In the wake of this week's Supreme Court rulings hailed by same-sex marriage proponents as a victory, religious leaders who have been traditionally opposed to same-sex marriage are speculating about what to do next.
"The Supreme Court has now ruled on two monumental marriage cases, and the legal and cultural landscape has changed in this country," wrote Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, as a guest columnist for the Christian Post. "But what has changed for us, for our churches, and our witness to the gospel?"
No matter what happens in the future as far as gay marriage is concerned, Moore said, "the gospel doesn't need 'family values' to flourish."
"In fact, it often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it," he continued. "This is an opportunity for gospel witness."
Moore's position is that "same-sex marriage is on the march, even apart from these decisions, and is headed to your community, regardless of whether you are sitting where I am right now, on Capitol Hill or in a rural hamlet in southwest Georgia or eastern Idaho."
And that, he says, is an opportunity that should be seized.
"This gives Christian churches the opportunity to do what Jesus called us to do with our marriages in the first place: to serve as a light in a dark place," Moore wrote. "Permanent, stable marriages with families with both a mother and a father may well make us seem freakish in 21st century culture. But is there anything more 'freakish' than a crucified cosmic ruler? Is there anything more 'freakish' than a gospel that can forgive rebels like us and make us sons and daughters? Let's embrace the freakishness, and crucify our illusions of a moral majority."
However, not all religiously oriented same-sex marriage opponents agree with Moore's assumption of inevitability for gay marriage. Another Christian Post columnist, author Eric Metaxas ("Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy") wrote that "there is nothing 'inevitable' about the redefinition of marriage."
He cited as an example the recent defeat of same-sex marriage legislation in the state of Illinois, noting that if ever same-sex marriage was "inevitable," it was in Illinois, "the bluest of blue states."
"Well, no one bothered to tell the state's African-American pastors," Metaxas said. "As Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage wrote in the National Review, the pastors 'worked hard to reach and convince African-American legislators to stand tall for the truth of marriage.’ ”
According to Metaxas, their efforts paid off, and "Illinois did not succumb to the 'inevitable.’ ”
While the author acknowledged that "we face an uphill battle" with regards to same-sex marriage," he asked: "What else is new?"
"In this battle, the church matters," he said. "All of the church. What happened in Illinois was the result of African-American pastors taking the lead. In other states it may require the leadership of Latino ministers. What matters is that all of God's people stand tall for the truth of marriage."
Similarly, Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, insisted that the Supreme Court decisions, "while disappointing, should embolden proponents of traditional marriage to fight on with even more vigor while we can."
"Same-sex marriage advocates did not get what they wanted, namely a 'Roe v. Wade' for marriage," he said. "The future of marriage remains a dispute open to 'We the People.' The debate on marriage lives on."
While the debate continues, there are a number of voices calling for peaceful, pastoral dialogue on the subject and continued loving outreach to those on both sides of the debate.
"Our public conversation should not begin with opposition to homosexuality, but with our witness for Christ in word and deed," said pastor/author Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, which provides information and research for evangelical pastors. "We need to show grace and friendship to those who struggle, while holding fast to what the scriptures teach. Without hiding our beliefs, we need to look for opportunities to have conversations, build relationships and demonstrate grace."
Christians, he said, should not panic.
"The sky is not falling," he said. "Jesus is still King and God is still sovereign."
Regardless of the Supreme Court rulings, he continued, "your church — as well as mine — has the same mission it did last week: we are to love people and share the Good News of Christ with them. We can't hate a people and reach a people at the same time."
"So don't rant on Facebook," he said. "Don't lose your temper on Twitter. Don't rage to your neighbor or coworkers. Even though the playing field may have changed, the mission of God has not. We are not here to protect our ways and traditions. We exist to show the world the love of Christ and share with the world His good news. No election, referendum or court ruling will ever change that."
"As we stand with conviction, we don't look at our gay and lesbian neighbors as our enemies. They are not," he said. Nor are they "part of some global 'Gay Agenda' conspiracy. They aren't super-villains in some cartoon. They are, like all of us, seeking a way that seems right to them. If we believe marriage is as resilient as Jesus says it is (Mark 10: 6-9), it cannot be eradicated by a vote of justices or a vote of a state legislature."
This is not the time, Moore concluded, "for fear or outrage or politicizing."
"It's a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It's time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.'
"And that's good news."