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Missions 101

Gay Marriage and the Future of Global Missions

Aug. 4, 2015By: Karl Dahlfred

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. 

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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.

1)    Pro-Gay 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.

2)    Losing 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.

3)    Meeting 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?

4)    Pro-LGBT 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.

Tags:  gay marriage, missions, hot topics
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