The idea of expanding marriage to include homosexual relationships is on the forefront of society’s conversation about what it wants to be. As a Lutheran Christian pastor, I cannot simply ignore the public conversation. This is a seismic shift in society. I share my thoughts as a step in my ongoing contemplation of the integration of my personal faith and my role as a citizen in the United States of America.
AS A LUTHERAN PASTOR, I STAND BY THE TRADITIONAL BIBLICAL CHRISTIAN VIEW OF MARRIAGE
Let me begin by saying that I remain convinced that God’s design for marriage is a life-long covenantal relationship between one man and one woman based in love and providing an earthly reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church. Were anyone to ask me what the Bible says about homosexual marriage, I would answer confidently that the scriptures indicate than God’s design for marriage is monogamous, heterosexual and deeply sacrificial toward one’s spouse. Jesus indicated this when he preached against divorce in Mark 10:1-10 saying that God’s design was one man married to one woman and no divorce. However, before I answered this question I would include the caveat that I am often shown how my own life does not live up to God’s designs when I read the Bible.
I find it very difficult to make a case from the Bible for anything but the traditional covenantal heterosexual view of marriage without taking a hatchet to the scriptures (some would disagree with me quite strongly). Because I am bound by my office as pastor to follow what I believe the scripture teaches, I could not officiate in good conscience a homosexual marriage ceremony. I do not say this without some pain because some of the people nearest to my heart are homosexual.
There. That’s out of the way. If someone wants to discuss with me the Christian theology of homosexuality, let’s talk some other time.
The question with which this essay is concerned is this: “How do the scriptures inform my attitudes and actions as Christian and a citizen of the United States of America, where we believe that all people are created with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”
FIRST, LET’S DISTINGUISH BETWEEN HOMOSEXUALITY AND PROMISCUITY
There are conflicting studies about promiscuity rates among homosexuals vs. heterosexuals. I can’t see how a discussion of promiscuity relates to a discussion of homosexual marriage. But if we consider promiscuity a factor, would the assumed high promiscuity rates among homosexuals be an argument for or against homosexual marriage?
PROCREATION-BASED ARGUMENTS AGAINST HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE ARE DIMINISHING
As recently as seventy-five years ago, procreation was a concern to be encouraged by the laws of the land because large segments of the population could be wiped out at any time through war or disease. Further, we needed more people to accomplish more work. While scientific advances haven’t completely eliminated these concerns, they have been drastically reduced from where they have been at any previous time in human history. As medical, farming and production technologies continue to improve, it is more and more difficult to reasonably argue that we need to encourage heterosexuality because we need a bunch more humans on the planet.
DISGUST IS NOT AN ARGUMENT
You might find the very idea of homosexual physical love so appalling, disgusting and unnatural that it ought to be banned from the face of the earth. However, I find cooked spinach appalling, disgusting and unnatural, so I think it ought to be banned from the face of the earth. Truly, I can’t stand the sight, smell, texture or taste of it and I cannot conceive of a normal, sensible person liking cooked spinach. Whose idea of disgusting is right? I think you take my point.
SLIPPERY SLOPE-BASED ARGUMENTS AGAINST HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE ARE GROUNDED IN THE FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN
What if? That’s a slogan used to sell lotto tickets too! What about three people in a committed union? What about a woman and her cat? Yes, what if? But what if we brought forth on this continent a new country conceived in liberty? Could people rule themselves without a king? I think the “what if” argument is the closet door open in your room at night. There just might be a monster in there so let’s not take any chances.
That being said, the slippery slope is a real phenomenon. For instance, the social security number was established simply to maintain records of those working in jobs covered under the social security program. Over the years, the SSN as a tracking number (though not technically as an ID) has become widespread and it is now difficult to live without a SSN. (For instance, since 1983 you must have a SSN to open an interest-bearing bank account.)
So slippery-slope arguments need to be acknowledged but not taken as a given future condition.
CHRISTIANS SHOULD NOT ARGUE AGAINST HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE BASED ON THE BIBLE
The moment I argue society’s acceptance or rejection of homosexual marriage based on my faith, I am on dangerous ground. We do not want our government establishing a religion we want because, of course, they might later establish a religion we do not want. By seeking to impose on others a definition of marriage based on my faith, I am paving the way for someone else to impose legal restrictions on my behavior based on their faith. I certainly don’t want my wife to be forced to wear a burka because one day the majority of people in America believe that the burka is God’s highest design for women’s dress.
HOMOSEXUALITY (AND HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE) ARE NOT ETHICALLY EQUIVALENT TO OTHER THINGS THAT THE BIBLE DEFINES AS SINS
We do, indeed, make laws about what we as a society believe is right and wrong. However, the best and most solid laws have an ethical basis in the rights of each person involved in whatever situation is addressed by the law in question. Running a red light has ethical implications because it puts others at risk. Stealing is taking another’s property without legal authority or their consent. These can be argued from an ethical standpoint without relying on divine revelation regarding moral behavior. Homosexual relationships do not violate ethical principles that require respect of the other’s rights. Nobody is harmed or in other ways treated against their own will when two people of the same sex engage in a committed relationship of love and support that includes the sexual expression of that love.
A FAITH POINT: ENFORCED BEHAVIOR DOES NOT CHANGE THE HEART
Jesus reminded us that the restriction of outward behavior does not move the heart toward God. To paraphrase Jesus’ connection between adultery and lust in Matthew 5:27-28, “You’ve heard it said that a man shall not lie with another man as with a woman, but I tell you that if one man looks at another with lustful intent, he has already committed homosexuality in his heart.” So, even if homosexual marriage remains illegal, that law written and enforced will not change one person’s heart. It may even be counterproductive with respect to our task of drawing people toward the redeeming love of God.
IS THERE A “STATE’S INTEREST” IN MAINTAINING HETEROSEXUAL MARRIAGE OTHER THAN PROCREATION?
As I already mentioned, I think it’s dubious at this point in history to claim the procreative purpose of marriage as a “state’s interest” in preserving heterosexual marriage. One could argue that the heterosexual marriage relationship ought to retain its primacy simply because of the biological morphology and clear interdependence of the male and female genitalia of the human species. (Arguments do sound better with big words, don’t they?) In this argument, the state has an interest in preserving community notions of reality. The division of the human species into two genders, “male” and “female,” is a biological reality. One could make a case that society in general has an interest in maintaining a legal system based on clearly observable physical – one might even say, “scientific” – reality and ought, therefore, to preserve the primacy of male/female relationships. However, a society conceived in liberty must make room for people who do not hold to the “standard” view of life.
SOME LAWS OUGHT TO CONCERN US BECAUSE OF ETHICS
The scriptures clearly speak for justice in the courts, care for the poor, fighting against the abuse of the powerless by the powerful. While these can be argued ethically without reference to divine revelation, there is alignment between the scriptures and widely acknowledged ethical principles. As those called by God’s grace into his kingdom, we have a double- duty to speak to and act on these issues as citizen-legislators in a free society and as Christians who operate out of love for our fellow people.
A CHRISTIAN MIGHT BE IN FAVOR OF LEGALIZING HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE BECAUSE OF THE LAW OF LOVE
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I don’t want others seeking to enforce their morality on me (and I certainly don’t!), then by reciprocation, I ought not desire laws that enforce my morality on them.
A CHRISTIAN MIGHT BE IN FAVOR OF LEGALIZING HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE TO BE MORE LIKE GOD
God pays us the great honor of freedom. As Christ walked the earth, he spoke the truth in love. He wooed. He cajoled. He pleaded. But he never forced. If we are Christ’s ambassadors to the world, ought we spend any time or effort trying to enforce outward behavior that does not violate ethical principles, such as not harming others? We would be more like Christ if we displayed unconditional love for all, desiring the best for each person, proclaiming the God who loves us and has reconciled us to himself by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. Of course we call people to repentance. But we don’t try to force them (we can’t, really, anyway). Then as God touches their hearts (after all no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him [John 6:44]) let the Holy Spirit do its work through the means of grace.
WHAT, THEN, IS A CHRISTIAN WHO BELIEVES IN TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE TO DO AS A CITIZEN OF A COUNTRY FOUNDED ON LIBERTY, SUCH AS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA?
Politics is the art of compromise and civilization is the process of being civil with those you with whom you disagree — people of different backgrounds and beliefs living together peaceably. If we ought not encode our moral views in the laws of our land unless they can be argued ethically without recourse to divine revelation, what do we who love everyone and desire that all come to Christ do with the thorny societal issue of homosexual marriage?
What if we could trade homosexual marriage for a repeal of no-fault divorce laws? In my opinion, no-fault divorce laws have done more damage to the institution of marriage than legalizing homosexual marriage would. Divorce is a breach of contract. Yet in the unique instance of divorce, our courts choose not to consider who broke the contract or use the idea of fault in disposing of marital assets, deciding child custody, etc. The dissolution of a marriage has become a non-event. Would you trade the strengthening of the marriage institution for the broadening of the laws about who can marry whom?
Under current laws in most states, it is time-consuming and complicated to formulate a legal relationship with another person of the same sex that equates to marriage. Furthermore, homosexual couples who enter into this multileveled contractual arrangement that approximates marriage have to defend and substantiate their relationship while heterosexual couples claiming that relationship don’t. This affects things like access to a partner in emergency circumstances (think ICU), inheritance, etc. Can you imagine a homosexual couple at a time when one is in ICU, possibly at death’s door, and his or her partner of 20 years is not allowed visitation because he or she is not “family”? How can that be right, loving or compassionate?
You may not think homosexuality is right, but isn’t it better as a society to encourage people to live in committed relationships, even if you don’t agree with the morality of those relationships?
As I consider the subject of homosexual marriage, I come to the following thoughts and conclusions.
• Society does have a stake in promoting long-term stable relationships. People are more productive, peaceful, healthy, happy, etc. when they are in long-term committed relationships. The statistics on heterosexual marriage are clear and I assume that similar results would be found if and when long, committed homosexual relationships are studied.
• For a biblically conservative Christian, homosexual marriage will never be the moral equivalent of heterosexual marriage. But heterosexual marriages often don’t reflect the character of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, either.
• Our job as Christians is not to create the kingdom of God on earth as we see it through the force of law. Our job is to share the good news that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them and to urge people to repent — turn to God in the grace offered in Jesus Christ and seek to follow God’s ways through the power of the Holy Spirit.
• Laws do not change hearts.
• The love of a homosexual couple is every bit as real and compelling as the love of a heterosexual couple, even if conservative Christians see the homosexual aspect of that love as departing from God’s plan.
• While I think one man, one woman, monogamous marriage is God’s design, I don’t think homosexuality should be singled out as a special and unique form of ungodliness. I think it just feels more foreign to the average person than lust, greed or gluttony.
• The more homosexuals I know, the more it seems strange to call them that. In fact, it seems strange to define a person primarily by their sexual orientation over and above other attributes such as kind or generous (or not).
• Can’t I live in civil community with others who think differently I do without trying to enforce my values on them?
MY CONCLUSION AT THIS POINT IN MY JOURNEY…
My conclusion, at this moment, is that civil marriage and Christian marriage should become separate institutions. Even though I think homosexuality is a brokenness (acknowledging in the same breath that I, myself, am also full of brokenness), I fully support some sort of marriage relationship equivalent for homosexual couples. I think the best idea is to use the term “civil marriage,” because this reflects what we ought to be: civil toward each other. Let a justice of the peace or some other civil representative perform the ceremony of civil union/marriage/whatever and let pastors perform the ceremony of Christian marriage by which we seek to enter into that relationship that is, at its best, supposed to echo and reflect the love between Christ and the church.
That’s what I think at 3:56PM on December 11, 2012