The Supreme Court: Why Christians Can and Should Support Marriage Equality

The Supreme Court: Why Christians Can and Should Support Marriage Equality June 26, 2015
Copyright: nebari / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: nebari / 123RF Stock Photo

Today’s Supreme Court decision that ruled same sex-couples have the right to marry nationwide has many Christians asking a question, “Can faithful Christians support same-sex marriage?”

I believe that not only can faithful Christians support same-sex marriage, faithful Christians should support same sex marriage.

First, the can. Many people think the Bible is a stumbling block when it comes to this issue. They feel that they can’t support same sex marriage because the Bible is against homosexuality. But what if we’ve misunderstood the Bible? That’s the case that James Alison makes in his lectures The Shape of God’s Affection. Alison points out that heterosexuality and homosexuality are modern concepts. The terms were coined around the 1860s and it’s only been during the last 60 years that we’ve come to a scientific understanding of sexual orientation in general, and homosexual orientation in particular. Pre-modern people generally assumed all people were naturally attracted to members of the opposite gender. Although the percentage is often debated, we know now that roughly 4% of human beings are naturally attracted to members of the same gender.

Why does that matter? There are 7 passages in the Bible that we moderns use to discuss homosexuality. The problem is that the people who wrote the Bible weren’t talking about our modern concept of homosexual orientation. To impose our modern concept of sexuality on the Bible is to misunderstand the very important critique the Bible makes in those 7 passages. Indeed, those passages denounce sexual sins, but they are the sins of gang rape and cultic prostitution. The ancient Hebrews and the authors of the New Testament were concerned about sexual abuse and believed the sexual humiliation of another was a very bad thing, but they were not commenting on homosexuality as we understand it today.

Let’s take the verse most often referred to in the New Testament: Romans 1:26.  Previously, Paul stated that many have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” It is “For this reason,” Paul continues, that

God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

The New Testament scholar Neil Elliot wrote an essay called The Apostle Paul on Sexuality. The essay supports Alison’s argument that the biblical authors weren’t talking about homosexuality, but about sexual abuse. Elliot claims that Romans 1 was principally about the Roman Emperor Nero, who led a very infamous and active sex life. Elliot quotes ancient historians and claims:

Nero’s sexual passion for his own mother was “notorious,” … but then Nero “practiced every kind of obscenity,” defiling “almost every part of his body with men and women, usually under threat of force” … His cruelty and sexual predations paled, in the eyes of the Roman aristocracy, next to his profligacy with money: when he had devoured his personal fortune he turned to “robbing temples.”

In the Romans 1 passage, then, Paul is not against our modern understanding of homosexuality, but rather against sexual abuse and excessive sexual indulgence.

Now for why Christians should support same sex marriage. The speech made by Washington State Representative Drew Hansen provides an important theological account of what God is doing on this issue. Representative Hansen is a Christian committed to the way of Christ who voted for Washington State’s same sex marriage bill when it came up a few years ago. Hansen said, “What if God is doing a new thing in the church right now on this question?  I mean, remember, as Christians we believe that it is the stone the builder rejects that becomes the capstone.”

This is a crucial point for Christians. Hansen illuminates the “truth about God” that Paul referred to in Romans. Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the One who reveals who God truly is and what it means to by truly Human, is the cornerstone that the builders rejected. As the Son of God and the Son of Man, he has become the capstone to our theology and to our anthropology. By being rejected, Jesus radically identifies with those who are rejected by other human beings. Theologian Walter Wink reflects on this principle in his essay Homosexuality and the Bible:

God sides with the powerless.  God liberates the oppressed.  God suffers with the suffering … In light of that supernal compassion, whatever our position on gays, the gospels imperative to love, care for, and be identified with their sufferings is unmistakably clear.

It is unmistakably clear because the particularly Jewish Jesus suffered in order to show us that God in Christ identifies with all who are rejected and excluded. In this way, African American theologians can say Jesus is Black. In this way, GLBT theologians can say Jesus is Gay. But here’s the next important point: Jesus freely allowed himself to suffer and be rejected by his fellow human beings so that our pattern of rejecting others would be transformed into a pattern that loves and embraces others. Refusing to allow GLBT people to participate in the joys and challenges of marriage is a way of rejecting them. The Holy Spirit guides us to include people into relationships of love and compassion, whether we are straight or LGBTQ.

When it comes to same sex marriage, the authentic Christian response is not one of exclusion and rejection, but one of love and affirmation.

And that’s why faithful Christians can and should support same-sex marriage.

Stay in the loop! Like Teaching Nonviolent Atonement on Facebook.

"Many of us are familiar with the parable of the Lost Coin, but perhaps there ..."

Jesus Unmasked: On Being Lost And ..."
"Great sermon. “It Can’t Happen Here” helped me figure out how we got here with ..."

The Chosen One Chooses Love Over ..."
"So, no culture ever "appropriates" advances from others? There is a little human activity that's ..."

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear, But ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • scott stone

    Does this ruling then legalize polygamy? And if it doesn’t, why not? We don’t want to infringe on someones civil rights?

    • David Cohen

      How is the legal recognition of a marriage between two adults of the same

      sex more of an argument for polygamy than the legal recognition of a marriage between two adults of the opposite sex?

      • scott stone

        SSM was argued from the point of a civil rights violation, which it may be. I like to be contrarian for the sake of discussion. If it is a violation of someones civil rights by not being allowed to marry someone of the same sex, why is it not a violation of someones civil rights to marry multiple people, if all parties are in agreement?

        • David Cohen

          Let’s say I have two wives. I get into an accident and I am in a coma, I have not physician directive on file. One wife says to keep me alive, the other says pull the plug. Which wife gets to make the decision?

          This is just one of a huge number of considerations that apply to a plural marriage but not to a marriage between two people, regardless of the sex of said people. To say that A “just has to” pave the way for B is to ignore these differences. Thus Marriage between two adults of the same sex does not, in any way, offer more of an argument for polygamy than a marriage between two people of the opposite sex.

          • scott stone

            But why just two people. If my civil rights are being violated justice must prevail.

          • David Cohen

            (sigh) Very well. If you feel that you have a case, hire a lawyer and arrange your day in court. My point is simply that if your case consists of saying “Well, two men can get married, why not a man and three women” you will be justly laughed out of the courtroom.

          • scott stone

            No more than when 2 men first said they wanted to be married. If you really think about it, not that many years ago “same sex marriage” was truly an oxymoronic statement.

          • David Cohen

            Lots of things change. That doesn’t mean that everything changes. As far as the law goes, change occurs in accordance with valid legal arguments.

            If you think that you have a valid legal argument for having the laws against polygamy struck down, and you are so inclined, take your case to court. However, just saying “well it could happen…somehow…slippery slope people” really accomplishes nothing except making ignorant people nervous. Sh!t disturbing is not the same as genuine dialogue about social conditions.

        • mattepntr

          “why is it not a violation of someones civil rights to marry multiple people, if all parties are in agreement?”

          It may well be. And those who wish for their polyamorous relationships to be recognized legally will need to do the work of raising awareness and changing hearts and minds just as the LBGTQ community has been doing for decades.
          Personally, I have no problem with polyamorous relationships being legally recognized.

          But to answer your initial question- no, this SC decision does not legalize polygamy, anymore than Loving v. Virginia legalized same-sex marriages.

          I assume by your concern that you would be opposed to legal recognition of polygamist marriages. I hope that this does become an issue in my lifetime because I would love to see what arguments the anti side would try to use. Tradition? The Bible??

          Polygamy is about as “traditionally biblical” as it gets.

          • scott stone

            So then to follow your logic, and I’m being VERY technical here, marriage can be anything. Hence if it can mean anything, it means nothing. And since marriage is truly the building block of societies, having no meaning will be a degradation on future generations.

          • mattepntr

            Whoa there, Scotty!! You’re following somebody’s “logic” but it sure ain’t mine!

            Marriage is a social institution. And just as a society evolves, so must its institutions, to better serve the needs of the society’s members. It happened in 1967 with Loving v. Virginia, and it happened again today.
            Because something changes, it doesn’t cease to exist or become “meaningless”. Marriage didn’t become something it wasn’t before.

            It expanded in order to allow more citizens to take part in it.

            Now answer my question- if marriage is the building block of society, how does limiting who can take part in it strengthen the society? That makes absolutely no sense.

          • scott stone

            A social institution defined as what?
            FYI I think you are really on to something. I appreciate your response. The most sensible and intelligent one I’ve received. I’m being somewhat contrarian on this issue just to create dialogue. Too much group think. I’ve received a plethora of hostile/hate remarks just for questioning “conventional” thought on multiple Progressive Christian blogs. Who are the tolerant ones again?
            I agree that social institutions evolve with the evolution of societies but these foundational institutions have clearly defined meanings. If “marriage” is one of the foundational societal institutions, what is it’s definition? The SCOTUS ruling clearly did not answer that question. I’ve said all along that I vacillate on this issue. I’m truly no where near a fundamental hard liner but from a theological position I’m not quite there yet.

          • mattepntr

            Just wanted to stop by to say I’ll write you a proper reply later this weekend. Real life has me tangled up at the moment, and I didn’t want you to think I skipped out.

          • Chris Angeline

            “Evolve?” Sorry, ain’t buying what you’re selling. Nothing has changed. Marriage is one woman and one man in a committed union before God and man. Period.

    • theot58

      Or what about consenting pedophelia – why should that be illegal?
      Where do we stop?
      This is highly disturbing.

      • scott stone

        That’s easy. A minor is not allowed to enter into an arrangement such as you speak of. Law already prohibits this. That’s really a strawman argument.

        • theot58

          There used to be a law against pornography and homosexuality also – what happened to those laws?

          They got changed,

          Pedophilia between consensting and loving persons could very easily be the next “taboo” to fall.

          I think the Bible has something to say here:For since the creation of the world His invisible

          attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
          Professing to be wise, they became fools,
          and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

          (Romans 1:20-27 NKJV)

          • Tulse

            Pedophilia between consensting and loving persons

            Minors (and dogs, and tables, and all the other things fundamentalists worry about regarding marriage) cannot give consent. So it’s pretty straightforward.

  • theot58

    i think the church should start a new institution and call it a Christian marriage.
    Marriage with consistent with Biblical teaching.
    One man, one woman under God for life.
    Let the world go its own way. The road is broad that leads to destruction.

  • Frank

    One would have to reject and deny God to support gay “marriage.”

    • cken

      It is not rejecting God. It may be to deny one or two passages of the Bible but then Christians have been ignoring parts of the Bible for hundreds of years. So why is gay marriage a bigger problem than the other parts of the Bible we don’t follow.

      • Frank

        Marriage is woven throughout scripture. To deny such is the height of ignorance.

  • DM

    I once answered the question from a young man of faith about the changing definition of “marriage” in Canada. My answer was along the lines that ‘if the “church” had not been so against same sex unions and had allowed same sex couple to join in “civil union” [or a similar phrase] the fight would not have played out the way it has.’
    I agree with mattepntr that this is an ‘expanding’ of the definition of marriage.

  • Sally Stewart

    Maybe I’m off topic but I found this piece very interesting on marriage since more often than not I hear the whole institution of marriage is taken from the Bible & what the founders of our country believed are to be dearly held principles, so I’m sharing what the early Pilgrims/Puritans believed on marriage from the Pilgrim Hall Museum written by Richard Howland Maxwell:
    “At Plymouth, church and state were even more markedly separated. Like all Puritans, both groups
    held that the Bible as opposed to church leaders or their pronouncements is the final authority. In
    Plymouth, they interpreted that to include the idea that what Scripture does not specifically claim as a
    religious function remains a civil one. The best
    known result of this thinking was the belief in
    Plymouth that marriage was a civil rite, not a religious one. Governor Bradford himself explained that
    marriage is “a civill thing, upon which many questions aboute inheritances doe depende, with other
    things most proper to their cognizans… and no wher found in the gospell to be layed on the ministers as a part of their office.” Bradford’s biographer summarized the Pilgrim attitude this way: Whatever the elders had planned at Leyden, it is clear that Bradford and the younger generation wanted to create, under God and His guidance, a Christian commonwealth in which Scripture should be the guide but with civil and religious functions clearly separated.”

    As for religious tolerance, they were not going to tolerate anything but Christianity.

  • Marie

    Christianity DOES NOT own the concept of marriage. Marriage was around long before christianity. Get over and it and stop trying to push your man-made belief system on everyone else!

    • cken

      To say marriage is a Christian thing would be wrong. To say it is a God thing would be right. Marriage is recognized by all world religions and cultures.

  • Each Christian has to ask themselves, ‘Does the Bible make sense?’. Some decide they don’t care. The Bible is just a magic eight ball used to display God’s answers. It just says what it says. Others decide it does have to make sense. They look at its overarching principles of justice and wisdom and altruism and faith. They look at its stories, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan. It makes them realize they don’t know everything and can never rely on a magic eight ball to get the answers. They need to think. They need to care. They need to be open to seeing the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of other Christians…including their married LGBT brothers and sisters. That’s the difference between Christians who take the Bible seriously and those who just make an idol out of it.