Editors’ note: 

This excerpt is adapted from Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet’s Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015. Used by permission. http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

“It’s over,” he told me (John) grimly. “We’ve lost.”

These words came from a wounded warrior, a pastor who had dedicated much of his ministry to calling Christians to apply their faith in the public square and to opposing things like same-sex marriage. But his side, which he had spent so much time and energy defending, had been, he thought, definitively defeated. He was licking his wounds and wondering what to do.

Sentiments like these are not unusual, and we can sympathize with them. But we also hope they don’t last too long. The legal status of something alters neither its truthfulness nor its claim on our lives. As Christians, we are still responsible to the institution of marriage as God intended it, just as we are still responsible for unborn children, regardless of whether abortion is legal in a post-Roe v. Wade culture.

Informed and articulate Christians can make a difference in the same-sex marriage conversation. Yes, those hoping to promote natural marriage must overcome reputation liabilities, a firmly entrenched counter mindset, and the difficulty of presenting a winsome and reasonable case for our position. But we can, and we must, calmly and winsomely seek to make a difference.

Here are a few ideas:

1. We can change our reputation from those who hate gays to those who love them.

Christians have been guilty of demonizing those with same-sex attraction or gender identity struggles and those engaged in homosexual behavior.

Whenever we fail to treat anyone with the dignity they deserve as created image-bearers of God, we compromise our Christian witness. That simply should never be.

It starts with the next person we meet. The reality is that, far too often, our claims to love those struggling with sexual identity issues or those trapped in homosexual sin sound hollow if not evidenced by actions. Love is not passive.

All human beings deserve respect regardless of race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or any other status that is secondary to being an image-bearer of God. God loves all people, and so should we. The message of Jesus is the same to all sinners, including us.

2. We must tell the truth about same-sex attraction, homosexual sin, and same-sex marriage. 

It’s tempting to downplay biblical morality to make Christianity more palatable. But loving others requires that we tell the truth, including, when necessary, that homosexual behavior is a sin. It isn’t loving to mislead people and suggest that God approves of any and all sexual behavior. He doesn’t.

Note that we did not say homosexual inclinations are necessarily a sin. On the other hand, too many Christians conclude God must be okay with homosexual behaviors or else he would take those inclinations away. Any sexual activity outside the given norms of marriage is sin. We must tell the truth.

One elephant in the room is whether homosexuality is a choice. Many Christians insensitively repeat over and over that it is, but to many of the men and women we have talked with who struggle with same-sex attraction, it isn’t. They look at their lives and say, “I would have never chosen this. I can’t choose not to feel this way. I’ve tried to feel straight, but nothing has changed.” We believe them. We must be careful with our words.

3. We can stop implying in our words and actions that homosexual sin is worse than all other sexual sins, and that sexual sins are unforgiveable.

We live in an age of culture-wide sexual brokenness. Too often, homosexuality is singled out as “what’s wrong with America” while other sexual sins get a wink and a nod. This is wrong.

We aren’t saying that all sins are equal. But the reality is that none of us is “better off” than anyone else in terms of our guilt before God. That’s why it’s so misguided and insidious to act as if we somehow are more deserving of grace because we don’t struggle with that sin. We aren’t any more deserving than anyone else. With this in mind, we should have more grace towards those whose struggle is different than our own.

Same-sex attraction does not disqualify someone from Christian faith or service any more than other temptations do. If someone is living in obedience to God’s will, we should welcome their presence and, if appropriate, their leadership. In an age of such extensive sexual compromise in the church, perhaps God is raising up men and women who are overcoming this temptation to help his people.

4. We can defend the religious liberty of all Americans.

Conscience rights are precious and worth protecting. To guard their own religious freedom, Christian business owners should be able to demonstrate (and document) a clear track record of how faith shapes day-to-day operations. They must draw clear ethical lines, and they must be consistent in holding those lines, especially when it comes to sexuality and marriage.

It is vital that all of us defend religious freedom. Even if it is not our heads on the proverbial chopping block, it may be soon enough. No Christian should sit this one out.

Christians must distinguish between discriminating against a gay person and refusing to participate in certain behaviors. Christians should never refuse services to someone because they identify as gay or lesbian. Our actions are to be based on convictions, not hate.

5. We can tell better stories about love, sex, marriage, and family.

The current crop of cultural storytellers is telling this story as they see it, and it isn’t helping our cause. We need pro-marriage artists to engage people at the level of their imagination. We need to hear and see stories that reflect the beauty of lifelong married love in a compelling way. People must see the good of marriage in action.

Couldn’t churches highlight couples in the congregation who have stuck together for years? Couldn’t artists make movies and write songs with stories that will inspire people to believe, once again, in marriage?

Simplistic “happily ever after” stories won’t do. Christians often tell utopian stories about marriage and family, in which all conflicts are neatly fixed by an apology and prayer. Life is more complex and broken than those stories acknowledge, but the gospel is big enough for the worst that reality has to offer. Our stories, songs, movies, and books should be too. We need to see and to know that forgiveness, faithfulness, and redemption are possible. This will help people believe in marriage again.

6. We need to expect conversations about marriage and be ready for them when they come.

It’s maddening when Christian leaders are caught off-guard when asked on national television about same-sex marriage. The question will be asked. The opportunity must be seized to speak the truth in love.

We will be asked too, at our family dinners, in college classes and in dorm rooms, over office small talk, on airplanes and at neighborhood block parties. If not prepared when the questions arise, we will find ourselves choosing silence or compromise.

Make no mistake: even if our words are articulate and loving, and we have a strong track record of kindness, we risk being embarrassed or ostracized. We may even face unjust consequences, like a failed grade or loss of employment. We need to be ready for that too.