Gentiles and Homosexuals (pt. 6)

Since I will soon be returning from vacation and have to deal with the firestorm created by my position on Christians and gay marriage, this will be the last in the series!

In essence, I have argued that we need to be able to separate what we are called to do as the people of God (the ethical norms God wants us to uphold in our communities) and how to posture ourselves toward those who do not hold to these norms–largely because they are not part of that community. In other words, on this particular issue, to hold to a traditional Christian position that homosexuality is not God’s intention for human sex is not yet to answer the question how do we love our gay neighbor as our heterosexual self?

There is good reason to think that the answer to the latter is to be agents of extending the life-giving blessings of marriage even to those whose marriages do not conform to our understanding of the Christian norm: God’s healing power is freely given to outsiders and even enemies; God’s power to feed the hungry is given to outsiders; Jesus condemns Law-keeping as an excuse for not loving neighbor; Jesus calls us to love and bless the evil and the good even as God our Father does; James warns us that religion is not about believing the right things but a doing of the right things which includes caring for our neighbors’ needs.

Photo: Eastern Illinois University

Let me speak now to those who object to this, and take up a few of the more frequent objections along the way.

First, we should be aware of how much marriage guidance there is in the NT, and how little of it we either follow ourselves or demand to have written into law. For example, Paul says that a Christian can only marry another Christian. Should we demand that the laws of the U.S. fulfill this standard? Note that this is much more significant in terms of the Christian narrative than hetero- versus homosexual sex. This is about whether a person who is a member of Jesus’ own body will join that body to someone who is not in Christ.

If we don’t want the state to enforce other Christian marital standards, why the requirement of heterosexuality?

Second, people have drawn attention to the fact that once gay people can be married, the sorts of opportunities that open up to them include adoption. It seems to me that this should be one of the driving forces behind Christians getting in line to support gay marriage. One of the quintessential characteristics of a just society is one in which the orphan is cared for. The moving of a child into a stable home, rather than being raised in an orphanage of some type, shuttled about to various foster families, or even aborted would seem to be a tremendously Christian reason for supporting gay marriage.

The simple fact is that most of us Christians who are married and capable of having our own children do not adopt. We neglect our duty to love the orphan, and also want to close down an avenue for them to be cared for? The objection to this line of thinking is that being raised by gay parents is somehow inherently bad. But how? I know that the real life challenges of being a heterosexual parent create at times tense environments and moments that will be the subject of my and my friends’ children’s therapy visits. Are committed homosexual couples going to have an inherently more challenging home life? Is there any evidence for such an idea?

Third, what about other moral issues concerning sex and marriage? What about pedophilia or polygamy?

Pedophilia is easy: there is a minor to be protected from the coercive power of the adult. That is an entirely different category.

Polygamy is challenging in that it has some biblical precedent. The idea that two people become one in marriage did not stop Jacob from becoming one with Leah and also becoming one with Rachel. But here I have a similar concern as with the pedophilia case, though it’s not as cut and dry. Polygamy tends to thrive where there is a significant power dynamic in favor of, usually, men who accumulate various wives for themselves. I can see monogamy laws as a form of protection to a wife who has been promised in marriage the affections, care, and single-hearted devotion of her husband (and vice versa).

Finally, I do want to keep asking: Why is this particular Christian standard the one we think our civil society should uphold for all? Is not worship of God more important? Why not mandate church attendance? Is giving to the poor not more important than, or at least equally important as, whom we choose to have sex with? Why not mandate a more extensive system of food banks and extend welfare programs? Why not require people to adopt childless parents?

I know that these are not the kinds of debates in which people’s minds are changed overnight. But at the end of it I want, as much as anything, to ask that we recognize that the issue of gay marriage is difficult, because our calling to live in a certain way does not thereby define whom we are called to love or how. The love of God cannot be contained by laws or within certain communities. And we are called to take that love, and God’s blessings, into all the parts of the world in which God has placed us.

16 thoughts on “Gentiles and Homosexuals (pt. 6)”

  1. They key question is this: What is the purpose of Government?

    A society founded upon Christianity and Natural Law will immediately state: The purpose of government is to promote the common good, particularly in light of the fact mankind suffers from original sin.

    A society that rejects Christianity and Natural Law will have a different, more utilitarian purpose of government, which is a body that protects and promotes individual good as the highest good, namely hedonism. This is why as time goes on more and more laws that promote the family are thrown out while laws promoting the individual’s autonomy are enacted.

    Given this, government promoting the common good would entail protecting marriage on various fronts, since the basic building block of society is the family, not the individual. It would further entail the government promoting virtue and condemning vice, since those respectively build up society or tear it down.

    Once the situation is framed as such, any ‘objections’ disappear since it’s impossible to be promoting the common good while legalizing vices such as homosexuality.

    1. Daniel, you asked: “Why is this particular Christian standard the one we think our civil society should uphold for all?”

      Christ is King of all mankind, there is no “escaping” the reach of His reign. Given that, His Kingdom is divided among faithless and faithful subjects, both equally bound to affirm His Kingship in their own lives and in the public square. Those of us who want to be designated as “faithful subject” cannot have it any other way than encouraging people to become faithfully subject to Christ.

      This is not a matter of personal preference: Either Christ is King and thus must be recognized or he is not.

      If He is – and any Christian must affirm this – then we know any society that wants to be on the ideal track will adopt Christianity when framing it’s laws. Anything else is not only settling for less (a shuddering thought for any Christian), but they’re mocking Christ’s Kingship.

      You also asked:
      “Is not worship of God more important?”

      Worship of God is not merely a private matter. Even Natural Law shows those willing to see that since God exists, he must be acknowledged publicly as well. How absurd is it to honor and revere God in private but in public pretend He doesn’t exist? Such is the epitome of confusion.

      You asked:
      “Why not mandate church attendance?”

      Because there is a distinction between protecting and affirming the True Religion (Christianity) and that of coercing people to accept it. The State can (and MUST) say Sunday is the Lord’s day and to be observed (e.g. by closing stores and other such things) without having to punish non attendees of Mass. The State can refuse to punish such folks on the grounds it is too impractical to do so or that it crosses into the realm of coercion without ceasing to affirm Christianity is the one true faith.

      You asked:
      “Is giving to the poor not more important than, or at least equally important as, whom we choose to have sex with?”

      It depends on the circumstances. Laws aimed at protecting the family are not just limited to sexual matters, but economic matters as well. This is a common error when people frame such question, thinking sexual is the only realm. But we certainly shouldn’t be arguing that since one element of protecting the family isn’t being upheld that in some sort of ‘fairness’ we should tear down or not uphold another.

      You asked:
      “Why not mandate a more extensive system of food banks and extend welfare programs?”

      Because welfare and food banks don’t typically cure the illness, only provide a band-aid. What should be mandated are economic structures that provide for supporting of the family such that the very need for welfare and food banks are minimized rather than extended. A growing need for welfare indicates society is not able to provide for the family’s basic needs and thus more and more unstable at it’s foundation. The cure is to find out what’s preventing a father from providing for his family, rather than how we can continue to provide a counter balance for an unbalanced scheme.

      1. Nick,

        I had initially planned to reply to some of your more substantive points, but upon finishing both your comments, after picking my jaw up off the floor, I can only conclude that you fundamentally dislike the U.S.A. You’re well within your rights to do so, of course, but I don’t expect your vision for authoritarian sectarian dictatorship to catch on much.

        Might I suggest Saudi Arabia? Iran, perhaps? The authoritarianism is already set up — you’d just have to convince them to switch sects.

        1. Tim,

          I’m not sure why you were as scandalized as you were by my comments. Nothing I said entails dictatorship, merely framing things to be more consistent with the Christian outlook on life.

          There is nothing wrong with incorporating natural law or Christianity into one’s laws, and in fact for any nation to have true law and justice it must to some degree.

          1. Nick,

            What shocked me was not so much your beliefs — I’ve encountered more than a few people who would prefer an authoritarian sectarian mode of government (whether run by a Supreme Leader or a College of Cardinals is splitting hairs, IMO).

            No, what surprised me was the forthrightness with which you made your statements — the open, evident disdain for the U.S.A. as the Constitutional Republic it is and always has been.

            No one with an ounce of respect for a government explicitly founded on the view that all men are created equal — that Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are unalienable rights — that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed — with an aim to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . . — would express such contempt for government as “a body that protects and promotes individual good”, sneer at “laws promoting the individual’s autonomy”, and envision “the government promoting virtue and condemning vice”.

            I don’t know if you’re an American, and it really doesn’t matter. We tolerate dissent here, and you’re welcome to your ideas of a Utopian Christian Shari’ah. Again, I simply wouldn’t anticipate your views to catch on.

            As a matter of course, I also think you’re doing grave injustice to Christianity itself, what with your anti-liberty ideas. “Promoting virtue” under compulsion due to threat of punishment by civil authorities in a multicultural state is a pretty far cry from anything that can be supported with Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience as a normative and positive Christian value.

            (Farther, I might suggest, than the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church and the affirmation of committed, monogamous, loving relationships between two men or two women…)

            1. Hi Tim,

              You’ll need to spell out where you’re getting the grounds to accuse me of of open and evident disdain. No Pope I know of has spoken of open or evident disdain for the Constitution, and in fact Leo XIII and others have praised the fact it allowed Catholicism to flourish (unlike England).

              As for the phrase “all men are created equal,” that’s a bit of a tough topic given that it obviously originally wasn’t including Slaves or others. The notion that Life, Liberty and Happiness are inalienable rights given by the Creator (and thus only technically exist as long as professed belief in God exists) is perfectly in line with Natural Law and Christianity – provided Life is defined as beginning at conception and Liberty as the freedom to live virtuously (not just any way we please).

              And leaders deriving their power from the consent of the governed is perfectly fine as well – provided the governed is understood as citizens given that ability to elect their leaders from God and not having this inherently existing personalized authority to do so.

              I think you misunderstood what I meant by “a body that protects and promotes individual good”, such was worded poorly on my part. The better phrase should have been “individual’s unrestrained desires” (or something similar), since nothing that is truly good should ever be opposed. I take correction on that point.

              I’m truly not sure why you’re caught up with my comments on promoting virtue, since the earliest Founders were abundantly clear that without virtue no society would last. George Washington practically screamed that message in his Farewell Address, and his words seem to have never been taken to heart.

              Promoting virtue doesn’t have to be done in Draconian fashion, for example, common business shutting down on Sunday mandates rest and respect for Sunday Worship but doesn’t force anyone to be Christian. Such types of laws have been extremely common in governments throughout history, and such a notion was so deeply engrained in American culture that this was done practically voluntarily until recently.

              Another favorite example I have is to point out that in the US, cohabitation was illegal until 1970. Such laws promoted virtue, but if I were to say this should be law today, I’d be trampled upon as un-American, despite the fact such was actually law for a long time, and only was thrown out relatively recently with the sexual revolution.

              I realize this response is getting long enough, but your comments on including gay individuals in the church and accepting their ‘committed relationships’ is nothing more than basing morality upon what the current popular opinion is, which is really no morality at all and ironically can change at the drop of the hat to further extremes than even you’d accept.

              The very idea that marriage can be between two people of the same sex is redefining nature itself, except for the fact nature remains what it is. Such is akin to making a law saying there is no such thing as gravity, despite the fact gravity will be what it is regardless. Marriage is first and foremost about procreation, not about some nebulous notion of ‘committed relationship’ (which can be defined numerous ways).

  2. I am not ‘for’ same-sex marriages, however, I am not at all sure that it is the business of the church to impose its morality on society. Paul makes no attempt to condemn slavery. He simply calls for believers to act with Christian integrity within the institution. He never at any point challenges the political structures of society.

    Law, while existing to promote good and oppose injustice, must take account of where people are at. Thus OT law permitted divorce ‘because of hardness of heart’. It did not forbid polygamy. What it did was create laws that protected individuals from exploitation within these situations.

    Thus, while I accept Nick’s point that government should promote virtue and discourage vice, it can only ever do so to the extent that the people allow if it is to be at all humane and promote order. This is even more so in a democracy. The Law becomes an ass if it promotes virtues the people simply will not accept.

    Christians in public life may wish to make a case for a Christian ideal. If the people are not persuaded then it cannot happen.

    I see same-sex marriage as against God’s order in creation. Obviously therefore I think, on the whole, it will be a bad thing. On the positive it may give some legal rights and protection to those in same-sex marriages – that is good. I do not think it will be the end. If marriage is simply a contract that consenting adults wish to make without reference to what is for the good of society then polygamy and incest naturally follow.

    Pedophilia is only out of bounds so long as society considers it an abuse of a minor. Some forms seem to have been favoured in classical civilizations. Values can change. Look how quickly attitudes to homosexuality and divorce have changed. The value of the child can easily change as society corrupts.

    Christendom is over. I doubt if it was ever a good thing. The church should not impose morality on society but ensure that it preaches the gospel. This will mean exposing our sin (including the sin of homosexuality)in the context of the saving forgiving grace of God in Christ for all who repent.
    And it will insist that those who become Christians are subject to the government of the gospel. It will not condone illegitimate marriages or divorces. Though how it treats already existing same-sex partnerships will be a tension point, especially if there are adopted children.

    1. Hi John,

      I don’t see how you can say Christians don’t have a duty to promote Christian values and Natural Law in the public sphere – that’s how things used to be in Protestant nations like England, Germany, Geneva, etc. The Westminster Confession even says the State has the duty to protect Christianity.

      Paul making no attempt to condemn slavery doesn’t necessarily prove anything since there were lots of things Paul had to talk about and didn’t necessarily get the chance to address every issue. He certainly pressed for the conversion of Kings (e.g. Agrippa) – and given he in no way suggested him to abdicate the throne upon conversion means Kings should incorporate their faith into their governing.

      I totally agree with your point that Law is to meet people where they are at at times, but this in no way suggests Law should not be strongly based upon Natural Law and Divine Law. It’s a case by case judgment call as to just how strict and wide reaching laws are to be, but we can agree that allowing grave evils like porn and abortion are not just, are opposed to natural law, and should be opposed by Christians.

      I certainly was not expecting you to say this though:
      “On the positive it may give some legal rights and protection to those in same-sex marriages – that is good.”
      How is this good in any objective sense? Marriage is mocked, the very building block of society is redefined to be individualistic, and Sodomy is promoted (the very sin God burned a city for). How can a Christian say the condoning of Sodomy is something praiseworthy?

      1. Hi Nick

        I was meaning that there are aspects of a homosexual relationship where either partner benefits from protection of the law. For example, if one partner dies then the other inherits. This is often what the partner wants but fails to get as families contest the ‘rights’ of the partner.

        I don’t think same-sex marriage is praiseworthy but often even wrong things have some positive aspects.

        Don’t you see the standing back from political statement by Jesus and the apostles as deliberate? I think too it arises from a ‘stranger and exile’ perspective.

        I think there is a difference between individual christians in their vocation in life expressing views that arise from a Christian world view and church leaders trying to impose christian morality. I guess I think Christendom was a mistake; the marrying of church and state.

        It is I think hard for Government to decide what they should impose. Prohibition made an ass out of the law. In a democracy in particular the government can impose little that the people will not accept. Having said this I do not mean christians should give the impression they approve of things the bible condemns.

        I think the only real hope for moral change in society is when people respond in faith to the gospel. If enough do this then the grass roots of society will change its moral tone from the bottom up.

        My real despair is not that society rejects God’s order but that the church does so.

        1. I don’t see the inheritance issue as one requiring civil union of any sort, since there should be legal documents available for intrusting any of your possessions to any person or group should you pass away. Hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley (in her Will) entrusted her billions to her dog (since she apparently didn’t like her children), and this didn’t require civil union.

          You asked me:
          “Don’t you see the standing back from political statement by Jesus and the apostles as deliberate?”

          I don’t see “standing back” from political statement at all, e.g. Acts 17:7. When the Apostles were preaching Jesus is King, this was a direct affront to Caesar’s own godhood. When Paul goes around saying Jesus is Lord, that’s more than just saying Divine, it’s a political statement.

  3. Well, Daniel you’ve definitely gone all in here. You’re underlying theology is deep and thoughtful. Your understanding of our calling to bear witness to the gospel and how to relate to our neighbors, friends and fellow citizens is wonderful and properly cross-bearing and resurrection empowered and trusting.

    And your application of all of the above to this particular issue is thoroughly mistaken. Not on how we should treat those who are in same-sex relationships or in what we owe them as neighbors, friends and image bearers of God, and as those who follow Christ, but in your insistence that such requires that we wholeheartedly endorse same-sex marriage as a public good.

    This is a substantial discussion in which we’ve engaged before, for example,

    There are issues at the heart of this matter that you are simply ignoring or maybe even choosing not to address.

    This article at National Review I think states the matter well:

    Inherent in approval of same-sex marriage is the position that defining marriage as a male-female institution is bigoted and comparable to bans on interracial marriage and the awful historical record on race in this country overall. In other words, at the core of this law, is that the Christian view of marriage is hateful. Just as an aside, as a person who immigrated to this country from Egypt, and who experienced both verbal and physical abuse growing up (while living in the UK before coming to the US), and who became deeply interested in, and attracted to, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and the history of the civil rights movement, I find this comparison to be nonsensical and utterly without merit. To people of color who immigrate to this country this comparison is narrow-minded, parochial, American nonsense. And yet it is the claim upon which the same-sex marriage movement depends.

    Furthermore, this is not a question of restricting anyone’s sexual conduct. Nor is it a matter of interfering with people’s lives privately or personally. I think people should be able to share their lives with those with whom they please from a legal and civic standpoint. This is about naming reality. What is sought in the term “marriage” is the public, legal, moral, social and cultural claim that same-sex relationships are not only good, but they are “just as good” (that’s why a parallel institution granting the same legal rights, i.e., blessings, is not acceptable). I do not think it is incumbent upon us who are in Christ to support such a claim, which, again, implies that failure to make such an affirmation is publicly and socially immoral and deficient.

    Jesus laid down his life for his enemies, but he did not vote to endorse his own condemnation.

  4. Following up the above, here’s how I put it on this blog back in January:

    I don’t think this is ultimately about using coercive power to force people to behave one way or the other. Nor is it about rights or even benefits necessarily, which is why a parallel institution, such as “civil unions” is not acceptable (at least as a “final” goal). In so far as I can tell, in the end, the marriage discussion is really about same-sex relationships being just as “good, true and beautiful” as male-female relationships. Same-sex marriage legally and further culturally entrenches this belief into our society. By extension, it legally, culturally and socially marginalizes the view that only male-female relationships within marriage can be true, good and beautiful. It has the additional effect of making a Christianity that holds to traditional sexuality increasingly implausible.

    I don’t think that the way of wisdom and love in following Christ on his path to the cross, while bearing witness to the power of the resurrection, calls us to endorse such a development, even while living among many who do. It does challenge us howevever in how we will live among and love those in same-sex relationships and those who fully support them.

  5. Dr. Kirk,

    I just came across your blog today by way of Dr. Beck’s blog. I just wanted to drop a quick note and say I appreciate how you have acknowledged the complexity of the issue. Also, it is refreshing to see someone else articulate how my responsibility as a Christian to love is in no way lessened by someone else’s refusal to live by Christian standards. My commitments are mine, so I cannot drop them just because someone else disagrees.

  6. One more point (it’s hard to stop once one get started):

    It seems to me that for your application to same-sex relationships to work in the way that you intend that Jesus, in blessing Gentiles and “sinners,” would have had to endorse and encourage their sins as such – not simply overlooked or covered them over as he did. This would have meant him, for example, specifically supporting and encouraging tax collection practices and prostitution, at least for as long as those who were engaging in them remained outside the fold of his disciples. Of course, he didn’t do that, even as he related and gave himself to people in their sin.

    It seems what you’re requiring is more akin to when Jesus declared all foods clean. But, you’re not saying that about same-sex relationships.

    Honestly Daniel, I understand and commend your call for us to walk the way of the cross. And I know there are many aspects of what that means to which I am personally blind, as I am bound up in systems of both church and culture that make it impossible to see. Furthermore, given that the way of the cross is our primary call, you wish to avoid as much as possible the notion that Christ compels people through the coercive power of the state. But it is on this last point that I think you are mistaken – seeing an unwillingness to endorse the extension of marriage to same-sex relationships as an employment of the coercive power of the state to compel adherence to Christianity. In addition to ignoring the facts on the ground, there are important nuances and distinctions your are bypassing.

    In a way I find historically and sociologically interesting, the fact is in the affluent, comfortable, “if you don’t affirm me in all my wonderfulness, you must hate me,” contemporary West, in a way I don’t think could have been at all anticipated 50 years ago, the head-on conflict with Christianity (and thus with the true nature of human flourishing) has come precisely on this issue. On this matter, we need love, courage, humility, wisdom, conviction and mercy. I believe much of what you write embodies and represents these qualities, which first belong to Jesus. However, I don’t think what you endorse on this matter, even as it strives to do so, is a faithful representation of such qualities.

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