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Is Gay Marriage a Cultural Issue?

Evangelicals, even when the category is restricted to American Protestants, are a racially, ethnically, politically, and socio-economically diverse group of Christians who are defined most fundamentally by their personal relationship with God through Christ. Even amongst politically conservative Christians, I know of none (which is not to say they do not exist) who would exclude a gay marriage supporter from the fold of the faithful, provided that he came to his conclusion with openness, prayer, and sincere biblical reflection. They may not invite a supporter of gay marriage to speak to their youth group (Jones has lamented that he has received fewer speaking invitations since making his views on same-sex marriage known), but not seeking a person as a teacher is not the same as excluding him from the fold.

On the biblical basis for or against same-sex marriage, the brevity of any single article prevents me from criticizing Jones for not addressing the complex biblical arguments at hand. Yet the reference to ".02% of the Bible" is more of a bumper-sticker than a substantive point of argument. It is intended to convey the impression that God apparently was not sufficiently concerned with homosexuality to discuss it much.

Yet the frequency with which an issue appears in the scriptures is hardly a measure of its importance. The doctrine of the Trinity is not clearly set forth in any biblical passage, and yet generations of Christians have concluded that it is a necessary inference from the Bible as a whole. Furthermore, if the issue is made clear in those seven passages, what is the need for an eighth? Just how often must an issue appear in the Bible in order to be considered important? Is .05% of the Bible enough? Or perhaps 1%? One could even come to the opposite conclusion: that the relative absence of the issue of homosexuality from scripture shows that this was not a "live" issue for the Jews, since everyone understood that homosexuality was against God's will. Furthermore, in order to make such a measurement one would also have to take into account all of the passages affirming the natural bond and creative complementarity of male and female in marriage -- but again the value of such a measurement is unclear.

I want to say the following with all possible charity. I neither doubt the sincerity of Jones' Christian faith nor question the value of his ministry and writings. Yet I find Jones' caricatures of capital-E Evangelicals disturbing. Remember that "Evangelicals" in his mind are a cultural and political bloc. In other words, by "Evangelicals" he means the Christian Right. While he acknowledges that "many" Evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage out of sincere conviction on the meaning of the scriptures, this is one of "many complex reasons"; among the other reasons Evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage, apparently, is the need to raise money, to elect politicians, and to portray themselves as standing strong in the face of persecution. This is not a charitable way to conduct a conversation. Worse, Jones paints Evangelicals with the brush of the Westboro Baptist Church, which is like painting leftists with the brush of Joseph Stalin, and the language throughout -- of "the latest bugaboo" and a "campaign against allowing clones to be pastors" -- is dismissive and mocking.

Jones is currently a doctoral student at Princeton Theological Seminary, a school I attended as a master's student before receiving my own doctorate elsewhere. I know that there are pressures, in certain precincts of academia and even in many seminaries, on any student who would oppose same-sex marriage. Moreover, students and professors make impassioned, deeply personal, and sophisticated arguments that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality.

I find those arguments unconvincing, as cases of special pleading against the plain meaning of scripture; Jones does not, and I cannot blame him for this. He is right to examine and reexamine his own presuppositions humbly and prayerfully, and to follow his perception of where the truth lies.

Yet he is not wise -- although this is swiftly becoming common practice -- to endear himself to the Christian Left by caricaturing the evangelical Right (just as the evangelical Right should not misrepresent progressive evangelicals). Christians who seek to model a better form of social discourse should hold themselves to the highest standards of discourse, always portraying ‘the opposition' honestly and giving them the benefit of the doubt regarding their beliefs and intentions.

For more, read Who Decides the Future of Evangelicalism
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7/15/2009 4:00:00 AM