May 18, 2012
Joel Hunter Responds to Obama's Gay Marriage Endorsement
The president's spiritual adviser disagrees with him on gay marriage, but calls the church to a wiser response.
Last week President Obama publicly acknowledged his support for same sex marriage in an interview with ABC News. Shortly before the interview, the president called Dr. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church near Orlando and a spiritual adviser to the president, to tell him about his decision. Hunter told the president that he disagreed with his view on marriage, but the decision would not fracture their friendship. When asked about his relationship with the president by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Hunter replied, “I love him and he’s a friend.”
Earlier this week Skye Jethani spoke with Joel Hunter about President Obama’s endorsement of same sex marriage, what it means for the church, and how church leaders ought to talk with their congregations about it. The full interview with Dr. Hunter will be in the upcoming summer issue of Leadership Journal.
Skye Jethani: What are you telling people in your church about the President’s announcement last week that he supports same sex marriage?
Joel Hunter: First, it gives us a wonderful platform to reemphasize the definition of marriage as God has laid it out in Scripture. We are not free to redefine it once God has defined it.
Second, I am saying we have to be careful not to fight the wrong culture war. We have gay people in our congregation. They are people made in the image of God, and we want them to come close to him in Christ and follow God. So we have to remember that this is a hurtful issue for many, many people, and we have to be very respectful as we talk about it.
Third, we have to remember that this is a leadership issue. The church should not try to manage society. 1 Corinthians 5:12 says, “What have we to do with judging outsiders?” Our business is the Church. We cannot expect everyone to follow the same values that Christians follow. Even though marriage is sacred and defined a certain way for us, that doesn’t mean it is to everybody. So as this conversation continues, we need to differentiate what is expected from a biblical, obedient Christian and what’s expected from someone who is acting from another worldview.
They may have every right to make whatever legal arrangements they want for their relationships, but we have to make sure that the church is protected to do what it believes it is right and not violate its conscience.
Rather than fighting against same sex marriage, do you feel we should be working harder to protect religious liberty?
I think the conversation needs to be extended to include protecting religious liberty. Right now the conversation is only about the civil rights of gay people, but let’s also lift up the rights of those who want to practice their religion without being afraid of lawsuits. If gay marriage becomes civil law, then we need protections for the churches that choose not to marry gay couples. We need to know we will not be open to lawsuits. We do not want to be forced into something that would violate our conscience and our faith.
Was that part of your conversation with President Obama?
When the President called me, I told him that his support of gay marriage is going to be perceived by some Christians as a war on religion. I don’t agree with that, but we’re talking about perception here. I also told him there is an opportunity to lift up both sides--respect for gay people and respect for religious practices that limit the covenant of marriage.
How did the President respond?
He is there. The President is a Christian, and he gets it. He knows what we believe about traditional marriage, and he doesn’t want to violate religious conscience. But there is still a lot of conversation that needs to happen to see how this will actually work out. Until we hear statements and see policy that protects churches and religious liberty, then I’m not sure everyone will be reassured.