For Christian culture warriors everywhere, May 9, 2012, will be a date that lives in infamy. In an interview with ABC News President Barack Obama announced publicly his support for same-sex marriage in the United States. This follows similar statements (trial balloons?) recently by vice-president Joe Biden (last Sunday) and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The only surprise expressed by some was that the president’s “evolution” was so time consuming. Indeed some seemed upset that he waited so long. The “Log Cabin Republicans” LGBT group within the GOP actually chastised the President for “Cold Comfort” in his decision.
— LogCabinRepublicans (@LogCabinGOP) May 9, 2012
Afternoon anchor on the arch-conservative FOX News, Shepard Smith, followed a video report of the President’s announcement by saying, “the president of the United States, now in the 21st century.”
I’ve written about homosexuality and the church before on a blog now defunct. After President Obama’s announcement I was asked by a friend to address the issue of gay marriage from a “Libertarian” perspective, but since I am a political Independent such an endeavor might not bear fruit. Discounting any political position I’ve had many thoughts on this issue over the course of the last few years and now seems a good time to toss mine into the conversation. Below are a few thoughts on the subject. Please read completely before commenting.
1) Christians have been on the wrong side of history so many times we have a hard time convincing people in the wider culture we can ever be on the right side. Slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and inter-racial marriage are to name but a few. People in the media are already promoting the “wrong side of history” narrative, and as that drumbeat increases our best arguments will begin to sound like “Yeah, but this time we’re right!” A Boston Globe headline dated May 10, 2012, reads, “On gay marriage, Obama is on the right side of history”. The subsequent editorial asserts, “So while the issue remains a matter of contention, the die is cast. Gay marriage will, in time, be broadly accepted in this country.”
Barring a revival that would make the First and Second Great Awakenings look like a Backyard Bible Club, I think gay marriage will ultimately be widely accepted in the U.S. It may be a while before it is legalized across the country, but personal acceptance of the idea is already spreading rapidly. (In polls like this recent one from Gallup respondents affirm support. But in 32 states with a ballot initiative to affirm marriage between a man and woman each has passed with an average support of more than 60%.)
2) Too many Christians are much more adept at hating the sin than in loving the sinner. The old saw “love the sinner, but hate the sin” has just about run its course as a legitimate point of debate. Reality in contemporary American Christian conversation is “hate the sin, condemn the sinner, blame the sinner, accuse the sinner, castigate the sinner, Bible-whip the sinner and then tell the sinner you love them.”Seriously?
Yes, I agree we should speak the truth in love. However, when those to whom truth is being spoken sense no love in our words it might be time to evaluate whether what we are doing matches what we think we are doing.
If a parent treated their kids the way Christians respond to some sinners we would call it emotional manipulation or even emotional abuse. If someone I did not know told me, “You are a homophobic, woman-hating, confused, lying, manipulative skunk. Your faith is damaging to society, and you probably are promiscuous. But, down deep I love you,” I am not sure I would be convinced. The more followers of Christ make anti-gay marriage rhetoric the center of our public discourse, the farther away we push those we are convinced need the gospel the most. Jesus is shared; judgment is blared. Loving our enemies, even perceived ones, is not reducible to merely not hating them, and 1 Corinthians 13 is not firstly for weddings.
3) Christians are years too late recognizing the root of this issue. Some still do not. The root of this issue is not marriage for gays. The root of this issue is equality under the law for all citizens of the United States of America of which “marriage” has become symbolic of that effort (gay marriage is sometimes called “marriage equality”). I believe it did not have to be this way. Indeed, if Christian leaders of the past had paid attention to the underlying constitutional issues instead of constantly haranguing people about the “slippery slope” or fear-mongering about “creeping incrementalism” the current (and looming) divide would not be as severe. If we had protected the rights of citizens rather than framing the debate as a moral Titanic we might not be where we are today.
One of the reasons this country was founded was for self-determination: that we might conduct our lives, our worship, and our business as we thought best. The Declaration of Independence gave voice to untold numbers of the king’s subjects who craved “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Bundled in that craving is the right (I believe) to choose who will make health decisions for me if I am incapacitated, who stands to inherit at the time of my death, who can visit me if “only family may visit.” Citizens–regardless of their sexual activity–should be able to arrange their affairs according to the liberties we all enjoy as citizens of the United States. I do not agree with marriage for people of the same gender, and do not know the best solution, but not to address this allows situation to continue that should be rectified. (Here is a graph of laws in all 50 states that affect such rights.)
4) We, by and large, have ceded the conversation to the LBGT community and pro-gay marriage proponents. Dr. Peter Kreeft addresses the language issue well in this 2004 post. He writes:
As a philosopher the thing that strikes me most is the brilliant strategy of the gay marriage movement. Like Orwell in 1984 it sees that the main battlefield is language. If they can redefine a key term like “marriage” they win. Control language and you control thought; control thought and you control action; control action and you control the world.
Controlling the conversation is key to creating societal change. It is rare if not impossible to disagree on the gay marriage/gay rights issue without being shouted down as homophobic, hate-mongering or worse (if it can be worse). In this debate disagreement = hate. To call homosexuality “sin” is hate. To oppose the rights of gays to marry is hate. It really does not matter how much we say “No really, we do not hate you” when the very defining of the terms has us backed into a corner. (And speaking of language, this CT article helps explain why Americans support gay marriage in polls but oppose it on ballot initiatives.)
Frankly, I think this one is gone and is not coming back. The average Christian cannot articulate a defense of marriage apart from “God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” and does not seem to have an interest in doing so. “Marriage,” as an entry in the cultural dictionary, is now “a relationship between two people who love each other,” “a legal contract between two parties,” “an expression of love between consenting adults,” and the like. None of these express the biblical pattern, mind you, and yet each is a common way of arguing for gay “marriage.” If the gay marriage movement finds someone with the rhetorical power of an MLK or William F. Buckley, Jr., there will be no stopping it. That a movement directly affecting only 1.7% of the population has attracted so much attention is evidence of how effective gaining the conversation can be.
5) The timing of the president announcement is likely to create a cultural World War III between now and November. Even a casual observer can tell this is about re-election not about principle. I do not say that to disparage the President, but to acknowledge the political realities of the permanent campaign, much less an election year effort. The eventual Republican nominee would try and beat Obama to death with the economy, the debt and unemployment. This provides one of the few agenda items that might re-energize his base.
If the culture warrior vein of American Christianity takes the bait they may very well find themselves in a battle they cannot win: focusing on gay-marriage (which will galvanize Obama’s base) thereby removing the attention off the economy (where he is truly vulnerable). If drawn in these culture warriors have no one but themselves to blame. Time will tell whether this will happen.
6) Because we have winked at other sins, we have weakened moral authority to address this one. I believe the Bible is clear on sexuality, teaching that any sexual act not between a married man and woman is a sin. God has hallowed and sanctified the sex act within the bounds of the marriage relationship. For heterosexuals to have sex outside marriage is a sin. For heterosexuals to take multiple partners on test drives is sin. For people of the same sex to engage in sex acts is sin. (A recent survey found Americans are split as to whether homosexuality is a sin.)
Biblically speaking homosexuality is not the opposite of heterosexuality. Homosexuality is a sexual sin along the same line as adultery, sex outside of marriage and the rest. When the New Testament speaks of ungodly acts or works of the flesh it never mentions sex between a man and a woman inside of marriage (which God blesses). All other forms of sexual expression are categorized as “sexual immorality.”
However, belief that homosexual acts are sin should not be the biggest issue. The biggest issue is how we as Christians and our churches have shrugged their shoulders toward the other forms of sexual immorality. Churches in the south have “disfellowshipped” other churches for accepting gay members. At the same time many of those same churches across the South (and elsewhere) have allowed rampant adultery, pre-marital sex, clergy sexual abuse, and epidemic divorce as if the Bible were silent on those issues. We have been silent on so much of equal importance we have lost our voice on issues we consider of ultimate importance.
7) Christians have practiced, for want of a better phrase, “selective abominations.” Christians have been quick to cite Leviticus–and cite it loudly–”A man shall not lie with a man as with a woman, it is an abomination” (Lev 18:22). Sadly, other abominations as taught in God’s word, merit barely a whisper from those who shout about homosexuality. Not including the dietary laws of Moses, a survey of behavioral abominations include lying (Prov. 12:22), cheating (Prov. 11:1), proud people (Prov. 16:5), prayer offered from disobedience (Prov. 28:9), incense offered in disobedience (Isa. 1:13), and adultery (Ez. 22:11). I think many have chosen to rail against homosexuality because it is the one abomination of which we are least likely to commit. God knows we have most of the other ones down pat.
Even though I believe all sexual immorality–indeed all sin–to be abominations most Christians are not even able to articulate why they still call homosexual acts abominations but do not the same for eating shellfish, catfish or pork chops. Merely shouting “The Bible says so,” carries little weight when the nearby verses describe those other acts as abominations as well. Well articulated explanations are hard. Thus Christians find themselves responding feebly. This leaves us looking like bigots as we pick out only the one abomination to rail against.
8) Some Christians erect barriers because they make homosexuality, rather than redemption, the reason for their cultural engagement. It is as if we want gays to admit their sin is an affront to us, before they admit to God their sin is an affront to Him. I cannot figure why, if Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, so many think it their personal responsibility to do it on His behalf? It is not, He has not, we should not.
Church consultant Geoff Surratt addressed the gay-marriage issue recently on his blog, saying:
To me here are the top five enemies of God’s ideal marriage relationship:
Inappropriate relationship with another man or woman
Sex outside of marriage
Cohabiting before marriage
I think Surratt may be onto something. Marriage as an institution has far more insidious, persistent enemies.
What are your thoughts? Is gay marriage the end of the world, no big deal or something in between?