Same-Sex Marriage: Why Christians Need to Think Again

President Obama told ABC News yesterday that he supports same-sex marriage, saying that he believes same-sex couples should be able to marry.  Needless to say, Obama’s support for gay marriage is being met with a mixed reaction around the world.

Some Christians insist there is a biblical ban on any expression of homosexuality and on homosexual relationships that is so unconditional, so unambiguous and so central to the Christian faith that it should be defended as strenuously as the doctrine of the incarnation.  But a steadily growing number of evangelicals, Bible scholars and other spiritually-minded men and women who have done their biblical and theological homework with thoroughness assert the issue is not so cut and dried.

Too often people think they already know what the Bible says about homosexuality having heard a few verses taken out of context and brandished as conversation stoppers.  But as people continue to do their biblical homework, they’re finding that a respectful exegetical reading of Scripture allows, if not requires, a change of mind and heart on this issue.

There are only five or six verses in the entire Bible that have been interpreted as addressing or condemning homosexuality.  These verses, often referred to as the “clobber passages” because they are frequently used to clobber or bash gay men and women today, are verses taken out of their contexts to proof-text the Bible’s alleged anti-homosexual stance.  (These passages have been addressed under separate cover on this blog.  Links to these posts may be found below or by clicking the link to the “Archives” page near the top of this one.)

Aside from the fact that the few verses of Scripture that generally get appealed to in this debate do not hold up to scrutiny when examined more closely and in context, same-sex marriage also holds same-sex couples accountable to the same disciplines others try to live by — like fidelity and permanence.   Phrased positively, it shelters us all under the same moral canopy.  It compels all of us to recognize that marriage is not primarily constituted by the externals — a man and a woman — but by the relationship itself: faithful, truthful, mutual, and permanent.  Marriage can then be seen as an intersection of God’s grace and human loyalty and courage, rather than simply the coalescence of genital concavities and convexities.  It can reinforce and shore up the marital institution itself that today is sinking toward minority status.

Some have argued that same-sex marriage will alter marriage as we know it in both definition and practice.  Many build their case on what they term “the defense of traditional marriage.”  But I’ve yet to understand what harm they think they are defending marriage from.  How does the marriage of Adam and Steve alter or exercise any detectable impact whatsoever on the marriage of anyone else?  In countless dialogs I have asked that question and have never heard it answered, even implausibly.  Those who insist that marriage could be undermined by gay people entering into marriage need to explain what aspect of love, commitment and faithfulness between gay people is it that undermines heterosexual marriage?

It’s also true that while few human institutions claim to be as traditional as marriage, even fewer have undergone more traceable metamorphoses.  Imagine how you’d like concubinage with female slaves functioning as secondary wives and surrogate mothers; a woman’s loss of property to her husband once married; levirate marriage where men were required to take a dead brother’s wife and produce heirs for him; a husband’s unquestioned right to philander; marital indissolubility in the face of spousal or child abuse.  All these and more were once part of marriage’s bedrock tradition.

In the fourth gospel, Christ delivers an intimate address to those to whom he was the closest, those who had been with him from the beginning.  At one point he said something perfectly terrifying.  Jesus said:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  (John 16:12)

He went on to promise that “the Spirit of Truth” will remain among us forever, one whose office is to reveal those concealed matters to us bit by bit, always slightly in advance of our readiness to receive them.

As we look back on 2,000 years of Christian history we see that the Spirit of Truth has done precisely that on scores of notions that the Church at one time believed the Bible to be as clear as mineral water on.  Notions such as: slavery is God ordained, women and blacks should not be allowed to vote, interracial marriage is wrong, women should not teach or preach, anti-Semitism is biblically supported, and on and on.

The Christians who held these views were all convinced they had the Bible on their side and that their understanding of the Bible was self-evidently correct.  They also had substantial support from many other like-minded Christians.  In each of these matters and in thousands of others, the Sprit has faced the same task with God’s people: to introduce gently the understanding that the “the voice of my private sensibilities is not the voice of God”.  God’s voice simply does not sound to empower us to the harm of others — ever.  Righteous indignation is simply anger.  It evaporates in God’s actual presence, which may furnish a clue as to its origin.

It has been suggested that that the Spirit is now addressing the Church on the matter of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.   It is further suggested that the Church’s traditional position on this issue is only the most recent doctrinal position well on the way to being generally acknowledged as a mistake of the kind cited above.

The Spirit agrees with all who treasure the Bible as a — if not the — primary source of divine revelation.  To that effect, the Spirit of Truth is driving us back to our Bibles on this issue.  The result for many is a detachment from the canonized interpretations with which we had shielded ourselves from God’s fresh voice.

Perhaps the Spirit of Truth would have us grasp the real tradition of marriage.  The tradition is not primarily something external, like the customary male/female sexual constituency.  Rather the essence of marriage is the courage and generosity with which two persons commit to each other in truthfulness, mutuality, fidelity, and the expectation of permanence.  This is not a curse or a threat; it is Christ’s restorative gift to all of us.

The Spirit has re-presented to the Church what the authentic church tradition has always been: to love one another as Christ has loved us that we lay down our lives for each other.  To shrink from that divine challenge is neither faithful nor orthodox, regardless of who says it is.

See also the following related posts:
Genesis 1: Turning the Creation Story into an Anti-Gay Treatise
Leviticus 18: What Was the Abomination?
Romans 1: What Was Paul Ranting About?
Romans 2: Paul’s Bait and Switch
Genesis 19: What the Bible Really Says Were the Sins of Sodom
Exegesis: Not for the Faint in Heart
Why No One in the Biblical World Had a Word for Homosexuality

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About Alex Haiken

Born to a Jewish family in New York City, I came to faith in Christ in 1982 after trying to disprove the Bible. I found so much evidence in support of the claims of Jesus and the Bible that it required more faith to reject it than to believe it. I hold a Master’s degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and among other things am a lecturer, teacher, blogger and conference speaker. I came out as gay at a young age but was taught when I came to faith that I could not be both Christian and gay. I served for a time as a leader of an ex-gay ministry but shifted my views after recognizing that when the few passages generally appealed to in this debate are examined more closely and in context, the traditional anti-gay interpretations do not hold up to scrutiny. I learned that the ex-gay route is a scripturally unsound mirage, a specious illusion that deceitfully draws people not to a life-giving oasis but to a deeper and deeper spiritual desert. Seeing the immense need for education in this area, I began to speak and write about my experience and new-found convictions. I am also passionate about helping the Church better understand her rich Jewish roots; helping other Jewish people understand Jesus as their Jewish Messiah; and helping other gay people integrate a theologically sound, committed Christian faith with their sexuality. It is my hope that the reflections in this blog will prompt you to explore the paths they suggest, leading to your own more eloquent thinking, exploration and action. If you want, visit the “Contact” page and let me know what you think.
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9 Responses to Same-Sex Marriage: Why Christians Need to Think Again

  1. Kevin R Diaz says:

    Alex – Wonderful words and beautiful put together. I’m reposting on OutCastChronicles.blogspot.com

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Sarelpetrus,

      I’ve pondered. I find it ludicrous that anyone would dispense advice on how to make any marriage or relationship work by allowing infidelities. I would also take objection to the suggestion that this is indicative of what most gay people seek in their nuptials.

      The argument for “open marriage” was vigorously championed most recently in the 1960s and ’70s. The result was an enormous upturn in the (heterosexual) divorce rate. My years of mentoring and offering counsel to others have taught me that the commandment “you shall not commit adultery” is still terribly relevant, and our religious traditions wisely maintain that marriage is sacred, the bonds between spouses are inviolate and that nothing shatters marital trust more than infidelity.

      Like heterosexuality, homosexuality can be expressed in a healthy and responsible manner; and ike heterosexuality, it can be expressed in an unhealthy and irresponsible manner. The gay Christian couples I know are seeking to fulfill a fundamental, God-implanted human need for a shared life of intimate, committed and exclusive love with one other human being. They are striving to do the one thing God considered supremely important about all sexual relationships: they are living their sexual lives within their covenants with each other. Moreover, they prize such values as fidelity, mutuality, truthfulness, and permanence.

      As for whatever promiscuity or “open relationships” may exist in the non-Christian gay community, I would ask: what do you suppose heterosexual relationships would look like if marriage was something they were denied? As it is, the (heterosexual) divorce rate is at 50% both inside and out of the church. Perhaps then, the warning of Jesus about the perils of trying to conduct eye-surgery when you are unwittingly the victim of poor vision yourself would be a salutary one to remember here.

      While I won’t argue about some of the outlandish behavior and dress the media select to show us whenever there is, for example, a parade. But if the straight pimps and prostitutes that line some of the seedier parts of our cities would have a parade, would we conclude that this is indicative of all heterosexual people? To presume or imply, by sending the link to this 3-year old NYT article, that all gay people are promiscuous or living in open relationships is a bit grandiose, foolish and dishonest. The fact that some gay people choose to express their sexuality in an unhealthy or irresponsible manner does not mean that all homosexual behavior warrants such censure any more than all heterosexuals are to be condemned for their sexual behavior by association with the sins of pedophilia, lust, rape, promiscuity or adultery.

      • josh says:

        I’d add this, Alex; monogamy’s what works, if the spouses’ goal is intimacy. It’s a positive thing to know and be known by one other person; warts and all, beauties and all, turnons and all, limitations and all. Intimacy is the greatest pleasure the soul can have; “s/he knows me, and loves me anyway.”

        That’s why marriage is the prefigurement of heaven.

  2. I wanted to say Hi and thank you for doing this work. And- why do you think some Christians find this issue so important? I think it is because they think they respect the Bible, and liberal Christians do not, so that respect for the Bible becomes their sibboleth. Or- because they find gay people repulsive, and want to feel righteous about that?

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Clare,

      Thank you for your kind words. I think the answer is all of the above. Many are unaware that the few passages of Scripture that generally get appealed to in this debate simply do not hold up to scrutiny when they are examined more closely and in context. Many have not bothered to invest the time and trouble to do their biblical and theological homework.

      Those of us with respect for Bible interpretation and bibical authority do not look for easy outs. What we seek is harder and infinitely more important to find. We search for the intention of the original writers. Who was the writer and to whom was he writing? What was the cultural and historical setting of the writer? What was the meaning of the words in the writer’s day? What was the intended meaning of the author and why was he saying it? What should this mean to me in my situation today? To an extent, careful study can open those meanings to us if we are humble enough not to presume we already know. We try hard to get past what we think we already know to find out what we are looking at.

      Others are not willing to accept a truth that will set them apart from their communities and the people they most care about. Personal agendas, ambitions and other pressures can cause us to be sparing with the truth when it comes to steering our Christian ministries, our reputations, our careers, sustaining our income, and in other areas of life. As Upton Sinclair wisely noted, “It’s hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.” Truth is not always comfortable. Sometimes truth is costly.

      For others still, their beliefs are motivated by their own personal aversions and prejudices. As one of my seminary professors poignantly put it, “For people like myself, now in middle age, dislike of homosexuality came with the territory; our reasons for opposing it were more to do with our own cultural backgrounds than with any biblical argumentation.”

  3. Dan Trabue says:

    Too often people think they already know what the Bible says about homosexuality having heard a few verses taken out of context and brandished as conversation stoppers.

    This was certainly the case for me. Having been raised for ~30 years with traditional teachings, I could ONLY find evidence in the Bible in opposition to all gay behavior and any suggestion to the contrary was ridiculous. I was truly blinded by my culture.

    God love ’em, though, they taught me to take the Bible seriously, which was ultimately led me away from the anti-marriage position. The passage that started my change? The whole Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed due to their homosexual practices teaching. “Of course it was!” I would always affirm. Then, one day, while looking at it, I realized that this was just simply NOT a biblically sound conclusion. For someone taking the Bible seriously, that claim was just ridiculous.

    And, if I could be wrong on that point, could I/my traditional teachings be mistaken on others? I’ve come to believe that is the case (although, largely against my will… I had ZERO desire to change my position, so sure was I that I was right.)

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Schawntell says:

    Is there any biblical scripture that supports or agrees with homosexuality…if so please advise.

  5. Alex Haiken says:

    Schawntell, you ask: “Is there any biblical scripture that supports or agrees with homosexuality?” To ask the question, of course, is to assume that homosexuality, as we know it today, is actually addressed in Scripture. Fact is increasing numbers of Bible scholars and theologians, who have closely examined the passages that get appealed to in his discussion, conclude that it’s not. For more on why they conclude homosexuality, as we know it today, is not addressed in Scripture, you may wish to see my post on “Why No One in the Biblical World Had a Word for Homosexuality.” You can find a link to this post on the “Archives” page.

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