Thursday, May 12, 2005

Gay Marriage?

The debate about gay marriage continues here in Colorado.

An earnest and well meaning conservative Christian congressman from the prairie ranching lands of eastern Colorado recently weighed in on the issue.

He argued on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives that allowing gay marriage would inevitably lead to inter-species marriages between humans and animals.

What an eye opener. Everybody knows that cowboys love their horses, but I had no idea of the kinds of temptations that folks face out on the lonesome prairie.

I'm pretty interested in what people think about gay marriage. Along with abortion and 9/11, this is the issue that has motivated conservative Christians to come out of the closet politically in order to put very conservative and right wing governments in power.

I personally support legal civil unions between gays while opposing gay marriage.

Scripture says no to homosexual practice while holding out hope for those who are willing to live heterosexual or celebate lives in spite of their proclivities.

Christian traditon says no to homosexual practice and says yes to the most hostile persecution of gays imaginable.

Current experience says that homosexuality is mostly genetic and beyond people's control but that socialization and personal choice also play a role. Science is simply a more disciplined and verifiable form of current experience.

Thoughtful Christians have always believed that the combination of Scripture, Christian tradition, and current experience is the best guide to faithful thinking and living. But they've also believed that all of those sources of guidance should be questioned and examined.

An additional factor in the current American debate is the fact that we live in a democratic republic that is committed to human rights and the protection of the freedom of minorities. Oh, and yes, there are a lot of gay people in the U.S.

Seems to me that the most appropriate response to this whole controversy--given historical Christian thinking and current cultural realities--is to support gay civil unions while opposing gay marriage.

This approach would encourage long term and committed relationships among gay people and would give gays the kinds of civil rights that I think most Americans think they should have.

At the same time it would reserve the fundamentally religious institution of marriage for heterosexuals in accordance with virtually all traditional religious teaching no matter what the tradition might be.

If the church supported this kind of agenda and aggresively pursued reconciliation with the gay community (including repentance for the harsh and unjust treatment of gays over the centuries) I think some holy progress could be made.

This kind of approach wouldn't be a walk in the park. Many segments of the gay community are militantly committed to gaining the civil and religious right of marriage.

I'm still forming my thinking on this issue and I'd love to hear what people think.


Blogger TPB said...

My professor made two striking points (for me) on this issue in Wednesday night's lecture:

1) There are 7 places in the Bible that traditionally have been interpreted to be condemnation of homosexual practices (Gen. 19; Jdg. 19; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10; Rom. 1:26-27).

There are 16,000+ places in the Bible that speak very clearly against economic and social injustice. Hmmm...

2) The other thing is perhaps "What is your stance on homosexual marriages in the church?" is not the correct question, rather "In light of Scripture and its theological implications on our current culture, what does it mean to follow Jesus in our relations with gays and lesbians who may or may not profess faith?"

He (and others) cites Acts 10-15 (Paul & Cornelius) as a relevant text to answering this question. Here we see two groups of people (one which views the practices of the other as morally reprehensible to God)

* acknowledging common participation in Christ’s body;
* paying attention to testimonies that challenged their status quo;
* bringing the community’s theological tradition into dialogue with these new testimonies.
* discerning together the moral ramifications of the newly enlarged fellowship.

This doesn't answer your question of whether I think that Christians should support legal unions between homosexuals (jury is still out), but I feel like conservative Christians need to be more open to dialogue with the homosexual Christian community and not make sweeping, one-sided judgments on how they should live their lives in Christ.

6:27 AM  
Blogger TPB said...

Question for you, wordcat. Lewis B. Smedes in his book Sex for Christians says that the church's assertion that righteousness for homosexuals who cannot "change" to remain celibate is a distortion of the call to singleness. Whaddya think about that?

11:21 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Great comments Tina.

I agree the heart of the matter for straight Christians is figuring out how to love their gay neighbor within the context of the church.

Maybe the best thing would be to admit that we have so little experience with the kind of "broader" fellowship you're talking about that we probably aren't in a position to make this kind of call yet.

But we don't live in a cultural vacuum, so I still think we've got to come to grips with this issue of gay marriage and civil unions since it's culturally and politically on the front burner.

But maybe the most powerful witness would be to model humility in our public pronouncements about the issue to present a contrast to the remarkably harsh and black and white arguments of our very conservative brethren.

Re your question from the second post, I'm not completely clear what you're asking me to comment on--could you run that one by me again? By the way, Lew Smedes was my ethics prof way back in my seminary days--what a wonderful man!

1:44 PM  
Blogger TPB said...

Sorry, I kept editing it and editing it and I finally rendered it unreadable.

Basically, Smedes is criticizing Christian churches that say, "Okay, you're gay and you don't think you can change into a heterosexual. So you can be a part of our fellowship as long as you stay single."

Smedes thinks that this is a distortion of the call to/gift of singleness. Do you agree or disagree?

5:57 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Yes, I agree it's a misunderstanding of the gift of singleness or celibacy.

Paul encourages celibacy because he wants some Christians to give themselves to overt Christian ministry full time. He recognizes that people who are married and especially people who are married with kids just don't have a lot of time or (especially) energy to interact with people outside their own families. That kind of focus outside the family is fundamental to the advancement of the church. Hey, maybe someone will start a non-profit called "Focus Outside the Family."

Though Paul is supportive of marriage and family, he's a lot less supportive of both than the current American evangelical church which has what some have called an idolatrous fixation on marriage and family.

Protestantism arose partly as a reaction against the medieval Roman Catholic insistence on celibacy for people in ministry. Current American secular culture is obviously a threat to the health of families. Weird extremes tend to breed opposite weird extremes.

Back to how this relates to Smedes' comments. The church's insistence on gay celibacy has nothing to do with Paul's teachings on celibacy. So if Christians are going to base their arguments that gays should be single on Paul's thinking about singleness I think they're being dishonest and inappropriate.

If Smedes is correct, then we have to ask why Christians would insist that gays be celibate if they want to be members of local churches.

The basis of that kind of approach, I believe, is the biblical prohibition on homosexual behavior. So in that understanding, the church doesn't ask gays to be celibate on the basis of Paul's reasoning, but instead asks them to be celibate as a sign of ongoing repentance and a committment to the lordship of Christ.

Basically, that means that the church's current understanding of scripture and Christian tradition asserts that homosexual sexuality and orientation and practice is a result of the corruption and falleness of the creation.

That kind of approach isn't affected by the nature/nurture debate. If all the scientific evidence points to the fact that homosexual orientation is genetic and mostly beyond the control of the individual, Christian theology can simply point to the falleness of creation as the reason.

Of course, all of that has little to do with the hostility and fear that most Christians have toward gays. Churches can't even handle racial and ethnic differences, so expecting that they'll deal with sexual identity issues is probably asking way too much at this point. The world of the local church is a long way from the freedom of thinking and expression at a place like Fuller.

9:37 PM  
Blogger TPB said...

Nicely done, as usual, wordcat. I appreciate your commentary.

And it would be interesting to see a new non-profit called Focus Outside the Family!

12:51 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

"Weird extremes tend to breed opposite weird extremes."

Can I quote that?? That is so true.

jeez- the inter-species marriage thing... reminds me of my fellow churchgoer in Florida who believed that dinosaurs were just lizards who had been slowly growing for thousands of years... somehow this disproved evolution but I don't remember exactly how.

I think you both made very good points. I'm very interested in: how did this issue get to be one of the deciding factors in elections? and what can we do about that?

Just for fun, I'm going to play the Nazi card. (Just for fun, you understand... I'm not calling anyone a Nazi. Yet.)

“If the state exercises its office against those who undermine the foundation of state order, above all against those who with corrosive and mean words destroy marriage, cast scorn on faith and besmirch death for the Fatherland, then may it exercise its office in the name of God.”

-Berlin General Superintendent Otto Dibelius, in his sermon on the occasion of the reopening of the Reichstag, March 21, 1933
(source: J. of Lutheran Ethics)

8:01 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Good questions, Ruth.

How did gay issues become one of the deciding factors in elections?

Here's my brief take. Politicians of all stripes in democratic societies tend to take advantage of whatever simple-minded prejudices they can find to mobilize voters.

A quick review of how politicans do that thing they do in American history and how it led to the gay bashing victories of the current version of the Republican party:

Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves (however reluctantly)in order to preserve the United States. Lincoln was a Republican. The conquered south reacted against their defeat by voting in the most knee-jerk fashion imaginable for the Democrats for the next 100 years. This cemented Democratic national leadership throughout most of the 20th century.

In the mid to late 50's the civil rights movement challenged Jim Crow and the kind of overt racial prejudice common at the time in the south. The civil rights movement was mostly liberal and Democratic. It culminated in the landmark civil rights legislation of the mid-60's.

In the 70's Richard Nixon recognized that southerners were still racists and were pretty angry about their cultural defeat in the 1960's just as they had been in the 1860's. He helped the Republicans to develop a "southern strategy" that would play on southern conservatism and racism and into southerners'newfound hostility to the Democrats. He played into racial fears on the part of middle class whites in both the north and (especially) the aggreived south to gain winning political leverage.

When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1965 which outlawed legal racial prejudice, he prophetically said
"We've (the Democrats) lost the south for at least a generation." He was a southerner from Texas and he understood his fellow southerners. What he really meant to say was, "We've lost the country for at least a generation." Read the electoral maps of the south in recent presidential elections and understand his prescient insight.

Since the civil rights movement, southerners vote in as knee jerk a way for Republicans as they once did for Democrats. That's had a dramatic effect on recent American politics.

In spite of all that, the Republicans have still struggled to gain consistent power. Playing the race card wasn't enough to make them a permanent majority.

Lots of things have happened culturally since Nixon put his brilliant and cynical "southern strategy" into effect.

Suffice it to say that pop culture has become alarming for even open minded people. This brought conservative Christians out the closet into the political arena during the 80's. There was a lot of good to be said for that development, but it also led to some very destructive things.

Conservatives--and especially conservative Christians--are hostile to the gay community. No amount of 'for public consumption' pleading to the contrary on the part of conservatives or conservative Christians fools anybody. Especially not any of us who know conservative Christianity from the inside.

Gays have become militant in their calls for civil rights and wider acceptance. More recently this has moved beyond efforts to secure legal civil unions into calls for legalizing gay marriages. This is a nightmare for conservatives and particularly for conservative religious types.

Sometimes aspects of history repeat themselves. The Republicans in the 60's understood that the way to power was in playing the racial prejudice card.

Now the Republicans--who are experts on playing to people's worst fears and prejudices--recognize a good thing when they see it. What could be easier than capitalizing on anti-gay prejudice in the south and the mid-section of the country? Especially when ignorant conservative Christian leaders stoke the fires.

To put it simply, gay marriage is a dream issue for conservative Republicans. When you add the intense cultural fear that came out of 9-11, it's all high cotton for conservatives.

Conservatism is a political and moral philosophy rooted in scepticism about progress and fear that the forces of moral and cultural chaos will gain the upper hand.

Or in other words, conservatism is rooted in the fear of the boogie man under the bed.

Sometimes there are boogie men under the bed. That's why conservatism is such an enduring phenomenon and why it can be healthy and life giving at times.

But at it's worst (which is a lot of the time in my view) it's mostly about manipulating people's basest prejudices and fears.

What can we do about it? Pray, understand, speak and act.

11:36 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

Yeah... the South.

I guess it was also in the 70's that the Moral Majority was formed, right? Somewhere I read that it was actually the Republican party leadership who approached Jerry Falwell and asked him to start that movement.

sigh... it's depressing that people are so easily manipulated. I wonder if the folks in the conservative Christian movement know the history of all this. I find it ironic that a movement that is so skeptical of progress has absolutely NO skepticism of worldly power. I think these good people would actually be horrified to find out how they're being used, if they could get their minds around it.

Doublethink... and now I find myself approaching fundamentalist (b) from my culture wars rant, so I will stop.

BTW, nice shirt, Tina.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't marriage really just a social construct? sure the union of man and woman in lifelong mutual submission and dedication to one another and their potential children is a biblical concept, but I see a bit of a jump between that and marriage as we think of it. I find it pretty tragic that throughout the world in cultures relatively "new to Christianity," Christian marriage means white dresses and rings. And given that so many leaders and "men of God" did not adhere to the edenic pattern of marriage (which maybe we should not be so quick to call the "biblical pattern of marriage") in the Bible, including David, Solomon, and Abraham, maybe we should not be so quick to condemn homosexuals who live according to a non-edenic pattern of marriage (certainly in private life, but perhaps maybe even in public ministry).

9:14 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Good stuff, Anonymous. Come back and write some more. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts.

11:35 PM  

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