The Diseased Imaginings of a Tainted Mind
As a socially-liberal Christian, there are now many reactions around the world in reaction to the USA’s acceptance of single-sex marriage. It’s odd that similar results in other countries have not produces such reactions.
I have, of course, been in debate over this issue for many years, and many friends have sent me a link from a website that offers 40 (yes 40!) questions aimed at those of us that support single-sex marriage. Having read them, some of them were quite thought provoking, but generally their tone is designed to lead people into a “gotcha”. That is, that in order to answer the question as frased, you have to agree with the posters argument.
So, to help all those that find these questions difficult, here are my responses.
1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?
The celebration of Marriage is something to be celebrated. When two people show their trust, and life-long commitment to one another, however that is expressed (be it in the traditional form of Marriage, or hand-fasting, or whatever sign they wish to use), it is a time of celebration for society, community, and the faith in which they make that public declaration. I have known this to be true since I first began to understand relationships, and if you really want a year, from 1997, when I went off to university, and discovered a world my small-town had simply never shown me.
2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?
Change my mind? That implies that there was a time when I thought that single-sex marriage was something that shouldn’t happen.
In the spirit of trying to answer the intended question (what bible verses would I use to support this opinion), I think I’d offer 1 John 4:8 : Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Heck, why not 1 John 4:7-21. That’s before we reach into 1 Corinthians 13 (the entire chapter). Yes, I think the focus is on God’s love.
3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?
Honestly? I can’t.
Then again, why should I? The Bible talks about about rape, and even offers a rather ignmoninious reaction to it (that the woman should marry her rapist cf Deuteronomy 22:29). This is not something that I would condone, or accept today. The notions of gender that underpin such a statement (that a woman would not be able to support herself) have essentially evaporated.
While sexual immorality (and really, immorality of all kinds) is spoken against repeatedly in the bible, it’s understanding of sexuality is of course based on social pre-constructions. My response here would be to enter into the debate about morality and the bible, and suggest that the bible is a window through which we glimpse God in Jesus. It is a window of, and from it’s time. It is not a rule-book of morality, but rather, as Jesus himeslf put it, a way of summing up the law so that people may understand. For Jesus, the whole of the law is summed up in “Love God, Love your neighbour as yourself”. I cannot see how the sexual actions of consenting adults breaks this great commandment.
4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?
Again, this is another gotacha. It’s the assumption that the gendered language in the bible cannot be adequately applied to alternatively gendered couples. (Christ and his bride the Church).
I happen to disagree with a that premise entirely. The language of care, and of love can be used equally regardless of gender.
There is also another premise in this question: That marriage reflects Christ and the Church. This is actually quite a big ask. Marriage is used throughout the bible as a metaphore, so is sexual immorality. Jerusalem is either the willing bride(Revelation 21:2) , or playing the whore (e.g. Isiah 1:21). These are not things that are applied to marriage, but rather the other way around. Marriage and sexual immorality are used as socially constructed metaphores so that we can understand the relationship of God and his Church. Does the metaphore still work if marriage includes two men or two women?
OF COURSE IT DOES! IT’s a METAPHORE!
5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?
Jesus spent most of his time with the marginalised, the people on the edge of society, showing them a more inclusive love. Why wouldn’t he be okay with it?
6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?
Reassert that it was man and woman? Again, making scripture do a whole host of work that it’s not really doing. In this case and point (I note the lack of Bible reference, so let me provide one: Mathew 19 1:12). Jesus is here talking about the rather abusive way that Isralite Men of the time would get bored of a woman and boot her out to replace her with someone else. Basically, rather than work at the marriage, the man would see a younger, prettier thing, and go and get it. The woman would then be out on her ear with no-one to look after her. She couldn’t work in her own right, and was basically going to have to rely on the temple for her keep. Jesus objected to this, because it’s blatantly wrong.
Most people assume this saying stops at verse 9, but it doesn’t verse 10, the really enigmatic : “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry”. This then leads straight onto a discussion about celibacy. This starts with the line “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whome it is given:For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it,let him accept it”
Almost straight away, you can see that this so-called “upholding” of conventional marriage is actually something much more complex. Is it suggest that marriage, as St. Paul would have us believe, is only for those who are too weak to not have sex at all? Or is it, perhaps, that that Jesus here is making a nod to the fact that all is not as it seems in this marriage business, and that really men, and society as a whole should do better, and stop treating women as sexual objects? When you read the entire thing, it seems that Jesus is putting the blame firmly on the men for being basically sexual predators, and suggesting that if men can’t be good and faithful, perhaps we shouldn’t get married at all.
If you look actually at the way in which Jesus phrases his statement on men and women, you will notice that it starts with the famous formulation “Have you not read…”. Jesus is pointing out what is already written in Genesis. The discussion is not around gender, but rather the scribes trying to catch Jesus out about whether or not people should be allowed to divorce. Basically, a debate using the bible to try and disprove the Bible (and therefore, Jesus’ point). From the discussion as a whole, this talks more about fidelity to one’s partner, than it does about the gender of that partner.
7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?
Sexual Immorality. Seems relatively straight-forward to me. (This, for those of you following the above discussion, is one of the reasons you can get divorced, if your partner has been sexually immoral. That is, cheated on you). Now, the question is, how, and where do we define sexual immorality? Generally, it’s a very confused topic in the Bible. Generally, it means sleeping with someone you shouldn’t (ie. Because they are married, of a different social status, and yes, in some places, the same gender as you).
In the specific case, however, Jesus is obviously talking about sleeping with someone you shouldn’t, ie. Someone you are not married too.
8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?
Ahh, Romans 1. This passage is just a delight, it’s where St. Paul throws his toys out of the pram because follows of God have given up on their belief in God, and chasing after some perversion of the faith. As such, St. Paul looses his focus, and basically throws all kinds of insults at them. I have a theory that this is because the people in question are an early form of Christian Gnostic.
In truly unpacking this part, there is no getting away from the fact that St. Paul really does think that two men having sex is a bad thing (everything else can be argued based on phrasing, but this one is pretty obvious). This is, of course, powered by St. Paul’s own socially-conditioned dislike of homosexuality (both from his greco-roman understanding, and his jewish background).
This, however, is just sex. It’s not a relationship. It’s sex. The bad kind, from the perspective of the bible. It’s entirely for gratification, with no care, or bond of any kind connected to it. It’s also outside of marriage.
So, why then does this single verse not become the knock-down winning argument against homsexuality for me?
Because that’s not how I read the Bible. There’s all other kinds of prohibitions in there that we simply do not follow. We do not, for example, only marry within our tribe (Because that’s genetically stupid). That’s before we take a wander down some of the more obscure parts of the Bible. We do not, as a form of theology, pick out a single verse and rest our entire theology upon it. We look at the generall overview of the Bible, and as much as possible, build a theology that is as encompassing as possible. We do not forget the Old Testament just because it’s old, but rather find in it the things that challenge and move us on.
9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?
Without repentance? Sure. But, being sexually immorality is one of those things that is baddly defined (like sin), and being as I would hold that so long as they don’t break the great commandment, that it’s probably not sexual immorality.
10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?
Cheating, non-consentual sex-acts, abusive sex-acts, sex used as a weapon of war, as a weapon of control, and as a weapon of emotional blackmail. (yes, I know that those three could also come under ‘abusive sex-acts’).
11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?
Now this one is going to be fun.
First, it assumes that Augustin, Calvin, Aquinas and Luther were the final word on whatever it was they were saying. They weren’t. It also assumes that everything they said is of equal weight. However, lets actually look at some of the things that they said.
Augustine said that the bibical text should be interpreted metaphircally, if a litteral interpretation contradicts science and our God given reason. Right on, Augustine. He was a man who really did try. In his time, homosexuality was illegal, and science said it was wrong (Because it caused disease. Not really hard to work out why). However, as science has been updated a bit, and generall scientific understanding is that homosexuality is not a choice, but based in our biology, that means that we should be looking for metaphorical answers to the texts that are against homosexuality.
Luther and Calvin were both unequivocal in their understanding that homosexuality was a sin. Luther also had some pretty choice things to say about the Jews, and is responsible for re-awakening years of persecution for the Jewish people.
I do not know enough about Calvinistic theology to actualy say one way or the other what he was thinking. Though, that that I have read about Calvin hasn’t impressed me.
Aquinas was also against homosexuality, but a lot of his philosophy was based on the notion of ‘right reason’, based as it was on his understanding of the two books of theology, the Bible, and the natural order. Being as we know that the natural order also includes homosexual animals, and that right-reasons has moved away from the abusive understanding of homosexual relationships that the greeks left us with, I wonder if Aquinas wouldn’t have also adjusted his own understanding. In his Summa Theologica (II-II, 154), he condemns lots of things he sees as unnatural sex acts. This includes oral, or anal sex between a man and a woman. Aquinas is also dead against the use of any part of the body not designed for sex (hand, mouth, anus) etc.
It is likely he was against any position that isn’t the missionary position.
In this case, assuming that Aquinas was going to keep up his attack on what he considers unnatural, despite evidence from the animal kingdom, we are going to need to find another source for his insistence on ‘natural’. We are also going to need to find a way to explain away the Song of Solomon’s heavily sexuality overtones that seem to suggest a form of oral sex (Song of Solomon/Song of Songs 4:16).
Theology does not stand still. We can tell this by the number of denominations, and theologies that do not entirely agree with the Roman Catholic Church, or the Eastern Orthodox Church, two of the oldest denominations in existence. I do not claim to be a better, brighter, more influencial theologian than Calvin, Luther, Aquinas or Augustine, but rather, as a theologian standing in their tradition, as they moved theology on, so have people since then moved theology on. As a result, my theology moves forward again, influenced by Boneoffer, Tillich, Chardain, Kung, Bultmann, and many, many others.
12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?
A double-barrelled question, which again privileges one position over the other.
I would use the same argument I always use. It starts from love.
This is unlikely to convince a Christian in Africa, for all kinds of reasons. AIDS has been an epidemic in their country for a long, long time. It was also thought, by the media, and by scientists that it was spread through (only) homosexual sex. As Condomns are also frowned upon (and banned still by the RCC), AIDS is still a problem. It is unlikley that arguments about love are going to penetrate through that without a whole host of education about the nature of HIV, of the use of barrier methods of contraception, not to mention a massive cultural shift in their understanding of what it means to be equal.
Is my position culturally conditioned? Probably. Is theirs? Probably.
Their understanding of biblical theology is radically different from mine. They are influenced by different theologians, have a different approach to reading scripture, and have never really heard of liberation theology. I can show them what it means in the greek, I can narrow the argument right the way down to Romans 1, I might even be able to get them to see that love is the more important Christian impulse, but could I change something that profound without a long discussion? I’ve no idea.
13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?
What? This question doesn’t even make sense. They are both political beings, in a country where the conservative right-wing voter block is one that every politician needs to deal with. The fact that they leant one way for political gain, and then another is just a matter of being and doing politics.
14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?
I think children do best with loving parent(s). I think it should be plural, because children need a lot of attention. I don’t think gender matters.
15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?
I would point to the huge body of psychological reasearch that has been done on this issue. First, I’d start with the research that says that single-parent families do not do significantly worse than two parent families (Thereby negating the need for a gender-based dual-parenting model). I would then point to the new research being done with gay parents who are equally succesful as single-sex parents at raising children. The reason for the lack of research in this area is that is has only been until relatively recently that single-sex parents could legally be single-sex parents.
16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?
17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?
The end point of marriage? A marriage is about a public commitment of someone’s love to another. It means, as it always has, that those in the relationship are commited to one another through the good times, and the bad times. To enable us, as social beings, to survive some of the complexities of being alive without having to be alone.
18. How would you define marriage?
A marriage is a public commitment of love from one person to another, with the legal joining of properties, and lives.
19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?
No. Because science says it’s stupid.
20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?
Not necessarily. As marriage is about the public commitment of lvoe from one person to another, I see no reason why that can’t be expanded to more than one person. Love is boundless, after all.
21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?
Any relation? There is a separation of realtion for a reason. Science says that family dna shared in that way has a higher chance of negatively affecting the offspring.
Now, the question your actually getting at here, is what should stop brothers from being married, if they were both gay? Being as it wouldn’t produce offspring, there’s no DNA problem. There is, however, likely to be a psychological problem with such filial attraction. It is that psychological problem that would mean that I would keep the reliationship table the same (That is, no close family). Other than that, I’d not really put a limit on it. Logically, it makes no sense too. Legally, however, there may need to be restrictions for inheritance/tax purposes (in order to ensure continued equality for any (potential) offspring). These restrictions would likely be in terms of numbers vs. income.
22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?
In any country. Yes. The age of maturity (18 in the UK). We define this age socially as the point at which a person is mentally, emotionally, and socially mature enough to be making such legally-binding contracts. As marriage is a legally binding contract, it makes no sense to allow a younger age.
23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?
24. If not, why not?
25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?
26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?
This is a very odd question, and generally revolves around the differences between upholding the law, and the religious freedom idea. In most cases (eg. Baking a cake for a gay wedding), A cake is a cake. A business provides a service, for money. IT doesn’t support, or endorse the things for which it’s paid. Should a person refuse to make such a cake, the business should get someone in who is willing to make such a cake, rather than force the person who disagrees (though of course, this needs to be carefully regulated to ensure that the religious exemption doesn’t become an excuse not to work at all!). It’s a bit like getting the christian to work on Ramadan, and the Muslim to work on Christmas.
27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?
Yes. And do.
28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?
I’m not an evangelical. However, answering the question: All relationships are to be healthy, and to work out in love and equity. I will take the same steps I do with others, I will sit, talk, counsel, and support them in the struggle that is love.
29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?
No. Neither should straight couples in open relationships.
30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?
Good question, and I’m going to go with no. As sex is a large part of marriage, sexual incompatability is one of the major reasons for a realtionship falling appart. As such, sex before marriage is an essential part of forming a realtionship. That said, sex should be as part of a relationship, rather than a string of one-night stands.
31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?
The same thing that we are doing at the moment. We are supporting them with love.
32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?
We shouldn’t. God does. God has already defined it. He so loved the world that he sent is his only son. I’m not sure I’d want to top that.
33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?
John 1:1-14, John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-21, 1 Corinthians 13, and so on.
34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?
Obedience in love is a difficult thing. It means reaching out in forgiveness, it means opening our heart to understanding and care. It means being open to the possiblity of being hurt in order to offer genuine love. This is exactly what Jesus showed us in his life, death and resurrection. Love should shape our understanding of obedience in that, through love, we better understand what that obedience is. We cannot love God without loving one another. We cannot love ourseleves, if we do not love our neighbour. We cannot love our neighbour if we do not love ourselves. We cannot love until we know that God loved us first.
35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?
36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?
37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?
I am not an evangelical. I’m not sure that my support for gay marriage has helped me become more passionate, but it does give me hope that in conversation I might actually be able to show a church that is inclusive, like God’s love is inclusive.
38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?
The Episcopal Church/The Anglican Church. We’re already doing that.
39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?
40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?
Those ins that lead people into an understanding of life that is now fully life. Sex can become an addiction, fornication can ruin lives. Those who actively support such a negative use of sex, and those who approve of such a destructive form of sexual activity.