Friday, February 22, 2013

The Christian Cases for Gay Marriage

This is part of a series of Essays from a Christian Perspective.

Wedding bells are ringin' in the chapel,
I hear the children laughing out with glee.
At home alone I hang my head in sorrow,
Wedding bells will never ring for me.

—"Wedding Bells," Lissie

(Before I get to my main purpose this week, I want to point out that it is now the Christian season of Lent, about which I have written a few things. I'm not going to reflect on the season again this year, but I do think that this guy has a particularly interesting perspective on the matter. [I'm a big fan of the sardonic someecards message at the top of the post.])


The other day, former Utah governor John Huntsman came out for gay marriage, in an op-ed called "Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause." Huntsman is a conservative I find easy to respect and admire, even as I disagree with him on many issues, so it was nice to find myself on the same side as him in an important ideological divide. But in his piece, Huntsman eschewed a case from the perspective of his faith, Mormonism, which is not by any means completely unthinkable. While I've written without much detail on the subject before, reading Huntsman's op-ed made me feel it was time to lay out why I think Christians should embrace gay marriage.

As in any protracted and difficult argument, there are actually a number of different cases for gay marriage and gay relationships within Christianity. I'm going to briefly outline the ones I think are most central. 

1. The Bible does not condemn homosexuality
An important starting point is addressing whether or not the Christian Bible condemns consensual homosexual relationships. There are a number of scholars and exegetes who argue that, in fact, it does not do so. There are a limited number of places throughout the Bible that appear to condemn homosexual practice, but there are strong arguments to be made in each case that something else is being condemned—a failure to practice hospitality, sexual slavery, cultic prostitution, etc. Here is a pretty readable argument taking on the passages in question, and here is a ludicrously detailed one for those who want to really dive into the subject.

(There is another approach to the subject, which is a bit more appealing to me, but more troubling for people with a strong belief in Biblical inerrancy, as it requires you to accept that there are some things in the Bible that are wrong. [Because I recognize that the Bible has historical and scientific inaccuracies, I abandoned this idea some time ago, but there are a number of Christians who have not.] The argument for gay marriage here goes like this: there are parts of the Bible that approve of practices that modern Christians and most people in general find abhorrent, e.g., slavery, but these attitudes are a reflection of ancient cultural norms, not of God's will for human life. Instead of pointing to the few passages that condemn homosexual practice, we should recognize that they are the result of cultural prejudice, and seek to understand homosexuality as a legitimate part of God's creation. This argument is expressed much more eloquently here.)

2. Relating science, Christianity, and homosexuality
Another case can be made by asserting that Christianity (or Religion in general) is not, as is often assumed, contradictory to or mutually exclusive with Science, but that the two are complementary, and should inform each other. Thus, one can look for scientific evidence to inform Christian thought on the matter: whether homosexuality is a naturally occurring phenomenon, whether homosexual relationships can be psychologically healthy and stable, and whether being raised in a family headed by people in a homosexual relationship is harmful to children. The research I've encountered on the subject has been favorable to the conclusion that homosexuality and homosexual relationships are a positive part of God's created order. Here is a link that includes scientific evidence among a range of Christian arguments in favor of gay relationships.

3. Jesus
The last case I want to mention is the simplest to articulate, though defending it is a little more complex. (I won't go into detail here). It goes like this: an incredibly key message of Jesus' ministry was to welcome and include people who had been cast out by his society. By rejecting and condemning homosexuals, making them into outcasts in the Christian community, Christians also reject the message of Christ. Here is a pretty readable argument from this perspective.

There are tons of other cases to be made in favor of gay marriage, but I think most of the specifically Christian ones fall into these three categories. I think together these Christian cases for gay marriage are pretty doggone convincing.

That said, unlike some folks on both sides of this line, I can respect people who hold the opposing view. The only caveat I make is that I can't respect well, hate, and if it's not clear that someone's opposition to gay marriage comes from a place of love for the people involved, then I tend to lose that respect pretty quickly.

Photo 1 source:
Photo 2 source:

1 comment:

  1. [The following is a post comment I wrote on an informal fb forum for 'progressive' officers--the original post was by someone who said she had a 'hiccup' in reasoning re: same-sex marriage, and was questioning the consistency of Wesleyan 'free will' theology with the perspective that homosexuality should now considered 'not by choice']

    Within the camp of organized faith, proponents of same [homo]-sex marriage want to be included in the category of acceptance that different [hetero]-sex marriage now enjoys. I will describe the category of acceptance within the religious perspective as having two levels, “good” and “right.”

    “Good” carries the marker of being natural, God-created (“made that way” -- "God saw that it was good" creation language), and so normal. This is the category of acceptance currently afforded to hetero-sexual attraction. Fundamentalists do not grant this category of acceptance to homo-sexual attraction, insisting it is a perversion of the natural, that it is due to post-natal perversions and evil choices. Non-fundy churches, including the Wesleyan position as well as many [mostly non-Calvinist] Baptists, and most mainline groups, have over the past few decades moved to the first-level position of agreeing [though not ‘declaring’] that homo-sexual attraction is mostly a natural state; few but the most liberal churches have openly declared that it is “good.”

    “Right” carries the marker of being not-sinful, biblical appropriate, and so compatible with faith. This also is the category of acceptance currently afforded to hetero-sexual attraction. Both “good” and “right” for hetero-sexual marriage carry auxiliary requirements of chastity and fidelity. Fundamentalists do not grant this second level of acceptance to homo-sexual attraction. And neither do the non-fundy churches, with only a few the most liberal churches now declaring it to be “right.” This is the way to read the SalArmy’s position statement(s) on the issue: orientation/attraction is in itself not ‘blame-worthy’ [i.e., not your choice, not your fault: so “good”], YET to express it fully is not “right” SO be celibate.

    Let me put that in contrasting statements:
    Fundy: Same-sex attraction is “not good” AND “not right” SO same-sex marriage is “not right.”
    TSA: Same-sex attraction is “good” [not bad] YET “not right” SO same-sex marriage is “not right.”
    Libs: Same-sex attraction is “good” AND “right” SO same-sex marriage is “good AND right.”

    When it comes to the ‘hiccup’ in the reasoning, I think it would be helpful to flip the equation. Imagine a strict Calvinist saying you have no free will over your actions, yet you are condemned for them. Not helpful, probably because it’s mixing two things. In any case, “free will” is not so free, inasmuch as so many factors shape how you think and respond and decide, etc.

    The better approach, I think, when introducing Wesleyanism, is to consider the contrast with the fundamentalist approach to Scripture [reference my post in the unofficial officer fb forum on this issue]. One of the key factors moving us to level one acceptance, from “not good” to “good” [or at least not bad because it’s ‘natural’] is EXPERIENCE. For the past 40 years or so, we have had increasing levels of exposure to real people whose testimony is finally being convincing that same-sex attraction is not a choice, nor a perversion. That experience is allowed within our hermeneutic to play a role, along with REASON, to challenge TRADITION in how we read SCRIPTURE. The Fundamentalist can’t do that.
    The real question at this point in time is whether or not we can take that next step of second level acceptance, to “good” AND “right.”