Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that marriage is a legal right for same-sex couples. They were essentially answering the question: Is marriage only between one man and one woman?
The Church in America (and around the world) now faces a host of other questions. However, the foremost question is simple: Is same-sex marriage a legitimate option for Christians?
Unfortunately, the Church often gets off track when trying to answer this question.
A thousand rabbit trails and red herrings clamor for our attention, our words, and our emotions. Before we can begin to consider the real question, we must identify and debunk these distractions.
- This is not about orientation. We should never say, “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong.” That is uninformed and untrue. Sin is in the action not the orientation. No matter our stance on gay marriage, I think most Christians can agree on this: A celibate gay guy can be just as holy as a celibate straight guy.
- This is not about promiscuity. Statistically the overwhelming majority of gay men have about the same number of sexual partners as their straight counterparts. However, this is beside the point. For Christians (gay and straight), sex outside marriage is out-of-bounds, so the question is: What counts as marriage?
- This is not about nature versus nurture. Scientific evidence is still inconclusive on whether people are born gay or become gay through environmental influences, but that is beside the point. Not everything we are born with is good. Not everything we become is bad. Most scientists argue that people “acknowledge” their orientation rather than “choose” it. The roots of the orientation are irrelevant.
- This is not about individual worth. Many of my conservative Christian friends feel that their stand against gay marriage is their last bastion in a cultural battle they’ve been losing for a long time. Many of my LBGT friends feel that their personal identity and self-worth are intrinsically tied up with their sexual orientation. Both groups get highly emotional about this issue because it feels like a personal attack. Both groups are wrong. God loves us all, and that is the only defining reality of our lives.
- This is not about Sodom and Gomorrah. That story is about rape and abuse of power - not gay marriage. When Ezekiel, Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah bring up the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, they talk about injustice, oppression, and dishonesty. Other passages in the Bible talk about homosexuality, but the Sodom and Gomorrah story doesn’t.
- This is not about whether we believe the Bible. Good Christians disagree about gay marriage, and many from both groups have developed their views with a deep loyalty to the Bible. The question is how we interpret the Bible, not whether we believe the Bible.
- This is not about equality. The primary issue at hand for Christians is understanding how the Bible guides our lives. Nothing supersedes that. A shifting cultural tide does not require changing a long-standing interpretation of the Bible. Christians are called to be fundamentally counter-cultural. It is entirely possible that the only legitimate option for gay Christians is celibacy. Nobody ever said following Jesus is easy.
- This is not about sex. I know sex is right there in the middle of the word homosexuality, but it shouldn’t be in the middle of our conversation. We tend to think that whatever we desire is right (good) and that we have a right to whatever we desire. But we're wrong. As Christians (and fundamentally as humans), we accept a wide variety of limits on our desires. This debate is actually about marriage not desire or sex.
- This is not about rejecting the body. Some Christians act like sex is always a little icky and maybe even always bad. Other Christians act like what we do with our bodies isn’t very important. Yet Jesus came in the flesh and affirmed our flesh. Whichever way we answer the marriage question, we must affirm that our bodies are good gifts from God and that we are responsible to use them well.
The question for the Church is essentially the same question the U.S. Supreme Court just answered: Is marriage only between one man and one woman?
However, the Church doesn’t have to come up with the same answer as the Supreme Court. After all, we have a different founding document: the Bible.
Obviously, it’s taking the church much longer than a few months to come to a decision on this important issue. And that makes all kinds of sense. The Supreme Court has 9 opinions to wrangle. However, the Church currently spans some 3.5 billion people in every nation on earth, with no central organization to negotiate consensus. The U.S. Constitution is just over 200 years old, just a few generations behind us. On the other hand, the Bible is some 2,000-5,000 years old, so the cultural distance is much greater.
It took the Church about 150 years of serious wrestling to come to a consensus that slavery is always wrong. We’re nearing the end of a 150 year debate for the full equality of women. The debate about gay marriage is only about 50 years old.
We may be talking about this for a long, long time, so let's have a better conversation.
This post is part of a series. To read more, check out these links:
- A Better Conversation about Homosexuality
- 4 Reasons We Need to Talk
- Not About Orientation
- Not About Promiscuity
- Not About Nature vs. Nurture
- Not About Individual Worth
- Not About Sodom and Gomorrah
- Not About Whether We Believe the Bible
- Not About Equality
- Not About Sex
- Not About Rejecting the Body