Friday, May 11, 2012

How to Be a "Bible-Believing" Christian and Support Legalizing Gay Marriage at the Same Time Without Being a Hypocrite (Hopefully)

I am probably going to take heat from both sides of this argument by writing this post, but considering that I am a political moderate, I'm kind of used to it. These reflections are the result of literally years of intense wrestling and earnest prayer and faithful Bible study on a topic that still confounds me sometimes. The result is that I am the person who understands both sides of the argument. I respect the voices of those who lament the decline of traditional marriage as well as the arguments of those who demand equal rights.

In many ways, I am a conservative Christian. Some might call me two steps shy of being a Biblical literalist. I believe that Moses really did part the Red Sea and that Jesus really did walk on water. I struggle with many things in the Bible that challenge my ideas about how the world should be, and I work very hard to see the Bible as a complete picture, an Old Testament unified with a New Testament, discipline and grace together supporting each other. I try very hard not to prooftext or take individual statements out of context. There are many people who are arguing about the specific passages in the Bible that relate to homosexuality. Some Biblical scholars argue that Paul's condemnation of homosexuality has been mistranslated and is actually a condemnation of male prostitution. I don't know. I am not an expert in ancient Greek.

But there are several things that I do know:

  • When Jesus came, many of the Jews expected the Messiah to lead a revolution that would end with the Jews being in charge of their country again, back to the good old days of theocracy. But Jesus didn't do that. He appealed to them on a personal level, not as a military or political leader. He even advised them to continue submitting to the Roman government by "rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's". 
  • Later, after Jesus was resurrected, Peter had a vision of the Lord telling him to kill and eat animals that were unclean according to Jewish law. "Do not call unclean what I have made clean" the voice said. Paul went on to argue that Gentile converts to Christianity did not need to follow all of the Jewish laws set down in the Old Testament such as circumcision and dietary restrictions. He even said that those who did not believe in other gods could eat food offered to idols without being guilty of adultery. Earnest Biblical scholars have been discussing the implications of these sections of the New Testament for centuries, trying to understand precisely what Christian Freedom does and does not entitle us to do. I think it's fair to say that today none of us has an absolutely clear or precise answer to that question.
I do not live in a theocracy. Jesus did not ask his followers to form a theocracy nor did he advise them to use the government to achieve their work of spreading the gospel. Throughout the book of Acts, the early disciples do not waste any time trying to take over the government or convert government officials to their cause. When they are carted before the authorities and charged with crimes, they speak in their own defense but do not ask the officials to punish those who have interfered with them. Paul does invoke his rights as a Roman citizen in an attempt to save his life, but this interaction with the government is personal and does not reflect any desire on his part to use the government to control others.

I live in a country with a constitution that guarantees religious freedom. That means that each person must be allowed to practice his or her religion freely unless that practice somehow infringes upon the rights of another person. We cannot legislate that everyone follow Christian beliefs and practices simply because they are Christian beliefs and practices. That would, in effect, be instituting a state religion, and our constitution forbids that. Of course, as a "Bible-believing" Christian, I put God before my country, but as stated above, I do not think that the Bible instructs Christians to combat this constitutional provision or to work towards a theocracy in the United States.

The laws in this country allow people to make plenty of choices that contradict the morals that I have as a "Bible-believing" Christian:
  • Adultery is legal.
  • No-fault divorce and subsequent remarriage are legal and are generally not frowned upon at all in this country.
  • I cannot ask to visit someone in prison unless that person already knows me and has put my name on his or her visitors list.
  • People can be driven into poverty and be forced to sell off all their possessions to pay medical bills, causing many wait to get medical help until it is too late because they are afraid that will happen to them.
  • Rich people are allowed to hoard their wealth, and they don't have to give a single penny to charity or to a homeless man on the street if they don't want to. 
  • Sex between any consenting adults is legal, including threesomes, swingers, homosexuality, and a whole lot of other stuff that doesn't turn me on at all and that I would never do.
I could go on, but I think these few examples probably make my point. I believe in the Bible, and I study it with dedication. My opinions are not due to ignorance or a belief that the Bible is outdated or irrelevant. I believe in morality and struggle to live the kind of life that I think the Bible as a whole points to. I encourage those around me to do the right thing, and I try to spread the Gospel in whatever way I can. I believe that the Bible encourages us to show people the love of God by example and to preach the good news to them, not to enslave them to our laws and traditions so that they must act like Christians no matter what they believe. I believe that laws are important to protect our rights and that we should be given as many rights as possible. I do not see how allowing gay people to have a legally recognized union would violate anyone's rights in a way that is grievous enough to warrant prohibiting it. The institutional of marriage in this country does not really match Christian marriage anyway (see previous statements about adultery, fornication, and no-fault divorce) because it's set up as a legal construct, not a religious one.

But if that argument is not convincing, let me try another one. Forget about the marriage concept for a minute. Forget about gay sex and all of the acts that the Bible suggests are sinful. Imagine instead a person in the following situations:
  • I am dying, but the person I love most in the world, with whom I have shared a life for the past several decades, is sitting outside in the waiting room, forbidden to come see me because they are not legally my family. Because of this I will die alone when all I want is to hold that person's hand.
  • I have spent my life taking care of a person I love very much and letting that person take care of me. We have discussed what we want for the end of our lives—medical directives, funeral arrangements, etc. However, when the time comes I am not legally permitted to make those decisions based on that person's wishes. Instead the parents—who have not discussed this with that person and won't listen to me—have the right to make all the decisions.
  • The person I have chosen to spend the rest of my life with doesn't have medical insurance. My employer offers generous medical insurance benefits that my coworkers can use to cover their life partners, but if my life partner gets sick, our finances could be destroyed.
  • I am building a life with someone, and we're still young. But if one of us dies unexpectedly and we haven't had a chance to write a will, everything we've worked for together could be split up with the deceased person's assets going to some other family member.
Would these scenarios be OK if they were applied to wholesome heterosexual Bible-believing Christians? What if the State didn't recognize any marriages at all? What if marriage were a purely religious institution and the government didn't afford any rights to married couples? What if hospitals could deny anyone the right to visit their loved ones or the government could give your assets to any member of your family who won their favor? What if only workers were covered by their company's health insurance, and no breadwinners were allowed to cover their spouse? Would that be OK? If we wouldn't be OK with these things happening to us, then maybe we should think about how these issues could be connected to the second-greatest Christian commandment of all—Love thy neighbor as thyself.

I have just argued in defense of legal recognition for gay couples. However, as I've just explained, that is not the same thing as a total endorsement of homosexuality. I am still struggling to understand how homosexuality fits in with the Bible, and you will not find me suggesting that all churches should immediately get on board with performing gay marriages. You also will not catch me calling people bigots if they don't want gay marriages performed in their church or if they don't want to call a gay pastor. I respect and understand those beliefs along with any beliefs that derive from an earnest desire to understand and follow the Bible.

I will not tell you that if my daughter grows up to be gay it won't bother me at all. A part of me would probably be uneasy or sad if my daughter turns her back on any of the religious beliefs I hold dear. I would be a liar if I said I wouldn't care at all if she stopped going to church, converted to Buddhism, or had a baby out of wedlock. But those choices would never mean that I would think her undeserving of government protections, freedom to make her own decisions, or my love and support. Paul warned against the dangers of sexual immorality and Hebrew law prohibited sex between men, sure. But Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, and he loved them. He did not say they were perfect just the way they were, but his action certainly seemed to show that he thought they were worthy of his company and deserved to enjoy a nice meal just like anybody else.

My parents are divorced, and my father is remarried. My mother hopes to remarry one day. It bothered me a lot when my parents got divorced. They are both devout Christians, and I thought that they understood that divorce was a sin. Jesus called it the result of the "hardness of hearts". Just after my parents decided to divorce, my dad came to visit me. I was so upset about it that the night before he arrived I violated one of my own cardinal rules—never drink when you feel depressed—and I toasted the demise of my parents' marriage on Jack Daniels and ended up throwing up three times. I still think that it would have been better if they stayed married, and by that I don't mean simply that they shouldn't have divorced. I believe that it would have been better if they had recommitted to each other, worked at it until they solved their problems, and learned how to respect, love, and trust each other again. But they couldn't (or wouldn't). So they got divorced and found new people to respect, love, and trust. And while I respect and embrace their efforts to live according to the will of God in their new relationship, I still mourn the imperfect and sinful beginning of those relationships—the breakup of their first marriage. These new relationships are sin and righteousness all wrapped together in one package, and none of it is simple.

And I respect their right to make that choice and live their lives this way. I recognize that all life is a tangled mess of sin and righteousness, and only the grace of God can sort it all out. I don't even know all the ways I sin each day, and if I am honest with myself I have to admit that my own marriage does not match the lofty ideals set out in the Bible. I am married to a man, sure. But I don't think that my husband loves me the way that Christ loves the church, and I resent him for it. As a result I am often headstrong and I don't even come close to "obeying" him because I act like I have to look out for my own best interests myself even though I am married. I have had lustful thoughts about other men, and a few times I have even thought about whether I would be better off if my husband and I parted ways sometimes. Our relationship is messy, and sometimes I get angry and sometimes I feel hopeless. And yet in the midst of that, there is beauty too. There is our staunch unwillingness to look for love (or sex) elsewhere even when we aren't getting enough from each other. There is our commitment to working through our problems, easing our way through disagreements, and working hard not to trample on each other's feelings. There is the way we help each other out even when we're frustrated with each other. There's the way my husband will rub my shoulders only five minutes after we had a spat and the way that I cry and say that I love him and want him to be happy at the end of every heated argument.

The idea of legalizing same-sex marriage or giving gay couples similar rights to heterosexual couples is not black and white when it comes to the Bible and Christianity. (As a matter of fact, most moral issues aren't, if you study the Bible as a whole and work at understanding the way passages interact with each other. Debates about slavery, just war, and women's rights are a few illustrative examples.) I want very much to follow the Bible and to do what is right, and I want to be a role model who brings others to the truth as well. But after much deliberation, I don't think banning gay marriage is the way. (Nor do I think that fully embracing gay marriage in the church with no discussion or reference to problematic Biblical texts is the way, either.) I think that churches should do what they think the Bible is calling them to do but that the government should do what its constitution bids it do: protect the rights and freedom of its people. And if gay couples embrace a religion that permits them to marry like heterosexual couples do, then so be it. I cannot see how that could be construed as a violation of either party's rights or as a violation of a non-religious objective code of ethics.

Anyone who has made it to the end of this post probably disagrees with at least one thing I've said here, and that's totally fine with me. I'm not writing this in order to argue that my position is the only defensible one. I am simply trying to illustrate that it is possible to support legalizing gay marriage without throwing out the Bible, denying the existence of sin, or completely disregarding Christian morality.


Anonymous said...

For the record, you have at least one reader who got all the way through the post and didn't disagree with anything you said :)

Christopher in Texas

Anonymous said...

I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled upon this blog, but I'm glad I did. I seem to have many of the same views as you regarding gay marriage and Christianity, but I have struggled with how to put them into words. As a Christian I believe that God calls us to love others and I don't think that banning gay marriage based on biblical principles is the way to do that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts :)

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