Two Religions, One Name

Two Religions, One Name July 4, 2015

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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