WASHINGTON (BP) — Southern Baptists are receiving encouragement to pray before and during the U.S. Supreme Court’s arguments April 28 in a case that likely will determine the fate of legal marriage in America.
Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has urged churches to spend time during worship April 26 in prayer. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has called for Southern Baptists and other Christians to pray during the oral arguments, which will begin at 10 a.m. Eastern April 28.
In the landmark case, the Supreme Court will consider whether the U.S. Constitution requires a state to license or recognize a marriage between people of the same sex. It is expected the justices will issue an opinion before they adjourn this summer. If so, same-sex marriage could be legal throughout the country by the first of July or states could maintain their authority to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The case has drawn massive attention from both proponents of gay marriage and advocates for biblical/traditional marriage. More than 145 friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed with the high court. As a measure of the gravity of what is at issue, the justices have reserved two and a half hours for oral arguments, which normally are 60 minutes in length.
Another indication of the case’s significance came Thursday (April 23), when 35 American religious leaders — including ERLC President Russell Moore — defended marriage and religious freedom in an open letter to government officials.
In a blog post Wednesday (April 22), Floyd encouraged churches to “take 10 minutes for marriage” April 26.
“Surely, on this pivotal Sunday, every evangelical church can at least pray for marriage to be upheld in this country,” wrote Floyd, pastor of the multi-campus Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
Floyd included the following guidance in his post:
— “Pray for the [court], the attorneys who will present their arguments, and ultimately for the truth to prevail, upholding marriage as we believe it biblically and have practiced it traditionally since the beginning of time.
— “Pray for God to sustain each of us and prepare us to live humbly before Him and others regardless of the decision released this summer.”
The ERLC is calling for Christians to participate in its Pray for Marriage initiative, Executive Vice President Phillip Bethancourt said in an April 23 blog post, because:
— “[M]arriage is worth fighting for.
— “[Marriage is a picture of the Gospel designed to show the way God works in rescuing a bride for Christ through his self-sacrificial love.
— “[E]very child deserves to grow up in a home with a mom and a dad. It is the best environment for them to flourish in as one who is made in the image of God.
— “[M]arriage serves the common good by encouraging family stability in a way that engenders community stability.”
In a sample prayer guide the ERLC asked Christians to pray in these ways: Everyone, including government officials, would honor marriage; the justices would be receptive to the arguments in defense of the states’ authority to limit marriage to a heterosexual union; the lawyers arguing in behalf of the states would be persuasive; advocates for gay marriage would understand and respect the views of advocates for biblical marriage; and the court would issue a favorable opinion for biblical/traditional marriage but Christians would plan for an adverse ruling.
Russell Moore, the ERLC’s president, said in an April 7 post that Christians, most importantly, “must pray that, regardless of whether our land’s highest court recognizes the unchangeable or not, we will hold steadfast. We must love our neighbors enough to have the confidence of people who have heard a word from God and the compassion of a people who are on mission with God.”
Both Moore and Floyd have warned of the danger to religious freedom if the court alters the legal definition of marriage.
“[T]he continual attack that is already taking place on religious liberty will be escalated,” Floyd said in his April 22 post. “If we lose the freedom of religion, then all the freedoms we have today will begin to diminish.”
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 37 states, nearly tripling the 13 states where it was legal in mid-2013. It also is legal in the District of Columbia. Court rulings have produced legal gay marriage in more than two-thirds of those states.
The expansion of same-sex marriage has resulted in a growing clash between the rights of gay couples and the religious freedom of individuals and organizations. Florists, bakers, photographers and other business owners who have conscientious objections to providing their services for same-sex ceremonies have been penalized or are facing penalties for their refusal.
The April 23 letter from 35 religious leaders called for “the preservation of the unique meaning of marriage in the law, and for renewed respect for religious freedom and for the conscience rights of all in accord with the common good.”
Marriage between a man and a woman “is the only institution that encourages and safeguards the connection between children and their mother and father,” the signers said. “Although this connection cannot always be realized and sustained — and many single parents, for example, are heroic in their efforts to raise their children — it is in the best interests of the state to encourage and uphold the family founded on marriage and to afford the union of husband and wife unique legal protection and reinforcement.”
Redefining legal marriage will seriously affect religious liberty, according to the letter. “Government should protect the rights of those with differing views of marriage to express their beliefs and convictions without fear of intimidation, marginalization or unwarranted charges that their values imply hostility, animosity, or hatred of others,” the religious leaders said.
The ERLC’s Moore said in a written statement release, “I’m happy to stand with a broad coalition of convictional leaders to say that marriage matters, and religious freedom does too. We cannot allow the most important institution of the creation order to be ignored simply because it is no longer fashionable. We also cannot let conscience and religious exercise become captive to whatever the majority wills at the moment.”
In addition to Moore, other signers of the letter organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) included Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Leith Anderson, president, National Association of Evangelicals; Joseph Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville, Ky., and USCCB president; Eugene Rivers, president, Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies; and Gus Reyes, director, Christian Life Commission, Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Among leaders of various faith groups endorsing the letter were Presbyterians, Assemblies of God, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Wesleyans, General Baptists, Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Mormons and Muslims.
The Supreme Court’s oral arguments will come in a case from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which became in November the first federal appellate court to rule that states have the authority to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. Five other appeals courts have invalidated state laws that prohibited gay marriage. The opinion by the Sixth Circuit Court, based in Cincinnati, took place in challenges to laws in the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
Courts have overwhelmingly issued opinions in favor of gay marriage since the Supreme Court struck down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, saying it violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize same-sex marriages. Though the high court refused to say states could not limit marriage to heterosexual couples, most courts have used the decision as a basis for striking down state laws that define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The case is Obergefell v. Hodges.