Thursday, July 2, 2015

On Christianity and Gay Marriage

I have a few television posts coming down the pike, but I've seen the following article a lot in my social media feeds and it's something I feel rather strongly about.  Please excuse the diversion.

Recently, I've seen this article popping up on Facebook and Twitter, asking 40 questions of Christians who support gay marriage.  As a Christian who wholeheartedly supports gay marriage, I say "Challenge accepted."

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

 About seven or eight years.  Basically since I first met actual gay couples.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

It wasn’t a Bible verse that changed my mind, but if you want one, let’s go with Romans 13:10: “Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

1 John implores us to “love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us…God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them.”

God is love.  It is impossible for me to believe that a God who would instill love in us would deprive us of the ability to express that love to another person. 

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

See above.  Marriage, as the ultimate demonstration of love for another person, is an invitation for God to live in them and through them.

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

It’s tough to say because this would have been a relatively uncommon practice in Ancient Rome.  I can’t definitively say one way or the other.

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

Jesus was responding to the Pharisees who were attempting to trap him and get him to say something
in contradiction to Jewish law (“The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’”).  In response, he did what he always did with the Pharisees: give them a legally correct answer that was bound to frustrate them anyway, since Moses had previously allowed divorce (see also: “render unto Caesar” and “let he who among you is without sin cast the first stone”).

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

I can say with absolute, 100% certainty that Jesus never in his life spoke against “porneia” because Jesus didn’t speak Greek.  But leaving that small piece aside for the moment, let’s consider the word “porneia.”  In its most modern connotation, porneia is generally translated as “sexual immorality.”  This has had the unfortunate consequence of allowing everybody to write their definition of “sexual immorality” onto the term.  For most, sexual immorality includes adultery.  For some, it includes homosexuality and premarital sex.  For others, it includes masturbation.  For other still, it includes dancing, wearing dresses that end above the ankles, wearing sleeveless tops, not covering your hair and women touching men to whom they are not married. 

But porneia has a much more specific definition than simply “sexual immorality” and must be considered alongside its complement “moicheia.”  Most often, while porneia is translated as “sexual immorality,” moicheia is translated as “adultery,” but really they are two sides of the same coin.*  In Ancient Greece, moicheia referred to the violation (usually through adultery though this would also apply to rape) of an honorable woman: a wife, daughter, or widow.  Strictly speaking, moicheia was not a violation of the woman, but of the man who was responsible for protecting the woman’s honor.  In Greek society, at least for men, moicheia was forbidden, unlike its counterpart porneia, or extramarital sex with a dishonorable woman or man (usually a prostitute or a slave).  Porneia was not only legally and socially permissible, but often encouraged.  And even then, the term “porneia” was typically reserved for the one selling themselves or being used, not for the “john.”  In fact, the root form of the word (pernao) means “to sell off.”

It is in this context, then, that we must understand the Jewish use of “porneia,” The Jews, in their efforts to set themselves apart from the Greeks, identified porneia as a sin, not just for the woman, but for men as well.  But despite this expansion, it still referred almost exclusively to prostitution (in the Old Testament) and sex outside of marriage.  

So, in answer to the original question, Jesus never spoke against “porneia,” but what he did speak out against that the author of Matthew translated as “porneia” could very well have been extramarital sex of any kind or, more specifically, having sex with prostitutes and slaves.

* Matthew 19:9, the verse in which Jesus is quoted as saying “porneia” is usually translated as “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality [porneia], and marries another woman commits adultery [moicheia].”  A very reasonable interpretation of this verse is that Jesus is telling the Pharisees that a man who divorces his wife is guilty of a far greater sin (moicheia) than the dishonorable woman who sells herself on the street (porneia).

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

It’s important to remember that, in both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, sexuality did not abide by the traditional hetero/homosexual dichotomy that we view it in today.  Rather, sex was about power, with a dominating partner and a submissive partner – or, to put it crudely, a giver and a receiver.  It was not considered wrong, legally, socially, or morally for a man to have sex with another man (or boy), as long as he was in the dominant role.

This was the culture in which Ancient Romans lived and it was the culture which Paul was addressing.  It is entirely possible, then, to understand Paul’s description of the symptoms of God’s wrath (and these are the symptoms, not the cause) as the subversion in gender roles brought about when men take the submissive role in sex or women take the dominant role (gender roles are a common theme in Paul’s letters).  In other words, Paul is telling the Romans, “When God’s wrath comes, the unbelieving men will be turned submissive and made receivers of sex.”  This is not meant as a strict condemnation of homosexuality in general, but as an explicit threat to the Romans of the humiliations (in their minds) they would endure if they don’t repent.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

If everything the Bible says will send us to Hell will actually send us to Hell, then we’re all doomed.
In all seriousness, so long as we accept that those actions are wrong and ask forgiveness then, no, they will not keep us out of heaven. 

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

See above, re: porneia.

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

I don’t think that I know more.  But those men didn’t agree on everything either.  It is possible to not have a 100% accurate view of the Bible and Jesus’s teaching and still be right about enough to be saved.  Hell, Thomas Aquinas practically invented purgatory (or at least its doctrine), which Calvin and Luther both rejected and about which Augustine was, at best, agnostic.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

I would say that the current anti-gay Christianity is based on some misinterpretations of the original text that itself is based in cultural conditions many centuries ago.  I would also encourage them to embrace love in its many forms.

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?


14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

I think that children do best in stable, two-parent homes.

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

The research seems to indicate that children in homes with two same-sex parents fare just as well as children in homes with two opposite-sex parents.

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

See above.

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?


18. How would you define marriage?

Marriage is how two people demonstrate to themselves, their friends, their family, and God that they love each other and are committed to spreading that love to everybody they know.

We’re now leaving moral territory and entering political territory.  While my previous responses were based on my religious and moral beliefs, the following are based on my political beliefs.

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

These are all basically the same question, so I’ll tackle them together.  In a perfect world, where everybody is perfectly good and nobody is in any way bad, I would have no problem with family members marrying or polygamy as the government should not be in the business of discriminating without a compelling interest.  Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, and the power dynamics in such relationships very often result in abuse, typically of women.  The state has a compelling interest in ensuring that such abuse does not occur, so it understandably prohibits such relationships.

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

Nobody should be allowed to marry prior to the age of consent.

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

The state should not be in the business of discrimination.  If it is going to issue marriage licenses, it should do so equitably, barring a compelling interest not to.

24. If not, why not?

See above, re: 19, 20, and 21

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

In private, yes.  But if you are using your religious beliefs as a pretense to discriminate, then no. 
Religious beliefs have been used for all manner of deplorable things.  The trial judge in the Lovings’ case (of Loving v Virginia – the Supreme Court case that overturned anti-interracial marriage laws) once wrote, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

A court clerk should no more be allowed to deny a marriage certificate for a same-sex couple than an interracial couple.  It’s your job.  If you can’t do it within the confines of the law, then find another.
I would, however, exempt from this artists, including cake decorators and florists.  Nobody should be forced to ply an art for a cause they do not support.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

I do not support the use of religion as an excuse for discrimination.  After all, Jesus said “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is not an exception carved out there for gay people.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Full stop.

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

I would defy you to find me an Evangelical or Catholic person who has truly been bullied because of their beliefs about gay marriage.  If that has happened, I would stand against it.  As for shaming, I believe holding a discriminatory viewpoint is shameful.  On some issues there are not two sides. 

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

By supporting and honoring them as much as every other marriage.

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

If a church views extra-marital affairs as a sin, then they should treat all such affairs equally.

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

No more so than it is for heterosexual people.  You know, you’re not making a very good argument against gay marriage here.  After all, it was Paul who recommended that early Christian men get married as a means of avoiding the temptations of porneia.  It seems like the same could work for LGBT people.

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

The same things other churches do (which, let’s face it, is usually nothing.)

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

I’d need another 1,000 words for that and it’s already 11:00pm.  In short, love is love.  That feeling you have for your significant other?  Gay people feel it for their significant others, too.  It's no different.

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

You seem to be implying in this question that homosexuality is a “decision.”  If that’s what you’re saying, there’s not much point in continuing here.  All evidence is pointing to the conclusion that homosexuality is an innate condition.  If you’re asking me if it’s possible to love someone and to believe that a fundamental aspect of their very nature will condemn them to Hell, then I would say “no.”

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

I no longer believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.  It was written by men, who each had their own agendas and audiences and must be interpreted in such contexts.

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

It’s actually strengthened my faith by convincing me that God’s plan for all of us, gay or straight, involves love.  God is love.  He manifests himself on earth through love.  And it is through his love for us – all of us – that we are saved.

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

Well, few American churches (and no evangelical churches) truly teach “orthodox Christianity,” but I’m a huge fan of College Hill United Methodist in Wichita, Kansas.

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?


40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

See above, re: #8.  But just to end on a snarky note, Paul is rebuking “they [who] have no understanding, no fidelity, no mercy.”

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