David Gushee has a stimulating column at RNS arguing that “strident” calls for civil disobedience in the wake of Obergefell are empty. Yes, federal policy now disfavors those who adhere to a traditional definition of marriage, but there really isn’t any relevant way for Christians to disobey the government—at least not where things stand now. Instead, he argues that Christians will have to face the crushing consequences of their views and that they have no appropriate way to “disobey” in order to resist:
It seems very unlikely that government would simply mandate that Christian organizations change such policies. It might, however, withdraw tax-exempt status, not from churches, but from church-related organizations. Or it might ban federal funds, such as government social-service contracts, research grants, or student loans, from going to such organizations. This is not the same thing as simply banning such organizations from adhering to their preferred policies, but for many organizations it remains a nightmare scenario.
There would be no form of civil disobedience available in such cases. In actuality, their real fight would be within the legal and political system, and it is in fact already happening. If these organizations stick to their policies, and if government moves in the direction I have just indicated (which is by no means a certainty), no organizational leader will be arrested or imprisoned. No organization will be raided and padlocked. No civil disobedience strategy will be relevant. Instead, such organizations essentially will be quarantined off from government dollars, with predictably scary bottom-line and reputational effects.
Gushee’s argument here is really strange in light of recent news about the Christians in Oregon who have been ordered by the state of Oregon not speak about their right to run their business in keeping with their Christian conscience. It was civil disobedience to “The Oregon Equality Act” that got them into their current predicament. And now, it is civil disobedience that keeps them speaking-out in spite of the unjust gag-order from the state. This week—of all weeks—it’s astonishing that Gushee would argue that there are no “relevant” paths of civil disobedience for Christians. The Kleins in Oregon have shown us otherwise.
Gushee also argues that if Christians wish to maintain their ancient beliefs about sexuality and marriage, they need “to prepare for the day when they will have to function without continued access to tax-exempt status or government dollars.” If they don’t want to lose tax-exempt status or access to government dollars, they only have two other options:
(1) Christians can change their marriage policies to get in line with Obergefell while not changing their principles. He argues, “They could do this because they decide that their organizational mission is too important to let it die on the hill of LGBT policies.” Gushee apparently thinks that Christian organizations can embrace gay marriage in their policies but not in their values. But what does that even mean? It is a like a husband telling his wife that he accepts monogamy in principle but that monogamy won’t determine the way he actually lives. That is not a recipe for saving a marriage but for destroying it. Likewise, Gushee’s suggestion is not a way for Christian organizations to maintain their Christian identity but for forfeiting it. In reality, this particular “option” is just rank hypocrisy and not really an option for Christians of conscience.
(2) Christians might simply “reconsider their beliefs about LGBT people and their relationships, as some of us have already done,” says Gushee. In short, this means Christians would need to change their views on marriage to get in line with Obergefell. Obviously, Gushee considers this an option because it’s one he himself has already embraced. But here again, the approach is fundamentally flawed. One cannot deny Christ in the name of Christ and think that they come out on the other side as Christian (Titus 1:16). On the contrary, a high-handed embrace of gay marriage is in reality a low road to perdition. The stakes really are that high (Matthew 7:13-15). This “option” isn’t really an option for Christians either.
The only real option for Christians is to remain true to the word of Christ no matter the cost. For some (like the Kleins in Oregon), that will involve civil disobedience. For others, it will involve suffering social and financial sanction. For others, it may cost even more than that. But this is no surprise to us. Jesus was clear up front that following him would require taking up a cross (Matthew 16:24). And he prepared us for this by promising that we would lose nothing here that we wouldn’t receive back and then some in the age to come (Mark 10:29-30).
In reality, our only option is what it always has been—Christ. He is our plan A, plan B, and plan C. It is a narrow path that leads to life, and there is no other way.