This is a review of a sermon given by the pastor of First Baptist Church of Umatilla, Brooks Braswell, on Baby Dedication Sunday, January 12, 2015. To listen to other sermons (audio or video), go to www.fbcumatilla.org and click About Us and then click Resources. The scripture references for the sermon are Genesis 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 1:10-11, and Revelation 3:16.
The recording of the sermon that is posted online is not the from the service I attended, and my notes are sparse, so there are instances where I’d like to insert a direct quote but can’t. If I unintentionally misrepresent Braswell’s words as a result, it is my hope and prayer that he’ll let me know (I contact pastors with blog links to sermon reviews), and then I’ll update the blog post with his comments. It is especially unfortunate that the sermon video is from a different service, because there were two particular things Braswell said that I wanted to address word-for-word. I’ll identify those later in the blog series.
Braswell begins by following up on last Sunday’s homework for the congregation to call the Lake County Clerk of Court, Neil Kelly, regarding the gay marriage decision. He says,
Out of sixty-seven counties, we were one of thirteen that said, ‘You know what? They’re going to make us hand out the paperwork, but we’re just not going to perform any ceremonies any more.’ and I believe that’s kind of a win. (Applause)
This week’s homework?
1. Write Neil Kelly a letter of encouragement to tell him you support the decision that he’s made, you’re praying for him, and you are encouraged by his stance for the Lord. Why? Brooks explains,
This isn’t an easy thing. People hate him right now, and you may say, “Well, that’s what the Bible says is going to happen, when we live for the Lord, people are going to hate us.” But that doesn’t mean it feels good when people hate you, you know?
2. Get rid of your subscription to the Orlando Sentinel (Brooks calls it “Orlando Slantinel“), call Lauren Ritchie, who wrote this scathing article, tell her “you’re mean,” send her some gospel tracts, and tell her you love her.
Does God approve of gay marriage?
Some believers say yes, some say no, and others have no idea. Yes, yes, you say. All of this is quite obvious. What’s the point?
Well, there’s something going on here that isn’t as obvious. Read on…
Do believers who oppose gay marriage REALLY oppose gay marriage?
There’s a difference between one believing something is wrong and one opposing something that one believes is wrong. Some believers are very vocal about opposing gay marriage.
Braswell considers Neil Kelly’s decision to require employees to issue marriage licenses but forbidding them to hold ceremonies “kind of a win.” Notice the unassuming but extremely important words, “kind of.”
Why is it merely a “kind of” victory and not a complete victory for Braswell and others in Lake County who oppose gay marriage?
Because Kelly can’t tell the Lake County Clerk employees to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
But notice the operative word “can’t.”
Is it humanly possible for Kelly to tell the Lake County Clerk employees to refuse to issue marriage licenses? Yes, of course. He has the ability to communicate. Granted, it would cost him his job, but my point is that no one can force Kelly to make a decision according to a law he believes is wrong.
Let’s take this a step further. Can employees who oppose gay marriage refuse to issue marriage licenses? Yes, they can. Again, they would lose their jobs, but no one can force them to complete the paperwork.
If believers say, “We oppose gay marriage,” yet they choose to prepare marriage licenses for gay couples, what kind of message does this send?
The message I hear is: I oppose gay marriage when it is convenient and safe for me to oppose gay marriage, but my moral conviction to oppose gay marriage crumbles when my paycheck is at stake. Therefore, my moral conviction isn’t as convincing as I say it is.
Later in the sermon, Braswell talks about lukewarm believers. I’ll address this concept in another blog post, but for now, it is suffice to say that believers who say they oppose gay marriage and then don’t oppose gay marriage when they have the perfect opportunity to do so appear to be neither cold nor hot in their convictions. They appear to be comfortably lukewarm people.
Let’s suppose that believers who say, “I oppose gay marriage,” because they are truly convinced that God disapproves of gay marriage, were to act upon their convictions and refuse to prepare marriage licenses even though it’s part of the job description? What if believers were hot in their convictions? What then?
Well, for starters, it would be buzzing all over the news and social media. And I suspect that those believers might find that they have some unlikely allies in the LGBTQ community who would probably prefer to have a marriage license prepared or a ceremony performed by someone who isn’t experiencing a moral dilemma over it. And I doubt that they want to start their marriage by contributing to someone getting fired.
Peaceful protest. Peaceful resolution.
Of course, my conjecture could prove to be erroneous, but we’ll never know that as long as believers who oppose gay marriage keep jabber-jawing about opposing gay marriage and then offering safe, mediocre opposition. Not a very impressive “stance for the Lord.”
Another possibility is that a bunch of people get fired, everyone forgets about it, and life goes on.
Let’s talk about gay marriage.
In my opinion, if God does NOT recognize marriage between two men or two women, then there is no legal document or ceremony that can trump God’s opinion. And since God’s opinion is based on knowing all there is to know about people, societies, morality, law, and well… everything, then a man and a man or a woman and a woman cannot ever be legitimately married, even if the marriage license were signed by the President of the United State and the Pope officiated the ceremony.
Conversely, if God DOES recognize marriage between two men or two women, then refusing to issue a legal document or hold a ceremony won’t trump God’s opinion. Disagree all you want, but if they are married in God’s eyes, then they are married, indeed.
So really, all this business about licenses and ceremonies is a formality compared to the real spiritual meat of the matter, which is very much like this:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Jesus, to the religious leaders, Matthew 23:27-28)
Believer: “I oppose gay marriage.”
Not-Yet-Believer: “Prove it.”
Believer: “Wait… I might lose my job? Can’t I just say I oppose it, and leave it at that?”
Not-Yet-Believer: “Sure you can. But… doesn’t your god have a problem with lying? Hypocrisy? Do you always go around saying one thing and doing another? How does your god feel about that?”
Believer: “Well, that’s what the Bible says is going to happen, when we live for the Lord, people are going to hate us.”
Not-Yet-Believer: “Have you considered the possibility that I don’t hate you, but I hate your self-serving behavior? How can I have respect for your beliefs when you don’t respect your own beliefs?”
In all fairness, Braswell’s sermon doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of all FBCU members. And perhaps those who agree with his views would be willing to lose their jobs to act according to their “I oppose gay marriage” moral convictions, to live like they believe what they say they believe.
Either way, FBCU members might want to rethink this week’s homework assignment.