Update: This post no longer best reflects my evolving stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. For a more recent exploration and understanding, please see the following entry: Yes, Christians Can (and should) Support Same-Sex Marriage. -CL 6/27/15
I can think of no other topic that is more hotly debated and emotionally laden than that of gay marriage in the United States today. Divisive and passionate topics come and go, but right now, this is the one. Adding to the rhetoric, I recently read an article whose author was vehemently opposed to offering marriage equality to homosexual couples. In that article, he quoted several apparently like-minded leaders of various anti gay-marriage groups and elected officials, one of whom accused the push for equal rights as a “liberal, elitist” program. I won’t tell you which religion he claimed to represent or what political party he is affiliated with, but I bet you can guess, as well as which political platform he labeled as the “liberal” enemy.
For my part, I am indeed a Jesus-follower (at least in my better moments). I want to honor him above all other ideas, agendas, politics, lifestyles and beliefs. I don’t have all the answers, and I myself am in an evolutionary process regarding this issue. To be honest, I think I am being pulled in a new direction, but so far it is nebulous and ineffable. Stay tuned, I suppose.
But at any rate, as per my present understanding of the Bible, it indicates something significant about those who choose active homosexual lifestyles: it’s not what God wants for them. Unquestionably, in both the Old Testament and the New, the Bible indicates that urges to choose this lifestyle should be denied by those who place themselves under Christ’s authority. After all, the entire paradigm of being a Jesus-follower is for one to deny herself or himself, take up their cross, and live in a way that Jesus lived. For those who like Scripture references, this can be found in Matthew 16.24 (as well as a few other places). I don’t really like taking verses out of context, so I strongly encourage the reading of the surrounding verses as well. But for Jesus, the issue isn’t about either homosexuality or heterosexuality, but rather about following him. I also think it is important to note that Jesus is a man who opted for celibacy and did so regardless of his own sexual orientation (whatever it may have been).
Does this mean that all Christians must choose celibacy? No, of course not, especially if we consider all of Christian Scripture together (although it does forbid sex outside of marriage). Neither does it mean that Jesus-followers should not get married (although the New Testament indicates that monogamous marriage is the only way to pursue it if marriage is entered into). However, given the full measure of the biblical text, it does seem that gay marriage is not a viable option for Christians. This isn’t the result of some church board meeting or council, this is Christians trying to honor the preeminent source of written authority in their lives. But please read me carefully on this: Nowhere does the Bible (or Jesus) indicate that having homosexual feelings or orientations means that people who are that way are evil, irredeemable hell-fodder etc. Being gay (or not) isn’t what gets us in or keeps us out of Heaven. Period. People are not able to change their nature (or natural dispositions), but they can decide what they nurture or cultivate. We are not slaves to our desires.
Nevertheless, for Jesus-followers at least, my understanding of the Bible is that it indicates that Christian marriage remains as a valid option only for monogamous, heterosexual couples. As a married heterosexual guy, I cannot imagine how tough this would be for a person who had a homosexual orientation who wanted to follow Jesus. Essentially since this means that he or she would have to set aside their sexuality, for life, for Christ. There are both heterosexual and homosexual individuals who choose this route, but none of us other folks can pretend to “know” what that is like or how difficult, frustrating and emotionally taxing it must be. Christians are wrong and hurtful to suggest this option casually or as if it doesn’t cost the person dearly. And please, can we forever quit talking about “curing” homosexuals of this part of their humanity. I didn’t choose my sexual orientation, so I must at least consider the possibility that my gay and lesbian friends didn’t pick theirs either. Can we heterosexual types imagine our indignation and hurt if a homosexual suggested that we ought to be cured of our sexual orientation, and that they knew a great program or therapy or mystical practice that would accomplish this? I can’t think of anything that would be more offensive.
But what about people who do not accept Christ and do not choose to deny themselves for his sake? Once again, the issue is not about sexuality but rather one’s fidelity and submission to Jesus. Should non-Christians be forced to have Christian beliefs, convictions and practices imposed on them? The answer, according to Jesus and the Bible, is clearly and firmly, “No.” Nowhere do we see Jesus forcing people to honor him or what he teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven. Nowhere do we see Jesus holding political rallies to persuade the Roman government to enforce Jewish theology on non-Jews. However, what we do hear and see Jesus doing is having compassion for societal outcasts, the marginalized, the “unclean,” the sexually immoral, the condemned criminals, the hungry, the poor, the confused and the lost etc. Most importantly, we also see Jesus sacrifice himself for each and every one of them, without exception or caveat.
When we look at Jesus, what does this tell us about the current debate over marriage in our nation? It tells me that Jesus likely wouldn’t support homosexual lifestyles (in marriage or outside of it), but that he nevertheless also wouldn’t go on a crusade to end those lifestyles regardless of the marriage issue, much less force his perspective on anyone. If that is what Jesus wouldn’t do, then why do SOME Christians feel like they have to impose their convictions on non-Christians regarding the issue? I have my suspicions, but for now I’ll just say I don’t really know.
I am of the opinion that it is only a matter of time before the United States’ Supreme Court weighs in on this issue and declares that bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional. I happen to agree with that position. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads (in part) that, “…Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is a good thing. Humanity has proved again and again (and is presently doing so in some regimes today), that theocracy is a terrible thing, and that has been true wether it’s Christians or Muslims or any other religious adherents at the helm. Theocracy only works when everyone believes, thinks, interprets and acts exactly the same (which is to say that theocracy does not work and never has).
So, when talking and listening to the present debate over gay marriage, everything that I have ever read from those who are opposed to it inevitably invoke religious books and teachings to fortify or “prove” their case. I don’t necessarily blame them for doing so. If these religious beliefs are the most precious and convicting things in their life, then why wouldn’t they be outspoken about them and vote for candidates and issues that best represent them? I do not bemoan their participation in the democratic process in the least. Nevertheless, all of the laws that Congress makes are subject to the U.S. Constitution. Given the First Amendment’s language about the establishment of religion, citing religious books, convictions and dogma to make the case for a law is completely inappropriate, and that remains true even if a majority of the population were to vote for it. This is also a good thing, and I ask Christians who disagree with me to consider a U.S. region whose population was overwhelmingly Islamic. Would the minority Christians accept a majority vote to impose Islamic prayer in schools, businesses and government offices? I am guessing the answer to that would be “no,” and they would indeed have a Constitutional right to fight it. So the question I have for my Christian brothers and sisters is: How is this unlike Christians who would force their religious convictions on non-Christians? It doesn’t seem to be any different at all to me. Such moves are unconstitutional and frankly, opposed to equal rights under the law. Bans on gay marriage may be appropriate for certain, individual congregations within the Christian tradition, but not for the United States.
Thanks for reading me,
For those interested in another voice on the topic, my good friend Bo Sanders has also fashioned a strong blog post on the topic at Home Brewed Christianity. Here is the link: Evangelical Support for Same Sex Marriage
Sally Steenland has also written a compelling, Rawlsian case for tolerance and mutual edification amongst peoples with mutually exclusive perspectives. Surely the USAmerican Christian can learn to be more like Christ with this sort of insight. Don’t miss it: Faith in Values: Political Pluralism: How Government Can Support Conflicting Religious Beliefs