It has been interesting to see the hoopla in the aftermath of last week’s Supreme Court ruling affirming gay marriage as a civil right. There have been astounding responses on both sides of the issue. In particular, who knew so many evangelical Christians would be pleased by the decision? Even the most progressive evangelicals have to be pleasantly surprised to learn how many brothers and sisters agree with them.
At a time like this, it’s tempting for theologically conservative worship leaders to feel the need to have an excellent response to it all. There is an understandable urge to address the cultural Zeitgeist with a pithy riposte, something that can be used as an “Onward Christian Soldiers” rallying cry for any needing reassurance that the battle is not lost. To any of my brothers and sisters feeling this way, I would suggest, in love, that the answer to the question asking what the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage means for worship leaders is simple.
Indeed, nothing has changed for us worship leaders based on this ruling–whether we love the decision or hate it. The role of worship leaders, notes Bob Kauflin in his excellent book Worship Matters, is “to teach, train, and encourage God’s people in praising him rightly and living for his glory. In that sense worship leaders follow in the footsteps of Old Testament Levites who taught the Israelites what God required in worship and how they could faithfully follow him.” What worked well for the Levites thousands of years ago will work well for us today. Two Sundays back, our job was to help our parishioners praise God “rightly and live for his glory.” For every Sunday henceforth that still is our job. The opinion that one can’t live for God’s glory if married to someone of the same sex is one best taken up by a pastor in a sermon. The famous theologian Karl Barth allegedly encouraged pastors to prepare sermons with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. No such exhortation is known for worship leaders.
This past Sunday, in my opening comments before we launched into the call to worship, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus,” which I had selected under the direction of the Holy Spirit before I knew the SCOTUS was going to rule on gay marriage last Friday, I reminded the congregation at Elgin Evangelical Free Church that the exhortation voiced most often in Scripture is “Do not be afraid,” or words to that effect. (Some have posited that this encouragement occurs 365 times in Scripture, in the event that some of us need daily reminders. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but it has a plausible ring to it, doesn’t it?) For those who dislike this ruling, now is not the time to run and hide. God is still on His throne.
I also read James 1:19-20, where the apostle says, “My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God’s sight.” If our righteousness is like filthy rags (Is. 64:6), then our righteous indignation can’t be a whole lot better. Even if it’s true that we can be angry without sinning (Eph. 4:26), how many of us do that well? I would err on the side of caution here. (The best, brief summary I have encountered re: how theologically conservative Christians should then live in light of the ruling comes from one of my favorite current editorial writers, CT‘s Mark Galli, in this article: “Six Things to Do after the Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage”)
I am grateful to the Holy Spirit, forever and always the source of our inspiration as worship leaders, for guiding me to choose that classic chorus as the call to worship for this past Sunday. Worship leaders, let us, in the days ahead, whether we’re for gay marriage or against it, remind our congregations to turn their “eyes upon Jesus,” to look fully into His “wonderful face.” If we and they do, the things of this world, such as polarizing Supreme Court decisions, “will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
The Lord be with you!