After President Obama announced his support of same-sex marriages in May, many Christians were outraged. Joel Hunter is the pastor of Northland Church in Florida and a spiritual advisor to Obama. We asked Hunter how he felt about the president’s announcement and how the church should approach the legalization of gay marriage.
You’ve been a spiritual advisor to President Obama for several years. How have you seen his thinking on this issue undergo an evolution?
President Obama’s desire has always been that all Americans have the same rights. For years, he believed that civil unions would provide equal protections and rights under the law. More recently, he has come to believe that equality will not be achieved without the right to civil marriage. His more recent thinking was mainly influenced by conversations with his family members, along with several gay friends and staff members.
What was your response to his announcement supporting gay marriage? How did you react when you heard the news?
At first, I felt a sense of mourning. Gay marriage is not just a citizens’ rights issue to me; it is the redefinition of the core institution of our world. Though I was not completely surprised, I was apprehensive at the speed at which this change is happening without much discussion or preparation. Think of it—thousands of years of marriage defined in every society as [being] between a man and a woman, now being redefined in our country over a few short years. But … then I felt a sense of optimism: Surely this is God’s opportunity for a new focus by biblically obedient Christians on the value of traditional marriage.
What do you think the Christian response to legalized gay marriage should be?
I would recommend grace and truth. Grace: We want every American to have every citizen’s right to legal arrangements, rec- ognition and protection under the law. We treat everyone with respect.
Truth: Christians associate the word “marriage” with a sacred institution defined by God (described in Genesis 2:18- 24 and reaffirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:4-5). As marriage between people of the same sex grows in acceptance, Christians need to be re-engaged in mak- ing our own marriages holy and intimate. We do not need to be preoccupied by the personal decisions of those outside the Church (1 Corinthians 5:12).
You’ve mentioned that Christians need to be concerned about religious liberty. What is President Obama doing to try to protect religious conviction?
On the Friday following his announcement, the president met with a few evangelical leaders in the Oval Office for the better part of an hour. We talked about the need to protect religious liberty and conscience. The president is fully committed to protecting the free exercise of religion, and we plan in the coming months to work together to clarify the many ways that can be done.
How can we best pray for the president?
Three ways. First, pray for his family and the country. The president cares more about them than he cares about his own life. Second, pray for his relationship with God. He is a human being who needs God’s love and guid- ance in his life like we all do. And third, pray for wisdom. The decisions he faces every day are overwhelming; he is well aware of his need for God’s wisdom.