In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to
legalize gay marriage nationwide, the internet has been alight with articles
from almost every possible angle. As an
American and a Christian, I am fascinated and concerned about what this
historic decision means. But as a
missionary living abroad, I am also concerned with how this decision will
affect other countries and the work of global missions.
Of course, the U.S. is not the first to legalize gay marriage,
and Christians in other nations (Canada and the U.K., for example) have
reminded American Christians that legalized gay marriage doesn’t
mean that the sky is falling. However,
the American Supreme Court decision is symbolic of a larger cultural
juggernaut. Given the influence that the
U.S. currently has on the global scene, the pro-homosexuality zeitgeist that is
now ascendant in the U.S. will most certainly have global ramifications.
Some readers may think that I am being alarmist. I can understand that. Where I work in Thailand, gay marriage and
LGBT rights are barely a blip on the radar.
Every once in a while, there is a Thai news article about transgender bathrooms or a transvestite entering a
female beauty contest. However, there is no widespread call for gay rights and
equality in Thailand. On the one hand,
many Thai accept gays and transvesites as a normal part of society, despite the
fact they don’t have the right to marry.
On the other hand, Thai culture at large is still fine with
transvestites being the butt of jokes on TV comedy shows, and gay or
transgender students regularly get made fun of in classrooms. Thailand, as a whole, seems quite far from
jumping on the gay marriage bandwagon.
But just because gay rights has not yet become a hot topic in
Thailand (among other countries), that does not mean that those working abroad
can safely ignore the Supreme Court decision.
Many trends have a way of making their way abroad. And in a globalized world, this is truer than
ever. For that reason, I think that
there are a number of implications that legalized gay marriage in the U.S. will
have for global missions. Some of these
scenarios may not have occurred yet (or may not yet be widespread), but
Christians involved in global missions should be aware that they are coming.
Missionary Candidates and Short-Term Workers
Many churches and missionary organizations might feel safe because they have an
evangelical statement of belief which implicitly or explicitly endorses
traditional marriage. But as the
cultural winds shift, we will begin to see men and women applying for
missionary work who affirm an evangelical statement of faith but also support
the gay marriage and/or homosexual practice.
They may or may not be gay themselves, but this discussion will likely
come up. Will churches and missionary
organizations be prepared legally to deal with possible lawsuits from
homosexual missionary candidates who were not accepted as missionary workers?
(Read “How to protect your church against sexual orientation and
gender identity lawsuits”)
Full-time missionary candidates are screened more thoroughly, but short-term
workers are often required to sign only a very minimal statement of faith. Wouldn’t a long-term
missionary be surprised if he took a team of short-termers to do an outreach
and discovered one of them assuring a transgender man that being gay is
compatible with being a Christian? Those
processing potential short-termers need to start checking their views on
homosexuality and gay marriage before they head out on a trip.
Supporters and Supporting Churches
There is an increasing number of otherwise evangelical churches and
Christians in the United States who are changing their position on
homosexuality, and endorsing the gay lifestyle as compatible with the Christian
faith. Other churches and believers are
trying out a third way, stopping short of endorsing homosexuality but still
supporting the legal right for homosexuals to marry. Although missionaries who hold to traditional
views of biblical sexuality might believe that none of THEIR supporters would
go in those directions, it is wholly possible that missionaries and their
supporters might find themselves on different sides, either theologically,
politically, or both. Given the nature
of missionary communication, this issue might not come up while the missionary
is on the field. However, when there is
more time to talk and catch up during home assignment (furlough), it might come
to light that not everyone holds the view that they used to. American missionaries in particular may lose
supporters over this issue, and they need to be prepared for that possibility.
Pro-Gay Missionaries on the Field
Since there is a growing divide among Christians over gay marriage, it is very
likely that missionaries who hold to traditional marriage will meet other
missionaries on the field who endorse legalized gay marriage, and perhaps LGBT
views of gender and sexuality. Just
after the Supreme Court decision, I saw a pro-gay marriage photo posted by a
missionary on the Facebook. On the
mission field, missionaries of different theological and ecclesiastical
backgrounds tend to interact with each other much more often than they would in
their home countries. Where there are few Christians, those who are Christians
often stick together. But will differing
views on homosexuality increasingly cause division among tiny missionary
communities around the world?
American Foreign Policy
Many countries around the world are not enthusiastic about gay rights, but the
U.S. government would like to change that.
Despite the fact that there are many atrocities and injustices around
the globe that deserve attention, the Obama administration has decided to
devote itself to pushing for gay rights in other countries. For example, President Obama and Secretary of
State Kerry have threatened to cut off aid to Uganda unless they
repeal anti-sodomy laws. It seems that
if the Obama administration (and future administrations of the same mindset)
are able to force the issue of gay rights upon foreign nations,
they will do so. Many missionaries and
Christians outside the U.S. will sooner or later find themselves in a pro-gay
marriage culture, if for no other reason than the fact that the countries they
are working in are concerned to keep good relations with the U.S. (and to keep
the aid money flowing).
The above four points are not comprehensive and over time the
ramifications of the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage will
become more apparent. But as Christians,
we need to be aware of the direction the culture is going so that we will be
ready to be agents of grace in a hostile culture. And those who are missionaries need to be
observant of the storms brewing offshore, because what is far away now will eventually
hit land somewhere.