“Biblical Defenders of Gay Marriage…Sincerely Wrong”
It’s a pleasant summer night in the Hudson Valley in New York. A handful of people are standing outside of a small church and talking about the gay rights movement. It’s getting a little testy as one very sincere gay man is insisting that “Bible-believing Christians” are not just unfair to gays but they don’t even understand their own Bibles!
A local Pastor is debating the gentleman but the two are talking right past each other. I’m a fairly new Christian so I am strictly a listener. Yet, it seems to me that this gay man is either VERY RIGHT or VERY WRONG. I am fascinated by the gay fellow’s arguments. They reduce to something like this: the Bible does not really condemn homosexuality and it’s time that Christians and others “get over it.” He then proceeds to assert that we must welcome active gays into the full fellowship of the church. He insists that God himself is pleased to see His children gaining deeper insight into the realities of human sexuality.
Sound familiar? Does this not sound like a discussion that took place last week? Are we not seeing endless articles and hearing a tidal wave of apologetics for the gay movement in general and gay marriage in particular? Yes. Here’s the interesting part: this conversation took place shortly before my wife and I relocated to Massachusetts to begin seminary at Gordon-Conwell. It was the summer of 1977. It was nearly thirty eight years ago! As Solomon said “There is nothing new under the sun.” And the “new” assertions? The insistence that the Bible has been misunderstood regarding homosexuality is NOT NEW. It is very old and it is still very wrong. Let’s consider some of the common ideas put forth by those who argue that homosexual activity is NOT SINFUL.
But first…to my readers…hopefully we can dispense with the suggestion that anyone who opposes gay marriage or the moral legitimization of homosexual activity is necessarily homophobic and blinded by their own bigotry. That response is a conversation stopper on steroids. Sure. There are many nasty and cruel people out there who insist they are Christians. They march and carry hateful signs at funerals. We’ve all seen that. They are embarrassing and self-defiling. I‘d rather hang around with active gays anytime than those folks. And honestly, their attitudes and manners make me question their relationship with Christ. But…
I implore my gay friends [and yes I’ve had a few] to refrain from concluding that every Christian is filled with hate against gays. Everyone who does not agree with your view is not indifferent to your struggle. It’s just that the Bible has nothing good to say about homosexual activities. Even some of the most articulate gay writers have acknowledged this truth. So…allow me to respond to my gay neighbor of so many years ago and my gay neighbor of today. Without being accused of “Christian animus.” Thank you.
The man years ago said things like this:…things we are hearing again today:
ONE: JESUS NEVER CONDEMNED HOMOSEXUAL ORIENTATION OR HOMOSEXUAL ACTIVITY OR GAY MARRIAGE. THEREFORE IT MUST BE OK. That is a classic argument from silence. That is, anything not explicitly condemned must be acceptable. It’s one of those arguments that sounds good but is hopelessly weak. Jesus never condemned abortion or pedophilia. Why would he? The moral atmospherics of first century Judaism were rooted in Old Testament teachings. If Jesus had been asked about the gay issue and had answered “It’s time to lighten up on that” we’d be persuaded. But his lack of comment on it hardly suggests that in his mind it was acceptable. There were lots of things he did not condemn from poorly made sandals to bad base-running. Failure to speak to an issue cannot be construed as approval.
Please note: The principle of “Qui tacet concentire” is not germane to this point. [Latin spelling debatable: language scholars may jump in at any point here!] The idea that reticence denotes approval is only in play if a comment or idea is proposed. If I say “I think the President should redecorate the Oval Office” and you say nothing I can infer your approval or agreement. But my idea has to be stated for the inference to apply. Nowhere in the Gospels is any question offered about the gay issue and hence nowhere does Jesus comment. But that silence would not suggest affirmation.
One other thought. Modern readers must be cautious not to read into Biblical writings as if those writers were concerned about the same things we are concerned about. The best current example might be the age of the earth debate. Those who insist that the planet can only be a few thousand years old often resource their argument by a literal reading of Genesis. Almost as if the writer of the Pentateuch was eager to teach science. In fact, that question was clearly not on his mind in the first three chapters of the Bible. Thus, we must avoid the temptation to theologically hijack a text or an absent text to make our point. Anyway…homosexual activity was rampant in the Roman world and the Biblical distain for it was a given that would have been known to all. Considering the frequency with which Jesus called the Old Testament the very words of God, it would require a vigorous linguistic half-gainer to find his silence on the gay issue to be tantamount to approval.
One other other thought. Actually, Jesus did comment on marriage and gay marriage by implication. In response to a question about divorce, we read:
Matthew 19:4-6 (NIV) 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
What a great opportunity for Jesus to broaden the Divine plan for marriage. But he clearly did not do so. That posture on his part was totally consistent with the Old Testament…thus we move on:
TWO: THE OLD TESTAMENT SAYS SOME UNHAPPY THINGS ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY BUT IT ALSO FORBIDS WEARING CERTAIN FABRICS AND CALLS FOR THE STONING DISOBEDIENT CHILDREN ETC. SO WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT OLD TESTAMENT LAWS?
This is a fairly good argument in some ways. It’s true. We do not follow many Old Testament laws so why follow those that touch on homosexuality…the most often cited might be:
Leviticus 18:22 (NIV) 22 “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
The word translated “detestable” is the Hebrew “toy-ah-bah” meaning abhorrent, disgusting and abominable. None too delicate. But, again, if we don’t follow all of the laws why follow this one? But wait…it turns out that we DO follow SOME of the Old Testament laws. We all agree that the Ten Commandments are to be taken seriously. Things like “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal” are still in effect in nearly every culture today. So, the real question is: how do we discern if a Biblical law or prohibition should be embraced in our time and culture? Really. That’s the great question!
Here’s a suggestion. Is the particular law or teaching “trans-culturally normative?” [What a terrific phrase, huh?”] Is the law found either directly or by implication throughout the Bible or can it be located to only a certain time and place? For example, the law given to the Jews not to mix the threads in their garments [Leviticus 19:19] would be absurd to modern Christians. It was probably meant to illustrate the importance of God’s people not mixing in with the darkened nations all around themselves. It is nowhere found in the continuing written revelation of God that we call the New Testament. We can rightly cite it as an example of something “culturally bound” and therefore not in effect in our lives.
The condemnation of homosexuality is found implicitly in the Genesis design for marriage. And of course in the condemnation of Sodom, despite attempts to explain away the offense as a function of war. [Some argued that the real offense was same sex rape used as an instrument of humiliation, not homosexual activity per se. That suggestion falters quickly when we read Genesis 18:20 ff.]
The prohibition against homosexual behavior is found throughout the Old Testament laws and re-affirmed in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul and into the Book of Revelation. Homosexual activity is condemned throughout the body of Scripture and is never presented in an affirming manner or context. But that begs a question about laws and cultures…so we move to the New Testament…
THE NEW TESTAMENT CONDEMNS HOMOSEXUAL PRACTICE BUT IT ALSO CONDEMNS WOMEN TALKING IN CHURCH. SO, AGAIN…WHO CARES?
We are back to that key question about “trans-cultural normativity.” Namely, was the prohibition against women talking and other rules found from the beginning of the creation? No. In fact, her original role was to rule and subdue “with him.” [Genesis 1:28]. It was only after the entrance of sin that she became boundaried by prohibitions. These rules were carried into the New Testament church by Paul because he was advocating first century synagogue rules that would have no relevance to us today. Some argue that those prohibitions should still be in effect but, as a Pastor, I find that amusing. I say that because almost always the men who say that have wives who dress fashionably and speak in church etc. Common sense suggests that some of Paul’s prohibitions were culturally bound.
Not so with prohibitions against sexual sin including homosexual activity. The New Testament is totally consistent with the previous revelation starting in Genesis. Yet…it is also true that many men in the Old Testament had many wives. But that reality hardly endorses the practice. In fact, its outworkings in the historical narratives prove the point. [Just ask Solomon.] What God allows God does not necessarily approve. Indeed, the ideal before the entrance of sin was one man and one woman in a faithful relationship within the covenant of marriage.
Before leaving the New Testament, I wish to address one particularly puzzling and pernicious argument that we often hear. It goes something like this: “The original language of the New Testament actually refers to male prostitution, molestation or promiscuity…not committed same sex relationships.” One hardly knows how to respond in the face of such “eisegesis” [i.e. reading one’s own interpretation into a written text.]
I’ve never read any expert in the New Testament language say such a thing. There is absolutely no suggestion that “committed same-sex relationships” would enjoy God’s approval because they are…well…nice. Not in there. This kind of treatment of the Biblical text would be like saying the Second Amendment only seems to be giving guidelines regarding weaponry. It is actually about the value of shooting ranges in North America. One might say “Huh? Where do you see that part?” The reply would have to be “Well, it’s in there or…it should have been.” Leading to one last thought….
FOUR: OTHER DIVERSE ELEMENTS OF AGENDIZING FIND THEIR WAY INTO THE DEBATE.
Some of the more curious advocates of gay marriage point out that marriage between same sex partners will help with the population problem. With all respect to Alvin Toffler and his “Future Shock” thesis of 1970, the world’s population could still fit inside of Texas. Population control hardly seems to need assistance in an era when thousands of unborn children are aborted daily. Different discussion.
Other “gay is ok” writers suggest that heterosexual marriage hasn’t had the best track record either. Divorce. Abuse. All true. But one searches in vain for the point of this idea. Are they saying because “normal marriage” has so often proven dysfunctional that the culture should give gay marriage a chance? That view will only be compelling if divorce is unheard-of in the gay marriage future. That is already statistically untrue. Even if gay marriage proves to be less burdened with divorce [a VERY doubtful thing to contemplate] it will not disprove the Biblical teachings.
In the end, I find it impossible be persuaded by passionate and sincerely wrong people on this issue. Perhaps we will see a further manifestation of the words of Yeats written nearly a century ago:
“The Second Coming”
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are filled with passionate intensity
The real tragedy here is not the argument itself but the need for rational argumentation. But I’ve yet to find a defender of gay marriage and homosexuality who uses the Word of God properly. They have conviction and passionate intensity. But the center of their argument cannot hold. That gay man so long ago? I’m convinced that he was VERY WRONG.
In closing…a Pastoral word to evangelical Christians and active gays. Christians, it is fine and good to hold to the Word of God. But the gay life is not easy and I’ve not met anyone who decided to be gay in orientation. When it wears thin and despair arrives are they welcome to seek our help in the journey towards celibacy? Is a person struggling to live within God’s sexual boundaries free to ask for help in your church? Can a gay person ask for prayer in an adult class because they are trying to be celibate? Would that person be looked at as a leper? Would his or her struggle be welcomed in your church? Not welcomed ultimately if they insist that their lifestyle is to be accepted [see First Corinthians Five] …but welcome in their struggle against sin? I pray for you. And for myself.
Gays…this will hurt your hearts and I am sorry for that. But homosexual activities are as condemned in the Bible as adultery and murder and drunkenness. The reason many conservatives, especially Bible-believing Christians, take offense at the gay rights movement is this: no other group whose lifestyle is distained in Scripture is trying to make everyone else say it is fine and acceptable. There is no national movement of alcoholics or adulterers constantly trying to get the rest of us to say it is acceptable. What your movement is demanding will never be sincerely embraced by the majority of the culture…even if they say it is. I pray for you. And myself.