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Florida Baptist pastors & others react to DOMA ruling

NOTE: The Florida Baptist Witness website has been offline since June 27 due to an internal server error. Technicians are working to resolve the issue, according to Witness staff. Witness managing editor Joni Hannigan expressed appreciation for the Florida Baptist Convention's willingness to post the story on its site.

By Joni B. Hannigan, managing editor, Florida Baptist Witness

June 28, 2013


JACKSONVILLE (FBW)-Calling the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to strike a federal law defining marriage as only between a man and a women a “modern day Roe v. Wade,” Ken Whitten, senior pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, said the June 26 decision ushers in a new era.

“Just like when the Supreme Court made the decision to alter the biblical belief of the sanctity of human life, we have now experienced a new belief of the sanctity of marriage,” Whitten said.

Although justices stopped short of redefining marriage nationwide, same-sex marriage advocates gained a two-fold victory when the high court struck the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on equal protection grounds, allowing same-sex couples legally married to receive federal benefits, and ruled to essentially make void California’s Proposition 8.

California’s Proposition 8 is an amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in 2008 that limited marriage to heterosexual couples, after the state Supreme Court legalized gay marriage earlier in the year. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, however, affirmed a federal judge’s decision striking down the amendment.

In the federal marriage case, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the DOMA in 1996. Lower courts struck down DOMA’s Section 3, which defines marriage as a heterosexual union for purposes of such matters as federal benefits. Section 3, which was the portion of DOMA under consideration by the high court, also bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

In its opinion Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled Prop 8 supporters – who appealed the lower court ruling after the state refused to do so – did not have standing to make such an appeal. The Court’s ruling on a procedural question apparently will have the effect of allowing to stand a federal judge’s invalidation of the California amendment that limited marriage to heterosexual couples

Both decisions were decided by a 5-4 margin.

The Supreme Court did not, however, legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country or rule that states cannot limit marriage to a man and a woman.

In 2008, Floridians passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, with the measure receiving nearly 62 percent of the vote. A state version of DOMA also passed in Florida in 1997.

Florida pastors respond to DOMA

Disappointed in the Court’s decision, Whitten said, however, that, “our position of marriage is defined by Scripture and not by the Supreme Court.”

The decision should serve as a reminder that people, he said, who are voted into office and have the power to appoint Supreme Court justices are “vitally important” to America’s future.

The Court’s decision “underscores the enemy is alive and well and attacking everything that is holy and sacred.” Whitten warned that Paul admonishes believers in Ephesians 6 “that we live in an evil day,” and told the church at Corinth in 1 Cor. 7 “the time is short.”

“I believe that we may be living in a day that truly Gabriel is licking his lips and we will be saying, ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus,’” Whitten said.

The Court’s ruling reflects where the nation is, Whitten said. “We are a people – and we are a nation that no longer believes ‘In God We Trust.’”

Thomas Green, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Brandon, said the churches must continue to base their position on marriage on the basis of Scripture.

“We will speak on biblical truth and stand for what we know is according to Scripture which has always been our soul guide and authority,” Green said. “We will have to be willing to speak the truth of God’s Word in love.”

Although Green said it has yet to be determined how these decisions might impact local churches, Green said he believes the High Court has indicated states would be making the decisions.

“I’m sure there will be challenges,” Green said. “Everything is being challenged in our culture. Who is to say what will happen? I think we have to keep moving forward with what we have been called to do. We are preachers of the Gospel.”

In 2004, Green, in his second term as president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, president over the annual meeting in Jacksonville where thousands of messengers voted for a resolution offered by Jay Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland in support of statewide amendment in Florida defining “marriage as the union between a man and a woman” and a “God-ordained building block of the family and bedrock of civil society.”

Randy Huckabee, pastor of First Baptist Church in Okeechobee, said he believes the high court’s ruling arguably will put same-sex marriage on equal footing with traditional marriage—a concept historically at odds with Southern Baptists’ interpretation of biblical truth and practice.

“I believe in the long run we are going to have to make some hardline decisions,” Huckabee said.

He anticipated churches that currently benefit from having tax-exempt status may be penalized in the future for refusing to perform same-sex ceremonies.

“The law is coming and we will eventually see it. If Jesus tarries, pastors will be incarcerated if they refuse to perform a ceremony,” Huckabee predicted. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Implications for Florida

Expressing disappointment, but not surprise, Bill Bunkley, president of Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called the Court’s decision a “watershed moment in American history” and the future of the country.

Bunkley said listening to commentators on the steps of the Supreme Court talk about how the decision provides an opportunity to influence “children” about how homosexual couples are normative, reminds him about the decisions’ far-reaching effects.

“This is not just about the ability for same-sex couples to qualify for federal benefits,” Bunkley said. He fears Christian families, “Christian men and women who are dedicated to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ” will be challenged to raise their children in the “admonition of the Lord” when confronted with an entire new paradigm and new definition of the family.

“We have a whole new construction with a tremendous bombardment of internet, video and television,” Bunkley said, and it will be increasingly difficult to point children in the direction of Kingdom values while “secular humanist values and the new religion of the left” take root.

At the state level, Bunkley said he expects a test case to emerge that will challenge bans on same-sex marriage and eventually “force the issue in federal court.”

Meanwhile, people will say, “if the Supreme Court says it’s right, it must be right, like in Roe V. Wade,” Bunkley said.

As for sexuality, Bunkley said Christians use the Bible as a “blueprint” for living and how to express their worldview daily. Historically, they are opposed to homosexuality, sex before marriage and extra-marital sex, but believe in sexual intimacy expressed within the context of the marriage between one woman and one man.

But it’s “because the world hasn’t seen our conviction, we are now reaping what we have sown,” Bunkley said. “We have far greater numbers of people with other sexual sins, but you don’t see adulterers having press conferences every day asserting their rights to be an adulterer.”

John Stemberger, who leads Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Counsel, in a news release, reiterated his appreciation that the Supreme Court did not overturn Florida’s Marriage Protection Act nor laws in the 32 other states that have defined marriage by amending their state constitutions. He said every major world religion and 38 states and 94 percent of countries worldwide affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“America, and Florida specifically, will continue the debate and advance the truths about why marriage is between a man and a woman and why it matters for children, civil society, and the common good of society,” Stemberger said. “We will also be able to engage in a debate about the direct harms that same-sex marriage causes to children, to public education, to small businesses, religious liberty and to free speech.”


“No court decision or public opinion poll can affect that which is evident in biology, logic, common sense and the collective wisdom of human history,” Stemberger said.


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