Why Christians are Concerned About DOMA: Two Valid Reasons, Two Not-So-Much

 

A great many Christians are dismayed with the recent SCOTUS decisions regarding gay marriage.  Their dismay is no surprise to anyone. What doesn’t seem as clearly understood is exactly why. While same-sex marriage advocates might like to chalk it up to simple intolerance, and opponents, to a pure concern for moral righteousness, the situation seems a bit more complex.

Scrolling through my Facebook feed,  Twitter threads, reading various pieces on the subject, and processing the reactions of friends and family, I’ve noticed four main recurring themes, although there are surely more, in Christian concern about the decisions. Two are legitimate and two ought to be repented of. It seems constructive, both for understanding dialogue and Christian growth, to briefly review them.

Repent!
Bigotry - I don’t think that most of the people who voted against Obama did it because they’re racists. If the internet is any indication, though, a few of them probably are. In the same way, I don’t actually think bigotry drives most Christians to be dismayed at the Court’s decisions last week. Same-sex marriage proponents who claim this are guilty of myopia and uncharity (sadly, sometimes from past hurtful experiences at the hands of Christians). That being said, imagining that a bigoted dislike and simple “ick” factor might well be at work at some level for at least a small minority isn’t very difficult.

If your only reason for opposing same-sex marriage or homosexual activity in general is the inchoate “ick” factor, that will quickly change once you meet a very nice gay couple. They do exist, you know, and can be quite lovely. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all, if this is one of the factors at work in the rapid sea-change of public opinion on the subject; a great many people had no principled, moral objections to same-sex marriage beyond the simple “ick” factor. Christian moral and legal stances must be rooted in something far deeper than discomfort.

Americanism - Another bad reason for concern is one that I’ve only recently put my finger on: the heresy of Americanism. Peter Leithart identifies “Americanism”, not as a simple love for America, but the heretical theology that identifies America with God’s New Israel, the great hope for the world. Rarely found in its pure form, it infects large swaths of American Christianity; this belief that God has chosen America to proclaim, indeed, to be the agent of the Gospel of America: a message of freedom, democracy, and capitalism. This belief is not a simple trust in God’s providential ordering of the nations, but a sense of special election of the United States analagous to his election of Christ or the Church.

Of course, this is where despair comes in. The corollary of this heretical belief in our special election is that any moral degeneration represents a sort of failure of our national covenant and a threat to our messianic hopes and dreams. A great deal of the hand-wringing we’re seeing in some circles appears rooted in a false, Americanist eschatology in which our nation’s pure, Christian birth as a nation is now entering a debauched adolescence, or possible mid-life crisis, depending on how long a view of history one takes, which threatens the existence of the Church. It would take too long to respond to this, but it bears repeating that Jesus Christ is Lord of the world and the Church is to place her hopes wholly in the Messiah who has already been crucified and risen. His promises that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against her aren’t cheap talk (Matt. 16:18). While history matters, and laws have consequences, the Gospel does not hang on America.

You’ve Got a Point There
Concerns For the Common Good - A number of Christians, possibly the majority, are at least partially concerned with the common good. Whether due to natural law arguments, or convinced by revelation that violating God’s rhythm for the cosmos is bad for society, they legitimately think that ensconcing a modern, consent-based genderless definition of marriage into law will have far-reaching negative political and social repercussions beyond the fact that Jim and Joe get husbands with health benefits. No, this is not some irrational terror that as soon as same-sex marriage is legalized, gays will come stampeding into straight bedrooms and making off with unsuspecting heterosexuals in the night.

In the same way that the institution of no-fault divorce represented and instituted a shift in our understanding of marriage bringing about long-term consequences still with us, many conservatives see the legalization of same-sex marriage playing out in the same way. Same-sex marriage proponents may not find these arguments convincing (for those who haven’t read any, Alastair Roberts has an excellent summary), or, admitting that changes are coming, don’t see them as negative. That doesn’t mean their counterparts haven’t been convinced of them in good faith, though. Many Christians’ concern is one rooted in a deep respect for the created reality of history, law, and community that shouldn’t be written off as thinly-disguised hatred.

Religious Liberty - Finally, for some the main issue of concern is the possible threat to religious liberty. Special creativity isn’t required to see how gay marriage and gay rights might be pitted against the religious liberties of Christians, Jews, and Muslims whose religious beliefs entail a moral rejection of homosexual behavior–especially when the majority opinion of the court simply echoed the rhetoric of activists. Even before this there have been reports of Catholic adoption agencies losing state funding and Christian private businesses being sued for violation of non-discrimination laws. Challenges to faith-based hiring restrictions and free speech in churches are possibly not far behind as they have appeared already in the UK, Canada, and Europe.

I’m not one given to Orwellian worries of totalitarianism but it’s not improbable that preaching the back half of Romans 1, in even the mildest tones, could potentially become a legal risk on the part of local pastors. We’re not there yet, and we can certainly pray and hope that our system has been properly instituted in order to protect these religious liberties as it has so far; no lion pits or Colosseums have been built yet, so far as I know. That said, no system or nation is perfect so let’s not be so naive as to think that this won’t have real repercussions that Christians need to be prepared for.

For those of us wondering what to make of all of this, I would commend to you Russell Moore’s sober, yet hopeful reflections on the meaning of these changes for the Church. His conclusion merits quoting as it keeps our eyes firmly fixed on the main thing:

Same-sex marriage is headed for your community. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. It’s a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

And that’s good news.

About Derek Rishmawy

Derek Rishmawy is the Director of College and Young Adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA, serving college kids for the gospel. He’s been graciously adopted by the Triune God. That God has also seen fit to bless him with lovely wife named McKenna. He got his B.A. in Philosophy at UCI and his M.A. in Theological Studies (Biblical Studies) at APU. His passions are theology, the church, some philosophy, cultural criticism, and theology. He has been published at the Gospel Coalition, Mere Orthodoxy, and Out of Ur blog. He writes regularly at his Reformedish blog. You can connect on Facebook and can also follow him on Twitter at @DZRishmawy.

  • http://www.notperfectonlyforgiven.blogspot.com/ Tara

    Wonderfully written, Derek! I’ve been wrestling with how I should be responding to this issue and I found this article extremely helpful and enlightening. Many blessings to you!

  • Jimmy

    I appreciate this a lot. I know you said in the intro that this is based on trends you have seen in social media, but I am curious about a possible fifth trend: Aren’t there a growing number of Christians who believe that same-sex marriage can be blessed by God? People who really love Jesus and not only support it politically, but also would make a biblical argument? Maybe it isn’t a huge trend, but I know this stance is real and growing…

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Jimmy, thanks for your comment.

    Yes, there is that trend and it is growing. The thing is, it is not a trend that leads people to be concerned about the Supreme Court decisions about gay marriage. That’s what I was writing about. If you think same-sex relationships are fine, you probably won’t have any of these concerns except possibly the 4th one because you still might not want the religious liberties of those with whom you disagree with violated.

  • Jimmy

    Makes sense. I have heard/seen this in connection with the Supreme Court decisions, but in the sense that “If I believe God blesses these marriages, I am excited that our government is recognizing that as well.” But I suppose that is still a different approach than this post addresses. Thanks for the post and your thoughts!

  • Andrew Holt

    Thanks for delineating the issue so clearly. I appreciate your willingness to condemn Americanism, but more so, to point out that there may just be some legitimacy to the concerns that Christians have over gay marriage. Insofar as marriage equality is understood as a civil right, which it now apparently is, the concerns over religious liberty are real. Denying someone their basic civil rights is a serious offense in this country, and as much as the marriage equality movement has understood itself as the logical continuation of the Civil Rights movement, this does not bode well for those who would object to gay marriage on religious grounds. Regarding the concerns over the common good, while I don’t condone slippery-slope arguments, I do think it’s now obvious that, if “love knows no gender,” then it must be true that “love knows no number.” Polygamy and polyamory must also, then, be protected under the law, which could have serious economic consequences.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Moore’s post was pretty good, though I was a bit puzzled by the part where he says there is no such thing as an LGBT agenda. That seems like a stretch to me. A lot of us have seen firsthand how aggressive they can be–pushing for local ordinances allowing transgender folks to use the public restroom for the gender they prefer, harassing Christians unprovoked, etc. One girl I knew worked at a department store where a male customer put on a dress and demanded she give an opinion on how he looked in it! Because she was a Christian she had no idea how to respond, except to say “Ummmm, the men’s department is over there!” Our problem is that LGBT folks are constantly seeking affirmation for their lifestyle from non-LGBT people, and if they don’t get it, someone has to pay. The worshipful enshrinement of all things LGBT in popular culture, including kids’ media, might be another clue as well…

  • wisdomhunter

    Thanks for your comments, Andrew. I agree–the arguments given by the pro-SSM can be used to support polygamy, polyandry, or even Incesteous relationships. (And before anyone gets terribly offended, please realize I am only speaking of relationships involving consenting adult humans…let’s not muddy the waters with discussions of pedophilia or bestiality.)

    As to the economic questions, this brings up the larger issue of disparate tax treatment of people solely on the basis of marital status, which opens up to the even larger issue of what role the State should have in marriage–if it should have one at all.

  • dbellis

    “I do think it’s now obvious that, if “love knows no gender,” then it must be true that “love knows no number.””

    Why so? I don’t see how one implies the other.

  • Andrew Holt

    Because if the gender of the individuals in the relationship is arbitrary, and all that matters is the love between them, then it follows that the number of individuals in the relationship is also arbitrary, insofar as the love between the three or more can be demonstrated to be no different than the love between two. Polygamists and polyamorists, I imagine, would say that it can be.

  • Andrew Holt

    I hear some folks wondering what role the Church should have in marriage at all, too. It seems that the Church and State (in general) may be coming to the point where they can no longer agree on what marriage is or how it should function in society. Perhaps that marriage ought to be the first to go. (And yes, I am super impressed with myself for making that pun!)

  • allyn211

    Here’s my question: Is it possible that a church could eventually be sued for not marrying a same-sex couple? I wouldn’t put it past someone to try.

  • http://tinygrainofrice.wordpress.com/ Kristycat

    …Except that all they’re “demanding” in these cases is to be treated like humans! Pushing for laws so that they can’t be discriminated against. Wanting to use the correct restroom for their gender (rather than, for instance, having someone who completely presents as female having to go into the men’s room and face whatever harassment or violence she may receive for being trans.) Being visible, having pop culture show that they are a normal part of life! These are not unreasonable requests!

    As for your friend, if you work in a clothing store, patrons ARE going to ask for your opinion on how certain articles of clothing look on them. That’s not an unreasonable “demand,” it’s a customer asking her to do her job. The fact that she didn’t know how to respond or saw it as part of an “agenda” DOES reveal bias on her part!

    Your comment is a perfect example of why working for LGBT rights is so frustrating – because when LGBT people ask for the same rights and protections that straight and cis people take for granted, it’s somehow seen as an “aggressive agenda.” Can’t you see how ridiculous and unfair that is?

  • http://tinygrainofrice.wordpress.com/ Kristycat

    Short answer: no.

    Long answer: NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

    Churches don’t have to marry anyone they don’t want to. Not now, not ever. That’s the other half of the First Amendment. I am a ciswoman who married a cisman, and most churches would still have refused to marry us, because we’re not Christian and we would not have agreed to half of the Christian ceremony.

    The right to marry is the right to have the civil ceremony performed and to gain the rights and responsibilities that go along with that civil ceremony. There are no laws governing when a religious marriage ceremony may or may not be performed, because the law cannot tell churches whom they may or may not marry.

    (NB: churches that don’t see homosexuality as a sin have been performing same-sex marriages for years. I went to one. There are plenty of gay and lesbian couples out there who were married in the eyes of their church and their God, even though the state didn’t recognize it. Those church marriages weren’t illegal for the same reason.)

    For clarification: someone COULD sue a church for that. You can sue for anything, if you can convince a lawyer to take the case – doesn’t matter if it’s justified or not, you can still sue. And if that happened, the church in question could contact the local ACLU, and the ACLU would calmly explain to the court that they are COMPLETELY within their constitutional rights to refuse to marry anybody they want for absolutely any reason, and the case would be thrown out.

    (Source: I come from a very active ACLU family. And believe me, for every case the ACLU takes where we defend people from having religion unconstitutionally forced on them, we take just about as many cases defending religion from being unconstitutionally regulated.)

  • Esther O’Reilly

    What about a man who cross-dresses displaying his private parts in a female bathing area? This has actually happened. You need to think carefully about the other side of that coin.

    Respectfully I don’t think we’ll be able to come to an agreement on the truth of these matters. I understand that you feel very strongly about them, but I believe these are objective things, not subjective. You’re completely accepting of the normalization of LGBT behavior, relationships and interaction in society. I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I hope one day you can see that it’s a strawman to say that we “don’t want LGBT people to be treated like humans.” LGBT people already have all the basic rights under the law that the majority population does—to have a fair trial if convicted of a crime, to be properly avenged if their lives are taken in murder, to assemble peaceably, and so forth. But last I checked, “having pop culture show that they are a normal part of life” wasn’t a constitutional guarantee. Things like marriage aren’t “rights,” they’re privileges, some of which are denied to many other people besides homosexuals.

    I don’t want to begin a very long debate, so I’ll just leave it at this—I love you, and I want you to be saved. God has a plan for you that’s so much better and more fulfilling than you can imagine. Because I love you, I wish for your sake that you wouldn’t keep going down this path. There is so much more than this.

  • http://tinygrainofrice.wordpress.com/ Kristycat

    I have no interest in your God’s plan for me; I am not a Christian and have no desire to be one. It was people like you who convinced me that I could no longer live with myself if I stayed Christian.

    You’re right, I’m not sure we can come to an agreement. I have no idea how you can look at the reality of this country – the transwomen who are murdered and their murderers never prosecuted or convicted (and the fact that they can and do claim “trans panic” as a defense, as if it’s somehow ok to kill someone when you find out they’re trans, and the courts accept that), the people who are fired because they let it be known that they’re gay, the kids who are persecuted and bullied until they kill themselves, the dedicated, lifelong partners who can be kicked out of their dying loved one’s hospital room by hostile, homophobic family members because they were not allowed to marry – and think that LGBT people have the same protections, that they’re being treated like full humans. I don’t know how you can willfully blind yourself to the pain of others so well, but it makes me sick to my stomach that you can.

    As for the “example” you give: cite your source or it didn’t happen. I can’t even tell if you’re talking about a man trying to sneak into a place he shouldn’t be in, or a pre-op transwoman who absolutely should have been there – and if it’s the latter, calling her a “cross-dressing male” is INCREDIBLY insulting and disrespectful, and just proves how little you actually care about these people.

    Don’t wish for me to be “saved.” If you are any indication, your God is morally bankrupt and I want nothing to do with him.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’ll pray for you. I know you’ve lost your faith and you don’t want to be saved. God loves you anyway. You’re chasing after things that won’t fill you when God offers complete joy and newness.

    We do care about these people, but we just disagree about whether or not it’s loving or fair to encourage them in harmful behavior. I don’t believe anyone should get away with murdering or beating homosexuals. That doesn’t mean I approve of homosexuality. Here’s my source for that story if you’re interested. It was a man who hadn’t yet undergone trans surgery but dressed as a woman:

    http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/7770

    If you’re interested in reading a book by a woman who was a lesbian but left the lifestyle to become a Christian, you might consider checking out Rosaria Butterfield’s _Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert_.

  • Guest

    Oh, also, here’s a song for you. I admit I find it difficult to listen to music like this and believe the religion that inspired it is morally bankrupt:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzYU1okqwEI

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Oh, and also, here’s a song for you. I admit I find it difficult to listen to music like this and believe the religion that inspired it is morally bankrupt:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzYU1okqwEI

  • hannadevries.wordpress.com

    Speaking as someone from a country where gay marriage has been legal for over 12 years: no. The State can never interfere in the dogmas of a church or force them to bless a marriage that isn’t valid according to these dogmas. That’s the separation of Church and State.

    For much of these 12 years, it has even been possible for civil registrars to refuse to marry gay couples on religious grounds. A few weeks ago this law was changed; registrars now have to agree to marry gay couples if they want to get authorised to perform civil weddings (but existing authorisations will not be withdrawn even for the ‘Refusing Registrars’). Some people see this change as religious discrimination; I don’t particularly like the new law, but I do think that any employer has the right not to give a particular job to people who refuse to perform parts of it.

    Oh, and also, because some people expressed a concern about this: anyone here can still condemn homosexuality as much as they want, because freedom of speech.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X