Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Homosexuality-- A Plank/Speck Analysis

Today I read Mark Galli's article in the July 2009 edition of Christianity Today entitled, "Is the Gay Marriage Debate Over?"  Quick summary-- he concludes that, despite the church's hypocrisy in regards to marriage, we still need to fight for traditional marriage, even if it feels like we are losing.  

This is an issue that I've wrestled with in my mind and come to no satisfying conclusions.  A few months ago, a Christian friend of mine (who recognized my liberal leanings and was curious about them) asked me to explain where I stood on the issue of homosexuality in our culture and help her think through some of the issues.  Here's what I wrote:

Homosexuality is a difficult issue for the Christian who wants to honor God's standard of righteousness and at the same time love people with Christ-like love.  It is a balance none of us can master, let alone hope to get right the majority of the time.  Every point I can think of on either side of this debate can immediately be countered with an equally valid concern.  I can't make many statements in regard to how Christians should approach homosexuality without qualifying it with a, "Yes, but..."   Needless to say, I don't have this figured out at all.

With that in mind, here's some thoughts.

The Bible calls homosexuality a sin-- and by homosexuality, I would consider it to mean homosexual acts, not just the temptation.  We all are tempted by various sins, but it only becomes a sin when we give into it.  Some Christians try to err on the side of love so much that they no longer call homosexuality a sin.  I don't think that is the loving thing to do-- to ignore the Bible so as to not make someone feel bad.  However, it is high time the evangelical church undergo a "plank/speck analysis" in regards to our condemnation of homosexuality versus our condemnation of other sins.  1 Corinthians 6:8-10 says homosexual offenders will not inherit the kingdom of God, but neither will thieves, the greedy, slanderers or swindlers-- in which case, we're all in trouble.  Romans 1 speaks of God giving people over to their shameful lust, and we point to that as an example of how homosexuality is a more debauched, depraved sin.  Yet we forget to go on to chapter 2, which says, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?"  

We often think Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction was due to the homosexual acts that were rampant in the city.  But Ezekiel 16:49-50 says, "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."  If the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was included to be an example of the consequences of errant sexual behavior, then Lot--who offered up his virgin daughters to the mob-- should have been turned into a pillar of salt or burned up with the rest.  But what does God say?  Arrogant, overfed, unconcerned with the poor and needy.  Yes, they did other "detestable things," but God's main indictment was against how they treated the poor while they stuffed themselves with excess.  That could very easily be God's indictment against the church in America, yet we seem to lack the fire and drive to go after these sins like we do homosexuality.  When have we circulated a petition to end our arrogance?  When have we rallied our fellow Christians to support legislation in favor of the poor and needy?  This is not to say that we have to ignore homosexuality, but we certainly need to put it in perspective.

Perhaps one of the reasons we argue so vehemently against homosexuality is because we perceive it to be a threat to the institution of marriage.  Again, a little plank/speck analysis.  Look at our abysmal divorce rates.  Was that caused by homosexuality?  No.  That was caused by heterosexuals giving up on their commitments and taking the easy road out, aided in part by no-fault divorce laws that let people get divorced on a whim ("irreconcilable differences").  It is easier to get out of a marriage than it is to get out of a business contract.  That is not the fault of homosexuals.  

Perhaps it's because we as Christians know that God ordained marriage between one man and one woman, and we see anything outside of that as a threat to what God ordained.  A husband and wife is a picture of Christ and His Church; a sacred union that is unlike any other human relationship.  What makes this union sacred?  Is it the state?  Is it the church?  Or is it God?  Marriage in the eyes of the state, for all practical purposes, is a purely legal matter.  It is official paperwork for the purposes of taxes, beneficiary designation, and other formalities.  There is no spiritual or sacred dimension in the eyes of the state.  God, through the avenue of his Church, is the one that makes the union sacred.  We may wish the state to enforce the church's designation of marriage, but we cannot force the state to do so on Biblical grounds.  In many (most?) European countries, couples that want to get married have a civil union at the court house where they are legally married in the eyes of the state, and those wanting to then have a separate ceremony at church to get married "for real" in the eyes of God.  Those are two separate steps.  People can be united in legal marriage without uniting before God.  Those that believe marriage is a declaration made before God and His Church are free to undergo such a ceremony-- the state doesn't care either way.

Many Christians, recognizing that we can't get very far arguing our position from Biblical grounds in a secular society, try to argue that homosexual relationships will somehow erode our basic social structure.  For centuries upon centuries, the basic social unit of Western society has been centered around the marriage relationship of one man and one woman.  For us to change that now would to be launch out on some grand social experiment that could have disastrous consequences.  I would argue that no-fault divorce was our first great social experiment, and we are still learning the effects of that as a generations of children grow up as children of divorce.  This is not to say, "Well, we've already screwed up so badly, we might as well chuck it all and stop trying."  But if we are truly concerned about the social structure of our society, should we focus on stopping homosexuals from getting married or focus on strengthening the bonds of heterosexual marriage?  Here is where our prejudices and stereotypes come into play.  We hear that studies show homosexuals tend to have many more sexual partners than heterosexuals.  We hear they are less likely to stay in a committed relationship.  "See?" we say, "they aren't capable of staying in a stable relationship, so we shouldn't let them get married."  Our hypocrisy notwithstanding, does it make sense to say that two people of the same sex that are choosing to stay committed to each other for life undermines the stability of society?

The stickler of the argument for many Christians is children.  Should we let homosexual couples adopt?  Won't that harm children somehow?  Again, we hear studies of how homosexuals are more likely to be abusive.  (I haven't actually looked up any of these studies, but I've heard Christians quote them.  I'm of the mind that you can find any study to support your point of view, regardless of what it is, so I don't put much stock in them.)  Allowing homosexual couples to have children is like saying that a child doesn't need a father or mother.  Again, what of the children of divorce?  Or a spouse that is widowed?  Single parents have been able to raise normal, well-adjusted children, while many married heterosexual couples have abused and thoroughly warped their children.  No child gets to choose the family in which they are raised, but society does have a responsibility to try and protect vulnerable children.  That goes for children in any family situation-- living with heterosexual parents, living with homosexual parents, living with grandparents or extended family, living with foster parents, etc.  To say that homosexual people are incapable of loving and caring for a child and raising them to be a healthy, productive member of society is an allegation that has no proof or basis.  Children are raised in homes where the sin of alcoholism runs rampant.  Children are raised in homes where the sin of greed and pride runs rampant.  Whose to say which child will turn out better?  Is either one too far gone for the grace of God to reach?

Christian's well-meaning attempts to protect marriage as we understand it have resulted in us being labeled as hateful, narrow-minded bigots.  We deserve much of the rebuke.  We say that we love everyone, regardless of their sin, but when we speak out against homosexuality without acknowledging our own sin and complicity, our hypocrisy is so obvious that our secular culture has reason to ignore us.  As homosexuals have gained more support and acceptance from the general population, they have gotten more vocal in their cause for rights.  Often times, they are not asking for "special" rights-- they are asking for basic rights, such as the right to visit their loved one in the hospital even though they aren't immediate family, etc.  As Christians, we should defend everyone's basic rights as human beings and protect them from abuse.  Sadly, we have often been the ones heaping abuse rather than the ones protecting them from it.  An example-- I remember the Christian outrage at a homosexual being allowed to play the leading role in the Christian movie "The End of the Spear."  Did we make God happy by taking a "righteous stand" against homosexuality?  Or, like Sodom and Gomorrah, did our haughty, arrogant spirit anger Him?  We think we are being righteous and holy in this whole debate without realizing the kind of peril we are putting ourselves in. 

So what is a Christian to do?  First, on the personal level, the first step is obvious-- love, love, love.  Treat homosexuals with love and respect.  Don't see them as the enemy or some odd abnormality.  Is there some link to genetics that causes some to be more predisposed to homosexuality?  Perhaps; perhaps not.  It doesn't change how we ought to treat them.  We lovingly correct when necessary, but we let the Holy Spirit do the convicting.  If we do address the issue, we do so with all humility, freely confessing our own sins and faults and recognizing we do not have the moral high ground.

On the legislative level, we have two options.  We continue to "fight" for traditional marriage as we have been.  Maybe we will ultimately be successful, but I doubt it.  We have already moved too far in the direction of changing laws.  So we continue to "fight" but lose this legal battle and be further stigmatized as bigots and haters.  Or we could concede and let the state change the way it defines marriage-- any civil union between two consenting adults.  Let civil marriage become a mere legal partnership in which two people decide to live their life together for purposes of housing, taxes, benefits, etc.  We keep religious marriage a separate ceremony with a deeper meaning, and we focus on strengthening those bonds forged in the eyes of God.  Of course, once homosexuality gains legal legitimacy, how will Christians be able to call it a sin?  Will non-profit groups have to hire homosexuals even if it goes against their beliefs?  Will churches have to let homosexuals get married in their sanctuaries?  Will it lead to further errant arrangements, such as polygamy?  And how do we teach our children homosexuality is a sin when at school they are learning that it is normal and natural?  Therein lies the challenge of living Biblically in a secular society. 

We seem surprised by this challenge, because we have always assumed the United States was a "Christian" nation.  Now we are starting to see that the U.S.'s version of Christianity is just a folk religion of "In God We Trust" that doesn't really mean anything.  Congress is not the Holy Spirit-- we can try and enact laws to get other people to live like us and look like us, but would that change their standing before God?  We may not be comfortable living around certain kinds of sin, but we have become inoculated to so many other sins that we don't even recognize them.  We want the state to legislate morality for us, thinking that makes our job as Christians easier.  I think it is time we shift our energies and focus from preaching morality on the national stage to sharing Christ's love in our relationships and being the church to our communities.  (And if we're so concerned about what the state will make us do, then give up our tax-exempt status.  Problem solved.)  Not to say that we shouldn't get involved in politics; just realize that politics will not save us, and no law of man makes a person right before God.  We need to learn to speak the truth in love.  And we need to remember that Jesus' harshest words were not toward homosexuals but toward religious leaders who enacted laws that demanded outward righteousness.  They were the true stumbling blocks on the road to salvation.



Duston said...

Wow, a well thought out and intelligent post on Christianities view on Gay Marriage. Too long have I watched while Christians railed on TV about how they were protecting "traditions", and "Family Values" only to be parroting the same arguments that were used to outlaw mixed race marriages in the South. Long have I wondered why members of my faith seem obsessed with defining marriage law, with is only contract law, to match our faith.

Our concern isn't the law of man, it's the of God. If we are to call ourselves Christians I would hope we would act Christ like. When an outsider sees the "Christian" on TV spewing no less then hate, humanity loses, not just those of the faith.

Dan Martin said...

Leesha, I can only agree with your entire post--misgivings and concerns and log/speck analysis very much included. Great work!

Oh, and this: "And if we're so concerned about what the state will make us do, then give up our tax-exempt status. Problem solved."

Yup. I've been saying that for a while too. We have become so addicted to the tax-subsidy of religion that is a 501(c)3 classification, that we've forgotten that it's not limiting our "freedom" if we lose the subsidy. Right on!

E. A. Harvey said...

Thank you for your comments, Duston and Dan.

You know, I just purchased Derek Webb's new album "Stockholm Syndrome" in which he has some scathing words for the church in America about how we've treated homosexuals and dealt with the issue in the public square. In light of this post and the ones on 'Christian' music, I highly recommend his album. Or, if you aren't really into techno/electronic/pop (he took a different musical direction on this one!), at least take a gander at his lyrics. Good stuff.