Christians, by virtue of their beliefs, are called to love others more than themselves. This is a high calling. The church, as an institution, is called to carry on the ministry of Jesus in the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit, as a sign and testimony of the irrupting reign of God (thanks David Bosch for that phrase!). With this, Christians are asked to love their enemies, pray for their persecutors, and strive to live at peace with all men. And yet, in all of this, the church is also called to be a holy community, set apart and sanctified, only by means of the gracious the work of God, to live righteously and carry out good works set apart for them to accomplish. Christians, individually, are also called to be holy, as God is holy. The Bible teaches that Christians, in the death of Jesus, have died to sin and, in the resurrection of Jesus, are made alive to God. They once were murderers, immoral, liars, cheaters, rebellious, insurrectionists, haters of God, practitioners of evil, disobedient, violent, gossipers, etc. etc. To that list of what Christians once were, the Bible also adds the terms translated as homosexuality. It talks about unnatural relationships between people of the same gender, men with men, women with women. Thus, one way we should think of Christians and the church is that they are a special group of the lowliest people on the planet. That is what Christians all once were–all of us, not just some.
Already, if you are reading this and you consider yourself a homosexual, you are probably pretty mad because I am already revealing something about what I think about homosexuality. When it comes to Christians, I think of it in the past tense. A Christian’s identity is in the death and resurrection of Jesus, they once were homosexuals, but have been freed from the bondage of it. Still, I recognize, as does Paul, that there is in this present age, still a present tense of our former selves, that self is dead to us and yet still dying. Thus, I believe some Christians may struggle for a long time, perhaps even their whole life with feelings associated with homosexuality If you want to know more about what I think is an excellent way to understand homosexuality from a Christian perspective, please watch this lecture by Dr. Sam Williams, a clinical psychologist. But before you get angry at me and stop reading, please stick with me. I love people who identify themselves as homosexuals equally as much as I love anyone else. If you are still reading this, I love you!
The problem is that in the United States, Christians, in general, have been too silent on issues that affect our families, friends and neighbors, or they have been too vocal in hurtful and sometimes mean-spirited way. Much too often, they have been content with the jeremiads of some pastors as well as the efforts of the Religious Right, but Christians have often neither loved others well nor thought critically about what is best for all persons. Moreover, few Christians have ventured to address the political issue without appealing to their own particular religious belief. Religious belief certainly is important, and Christians should not allow the pluralism of their culture to prevent them from speaking with conviction. However, when it comes to politics, specifically, the end goal of Christian political speech should not be to create a Christian nation, but to seek goodness, justice and mercy for every citizen (and not just one’s political party, one’s own particular religious system or one’s own supporters). As can be seen, I affirm the wisdom of our founding fathers in putting individual liberty as a chief goal of government (and I recognize that in different political circumstances, a Christian political response may look different). How, then, should Christians in politics respond to both advocates and opponents of Gay Marriage? What would speaking to this issue look like?
So far, I’ve used the term Christian very loosely. I recognize that there is disagreement among those who call themselves “Christian.” In fact, there are probably a large number of self-identified homosexuals who also identify themselves as Christians. I recognize that; I’m not saying they are not Christians. Rather, what I say will be from my perspective. I firmly believe that we can have rationale argumentation about which perspective is more coherent and also better fits reality. For now, assume I mean what I perceive to be the Christian perspective as established by a worldview drawn from the biblical world, that is, the narrative world created by the story of the Bible.
The first way that Christians should respond politically is to empathize with their gay-identified friends and neighbors who make up their constituency and the citizens of this fair country. These neighbors are really no different than anybody else. They have many of the same goals and aspirations in life. Many of them want families and children, and many don’t like feeling gay any more than you would. Some of them have been abused sexually, at worst, and bullied by their peers, at best. Many have been disowned by family and have lived with their secret for years. Not many of them remember ever making a conscious choice to be gay or lesbian. Christian politicians must see all people as humans, created in the image of God, people for whom and in whose place, the Lord of all the nations died. We are all people. We all bleed red. If you have trouble loving other people, ask Jesus to help you to love them. Be willing to hug them and show them the same human affection we all desire. Perhaps this will lose you votes with some, but let love rule your politics, not the pollster.
Second, Christian politicians must find ways to stand up for the homosexual person when he is truly being wronged. You may not realize it, but they suffer persecution from others. Christians should support fair legislation against bullying with them, and be outraged like they are when injustices occur, like those perpetrated against Matthew Shepherd and others like him.
Third, pastors, please recognize that you are not a politician and that you must be more selective than other believers in what you say publicly from the pulpit. You must be more careful in how you argue for political positions, especially during Sunday sermons. Really, is your Sunday sermon the best way to make the infamous “God created Adam and Eve, not…” quip? There will no doubt be people in your church either hiding their feelings or seriously struggling with them. They need love and healing, not condemnation! It’s no secret the Bible calls homosexuality sin (no matter what some people try to do with the text–really most arguments against this are blatantly false and inherently deceptive, please don’t be deceived). It’s also no secret that not having faith is also sin (aren’t we all guilty???), as well as a host of other actions. We learn from scripture how to repent when we sin, but we do so because of God’s kindness towards sinners like us! Pastors, call sin sin, but don’t discriminate one sin from another–the sin umbrella covers us all–and always leave room for repentance and healing. Above all, be accepting and congenial with fellow sinners, so that they will have a safe place to find truth and healing.
Returning to political statements made in public, arguments made by Christians must be better as well. We need statesmen whose integrity is beyond reproach. Too often, conservative politicking in this arena resembles more a Nietzschean will-to-power, than humble and rational public discourse. There are very good reasons, I believe, to make counter-arguments to one’s political opponents. Speak with conviction, yes; also make your arguments palatable, with sweetness instead of anger. Don’t settle for the political rallying point. We the people, need your service for the benefit of the common good, not for your next election. In eloquence and wisdom, allow reason to win, and flee coercion! Coercion may seem to win for the moment, but in the long run, it will be defeated. Don’t believe me? Cue 18th Amendment. I truly believe that the conservative position is not the “legislation of morality,” though, it certainly appears to be that way mainly because of how many Christians go about arguing the position. They make outlandish slippery slope arguments (such as the losing a God-given pre-eminence in the world) which are easily dismissed as religious fanaticism.
What then would a rational argument look like? I can only give a beginning to one here. I don’t claim to be a political expert in this area. I think there should be a two pronged approach. First, Christian politicians need to show that they understand the arguments of those advocating for the constitutional right upholding Same-Gender Marriage. Listen, and respond accordingly. Second, Christians need to provide solid counter-arguments that appeal to legal precedent and common knowledge besides primarily biblical responses. (If there was a third aspect, I would add breaking down the often ad hominem, smoke-screen and red herring arguments often put up by those who advocate for SGM on the popular level.)
Certainly, there remains a place for the prophetic voice of the church. But note that while the OT prescribed laws for the people of Israel, it didn’t prescribe laws for other nations (unless they were becoming part of national Israel) and the NT certainly didn’t prescribe laws for the Roman Empire. Christians recognize that they live as pilgrims in the city of man. It is not a right, but a privilege of history (God-directed no less, because God directs all of history) that they get to have any say in the laws and processes of the nation in which they live. Christian politicians must make their stand responsibly. If our public political involvement detracts in any way from the cause of Christ, it would have been much, much better had we said nothing at all. The prophetic voice of the church is heard through humble and loving evangelism and service to the people of our nation. Such evangelism and service must include proclaiming the gospel, done in the power of the Spirit (not of the polis) with the end that God’s elect would be gathered into the church (not that just laws would be passed). When it comes to justice in the political realm, the Bible calls Christians to submit (Romans 14) and to pray for their leaders, Kings, Senators, etc, who make the laws (I Tim 2).
(Note: this post will not address the prophet voice of the church again in the rest of this post. What that would specifically look like is not the intention of this post. The primary intention of this post is to provide the beginnings of a model of Christian politics for the common good.)
So, if Christians, particularly politicians, have a say in the laws of our land, they must make their statements with wisdom, eloquence, and grace. A Christian approach to human law in the political realm must uphold what is good for the common man, what is just for all people, what is merciful to every person, and not just to one political group, Christian or not. Such universal concern holds most promise for a society where the church can flourish peaceably and quietly in godliness and dignity. Such an approach holds the most promise for upholding what is best for one’s neighbors. Neighbor love must be a driving force in public political response to any issue. (Isn’t this one reason, among many, why Christians oppose abortion? We recognize a pre-born child as our neighbor, worthy of more respect than ourselves.) While moral outrage has its place, this should be used judiciously, reserved for the most egregious injustices.
When you talk of the sanctity of marriage, you must make it clear that you are not defending marriage as some abstract entity or institution. While as Christians, we believe, we argue in accordance with revelation and reality, that the sanctity of marriage is derived from the creative act of God, in our political statements, we also believe that marriage is the most healthy institution for the flourishing of our neighbors. Let our prophetic voice speak to revelation, and our political statement to the common good of our neighbors. When this institution, designed for the flourishing of all mankind, is denigrated by the ignominies of divorce, extra-marital and a-marital sexual affairs, and same-gender sexual intercourse, and same-gender homes, we believe that our neighbors are harmed. It is not that people become defiled or unclean by these practices, but they are harmed emotionally, psychologically, culturally, physically, spiritually, and, in other words, holistically by them. And not only this, more often than not, children become interwoven broken human relationships and are adversely affected on every level. This is most obvious with cases of sexual abuse, since abused children are more like to abuse others. Children from divorced marriages are more likely to go through a divorce. Children being brought up by same-gender parents are also affected. Something about being human itself is being demonstrated in ways in which we express our sexuality and relationships. We pretend that we can keep our sexuality separate from our regular life. This worldview compartmentalizes human sexuality and prevents the goodness that children receive from having a parent from each gender. Children flourish best in homes where there is a father and a mother. This doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. Many children have parents who are very poor at parenting. And some children have grown up with same-gender parents/guardians and may seem to be okay (God’s grace trumps human error every time!). But these are exceptions, not the rule. Exceptions aside, when our neighbors are harmed, society is harmed. Thus, it is in the best interest of the government that society is not harmed from within.
That’s not a legal argument you say. And that would be correct. But it is a moral argument that does not appeal to religion. You see, morality transcends religion. Laws by their very nature establish some sort of morality, since it is immoral to transgress any law that is just, religious or not. There is nothing religious about speed limits, yet it is immoral to break them, even if everyone else violates the law. If it weren’t immoral to break laws, why would we have any laws at all? We establish them because we are moral beings. I think that is what the founding fathers would call a self-evident truth.
Legally, the onus to show that current legal definitions of marriage are unjust is upon the objector. Currently, the DOMA clearly and legally defines marriage between a man and a woman.
The question in this case is whether or not this law is unconstitutional. Some argue that it is unconstitutional on the grounds that is violates the establishment clause of the first amendment. They say that definitions of marriage are inherently religious in nature. Well, I provided one argument above that is not religious. There are many others.
One such other is the argument from biology. A biological male is designed to procreate with a biological female. Same-gender relationships, then, are contrary to nature. One may want to argue that one’s gender is psychological not biological, but that argument would only demonstrate where one’s feelings about their gender are confused with their biology. A counter argument would be that psychology is determined by biology. Still, even that is nothing more than a reductionistic view of man. If that is the case, truly the case, I vote for anarchy. Psychology, life and human experience are just an illusion in such a scenario. If all we have is biology, (read: matter), then how we feel or what we want doesn’t matter at all. Human law, government, society, then, are nothing. We are nothing. Nihilism is the most logical end of absolute materialism. But since that doesn’t fit reality, or human experience, that’s at least one counter to biological reductionism. We have good reason to separate biology and psychology, to see than humanity has a soul. Except in very rare cases caused by birth defects, gender is determined by biological form. When feelings of gender do not match the biological form, it is, the soul, the identity, the affections are what need healing and wholeness. It behooves the government to provide the freedom within society for this wholeness to be restored. Institutionalizing brokenness is dangerous and unhealthy.
These are just a couple of non-religious arguments, and there are others. While many vocal opponents of same-gender marriage are religious people, the law is not religious in nature and their opposition does undermine DOMA.
Recently, on Feb 7, 2012, Prop 8 was struck down by a District Court of Appeals on the grounds it violated the Equal Protection Clause established by the 14th Amendment. The argument is that it is not fair to deny marriage to one set of citizens and yet guarantee it to another. There are problems with this argument; it is likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court. The most obvious problem is that the law does not state that any one person cannot marry another person. It does not forbid someone who identifies themselves as being homosexual from marrying. They can still get married, just not to a person of the same gender. Well, isn’t that discrimination? No, if I said someone couldn’t get legally married because they’re white, that would be discrimination, since for all legal purposes, that person could never get married. However, what Prop 8 does is limit to whom a person can be married. Discrimination! Not exactly. The law already limits siblings from marrying. Many states limit polygamy. Almost all states limit people under a certain age from marrying. A person can’t legally marry an animal. The law limits these things because they find them to be in the best interest of the common good. This is not just the common good for the majority, but for all. One may disagree with that, but that doesn’t make this discrimination, not in this case, because nothing prohibits a person from having a legal marriage.
Nothing prevents two people, or more, of any gender, from forming a legal, binding contract that allows for the protections of life and property, similar to those between a married man and woman. That has been and will always be legal; isn’t this basic contract law?
But civil unions are not enough for two reasons. First, people desire all the entitlements granted by legal marriage. Certainly unmarried people would like those as well, why can’t they have them? Legal definitions matter and they are not arbitrary. Second, civil unions are not enough because the agenda behind redefining marriage is to work things in society so that homosexuality is regarded as normal behavior. And I don’t think this desire is necessarily nefarious. I think many self-identified homosexuals have suffered great mental, physical and cultural anguish. They would like that pain to stop. The reason why they don’t like Christians pointing out that homosexual intercourse is a sin because homosexual intercourse reminds them of their anguish (could it actually make it worse?). The thought is that if no one could say these things were wrong, no one would feel them to be wrong. Then, they would have peace. But that is not necessarily the case. The human conscience, while being affected by changes in human morality, is directed by it’s creator’s morality. An absence of a voice speaking against the practices will not result in an absence of bad feelings. Beyond the religious point just made, the institution of marriage is not just a culturally conditioned category. While aspects of marriage are culturally conditioned, such as number of spouses, ways in which marriages are arranged, or not arranged, etc., the institution of human marriage between male and female is universal human experience. Maybe clownfish, bacteria, and penguins do otherwise, but not homo sapiens.
In conclusion, one final statement deserves to be made. Not every political issue requires the same level of moral outrage. Certainly, abortion is an issue requiring a stronger response than same-gender marriage. With an abortion, a person dies. No one would die directly because of same-gender marriage. If somehow, understanding of the law and of the constitution on this issue would change, it’s not the end of the world. It certainly would affect society and many children would be adversely affected, but for the most part, it wouldn’t necessarily limit anyone else’s civil liberties. Perhaps there is a slippery slope out there that could prove to be true, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, it is rightly to be opposed, but its not on the same level as some other threats to the common good. Keeping that perspective and responding accordingly would be helpful in winning others’ political opinions and keeping the door open for love and respect with our neighbors.
To summarize, a Christian political response to the issue of same-gender marriage must be driven by mutual respect and concern for the common good. Christians should strive to love all men and women, regardless of their identity, and seek to protect their lives and freedoms as citizens. At the same time, a Christian political response to the issue will argue against the redefinition of marriage, but it must do so with reason, wisdom, and eloquence.
Again, much more could and should be said by people smarter than I. Also, my intention here was not to offend anyone, though I can imagine that of all people, some who identify themselves as homosexuals will be most offended. Nothing here is personal, though I understand these arguments affect your personal life. That is unfortunate, I agree. I’m sorry for such offense, but there isn’t really a way around that given this discussion. And since this is a public issue, it deserves rational public debate from parties on every side, however many sides there are. If you would like to talk to me more personally, you can reach me at missionsforumblog [at] gmail [dot] com.