Same-sex marriage has been all the rave the past week. In the span of just a few days, both our President and Vice President expressed unprecedented support for same-sex marriage, all the while the state of NC passed new legislation to ensure that same-sex marriage will not be legalized now or at any point in the future within its borders.
What is interesting to me is how Christians have responded to the NC ruling – some have applauded the decision while others have excoriated the state of NC, and in particular the Christians of NC, for it. With this in mind, there are a few questions that I feel need to be considered here:
- Why are homosexuals so concerned about the legalization of same-sex marriage?
- Why are (many) Christians so opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage?
- Is it inherently un-Christian to be for or against same-sex marriage?
- Is this a fight for Christians that is worth getting into anyway?
So let’s start from the top: what is the big deal to homosexuals about being able to marry each other? We have a few options: 1) they can’t truly love each other without being married, 2) they desperately need the tax breaks and other government incentives they are not afforded through “civil unions,” or 3) being “married” would bring the legitimization and acceptance the homosexual community greatly craves.
Now, I have no hard data to back this up, but everything I’ve read on the subject points to one thing – same-sex marriage is about acceptance. It’s not about love – the status of being “married” has no true impact on a relationship (unless, of course, one believes in virginity prior to marriage, which is typically a stance restricted to the heterosexual evangelical Christian community). It’s not as though once the officiator declares you husband and wife (or husband and husband or what have you) that suddenly the doors of love are opened to you. Nor do I believe that this battle is about government incentives, especially considering the homosexuality community tends to fall within a very wealthy demographic. No, this is about being on the same plane as heterosexual relationships. Until homosexuals can do everything that heterosexuals can, they aren’t truly co-equals. They are a lesser type of relationship. An “also ran” romantic union. Second fiddle. Whatever you want to call it. They’ve worked very hard to gain acceptance into American society, and this is quite possibly the biggest hurdle for them to overcome before finding themselves totally integrated within our culture.
So why do Christians tend to oppose same-sex marriage? Why do we see Billy Graham running ads for the people of NC to vote against it? Why do we hear preachers forming nasty diatribes against those who support it? Why is there so much animosity and anger and fear among evangelicals whenever they mention the idea of homosexuals getting married?
I think that the societal shift in thinking on homosexuality has led evangelical leaders to realize how much they’ve failed. Their messages have fallen on deaf ears. Their programs haven’t brought about any substantive societal change. If the Bible teaches against homosexuality but people are growing more and more in favor of homosexuality, then that proves that people care less and less about the Bible, right? And if they care less about the Bible, the Bible teachers, leaders, and pastors have failed to get through to their students.
Ultimately, this is why I believe that same-sex marriage has become such a hot button within evangelical Christianity. It’s not that Christians hate homosexuals and have singled them out in order to make them miserable. It’s that they see the next generation jumping ship from historic Christianity. The fact that American tolerance towards homosexuality has skyrocketed the past 2 decades indicates one or more of three things, each of which point to failure among church leaders:
- America is less Christian now than it was a few decades ago.
- American Christians interpret the Bible differently now than they did a few decades ago.
- The Christians who spoke out against homosexuality for all these years were wrong.
These are all serious issues, and I think that there is a little bit of all three at work here, but I want to focus on #2, since that is a bit more obscure than the others. (I will indirectly address #3 at the end of this post.) One development that was practically unheard of before the 90s is the concept of the “evangelical homosexual” – someone who is homosexual but holds to the basic tenets of evangelical Christianity.
The EH (evangelical homosexual) believes that the OT teachings against homosexuality were part of the OT Law and not meant to be normative for all people of all times, especially considering the NT’s teaching that we are no longer under the law. Furthermore, Jesus never condemned homosexuality, confirming that He did not have any problem with it. So homosexuality is a perfectly acceptable means of finding romantic fulfillment for Christians.
Did you catch what was left out of the previous paragraph? Yes, the letters of Paul. Paul’s statements in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 appear pretty damning against homosexuals. So how can an EH get around this? Either throw Paul’s letters out altogether (why do we need Paul when we have Jesus?) or accept Paul’s writings as biblical but not without flaw (Paul didn’t truly understand homosexuality when he wrote those letters). Do you see the problem here? If Paul’s writings are thrown out, then some of the most crucial doctrinal books of the NT will also be cast aside, and if his writings are biblical but flawed, then any other biblical writings could also be flawed and the entire Bible is open to question.
You see now why homosexuality has become an evangelical hot button? It’s because the homosexuality debate has revealed a shift in social ideologies and biblical interpretation – both in a direction antithetical to historic Christian faith. So because it’s clear that society has stopped listening to the evangelical leaders, the evangelicals have gotten louder. They’ve upped the ante. They’ve become more passionate. And I dare say that they’ve sounded at times downright hateful towards homosexuals.
Now, I’m not going to pretend like the trend away from historic Christianity is the only reason why Christians get so upset by same-sex marriage. I’m painting with broad strokes here to get at the nub of the issue. Certainly there are some Christians who are simply bigoted against homosexuals. Others see such a close connection between their faith and the Republican party that the same-sex battle has become a “holy war” of sorts. And others still are simply frustrated with having a leftist agenda seemingly shoved down their throats by the media and government. Similarly, not every homosexual is merely concerned about acceptance in the same-sex marriage debate. Surely there are other concerns that certain people latch onto as the main reasons why they care about same-sex marriage. But again, I am intentionally painting with broad strokes here since I can’t possibly include every aspect of these two groups’ agendas.
So, taking a step back, how does this impact the Christian? Is there a moral aspect to this debate? In other words, is there a side of fence that every Christian should be on for supporting or opposing same-sex marriage?
Let’s evaluate what appears to me to be most common argument that Christians should support same-sex marriage – the Law of Love. This argument follows the logic that if Christians oppose same-sex marriage, they are, in essence, trying to prevent two people from loving each other. Since the foundation of Christianity is love for God and others, opposing same-sex marriage opposes the very essence of Christianity.
Does this argument hold up logically or biblically? I would argue that it does not. To oppose a certain type of marriage is not to oppose love – in fact, I love many people that I am not married to or romantically involved with. The biblical concept of love is first non-romantic – something that we are commanded to have toward all people. Just because two people cannot marry each other doesn’t mean that they cannot love each other. Nowhere in the Bible does God restrict Christian love in this way, and I’ve already suggested above that I do not believe that love is the main issue for homosexuals in this debate anyway. They will love each other in the way that they choose regardless of whether or not the state considers them “married.”
As such, I do not believe that Christians opposing same-sex marriage are inherently unloving, although I concede that many are unloving in the manner with which they oppose it. But that is an important distinction to make. Some people genuinely look at Scripture and come away from it believing that same-sex marriage does not serve the purposes that God created marriage for, namely for reproduction (Gen 1:26-28) and to give a living illustration of Christ’s love for His church (Eph 5:22-33). If same-sex marriage doesn’t serve these purposes, then is it really glorifying to God? And if it isn’t glorifying to God, then why should Christians be expected to support it?
This leads me to the other half of the equation – is it wrong for Christians to support same-sex marriage? I would encourage caution from jumping to conclusions here. As I’ve already mentioned, the historical-grammatical literary approach to interpreting Scripture that is typically used within evangelical circles will lead to only one conclusion on homosexuality – that the Bible teaches that it is a sin and that those who willingly practice it do so in open rebellion against God. For this reason most Christians have difficulty supporting homosexuality in good conscience.
But that’s homosexuality. Our discussion here is about same-sex marriage, which is a specific aspect of the larger issue of homosexuality. The two are not exactly the same, and I would argue that, ultimately, same-sex marriage isn’t the real problem for evangelicals. After all, the Bible never lists same-sex marriage as a sin. No, as I’ve already alluded to, the problem here isn’t same-sex marriage; it’s homosexuality. But considering that homosexuality is already legal in our country, does it ultimately matter if homosexuals are able to “get married?” Will preventing that marriage actually fix anything? Would it actually lessen the amount of sexual sin in our society? I can’t see any instance where it would.
So I actually wouldn’t judge a Christian who supports same-sex marriage on the basis that sinners who aren’t hurting others should be allowed to sin. Christians can’t seriously expect the government to stop people from committing all sins. Imagine if the government tried to regulate coveting or pride – it would be a total disaster! If my state tried to pass legislation that made covetousness illegal, I would vote against it in a heartbeat. That’s not their job to regulate; it’s God’s. And maybe we should think the same way with homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
And this leads me to my final question: is this a cause worth fighting for? Should Christians lobby against same-sex marriage, send out ads for fellow-Christians to pass heterosexual marriage legislation, and swarm the voting booths on the day that such legislation goes up for vote?
If so, then what are we trying to accomplish? What is the end goal here? Are we trying to create a “Christian society?” Are we trying to change hearts by changing laws? Are we trying to make our country more favorable to historic Christianity?
Whatever the end goal is, we don’t accomplish it with legislation. We accomplish it with prayer. We accomplish it with love. We accomplish it by telling others about a Savior who died on their behalf so that they could live and reign with Him. We accomplish everything that we are seeking to accomplish when we let God accomplish it through the gospel. These are not things that we can ultimately do in the legislature. These are things that only God can do in the hearts of people and in and through the Church.
The risk for Christians in singeling out same-sex marriage for attack is, as Rachel Held Evans suggests, to bring Christianity into disrepute over something that is nothing more than a cultural battle. If the world views our efforts as anti-homosexual bigotry, then they will never be remotely interested in the God that we worship. That’s a huge gamble to take – to make a political/cultural issue a primary platform at the risk of it being a nationwide stumblingblock to the gospel.
Although I strongly support states’ rights and feel like the state of NC did the best thing for their people (after all, 61% of them voted in favor of outlawing same-sex marriage – it wouldn’t make sense to vote against something the vast majority of the population is in favor of), I do not feel like Christians do well to keep lining up for battle over same-sex marriage. There is something much more at stake than just losing the battle over homosexuality. We risk the Cross being lost in the battle.