A Pastoral Letter to the Saints of the Church of God in Christ
From Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr,:
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:11-12).
On today, the 26th of June 2015, the majority of the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that has made same-sex marriage legal in all of the states of the Union. The Court made its decision based on its reading of the United States Constitution. Today, the Church of God in Christ reaffirms its long-held position that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, basing our decision firmly on the Bible. As Christians, we believe that the Bible teaches marriage to be a lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Christians, we are called to proclaim and practice this doctrine. Our ultimate trust is in God and not in any court or government. We trust God. So, I write to you, saints of God, as a stranger and pilgrim in our contemporary society.
We understand even better now why the Bible calls Christians “strangers and pilgrims” in the world (I Peter 2:11). It is clearer now why Jesus instructed us to be in the world but “not of the world" (John 17:15-16). In fact, today’s Supreme Court decision is just another legal law that makes the holiness message even stranger to our society. While the moral landscape of our society has definitely shifted, we know that the Bible is yet right and God still reigns.
In a democracy such as ours, we are to be ruled by laws. As Christians who are strangers and pilgrims, we have found ourselves at various junctures unable to find a biblical basis for key legal laws that govern our society. It is a fact that the United States of America has now added same-sex marriage to a list of legal rights which adults may exercise but the Church of God in Christ does not practice, including: gambling; the production, distribution, selling and consumption of alcoholic beverages; the practice of the smoking of tobacco; the purchase of pornography; and the securing of abortions. In the states that permit the recreational use of marijuana, we opt not to exercise the right to use that drug. As Christians who are strangers and pilgrims, we refuse to exercise these particular legal rights, understanding the Bible as calling Christians to holiness. We are not called to panic nor be anxious; we are called to live a holy life. We are called to live a Christian life as commanded by the Bible; we are called to be in the world but “not of the world." We are called to trust God.
Love is central to a life of holiness. The Bible is clear that Christians are called to love all people. We must resist the temptation only to love those who think like us. Regardless of the personal religious convictions and moral choices of people, we are called to love. We are not commanded to agree with them on all topics. The Bible commands us to love (Matthew 22:39). We are also called to recognize the legal rights of all citizens, regardless of the legal moral choices that they make.
Living in a pluralistic society, clear legal rights have been granted to all citizens. We must remind everyone that our government grants the Church of God in Christ and other religious organizations the legal right for each of us to express our religious convictions, as well as to live out our doctrinal and moral teachings. It also grants us the right to co-exist with those whose beliefs and lifestyles differ from ours. More importantly, we believe the right to religious freedom is a God-given right. We call upon the U.S. government aggressively to protect and preserve the right of religious freedom for all Americans.
As Christians who are strangers and pilgrims, we are indeed living in and “Called to Minister and Witness to a Deeply Distressed and Troubled World.” The church must prepare to receive wholeheartedly and minister effectively to people seeking the biblical understanding of marriage, a biblical Christian lifestyle, and the uncompromising gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let us speak the truth with conviction and with care, with patience and with love. Let us proclaim the gospel with courage. Let us embrace our calling to live as strangers and pilgrims in society. Let us live the holy life with boldness. Let us witness unashamedly to the power of the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
About the Church of God in Christ:
The Church of God in Christ is one of the oldest Pentecostal denominations in the world and the 4th largest Protestant group in the United States, with churches in 63 countries worldwide and a membership of nearly 6.5 million adherents.