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.
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.