It’s official: North Carolina has officially, and constitutionally banned same sex marriage and civil unions. This marks another, in a long line of evolving legislation and discussion occurring on this important topic. It’s important, not only for the small percentage of the populace who are gay, but because where we ultimately land on this issue will ultimately reflect both our theology as believers, and our commitments to people who are marginalized minorities in our society. At the risk of offending everyone on both sides of the issue, and with the caveat that we all need bigger ears and smaller mouths if we’re to make progress redemptively, I offer three observations:
1. I don’t know anyone who’s chosen to be gay. They might be out there, but I’ve not met them. Most of the gay people I know are big hearted, and many of them pray, read their bible regularly, and are seeking God’s best for their lives. None of them ever said, “God please make me gay”, and why would they? Who would chose, intentionally, to be the object of fear, hatred, and social marginalization? To the contrary, most gay people I know struggled with their sexual identity, desperately wanting it to be ‘normal’. But for the majority (not all) of them, no amount of prayer, counseling, confession, or exorcism, ever led to the desired change.
This, of course, flies in the face of a most common reading of Romans 1 which seems to trace gender orientation to a wholesale rejection of God (1:28 “…they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer). I know the right answer here is “don’t let your experience determine your interpretation”, but after meetings dozens of gay people who read their Bibles regularly, pray, and desperately want to honor God with their lives, I’m beginning to wonder if the standard interpretation might be wrong, sort of a ‘the earth as at the center of the solar system because of this verse‘ situation. If it’s true that more prayer, more counseling, more whatever… won’t, in most cases, change things for my gay friends, we need to stop blaming them for being gay, and find ways to help them live fully in Christ, discovering together what that means for their unique situation.
2. There’s a civil rights issue at stake. Our culture is terribly confused regarding sexuality, as evidenced by the hook-up culture, serial monogamy, and the general reduction of sexuality, for some, to just another form of recreation. “Like tennis…only more fun because we both win” as someone once said to me. This is one of the reasons I’m planning on preaching and teaching on relationships this coming fall.
For all that, though, we’re still a culture that exalts the covenant commitment and doesn’t look kindly on cheating (just ask John Edwards, or Anthony Weiner if you doubt me). It seems that the notion of commitment is still seen as valuable, and this, of course, a good thing, something which carries not only responsibilities, but privileges. I’m wondering why the church should rule that civil unions, which exalt this committed state for two people of the same sex, is in our purvue to discourage? Wouldn’t we rather have committed relationships than promiscuous ones? Further, civil unions are precisely that: civil. Why, in a culture intent on separating church and state, would we want to impose our own definition of marriage on two people who simply want to make a commitment to each other? It seems that on the ethical spectrum of things, we ought to favor commitment rather than actively fight against it.
3. It’s time to take a turn to the right, as I consider what the Bible has to say about marriage. This is because marriage, in the Pauline definition (which I presume to be written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) seems to require a man and woman. The challenge for my gay friends is that we all need to acknowledge that marriage is God’s place to display the relationship of Christ and the Church, and that this display is intended to be reflected through the unique nature and calling of, respectively, the husband (Christ) and the wife (the church). I know I’ve just opened an entirely different can of worms, but I limit blog posts to 1000 words, so forgive me for moving on. If it’s true that husbands and wives have unique roles and responsibilities that are part of their marriage vocation (and I believe it is), then marriage can’t be androgynous. To live seriously and fully into this calling requires, it seems to Paul, a husband and wife. This doesn’t denigrate someone who’s gay, any more than it denigrates someone who’s single, for marriage is, after all, a calling. Further, it’s not a universal calling, as Paul also makes clear.
This, however, begs the question of how we treat single people and unattached gay people in the church, because though Paul exalts singleness, the modern church doesn’t. As a result, singleness, for many, equals loneliness, as it exposes the isolation that comes with consumerism and mobility. The church needs to swim upstream against this, and enable every single person to find deep, familial, community.
If civil unions exist, then the word marriage can, I hope, be preserved for churches to offer their own hallowed definition. Though some may see room for gay marriage, others may not. What’s important though, is that the word can be preserved to be defined by communities of faith.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This conversation isn’t going away. It’s dividing congregations, cultures, families. I’m praying that, in Christ, we can genuinely listen to one another as week seek to understand what God would have us be, as neighbors, citizens, Christ followers, and church leaders. And in that, the I know we mustn’t be either a group of arrogant, homophobes, nor blindly following cultural trends in the name of relevance. Rather, we need a continual search for truth, grace, and love – for this time, with these people. I have a friend in Boston who’s going to a a yearlong study of the topic in his church. Maybe we will too. God help us.
I welcome your thoughts.