A few belated thoughts on the gay marriage issue.

We have been traveling but I had wanted to write down a few thoughts that have come to mind in response to much of what I have read in response to the Supreme Court’s decision regarding gay marriage.

I don’t offer these comments as a dogmatic position but as ideas to consider and to perhaps offer a slightly different perspective. It seems there are two different aspects to the issue: the civil and the religious.

The first is the civil aspect and I am fully in favor of granting equality in marriage to any couple that desires to commit in marriage. Too many people believe that the sexual morality of consenting adults is an area that should be legislated according to certain religious views but it seems they are struggling against the reality of what it means to live in a pluralistic society. As a generalization, history has demonstrated that the Christian Church has wasted resources, energy, etc., on fighting culture wars: teaching creationism in schools, prayer in schools, 10 commandments in public spaces, nativity scenes in public places, just to name a few that come to mind. I am aware of probably all the main reasons that some Christians would disagree with me on the civil issue but from all the reading I have done I remain unconvinced that these culture wars are worth fighting particularly since they distract the Church from issues of justice and mercy. However most of what I wish to comment on is the religious aspect to this argument. Can we conceive of gay Christians committing to each other in love and being accepted in the Church?

Much of what I have read appears to rely specifically on Paul and his so called “vice” lists (i.e. Rom. 1:26-31; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21) and it reinforces what I have noticed in my years in the Evangelical church world: much of what drives our view of right and wrong is influenced more by Paul than by Jesus (more on this below). In the interests of brevity, but at the risk of being misunderstood, I will offer a few observations.

Accommodation: This is the term commonly used in biblical studies to describe how God could “allow” and in fact appear to sanction activities or attitudes that have come to be considered as going against the overall grain of Scripture (to borrow a phrase from Stanley Hauerwas). Here are a few of the more obvious from the OT.

Treatment of women: assumes women are property, not equal in value to men—God accommodates and the laws are “humane” but still work under the cultural assumptions.

1 If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. Exodus 21:7
2 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. Deuteronomy 22:28-29

Treatment of slaves: assumes slaves are property and again, just as in the case with women, the laws are humane but still work under the cultural assumptions

Lev. 25:44-46-44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life,

Even in the NT there are instructions for Christian slave owners. (Interestingly in American history, those who argued in favor of slavery had all the proof texts while the “liberals” opposing slavery had to argue about the overall picture of who God is and his desire for humanity.)

Multiple wives as well as using the slaves of your wives to produce more children: There are enough examples in the OT of men with multiple wives who were also considered righteous for us to assume that this is yet another issue of God accommodating himself to cultural norms. Such a sinful practice does not constitute a “break” from God. Consider this non-exhaustive list: Abraham, Jacob, Elkanah (Hannah’s husband), David, Solomon and every other righteous king of Judah. Particularly in the case of the wives’ slaves this is yet another example of women treated as property. Hagar would have had no say in the matter of having sex with Abraham; she simply had to obey Sarah.

War/”Total” war/Individual Violence: Through Jesus, God is most clearly, most completely revealed. Jesus embodies and teaches that violence against enemies is against God’s desires and that love is the better way. Yet in the OT violence is “mandated.” Once again God accommodates to a culture in which possession of a land can be conceived of in no other way than through means of war/annihilation. Even the personal violence of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, just to name a couple, is narrated with no comment and assumes their actions were justified.

What about today in America?

Divorce and remarriage: Is there any doubt that God does not desire divorce? Is there any doubt that God does not desire remarriage if there is a case of divorce? Scripture is clear on this issue yet it is such a part of our culture that it is extremely difficult to imagine “enforcing” the intent of Scripture.

Christians in military and the use of violence: Is there any doubt that Jesus taught that violence is not the way to follow? For the vast majority of American Christians the thought of joining the military and taking on a combat role is not an issue. There are also many Christians who would see nothing wrong with using a gun to protect their private property. There are even some Christians who would see nothing wrong in taking up arms in revolution were our government to cross some hypothetical line; in fact our country was birthed in this very idea.

Greed that leads to injustice: Is there any doubt that America is a greedy nation and that our desire for cheap goods (oil, clothes, electronics, etc.) has a direct link to the injustices perpetrated in the workplace? Is there any doubt that our insatiable appetite not just for cheap products but for more, better, newer products also fuels economic injustice?

The point of this list is not to point accusatory fingers but to admit to the truth that God is an accommodating God. We don’t presume on grace but at the same time we recognize that in spite of our desire to follow God we end of being guilty of “cultural” sins.

Selective Use of Scripture:

The admission that we all can see ourselves as sinners leads to a consideration of at least two of Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus teaches we should be careful not to point out the speck in someone else’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own.

Jesus also teaches that he who is without sin should cast the first stone.

It is not an issue of saying “How much sin can we get away with?” but rather it is a recognition that there are cultural issues that become accepted that God would not prefer but at the same time do not place a person participating in the practice outside the realm of being righteous. To place gay marriage as beyond the pale seems to fail to recognize that we all participate to some degree in practices that God does not prefer but that are such a part of our culture that we almost can’t conceive of how we can live according to God’s desires while still being American. Truth be told we all, if we reflect on what God desires, struggle with this tension of not wanting to justify ourselves but at the same time recognizing that God has always to some extent accommodated himself to us.

I also find a problem with the idea that somehow homosexual sin is worse than any other sin. This is specifically where it seems too many Christians wish to elevate Paul over the rest of Scripture. If there is a biblical basis for creating a hierarchy of sin one might wish to begin with the seven things God hates from Proverbs 6:16-19. Also if one wishes to argue simply from the amount of biblical material related to sin one would have to conclude that broadly speaking, any activity that creates or participates in the sin of injustice is at the top of this list (read the prophetic books and Jesus for starters). Admittedly an argument from silence, but Jesus never even comes close to mentioning homosexuality. To claim that homosexuality is a sin like no other seems to be an arbitrary argument that cannot hold weight unless we view Paul as the final or most authoritative word. Even then it is dubious exegesis to say that Paul claims homosexuality is a sin like no other. It seems extremely inconsistent to claim that homosexual marriage is a sin that cannot be tolerated in the Church while to some extent tolerating a whole host of other sins the Bible mentions.

Another aspect of articles I have read that I cannot agree with is the argument that assumes that a homosexual is not a Christian. Too many articles mention something along the lines of: “we may not agree with their behavior, but we still need to love them.” Clearly to assume that one cannot be a Christian homosexual is extremely judgmental. Not to mention the fact that historically speaking the Church has completely failed to love the homosexual population, which explains why the vast majority of homosexuals want nothing to do with organized religion. We have demonstrated that we are unloving and judgmental. This is sadly ironic when the Church is called to manifest the love of God shown most clearly in the life of Jesus.

Empathy: One of my Dad’s most admirable characteristics that I have attempted to emulate is empathy, trying to understand what it might be like to be “that” person, whoever they may be. I can still hear him saying if I complained about a particular person in one of his churches: “If you knew what they have been through you would understand better why they are like they are.” There is a good reason why our culture uses the phrase “come out.” There is still a good chance in our culture when you “come out” you run the risk of being ostracized or even being a target of violence especially if you are a man. The Church has paid lip service to the mantra of “hate the sin but love the sinner” but as I said above, collectively the Church has utterly failed.

Conclusion: Again, I repeat that these are thoughts related to the debate that make me wonder if perhaps our arguments about homosexuality and gay marriage are valid. I realize I will struggle my entire life to understand and live out what it means to love like Jesus did but I have decided I would prefer to accept gay marriage and live with the tension. I would have the same wish for a homosexual couple that I would for a heterosexual couple: live in a loving, committed relationship. Personally, I am not willing to condemn them without wondering if I am condemning myself.