There is no doubt in my mind that gay marriage (or, marriage equality) is one of the most important issues of our time. For many people, it has deep, personal significance, and therefore deserves to be treated with respect. In this post I would like to lay out, as briefly as possible, my thoughts on gay marriage. While I have already sketched my thoughts about marriage on this blog (and if you have read that post you already know where I stand on this issue), I would like to talk specifically about gay marriage. My hope is to contribute something to the larger, cultural discussion, that is both gracious and thoughtful. You can judge for yourself whether I have done so at the end of this post.
Let me begin by sketching, as best I can, the current case in support of gay marriage.
Marriage is a basic human right, and human beings ought to be free to marry whomever they choose, insofar as that person is a willing participant in the relationship. Love does not discriminate between genders; homosexual love is qualitatively the same as heterosexual love. A gay man’s love for another man is essentially the same as a straight man’s love for a woman. To deny two consenting adults the freedom to marry is discrimination of the first order, akin to racism, and definitively unAmerican. Our nation’s deepest values, after all, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–at least two of which are flatly denied to homosexual couples through the prohibition of gay marriage. Therefore, gay marriage is not simply about marriage; it is about civil and human rights.
I hope that I have captured the essence of the argument in support of gay marriage, though it is not my intention to debunk this argument. In fact, if I were to approach the issue from a purely American standpoint, I could not debunk it. Within the American political and cultural climate, this argument is perfectly logical, and we, as a people, would have a moral obligation to immediately legalize gay marriage.
However, I do not approach this issue, or any other, as an American. I approach this issue as a Christian whose faith in Jesus is authoritatively informed by the Bible. Based on how I read the Scriptures, I make the following assertions:
The Church, especially the evangelical church and the individuals who compose her, needs to repent of the way in which she has treated homosexuals.
Whatever we believe about homosexuality, there is no excuse for the way the Church has typically treated homosexuals. What we see in Jesus is that God has not treated any human being with contempt or disgust, but has graciously given each of us sinners infinite worth. Rather than extending that grace and worth to homosexuals, we Christians have played the part of the ungrateful man whose massive debt was repaid but who would not forgive the smallest amount owed to him.
I, too, have participated in this hypocrisy, contempt, and disgust. I have told innumerable gay jokes. I have used caricature and overdone imitation to get laughs. I have been thoughtless, careless, and judgmental toward homosexuals. For all of that, I am sorry. I was wrong.
God is neither impressed nor moved by our notion of romantic love.
Somewhere along the way we have developed this idea that there is no higher thing than romantic love. Though billions of people have lived lives at least as happy and healthy as our own without romantic love, we take it to be as important to our well-being as the air we breathe. It is worth fighting for, dying for, or killing for. Romantic love, we believe, is inherently good, and therefore anything that stands in its way must be evil. We are lost without it, and therefore entitled to it. Romantic love is a fundamental human right.
God does not share such a high opinion of romantic love. Don’t get me wrong, God likes romantic love–after all, he created it. But I believe that he created it as an aid to human life, not as the aim or highest ideal of it. Romantic love aids us to have good marriages where union and intimacy are present more often than not. But, as almost all of us have experienced, romantic love can be a real pain. It is no fluke that the ancient Greeks depicted Eros, the god of romantic love, as a mischievous child-god who caused love to grow between two people who had no business being in love. (Think: Evil Cupid.) Romantic love, while a beautiful and glorious thing in the appropriate context, can create feelings within us that, in the wrong contexts, blind us to the truth.
Agape is the love that lays down its life, forgoes its rights, forgives sins, and brings life where there was death.
But perhaps the most important reason that God is not impressed by our overwrought notion of romantic love is that it keeps us from pursuing the greatest love–agape. I’ve written and spoken on agape extensively, so I don’t want to get into it too much here, but I will say that agape is the love that lays down its life, forgoes its rights, forgives sins, and brings life where there was death. It is the love most clearly on display at the cross of Jesus, and it is the love that all who follow Jesus are called to demonstrate. Agape is the love that sustains eternal life, the love upon which the Great Marriage–between Jesus and the Church–will be founded. The agape of God is the most adventurous love story and the most beautiful love song, a poem of love beyond compare. This is the love that is no mere aid to life; it truly is the highest ideal to which we can aspire, for it brings us to the lowest point of ourselves–of dying to ourselves–which is the point at which we will most fully find God and flourish.
Romantic love (Eros) is idolatrously worshipped in our culture, by Christians and nonChristians alike.
While this assertion is related to the previous one, it is worth stating clearly. We worship romantic love. Eros is the god of our age. It dominates our art and entertainment. It gets ratings and sells books. It is, quite literally, everywhere. But Eros makes a fickle god, and I believe that we are experiencing a pandemic of sexual confusion as a result of our idolatry.
This idolatry has manifested itself within the church through our normalization of marriage and marginalization of singleness. We don’t know what to do with people who, like Jesus or Paul, don’t get married. We spend more time teaching our young people how to choose the right spouse than we do training them to become like Jesus. Again, romantic love is important, but agape love is more important.
God created humanity as male and female; this gender complementarity is vital to human flourishing.
It is not for nothing that God created humanity male and female. The vastness of his image could not be borne in a single man–the man needed a complement in order to accomplish his God-given task. Each sex brings elements that are vital to create a good society in which humans and creation can flourish; Adam and Eve each bear one part of the complete image-of-God-on-earth. To forsake one gender in the most basic and important of human social units–the family–whether through divorce, death, or gay marriage, is to throw off the balance of creation and create environments that are adverse to human flourishing. One of our most basic needs as human beings is to have both a father and a mother.
Homosexual activity is contrary to God’s sexual design and purpose, and the Bible consistently names it as one of several sexual sins.
I have heard the arguments that the Bible is not talking about committed, monogamous homosexual relationships when it condemns homosexual practice; that the authors of Scripture did not know about sexual orientations; and that the passages in Leviticus were only concerned with pagan, cultic sexual practice. I am not convinced by this exegesis. The testimony of Scripture is clear that homosexual practice, like infidelity and bestiality, lies outside of God’s design for sex. (I’d like to take a hot second to make the remark that most of the marital relationships in Scripture do not, in fact, reflect God’s design for sex and marriage, either.) God designed sex to achieve a purpose, and contrary to popular teaching both within and without the Church, the purpose of sex is procreation, not to be the ultimate demonstration of romantic love. (I take this as biologically self-evident, and if I were a Darwinian Evolutionist, I would be even more adamant on this point than I am.) As with all created things, the purpose of sex informs the design, and not the other way around. In other words, because the purpose of sex is procreation, sex is designed to be an act of unparalleled union, intimacy, and pleasure. God designed sex this way because these are precisely the things that are most important to a child as he grows–to know that his parents are united, that there is a shared intimacy within the family, and that the parents are pleased with one another and the child.
Because the purpose of sex is procreation, sex is designed to be an act of unparalleled union, intimacy, and pleasure.
When sex becomes about the gratification of sexual desire, or merely a demonstration of romantic love, it becomes disconnected from its created purpose. Like anything else, when sex becomes disconnected from its created purpose it becomes a caricature of itself. We have embraced the caricature. We have replaced the design for the purpose. We have mistakenly declared that the purpose of sex is pleasure, intimacy, and union. Pregnancy is the last thing we want out of sex. (And yes, I think that abortion is extremely relevant to this discussion, but I don’t want to get into that here.) Based on this assumption, very little sexual activity can be declared out of bounds. When sex becomes about pleasure, intimacy, and union, only rape and certain kinds of pedophilia can be wrong.
But the truth is that God has fenced sexual activity in order to create healthy families, which in turn create healthy societies. In this sense, what appears to be a great big “NO” to human desire and happiness is actually one resounding “YES” to human flourishing and joy. On a global scale, the purpose of sex is to populate the world with healthy, whole human beings who rule the earth with strength and wisdom.
It is neither gracious nor loving to encourage and support others in sinful behavior.
Many Christians believe that the most gracious and loving thing we can do for our homosexual neighbors is to help them achieve marriage equality. While I understand this notion, and believe that it is rooted in good intentions, I think it is misguided. Here is why: Our access to the grace and agape love of God is entirely dependent upon our repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. Grace and agape love forgive and expel sin, not foster and enable it. As the representatives of Jesus Christ on earth, we do no favors to anyone by enabling and supporting sin of any kind, and specifically to our homosexual neighbors by enabling and supporting gay marriage. When we fail to graciously and lovingly call people to repentance, we fail to bring them to the cross of Jesus.
The Gospel offers hope for all who find themselves in bondage.
This is the Gospel: Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was dead and buried, and he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. This is news of an event that has actually and already happened. The Gospel is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. If Jesus overcame death, and if you follow and trust Jesus, then there is nothing that can keep you in bondage. There is real, tangible hope in the Gospel that can’t be found anywhere else. You do not have to be in bondage to the god of romantic love. You do not have to be in bondage to your sexuality. You do not have to be in bondage to the sins you have committed or the sins that have been committed against you. Jesus has overcome the world and all of its sin, evil, and idolatry. When you find yourself in Jesus, then you, too, have overcome all of this through his power that lives inside of you.
Conclusion: I cannot support gay marriage.
God’s design and purpose for life, love, sex, and marriage leave no place for gay marriage. This is hard news for many people. But if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is an opportunity for life, glory, and a love that does not fade with time and age. I believe that God is offering us something that is far more wonderful and incredible than anything our sexuality can offer. Does it sound good now? No, it sounds like bad news, doesn’t it? Hateful, even. But then again, the cross sure looked like defeat and folly for a while, too. Then came resurrection.
And that’s the way it always is with God. He leads us to this place that demands our death, asking us to do something we believe will kill us. And in a way, it does. But then comes resurrection. On the other side of God’s demand is a life more full and flourishing than we ever thought possible.
I belong to a women’s small group. We opened our arms to one mom who recently had baby #3 out of wedlock. We had no problem with her “baby daddy” being present during the baby dedication. We never said anything to her about her living situation (being unmarried & living with her boyfriend). BUT when another woman openly came out & said that she’s a lesbian…We had a small group discussion about it when she wasn’t present. NOW, this was a big deal. We were quick to rebuke her, but not the unmarried mom living with her baby’s daddy. Needless to say, she no longer attends our small group.
Sharon, I wish this response were atypical. Unfortunately, we’re much more accepting of heterosexual sexual sins than we are homosexual orientation, even when not acted upon!
I’ve just happened across this post, and your blog, for the first time. You’re an excellent, and interesting, writer. I was, though, disappointed to find this post didn’t end with a clear statement of what specific behavior you are referring to when you speak of “not supporting” same-sex marriage. I assume it means you would not encourage any two people of the same sex to get married, but I wonder if it also means you would vote to get the government to force your view on other Christians who do not share it. You see, I believe that one of the greatest sins of the modern Christian Church is that all too often it tries to turn its God-given tasks over to the government, thus turning its back on its responsibility to teach and spread God’s word so that individual people turn to very personal relationships with God. That is, a Christian with one opinion sometimes works and/or votes to get the government to prevent other Christians from doing what they believe God wants them to do. I think it is the task of the government to manage society in such a way as to protect its citizens (by enforcing laws that provide equal protection concerning legal contracts and that protect each of us from being attacked or murdered or having our property stolen), while at the same time giving people the maximum freedom possible to make their own decisions and run their own lives even if some others disagree with those decisions. I completely support your legal freedom to try to persuade people to share your views and your church’s legal freedom not to perform single-sex marriages. But as a fellow Christian, I believe that God approves of loving same-sex relationships and wants his gay children to commit to each other in marriage; the freedom to follow one’s Christian conscience in this matter requires that governments permit civil marriage to same-sex couples. For example, I believe that re-marriage after divorce is a sin, but I do not vote or otherwise work to get the government to deny remarriage to a Christian who believes he/she is following God’s leading. Do you support my church’s freedom to perform legal same-sex marriages even though you disagree with our doing it? Or do you perhaps believe it is the duty of each group of Christians to try to get the government to enforce its beliefs on other Christian groups?
Thank you for commenting. While I’m not overly concerned about legislation, and don’t have very much confidence in the competency of government, I object to your usage of the word “force.” In a sense, all legislation is the forcing of a particular view upon the society as a whole. Laws against jaywalking force me to cross streets at intersection, though at times this seems inconvenient and unreasonable. In the same way, a law permitting same-sex marriages forces that view on the society as a whole. It is not just one side that has been looking to force their view on society. Both sides have done this.
Great post, Andy. Your eight points provide an excellent framework which any Christian could use as a response to the now-popular question, “What do you think about gay marriage?” I especially appreciate the fact that you begin the discussion in humble repentance, a move all of us as Christians should emulate when addressing this topic, and not just saying, “Hey, I’ve sinned sexually, too, so we’re all sinners, right?” but in an act of personal repentance to the ones we’ve sinned against when we have generalized, ridiculed, and demeaned both the sinner and the sin.
My one area of disagreement would be in your discussion of the purpose of the sexual relationship: “God designed sex to achieve a purpose, and contrary to popular teaching both within and without the Church, the purpose of sex is procreation, not to be the ultimate demonstration of romantic love … When sex becomes about the gratification of sexual desire, or merely a demonstration of romantic love, it becomes disconnected from its created purpose. Like anything else, when sex becomes disconnected from its created purpose it becomes a caricature of itself.”
I would instead argue that sex, like the vast majority of God’s creation, cannot be reduced to a singular purpose. What is the purpose of hunger? If we use a similar thought process as the one above, one might answer, “God designed hunger to achieve a purpose, and contrary to popular teaching both within and without the culinary community, the purpose of hunger is to ensure caloric intake, not to be the expression of creative and delicious food.” Or what is the purpose of flowers? “God designed flowers to achieve a purpose, and contrary to popular understanding, the purpose of the flower is to ensure pollination of plants, not to be an expression of beauty and delightful aroma.” If I marvel at the beauty and scent of a flower, appreciating it as a wonder created for mankind to enjoy, am I reducing it to a caricature simply on the basis that it has another dissimilar function apart from the one I am enjoying?
That is the wonder of our God. He the ultimate creator of beauty, pleasure, and delight, AS WELL AS purpose and function. God’s creations have functions that are so intimately intertwined with their joys and pleasures, that they are not so easily reduced to a single purpose. What is the “purpose” of a relationship with Christ? Simply the function of sin-forgiveness? Heaven forbid!
To be sure, there is grave danger when we elevate any aspects of creation to the level of worship or idolatry, as is the case in the ongoing marriage debate, as you have quite rightly pointed out. But there is equal danger if we lose sight of the fact that God made flowers for the purpose of demonstrating his glory and creativity by simply appearing beautiful AND capable of perpetuating the growth cycles of the plants of the fields; he made food delicious and with infinite variety AND capable of fueling his servants for his work; and he made the sexual act for the purpose of intense pleasure and romantic expression between a man and a woman in marriage AND for populating his creation, and all for his glory.