Two Religions, One Name

Christians belong to one of two different religions that just happen to share the same name.

1. In the debate over gay marriage appealing to the Bible’s literal prohibitions is a dead end argument. If you go the Old Testament we immediately hear Martin Sheen’s burn of an anti-gay radio star in West Wing. If you go to the New Testament then divorce and remarriage are out the window and women have to start wearing hats in church and resign their jobs as preachers and even Sunday School superintendents. Not to mention keeping up to other Pauline standards that are probably less than appealing – such as telling slaves to remain slaves.

2. Appealing to “love” doesn’t move us forward, nor does an appeal to human rights. The first word doesn’t appear in the Bible meaning what it means to modern Americans, and the second concept is no where to be found in scripture. Except for adulterous and polygamous marriages associated with murder (David) love isn’t really related to marriage much in the Bible. It is all about duty and authority. (Interestingly lust is a good Biblical reason to get married. (I Cor. I:9)) And human rights? In the Bible humans have roles and responsibilities, and obligations to each other. Human rights is an entirely modern concept that simply cannot be shoehorned into scripture.

So let’s drop all the quotes and counter quotes: utterly pointless and nothing but a distraction.

1. The basis for opposing gay marriage comes down to an assertion that across the Bible there is a consistent view: God’s desired order for human society is gendered, and that fundamental to it is the institution of marriage. Only in marriage between a man and a woman, that for sure involves sexual relations, do you add biological femaleness and biological maleness to create a complete human (Adam -they become one flesh) capable of doing what needs to be done (create new humans) that is necessary if you are made in God’s image and are to be a steward of God’s creation by becoming fruitful and multiplying.

The weak basis for at least allowing gay marriage is that this is a crazy sinful world, and exceptions (the Bible is full of them) must be made to account for living in a world marred by Sin. Most gays and their supporters would reject this argumemt. Not does it soften things to broaden the meaning of terms like “fruitful.” This allows those who aren’t having children to appropriate the Biblical text in ways useful to their self-understanding. But it doesn’t overcome the fact that the Bible is primarily interested in people mating and having children.

2. The strong basis for supporting gay marriage is that across the Bible there is a consistent view: God’s desired order for human society is based on creating an ever freer and more open space where individuals can discover and live into their own emerging understandings of what imago dei means. Jesus gives us the full revelation of imago dei, since he is God incarnate. So long as individuals are living out the ideals of human life revealed by Jesus, within the kind of ethical boundaries that Jesus articulates and demonstrates in his life, then their desires (to marry someone of the same sex for example) are legitimate expressions of divine love and should be honored by the church. Which itself is always discovering what it means to live in love and live for others out of love.

Now between 1 and 2 above there is an unbridgeable gap. They represent fundamentally different ways of understanding the Bible, the human person, the basis of human society, the created world, and the role of God in creation. Ultimately in Christian theology these views will have different views of the person and work of Christ, particularly with regard to the atonement.

So here is my suggestion: How about we try to figure out (in dialogue) why we want so desperately to maintain relationships with one another as a single Christian community. Looking from the outside modern American “Christians” really have two completely different religions with the same name. They happen to mouth the same words (but with entirely different meanings) drawn from a single text (but read entirely differently) enacted in the same rituals (but with utterly different aims).

In the good old days we would have mutually anathematized each other and been done with it over much less.

So the real question isn’t whether or how we should split. It is why we don’t want to. Because somewhere under the politics and power and money is our unity in Christ. And neither party to this debate is capable of articulating what that unity is or where it arises by itself. Like other mysterious unions it can emerge only in continued dialogue. And then only when the dialogue drops negotiations over allowing or disallowing gay marriage. That is mere symptom of our differences. We need to focus on whether our desire for unity is mere nostalgia (in which case we are really two different religions and need to go our own ways) or arises from a divine love that we do not yet fully understand, and must understand if we are to live at all, much less together.

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  • Erinys Trace

    I am an atheist now, but I have always, even as a christian, thought that the evangelical rigid religious structure and though was reminiscent of the Pharisees in the bible. The “law” and the book are most important to them. The more progressive side, IMO, seem to be the truest reflection of the Jesus I remember from when I was a christian. Not that the bible isn’t important to them, but they seem to more closely follow the ethos as embodied by Jesus in the Gospels.

    Like i said, atheist now, so take it as the view from an outsider looking in.

    • Gail7849
    • jrb16915

      Ultimately Christianity is about God’s plan for man’s relationship with God. And by logical necessity this extends to mans relationship with all of God’s creation, including other humans.

      Everyone remembers Jesus “Let he who cast the first stone…..”, but very few seem to remember that he then turned to the woman and said “sin no more” . God in the person of Jesus could not have been more clear, that it is his desire that people do not sin. And it is probably not random that he picked sexual sin as his explicit point.

      Most people who are being “rigid” sincerely believe they are simply ringing an alarm for people who are putting themselves in serious eternal danger. Try to accept those are rigid from their perspective not yours, and you will realize they are trying in their own way to care.

      • Erinys Trace

        I know it’s been days since you replied, but maybe you will see this. They may be trying in their own way to care, but in the process they are completely ignoring what the we (the people they are supposedly trying to “save” are saying to them). It is quite simple, their black and white, my-way-or-the highway (described, of course, as “god’s will”) is quite literally leading to the death’s of many gay people due to suicide. They handwave these deaths as being “due to the sin of homosexuality” because the don’t want to accept that their reprehensible attitude makes them personally responsible for the deaths of those they interact with who later feel so abused and rejected by their friends and families that they commit suicide. It is that simple. Their attitude leads directly to kids being kicked out of their homes, leads directly to the horrible rejection and loneliness, leads directly to depression and suicidal thoughts. And that doesn’t even go into the horrible parents who send their kids to “conversion”camps that can’t and won’t change the orientation of their children, but do have stories attached to them of “repairative” rape – so very christian, I’m sure.

        I’ll be honest, I don’t CARE if they think they are “doing good” by being rigid pharisees. What I see is people willfully ignoring the very real consequences of their actions in order to promote their hateful brand of christianity. They claim to follow a just, loving God (as, indeed, Jesus indicated God to be), but no loving God would approve of this, no just God would approve of this. I remain agnostic/atheist, but if their version of God is the “true” one, then I think the world would be better off without it.

  • jrb16915

    There isn’t unbridgeable gap. Your item 1 is part of item 2. You can’t fit sexual sin into God’s plan anymore than you can fit suicide or heroin abuse into God’s plan.