President Obama, Gay Marriage and the Church
Over lunch Sunday (ironically Mother’s Day lunch which Lynn prepared for us), Angelynn asked me what I thought about the whole issue of homosexual marriage. The announcement Thursday of President Obama coming out (no pun intended) in support of homosexual marriage brought the topic up, but this was something she had been thinking about for some time. “So Dad, what do you think about homosexual marriage?” My immediately response was to make a joke, “Uh… you don’t have a girlfriend I don’t know about, do you?” She was serious, but I tend to make jokes when I’m uncomfortable. This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot about as well, and I’ve started twice in the last week or so to write something on the blog about it. So here my daughter is calling me out on it. What do I think about homosexual marriage?
I wish I could remember exactly how Angelynn asked the question, but I think it was something like this—“I think homosexuality is wrong, but I don’t want to come across as harsh and condemning either.” Well, that's what I think! To be honest, I was a bit uncomfortable with her question. Why? Because Kati, our token Democrat, feminist friend was there waiting to hear my answer? Not really. What made me uncomfortable was that as "The Preacher" I feel a bit of pressure to have a fully-formed, consistent and coherent position on issues like this. And on this one, all I have is an in-process, inconsistent and incoherent position. So here goes.
I believe homosexuality is a sin. I believe that the consistent witness in scripture is to portray homosexuality as inconsistent with God’s original design for human sexuality. In the beginning God both made humankind in His image and likeness and He made them male and female (Gen 1:27). When Jesus was asked about marriage and divorce, he began with this statement that God made humans male and female (So no, Jesus never mentions homosexuality per se, but he does mention the “male and female” starting point for marriage). Homosexuality is condemned along with incest and bestiality as forbidden sexual practice in Leviticus. Sure, there is a lot of other stuff condemned as well (like sex during and a week following the menstrual cycle), so Leviticus is definitely not the final word. But it is part of a consistent Biblical position. Paul uses homosexuality as his “exhibit A” in the sinfulness of the Roman world that denied God (Rom 1:26-27), but he expands his list of exhibits to include greed, gossip, God-hating and a host of other things that no one is seeking constitutional amendments to ban. When Paul lists sins that keep people from inheriting the kingdom of God, homosexuality is listed (1 Cor. 6:9). Again, this list also includes adulterers and alcohol abusers (nobody in Congress is going to introduce a bill banning that or they would have trouble raising a quorum to vote on the thing!). As someone who believes that the Bible is binding and that it should be interpreted, if not always literally, at least seriously and consistently, I believe that homosexuality is a sin. And I believe that it is the job of the church to discourage people from sinning. So I’m not drinking the cultural Kool-Aid that wants everyone to accept that “Gay is OK.”
At the same time (take a deep breath here), while homosexuality is a sin, it is only a sin. It is not the worst of all possible sins. I’m not sure what that would be, maybe pride (because pride is at the root of most other sins). But some of us (“us” being Christian heterosexuals) may think that homosexuality really is the worst of all sins because we have such a visceral revulsion (the “Yuck Factor”) when we think of two men having sex together. Here's what I think-- unless and until we can generate that same revulsion and disgust when we contemplate “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gal 5:19-21), then maybe the moral outrage and repugnance that we feel toward homosexuality is more akin to homophobia (of which we are often accused) than we like to admit! I’m not saying that we should learn to accept homosexuality; I’m saying that we should have the same moral outrage when confronted by all sin rather than saving it up for just this one. I'm just saying.
The text that comes to mind when I think of the gay marriage issue is not in Leviticus, Romans or Galatians—it’s 1 Corinthians 5:9-12. You might think, “But Paul’s list of sins there doesn’t even mention homosexuality.” He mentions a list of sins that Christians are to oppose, and homosexuality would be included her under the umbrella of “sexual immorality” (a pretty big umbrella to be sure). Where this text touches the current discussion on the church’s response to homosexual marriage is in Paul’s command “not at all meaning the people of this world” (5:10) and “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church” (5:12). Getting all wrapped around the axle over political issues that seek to govern those outside of Christ by using the law of Christ seems to miss Paul’s point here completely. Remember, Satan is the one who holds power over the kingdoms of the world, even our own (see Matt 4:8-9). The job of the church is to oppose the work of Satan, not with signs or wisdom, but by preaching Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:20-25). Politics is ultimately about power, and power is the ploy of the kingdom of the world, not the kingdom of God (see Matt 20:26-27). We are called to serve the world in the name of Jesus, not to rule over it.
There is a lot more that could be said and that I intended to say. Rather than me sating it, let me point you to a very well written blog by Dan Bouchelle that sums up pretty well what I think. I really recommend you click over and read what Dan says. I don’t agree with everything that he says… but then I don’t agree with everything I say either. He ends his blog with a list of “few things I’d like to say to conservative Christians in general and preachers specifically” before we respond to President Obama’s announcement of his support of gay marriage. I’ll end with his (edited and abbreviated) list just to whet your appetite (and encourage you to read the whole article).
- Before you talk about homosexuality you really should get to know and love several people with same sex attraction. This will keep you from painting with a broad brush about “them” and will change the tone of what you say to something more Christ-like.
- Please don’t talk as if homosexuals have made a conscious choice about their orientation and just decided they would rather be gay. It’s a little more complicated than that.
- Please put this issue in perspective with other behaviors and desires that heterosexuals battle. If you give people a pass on sins like greed, bitterness, envy, gossip, or dissention while you vilify “those homosexuals,” you are being hypocritical. If you are going to work out of Romans 1, look over Paul’s whole list of sins and treat them all with equal seriousness.
- Please do not equate the gang-rape of ancient Sodom with genuinely caring same sex relationships today. I’m not saying either is good. I’m saying they are not comparable.
- Please do not talk as if same sex relationships cannot ever be loving or fulfilling. Not all homosexual relationships are shallow and lustful.
- Encourage your church to love and welcome people with same sex attraction. The way we deal with homosexuals needs to communicate God’s love not our hate. This won’t be easy; most churches are not prepared to welcome people with same sex attraction.
- If you are going to require people with same sex attraction to live celibate lives (which is appropriate), are you also willing to provide them the kind of loving community that will keep their lives from being unbearably lonely? The church that takes a stand against homosexuality has a responsibility to provide a higher form of love to those it asks to leave the gay life.
- Please do not talk as if people who do not believe in the Christian God, do not trust the scriptures, and who do not follow Jesus should be compelled by law to support Christian values. The world won’t be won to Christ through politics or power but by the gospel of sacrificial love.
- Do not let the vacillating winds of public opinion determine the position you take. This is not about being fashionable; it is about speaking the truth in love and helping people mature into the fullness of Christ.
I know this blog will be unpopular (this is when it's good to have a readership of only 2-3). This is one of those polarizing issues that people tend to see only in extremes, and on this one issue anyway, I'm not very extreme (which may be too extreme). I feel strongly both ways. I believe that homosexuality is wrong. I believe that God loves homosexuals. Thus I believe that the church must love homosexuals. And I believe that up to this point, we're doing it wrong.