An Immodest Proposal: Marriage Equality & the Conservative Christian Conundrum

equality

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. (Mark 10:5)

There’s no need to rehearse the passion with which the marriage equality issue is being played out. On one side, marriage equality proponents passionately argue that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, should enjoy the same marriage rights under law. On the other side, and with equal passion, conservative Christians—as well as many conservative Jews and Muslims—contend that same-sex marriage is not only subversive to the natural and social order but a sin against God. Apparently we are at yet another watershed moment in American political history, another irreconcilable standoff in the long-running clash between contemporary culture and a deeply-rooted Christianity. Somebody’s got to go down on this one.

Or maybe not.

That Doggone Book

No matter your religious, social, or sexual orientation, we must all at least be clear about one thing. Both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible clearly denounce homosexuality. In spite of claims to the contrary, only the Biblically illiterate, the theologically dyslexic, or the outright dishonest could claim it otherwise. (Whether we agree with the Bible’s position is another matter.) Attempts to soften the Scripture’s stance on homosexuality are doomed by the textual evidence. Some of us may not like it, but the plain fact of the matter is that the Bible unambiguously maintains the incompatibility of Christian faith and homosexual practice.

This, of course, is the basis for the conservative Christian’s vigorous objection to “marriage equality.” Granted, some religious opponents to gay marriage are total idiots, but it’s unfair to characterize all who oppose recognition of same-sex unions as stupid, backward, or narrow-minded. For most Christians it’s a matter of consistency. The Book that reveals the world’s hope of salvation is the same one that identifies what the world needs to be saved from. If the Bible is authoritative about salvation, they are convinced it is likewise authoritative regarding homosexuality. If the Bible is wrong about homosexuality, they rightly ask, what confidence can we have in anything else the it says? (Progressive Christians don’t have this problem since, like Indiana Jones, they pretty much make it up as they go along.) For conservative believers the Bible is either wholly trustworthy or wholly worthless.

So, for Christians the marriage equality debate is not about homosexuality per se, nor is it primarily about civil rights. It’s really about the Bible’s integrity and its authority for faith and life. Christians are generally fierce champions of political freedom, but to affirm same-sex marriage would be for them a lethal capitulation. For if the Bible’s authority is undermined in this case, so too is subverted the authority of the Gospel which is also found in its pages.

No wonder we’ve got ourselves a cultural impasse. The sacred American principle of equality under law is colliding with the sacred founding document of Western civilization. When an irresistible cultural force meets an immovable religious object, what then? Is there no way forward, no balm in Gilead?

What Would Moses Do?

I think there is indeed a way forward, one in which conservative Christians can hold unswervingly to the scriptural testimony about homosexuality and, at the same time, make room for marriage equality. Perhaps not surprisingly, the model for this comes from the Bible itself. It is found In the Gospel of Mark (10:2-12). The brief passage is worth reading in its entirety:

Some Pharisees came and tested Jesus by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

god-hates-divorceJesus points out that, though Moses permitted it, divorce is not approved by God. In fact, according to the prophet Malachi, God “hates” divorce. Apparently, for both Moses and Jesus, allowing and approving are two very different things. A political good is not necessarily a moral one. Even though Moses allowed for divorce Jesus still considered it a sin. Sanction does not imply right. Just because something is permitted does not mean it ultimately won’t be condemned.

According to Jesus, Moses permitted divorce because his society was hard-hearted toward God. Forbidding it would not have softened human hearts or have made the people more righteous. Moses recognized something that hard-core religious moralizers forget: the law, even a good law, cannot bring life. As the father of the prodigal knew, sometimes you must give them what they want even if it aids their own destruction.

A No-Compromise Compromise

So what might Moses and Jesus say to sincere Christians about marriage equality? Certainly not that God approves of same-sex marriage; the scriptures plainly state that he does not. Nor would they tell us that God’s universal love blesses homosexual practice; that God has already judged it is also a matter of Biblical record. Nor would they suggest that the Cross makes way for the gay lifestyle; the sacrifice of Christ condemns sin in order to redeem us from sin. Moses and Jesus would uphold God’s righteous judgment upon homosexual practice even as they would uphold his judgment upon every other transgression, including—ahem—divorce.

But perhaps Moses and Jesus would say this to today’s conservative American Christians: Allow marriage equality, not because God approves of same-sex marriage, but because of society’s hardness of heart. Perhaps they would caution us not to mistake political gestures for weapons of spiritual warfare. Perhaps they would remind us that the only hope of righteousness is the Gospel. Perhaps they would tell us that human values do not alter the values of God. As Jesus said, “God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” No sour grapes allowed. Love your neighbor, share the Good News, and leave room for the perfect justice of God.

So if our prodigal culture seeks marriage equality, I say let there be marriage equality.

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8 Responses

  1. very well stated

  2. Nicely done.

    The difference, however, between our culture and that of ancient Israel is that we are not, nor have we ever been, a theocracy. We are Bible-influenced, but not Biblical (regardless of what the fundamentalists claim). The culture, perhaps, is not prodigal after all… it was never a son to begin with.

  3. Well said, Thanks Fred and Alden. The values we live by are based upon our faith in God. People who do not believe are not expected to live by the same standard. Our job is not to condemn the society we live in but to be salt and light. If we live in “Babylon” we should take our cue from Daniel and his friends. They did not accuse and point fingers at Babylonian society but lived as righteous examples before them, and demonstrated that their God was the Living God.

    • Note too though, that Daniel and his friends behavior lead to changes in the laws of the land.

  4. I think another watershed that we face is the mistaken idea that America is a Christian nation and that part of being salt and light is to legislate godly behavior. I sense that even those who admit our society is a mixture of ungodly and godly values are afraid to give up fighting on any issue because they see us losing more ground.
    I sympathize. However, God always wanted a people who lived to honor Him, received blessing because of their relationship with Him, and became so attractive that people around started seeking them out. I say Christians need to focus on being such a people.

  5. There you go again Freedyboy, making sense (which doesn’t make sense). Why woulda man of great satire, wit and humor depart from your normal discourses in sarcasm and apply logic. I am confused, and perhaps have lost confidence in you as a scapegoat. Nomorecan I rely on “we’ll Fred said so”. You have thrown in here too many rational points here that even the most staunch dyed in the wool Jesus freak cannot readily argue with.
    Now what do I do with my Sunday morning rally’s at the Capitol ifwedo make gay marriages happy people.
    Fred this may well be my last darkside article I read from you, my life will never be the same.

  6. Thanks, Fred. You helped clarify the issue for me.

    The truth is, as followers of Christ, we live in two worlds, a spiritual world and a secular world. The spiritual work is ruled by a King, and His laws are eternal, never-changing, just and are there for our protection.
    But, as a citizen of the United States, i live in a democratic republic. governed by representatives of the people and rules by Constitutions (federal and state) and laws that are often short-lived, ever-changing and frankly, are not always there to protect everybody.
    I agree that this country is not now, nor ever has been a “Christian” nation. There’s no doubt that a majority of the founding fathers were Christian, and they drew heavily on Christian principals when writing the founding documents. But they also went to great lengths to keep the government from meddling in religion and vise versa. The mains reason is because they had real-life examples of what can happen when 1) the government controls the church (as in England), or 2) when the church controls government (most of Europe).
    One of the most basic principals of a democracy like the United States is to make sure the rights of its citizens are protected. That’s the clear objective of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. And, as this country has, for the lack of a better term, matured, that list of protected classes has grown. I’m sure the founding fathers would be astounded if they were to return today and see all the groups now covered by the Constitution’s rights.
    Marriage is both a spiritual and a secular being. Simply put, it’s blessed spiritually and sanctioned legally. And while is it naive to think that God could go against his own biblical principals and bless a homosexual marriage, from a secular standpoint same-sex unions make perfect sense.
    The conundrum for followers of Jesus is how to stay true to God’s principals while living in a secular world where everything goes and the rules keep changing.
    I sure don’t have the answer I know it’s not my job to judge. I also know that it is my job to be light and salt in a dark and desperate world.

  7. There is an important underlying question.

    On WHAT do we base our laws?

    If not the Bible, then what is the standard for Civil Laws?

    Jesus said that ALL authority on Heaven and Earth have been given to Him. Does that include Civil Government? Or NOT?

    Jesus said to teach ALL that He has commanded. Does that include the moral law of the Bible? Does that include teaching the world what kinds of Civil Laws would exist if Jesus is Lord?

    The world may or may not choose to accept the Authority of God, but Christians must teach that authority.

    We preach a Good News that saves the soul, but we also teach principles that will improve the world while we await His Return.

    Marriage is between a man and a woman. A thousand human laws can never change that.

    Marriage is both “religious” AND a key institution of society. The Civil Law, in a Biblical Christian view of the world is subject to God’s Law. Thus the Civil elements of marriage are subject to God’s Law, regardless of whether the members of the world acknowledge that or not.

    We may end up with some form of “legalized” same sex “marriage,” but it will always be the part of Christians to call this out as immoral and ILLEGAL in the eyes of God. It will always be our part to call the world to repentance, not only for the salvation of souls, but also for the transformation of the culture.

    The true transformation comes from individuals and families being transformed into God’s plan for them. But a secondary level of transformation is in regards to what we do with our Civil Laws that act to restrain evil while we await Christ’s Return.

    And for all those thoughts I will only charge you $49.99. 🙂

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