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Saturday, June 27, 2015

In Which I Test the Courage of my Convictions on Marriage

I don't really want to jump into the fray on the topic of gay marriage in America.  I would usually rather have these conversations in person rather than adding to the noise on social media.  But it occurs to me that:

1)  Part of my silence is self-preservation.  I don't want to lose friends!  I don't want the world to think I'm a judgmental bigot!

2)  I have something to say and a place to say it.  So here I go; feel free to read no further.

There are two reasons I don't support the legalization of gay marriage in America: the spiritual reason and the practical reason.  The spiritual reason is that maddening, Bible-thumping reason that most of secular America discredits:  God, speaking in the Bible, does actually say that homosexual behavior is wrong.

"Wait, but the Bible says a lot of things are wrong.  I see here in Leviticus 11:7-8 that the pig 'is unclean to you.  You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses.'  But Christians eat pork all the time!  Why do Christians follow some things in the Bible and ignore others?"

This objection comes from a misunderstanding of what Jesus did when He died on the cross.  He fulfilled the Old Testament law, which included sacrifices and dietary restrictions and all sorts of ceremonial rules, and established a route for righteousness through grace rather than rules.  (Matt 5:17, Eph 2:14-15)  Christians no longer follow Old Testament law.

If God's condemnation of homosexual behavior was only in the Old Testament (pre-Jesus) but not the New Testament (post-Jesus), maybe there would be some room to argue that God's condemnation of homosexual behavior was part of Jewish ceremonial law that we no longer need to follow.

But the condemnation is found in the New Testament too.  Romans 1:26-27 specifically calls both male and female homosexual behavior an error.  ("...for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.")

Homosexual behavior, when mentioned in the Bible, is always condemned.  Marriage, when mentioned in the Bible, is always between men and women.

"But some people are just born that way.  Why would God create people to desire same-sex relationships and at the same time tell them they are wrong for pursuing that desire?"

I don't know what to tell you.  Every person on this planet is a walking bundle of desires, some of which we should pursue and some which we should not.

If I desire to get drunk, should I do it?  God says no.
If you desire a divorce, should you get one?  With some exceptions, God says no.
If someone desires to rape a child should he do so?  Obviously no.

The idea that we exist to fulfill our own desires, whether or not we are born with them, leads to judgment.  Paul, in Ephesians 2, says that "Among them we all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."

So to the one who is born desiring same-sex relationships, I would say: Your desire does not condemn you.  We are not held accountable for our desires; only for our thoughts, words, and actions.  But please don't act on your desire.

By the way, I think this is where the debate gets very poignant and where we as Christians are in danger of losing all sense of compassion.  We get so caught up in arguing whether or not there is a "gay gene" that we forget the real people who are sharing their stories with us.

Do we understand the difficulty of what we are asking people to do?  We are saying, "Because of some words in an ancient book that I believe are from God, I am going to challenge you to either live a life of celibacy and never marry as long as you live, or pray that God would change your sexual desires to a completely different gender so that you can marry according to God's definition of marriage."

This is possible; many people have accepted this challenge.  (Writer Rosaria Champagne Butterfield writes about the experience HERE.)  One of the great tragedies of the wholesale popular acceptance of the gay lifestyle is that those seeking to leave it, or help others leave it, are often mocked and marginalized, and many are told it is impossible.

But still.  Let's have some compassion.  Let's believe people when they tell us their stories.  Let's acknowledge that we really don't understand what it's like to walk in their shoes.

"Who cares what the Bible says?  That has nothing to do with whether or not America legalizes gay marriage.  We don't legislate morality."

Here is where I offer my practical (rather than spiritual) objection to the legalization of gay marriage.

Have you ever thought about why the government bothers to get involved in marriage at all?  If someone decides to commit to a lifelong partner and build a household together, what business is that of the government? 

Marriage is a stabilizing force in society.  It keeps children together with their two parents.  Children are provided for, nurtured, and raised in a stable environment with the two people who created them in the first place.  The nation's interest in marriage doesn't really have anything to do with love -- the nation gives tax privileges, healthcare benefits, and legal recognition to married couples because it is in the best interest of the nation to do so.

Gay marriage, by definition, cannot produce families in which children are placed in lifelong households with the two people who created them.

If we start to extend all the legal rights and privileges of marriage to any people who claim "love" as the driving force behind the legal recognition of their lifelong commitment, we really shouldn't stop at man-woman, man-man, and woman-woman relationships.  We should open up that right to any group of consenting adults who love each other and sleep together.  But that's not really in the nation's interest.

Maybe it would be better if the government just got out of the marriage game altogether.  Give the legal rights and recognition that we now associate with marriage to any committed adults who are joining their households and raising children in stable families.  This could apply to two siblings that adopt children together, or a man and a woman who love each other and have kids together, or even two widows who both have children and are choosing to raise them together in one home.  But don't call it "marriage" and don't make it contingent on love and sex; call it "household recognition" and make it contingent on these adults' commitment to jointly raising children in stable families.

Leave the spiritual sacrament of marriage to the religious institutions from which it originated in the first place, and let them define it according to their beliefs.

"Well, Alison, I can see that you're pretty long-winded and I'm the only reader who has gotten this far.  But the fact is that gay marriage is now legal in American and is likely to be legal forever.  Why can't you just accept it and move on?"

Yesterday's decision could have quite a bit of impact on my future.  Now that the government has put its stamp of approval on gay marriage, the day will come when a blog post like this could cause me to lose my job, or even land in jail.  That's true!  Hate speech laws are scary things.

This is me stepping out on a branch called "free speech" and doing a few tentative hops.  Today, the branch holds.  How long will it hold?  One year?  Five?  Ten?  Twenty?  When will it become illegal for me to state these ideas in a public sphere, or to teach them to my children?  When will the branch break?  I'm posting today because I can; I don't know if that will always be the case.

Anyway, we've come this far.  Gay readers: I don't hate you.  You are welcome at my table; you are welcome on my front porch; you are welcome at my family Christmas.  Let's talk and pray together.  Let's try to understand each other.  May God give us grace.

(Comments are welcome below, on both sides of the argument.  Thanks for reading.)


Unknown said...

Really beautifully and well written, Alison! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This is such a heated and difficult topic that many of us are facing, and will continue to face. Although I think that it was inevitable that it happened, I think that it won't make things any easier on any front. Blessings!

Alison said...

Thanks, Amelia. Blessings!