pro gay marriage. Millennials will be the largest voting demographic for the next generation, therefore, as it stands now, within the next 20 years we will see the legalization of homosexual marriage in America (as well as the likely legalization of marijuana). This presents us, the church, with an incredibly difficult situation. Or is it actually an opportunity?

Changing the debate

I do believe that there is a better way wherein we can turn this discussion around, while maintaining a footing from which the church can speak into our culture in the years to come.

I do not know a single American Christian who does not love his/her civil liberties. That being the case, we should agree with the LGBT community that they should not in any way be denied civil liberties. This is not a religious issue, it’s constitutional. We are quick to cry foul when we think our rights are being infringed upon but not so quick to do so when the rights of others are endangered. We must be consistent in our position, therefore we ought to be pro rights in this area also. The question is, how can we be pro rights while maintaining a biblical position?

Yes, we believe that homosexual behavior is sin. We do not think that the institution of marriage can be redefined, for it was ordained and defined by God. Therefore, since marriage is a religious institution, and the public sector of our nation desires to maintain a separation of church and state, we the church, ought to petition our government to remove themselves from the discussion of marriage, by having them refuse to continue in providing marriage licenses. In the place of marriage licenses the government should grant civil unions only. They would determine who receives such unions and the rights associated with them. (As a side note, the government needs to clearly define who should receive such rights, as we are quickly moving in a direction wherein we have no ability to draw a line between who receives rights and who does not. In such a case we would have no ground from which to say that polygamist, pedophile or incestuous unions could not be valid).

If the church would spearhead this move, we would carry the discussion in a whole new direction. Marriage would maintain its religious definition as being a God ordained union between a man and a woman. Churches would continue to preform marriages under God’s ordered institution, while requiring those being married to also receive a legal civil union through the state, and then, we would no longer be portrayed as those taking rights from those seeking them.  Additionally, I think such a move by the church would bring to light that many within the LGBT community have a deeper motivation than the legal redefinition of marriage.

This is, by the way, not a new or original idea; Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz wrote on the subject in an LA Times op-ed in December of 2003, and many others have weighed in since that time.  There may be a number of issues I am overlooking as I open this discussion, but at the very least I think it is a discussion we need to have.


29 replies
  1. James N. Stretchberry
    James N. Stretchberry says:

    Pastor, executive director of para church outreach in 4 countries. Blessed husband of Patricia (42 years), father of 3 wonderful girls… This concept is widely used in Europe and I have MARRIED many believers in Europe after the government civil union…. If we have not LOVE we have NOTHING…..

    • Jim Vander Spek
      Jim Vander Spek says:

      I think you are on the right track, James. If the term “marriage” is debased by the government, Christian pastors should simply quit providing this service. They should ask believers to first become “married” in front of a judge when they pick up their marriage license and then follow it up with a Christian wedding. This would give a clear message that there is a difference between the two and remove the threat of Gay activists causing trouble for churches.

      • Miles DeBenedictis
        Miles DeBenedictis says:


        This is the essence of what I’m saying. The church should seek for a clear distinction to me made between “marriage” and whatever institution the government provides (i.e. civil unions).

        • Jim Johnston
          Jim Johnston says:

          I can’t keep up with you heavy hitters, but one major problem would seem to me to be all the “churches” led by LGBT pastors who would go right on “marrying” gay and other combination couples and snub their noses at the bible-believing Christian church. The government, in its blindness, would give its approval to any “church” out of fear of being discriminatory.

          • Jim Vander Spek
            Jim Vander Spek says:

            Maybe Christians should lead the charge and demand that since the term-“marriage”-has been redefined and so detached from its Biblical, cultural and historic roots by the state, no religious group of any type should be given the right to perform such a legal ceremony. What they have created, including homosexual unions, easy divorce, etc may be called marriage but it is not, so why play along with it? Calling a pig a horse does not make it a horse. Let them own it.

          • Miles DeBenedictis
            Miles DeBenedictis says:

            Yes, definitely agree!

            Whatever the government does in redefining marriage, we (the church) will not agree with their definition. So I say, reframe the debate entirely and lead the charge.

          • Ken Jacobs
            Ken Jacobs says:

            As far as the LGTB churches that would perform marriages: No problem. Some churches sprinkle babies for baptism, some believe in “believer” baptism by immerssion. There is no obligation to accept a person as being baptised from one church to another. So a church would not be under obligation to accept another churches ‘marriage certificate.” This would free Bible believing congregations from the lawsuits for not recognizing gay marriage, especially in the areas of service and employment.

  2. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    I am totally with you about the uselessness and damage caused by political rhetoric.

    Regarding the wording (maybe there is more than wording) about differentiating between civil union and marriage….

    How does that really make a difference, except that the government can’t force us to perform marriages, should your suggested trajectory get traction.

    What’s the dif? Could you unpack that a bit more?


    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      The issue is that we in the church would say, “There is no difference between the civil union a homosexual couple has have and the civil union we have. The only difference is that we recognize a higher authority for our lives and practice, and therefore submit to another covenantal union before God that is separate from that of the state… which is in our view, more binding.”

      Does that help?

  3. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Miles, you’re right about the need to discuss & I think it’s moving in a realistic, although uncomfortable, direction. If we don’t face up to it, we’ll really regret it. I have more questions than thoughts…sorry.

    How far do we need to go in defining, or redefining terms and “rights” and will this resolve anything? As you said, the LGBT community can keep winning that battle since there more aggressively vocal/active about it.

    In making the separation between civil unions and religious unions (did I get that right?), will we be creating a greater division between “us and them”? My concern is building a greater wall than exists already. Remember the bumper sticker, “If marriage is outlawed, only out-laws will have in-laws”?

    How do we win, disciple and engage the Millennials? I don’t think we can win the war of words, but if we win hearts of people (bringing them into God’s Kingdom) that will redefine culture.

    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      All good questions… I’m not sure I have the best answers, but I think the discourse is needed.

      One of my concerns is that we seem to be trying to win a political battle more than people engaged in it. I don’t think we need to define or redefine the term “marriage,” as God already did that for us. So, my primary point is that marriage is a God ordained institution and not something that needs to have a political definition. Therefore, my hope would be that we move marriage into the “Church” category and the rights granted those who are united civilly into the “state” category. If our society wants to promote the separation of church and state, then we the Church should ardently agree on this point.

      You may be right; such a clear separation could create greater division. My question would be, can there be a greater division than there is right now when we (i.e. the Church) are pegged as the promoters of hate? My thought is that a move like this could remove a lot of the issue from the table. We say, “We’re going to have the same kind of civil union you are, and within our churches we’re going to also have the institution of religious marriage.”

      Just kind of rambling here.

      How do we disciple and engages Millennials? Same way we’ve discipled and engaged every other generation. The word of God is supra-generational.

      • Trip Kimball
        Trip Kimball says:

        True, the Word is our standard to work with, but I believe using storying and discussion as a means of teaching/ discipleship is far more effective than “stand & deliver” methods (lecture-style). To be sure, there’s a need for both, but the open participation style is much more engaging & open to approach for those who are not grounded in the Word, or simply disinterested.

        Yeah, the separation of state & church… I get that, but I hate to see us retreat behind that wall, so to speak. Maybe a better question, How do we maintain our integrity and still be open to dialog with the LGBT community? I just feel we (the US church) are either so immersed in culture we’ve lost our saltiness, or so isolated & disconnected we’re choking on our own saltiness.

        But, I think the distinction is fair and may be necessary to maintain in spite of the cost of disconnection. Hmmm, maybe we need some wisdom & discernment from the Holy Spirit… boy do we ever.

      • Don steigerwald
        Don steigerwald says:

        Division is Not a bad thing. Righteousness is devicive.
        I don’t have a problem with walls, God put them there to keep people out of His Kingdom unless they come through the Door.
        We need to open the Door to them, not breakdown the wall.

        Miles, your idea is right on. It is the idea that is most in line with the truth about marriage as well as it accurately places the government back within it’s constitutional limits, I.e. civil unions.
        Marriage is a religious institution. The government is to make no laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion, nor is it to promote a specific religion and therefore, religious practice. I think the Churches biggest mistake has been, in years past (and present), trying to us Gobvernment to enforce righteousness.
        Marriage licensing should be stopped immediately, as it is a breech in the wall of this righteous institution which was ordained by God to be between one man and one woman and cannot be redefined by a Government or anyone else for that matter.

  4. Gunnar Hanson
    Gunnar Hanson says:

    Okay, I skimmed this to be forthright from the start. There seems to be a divorcing Judea-Christian values from our government…the very values that have set apart our country for the last 200 years. Our current form of government is one where the people have an opportunity to vote for their values. It seems Christians should be voting regarding this issue.

    Unfortunately liberal California courts have out right ignored the vote of the people. This issue here is not rights, it is definition of marriage. Every person is allowed to legally marry one person of the opposite gender. I find it funny that those who oppose the biblical definition get mad when I suggest we move the line in further based on their logic…multiple spouses, animals, or inanimate objects like the girl who wanted to marry a building in Oregon last month that was denied.

    It seems that in our form of government Christians should continue to vote their values, but more importantly we should fight for our marriages that are falling apart at large…

  5. John Verber
    John Verber says:


    I agree with Pastor Miles almost completely. My feeling is that Christ said “”Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…”. In this land, where we have the right to contest (and complain about) just about everything, it’s difficult to gauge when to pick our battles in my humble opinion. I’m not too sure if we are looking to God’s Kingdom, why are we so worried about this in the first place? I mean I don’t see people walking through the streets, picket lines, or signs about stopping other people from murdering each other. No one is signing petitions to stop murder? It is just as much a sin as homosexuality. Why is the whole LGBT issue so hot?

    So with my quote from Mark12:17, my point is this; why don’t people just look at this situation as they do other sins? Why not notice a gay married couple and just pray for them? Drop a church flier on them? Treat them like we seem to do everything else that isn’t right in God’s eyes? There are ministries for the prison system (as well there should be). Church members speak with people who have murdered 2 or 3 or more people, look upon them with pity, prayer for them. But, two days later that same person is at a rally all fired up against Gay rights, screaming Lord knows what.

    I guess this is more of a question. You don’t have to sell me on the sinfulness of homosexuality. I’m sold already. But I don’t understand anything but this, many many Christian churches hit the picket lines and rallied against another Act of the Government that was being considered in the past. I believe around the 1960’s or so. Is this more of the same thing for people? More of a anti-“this type of person” situation? (I know it’s not quite the same thing). We were all born sinners. Will God be more harsh to homosexuals than those of you who cheat on your taxes? Who knows. All I know is this, I’m a sinner. I know I’m saved through Christ. I can get heated on a number of issues but at the end of the day, I need to try and be as Christ-like as possible. Despite my failings at it a lot, this does not include pointing the finger at anyone.

    John 3:17 says “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”. Sometimes I wonder if Christ were walking among us today, would he be throwing down the gauntlet on these types of people or would he be saying “Come follow me?” Just a thought.

  6. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Miles – interesting thoughts and issues. Is it possible that we have come so far that the distinction between civil union and marriage cannot be sundered – at least for the straight community? Here’s what I mean – marriage is seen (I think) not only as a civil union, but a commitment with some kind of spiritual/religious dimension to it. Even those who don’t necessarily believe in God or go to church, even those who have their wedding in a court house by a ‘secular’ judge and not in a church by a spiritual ‘pastor/priest’ revel in the fact that they are ‘married.’ Even those partnerships that have passed the seven year mark and are legally considered as civil unions, so often, one of the two still want to get ‘married.’ Civil union seems like the beta version of marriage to them.

    Hebrews 13:4 says that marriage is to be held in honor among all. Marriage is not just for Christians, but for non-Christians, too. No matter what kind of semantic and legal tinkering is done, to withhold the status of ‘married’ to only those weddings conducted by or recognized by the church is to introduce some kind of a caste system into the already churning demographics.

    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:


      I’ll readily admit your point. We may not be able to separate the two at this point. We’re pretty far down the path now. It is such a divisive point in 2012, that maintaining Biblical consistency (which is a non-negotiable) and keeping cultural connection could be very difficult, on this point.

      You’re closer to the epicenter than I am down here in San Diego. I live in a fairly conservative county. On this issue, as well as the immigration situation, I feel that our discourse needs to change. Many in our area come across as anti-gay and anti-immigrant (meaning that we seem bigoted toward the individual) even if they don’t have any true prejudice. I perceive that most of this is fueled by politicians who use these issues to garner votes. I’d love very much to take this [as a weapon] away from said politicians.

  7. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Miles, you write that we might not be able to separate the two whereas I question whether we, or anybody, should separate the two. You can change the discourse all you want, but you don’t change the presuppositions. The battle of discourse may be won, but the war of presuppositions wages on. You can take one weapon away from the enemy and he’ll just forge another one.

    I heard one TV commentator say yesterday that the woman responsible for the Komen defunding of Planned Parenthood had resigned. It was said something like this: “The woman responsible for defunding Planned Parenthood’s ability to do mammograms on poor and ‘at risk’ women has resigned…” Of course, abortion wasn’t even mentioned. Don’t forget – a snake can slither out of many places.

    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:


      I still think we’re missing a bit of the focus. Our nation and government are not Christian institutions, therefore I just don’t expect them to hold the position that you and I will always hold to, nor do I think we should — even if we could — try to get them to do so. The government has separated civil unions from marriage, we don’t want, or even believe it’s possible, a redefining of what marriage is. Therefore from a policy perspective, have everyone get civil unions.

      • Tim Brown
        Tim Brown says:

        Hi, Miles – our government and nation are not Christian institutions, as you mention, yet they have been formed by Christians and informed by Scripture. And there is much Christian ‘residue’ in our culture. The parameters of the changed discourse you are suggesting are far wider than just political ones. Marriage is part of the warp and woof of American consciousness. Its psychological and emotional parameters are much wider than its political ones. Separating marriage from civil unions for heterosexual couples would face stern resistance psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually as the majority of the populace would go, “Huh?” Reeducating America on one of its most basic institutions would be a daunting task as well as facing stiff resistance from many is favor of same sex marriage.

        Fight on – but I would suggest another battle field.

  8. Jeff Miles
    Jeff Miles says:


    I largely agree with what you are saying in principle. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the term “civil union” will be enough. The term “marriage” has already been co-opted by the LGBT to the extent that any other term will not be acceptable. The proverbial cow is already out of the barn.

    The burden is going to have to be on the Christian church to define it’s terminology more clearly in the future. Maybe the church will have to start using a term like “Christian Marriage” or some such thing. (This is similar to the way Christians began to refer to themselves as “born again Christians” to try to distinguish themselves from “cultural Christians.” Some Christians use the term “Christ Follower” in an attempt to do a similar thing.)

    Interesting and challenging times we are living in.

    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:


      I basically agree… I think the LGBT community has a bigger goal than the redefining of marriage. I’m convinced that the framing of this issue as one of civil rights is for the purpose of [ultimately] silencing the message against homosexuality as a sinful practice. If it’s raised to the level of race or gender, then any such speech against it as a practice will be discriminatory language, and clearly a prosecutable offense. Certainly that’s where we’re headed.

      One way or another we need to change the debate. Either we move in the direction of civil unions for all (as the government sees it), or we push for a further distinction between traditional vs. covenantal marriage.

  9. Jim Vander Spek
    Jim Vander Spek says:

    The covenant marriage movement has pretty well fizzled out. Even states that allow it see very few takers. Marriage and no fault divorce as prescribed by law and managed by family courts is causing young men to avoid the responsibility. As one successul young man described it, “Women just see me as a sperm spewing wallet.” This is a much bigger issue than homosexual unions. Very few homosexuals actually get married anyway. The culture will continue to define marriage in lots of unique ways. The tie to its religious roots and values is ever more tenuous. I agree with you, Miles, Christians who make marriage vows should be clearly taught that they are agreeing to something much more than being subject to human laws which are evolving and flawed. I think a good place to start is for both parties to agree to a form of biblical covenant marriage union, with rights and divorce contingencies clearly spelled out. It may not be enforcable, but would still be morally binding. If a Christian makes such a vow, they would not be able to use our civil laws as cover.

  10. James N. Stretchberry
    James N. Stretchberry says:

    Miles, I belong to a Tuesday night discussion group of 12 men (6 believers and 6 confused fellows) highly intellectual and all very accomplished… Anyway I brought this discussion to the table last night and it was interesting that a former White House insider/advisor said that if a “civil union” approach was adopted it would require every state to adopt it individually… Complex to say the least… Secondly a law professor mentioned that if “Gay Rights Marriage” is adopted across the USA (which he believes is inevitable) any pastor refusing to marry a gay couple will jeopardize there licensing and/or non profit status… Interested in your response to this dialogue???

    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      I agree with both points; as I mentioned above in a previous comment response…

      “I’m convinced that the framing of this issue as one of civil rights is for the purpose of [ultimately] silencing the message against homosexuality as a sinful practice. If it’s raised to the level of race or gender, then any such speech against it as a practice will be discriminatory language, and clearly a prosecutable offense. Certainly that’s where we’re headed.”

      This does come down to a States Rights issue, or should. As it climbs the judicial ladder it will be interesting to see how it is handled. We’ve already seen a federal court weigh in with the 9th Circuit’s decision, now we’ll see it make the way up to the Supreme Court.

  11. Robert Knox
    Robert Knox says:

    Thank you Miles, I enjoyed reading this blog and it really helped me see a defensible solution to the current divide our country is experiencing on this issue.

  12. Duff Joy
    Duff Joy says:

    There are so many aspects to consider in this debate. The biggest concern for the Church is the apparent divide within our own community. The “Christian Church” as seen by the world offers points of views that are in opposition to each other. Even within the “true-church”, those who believe in God’s literal Word, there is division. I believe we must focus on personal outreach to all people, sharing God’s love and redemptive message ! We can and must come together as a Body, your approach is a good starting point, also the marriage counseling for those in the church, the teaching of God’s people will go a long way in restoring the sanctity of marriage within the community. As long as the Church divorce rate equals the world’s we as a community will not have the moral authority to persuade people for Christ! So the basic’s that we are taught at Cross Connection and other places of worship where God’s Word is taught will have a more powerful influence on this debate as real people live out God’s perfect plan.
    We can then be free share God’s love and truth, hoping and praying that we are His Ambassadors!

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