USA – On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that same-sex couples across the nation have a constitutional right to marry. That ruling brought expressions of concern from Christians throughout the country, including from confessional Lutheran leaders.
“Five justices cannot determine natural or divine law,” said President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in a response to the ruling. “Now shall come the time of testing for Christians faithful to the Scriptures and the divine institution of marriage.”
“The ramifications of this decision are seismic,” he continued. “Proponents will seek to drive Christians and Christian institutions out of education at all levels; they will press laws to force faithful Christian institutions and individuals to violate consciences in work practices and myriad other ways…. Christians will now begin to learn what it means to be in a state of solemn conscientious objection against the state. We will resist its imposition of falsehood upon us, even as we continue to reach out to those who continue to be harmed by the ethic of radical sexual freedom, detached from God’s blessing of marriage. And we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Christians, churches and people of good will who are resolute on this issue.”
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), and counts more than 2.3 million members in more than 6,100 congregations. Other American member churches of the ILC include The American Association of Lutheran Churches (14,000 members) and the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod – USA. While these churches have not released public statements on the recent court ruling, both have previously affirmed their support of the biblical definition of marriage.
Other Lutherans Respond
A number of Lutheran churches outside the ILC also responded to the court ruling with concern. Bishop John F. Bradosky and General Secretary Mark C. Chavez of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) released an open letter responding to the decision. “The Supreme Court may have the power to dictate what state governments must claim to be marriage,” they write, “but it most certainly does not have the power to change what God has revealed to be true marriage, an integral part of His plan for human life which is inherent in the order of the world He has created.”
“God alone knows the long-term consequences of the decision for our nation,” they continue. “Now Christians who uphold the orthodox Christian faith and confess that God alone defines marriage must be bold to confess the truth of God’s Word without regard to the consequences.”
The NALC, comprised mostly of pastors and congregations who left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada over issues of human sexuality, biblical authority, and the nature of the Gospel, has more than 140,000 members across North America. Over the past number of years, NALC has taken part in regular dialogues with ILC member churches Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Also responding to the court ruling were the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. “We are saddened that today the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling all 50 states to allow same sex marriage,” wrote President Mark Schroeder of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). “Of course, even though the highest court in the land has changed the legal definition of marriage, it has not succeeded in changing the essence of the institution that was created by God and given by him as a gift and blessing.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) released a statement on the situation via Facebook. “God has established his own criteria for what determines marriage—the intimate and lifelong union of a man and woman into one flesh, entered into by mutual consent and promise,” the release notes. “His institution of marriage is for the great benefit of our families and of our nation. No human authority—even the highest court of our land—can overthrow what the Supreme Judge of all mankind has defined as marriage.”
The WELS and the ELS are members of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference. WELS has approximately 380 thousand members, while the ELS has approximately 20 thousand. In recent years, they and the LCMS have conducted a series of informal discussions together.