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What to do about “gay marriage”, part 2

Becky observed last night that my post yesterday on gay marriage was rather wordy and not as simple as she would’ve liked. So, I’m taking that as a challenge, and today I’m going to try to condense my arguments a bit. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

So, my list of assertions that lead my to my position on gay marriage:

1. While the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is wrong, the Bible does not teach that the civil government should try to outlaw every sin.

Religious beliefs can disagree with government laws in one of three ways:

The law can require behavior that my religion tells me is a sin. For instance, pacifists who are drafted to serve in the military. Typically the US has allowed for conscientious objector status, allowing those people to take non-combat roles. Another example is the allowance in the Constitution to “affirm” rather than “swear” oaths of office, for those who believe they should not “swear”.

The law can outlaw a behavior that my religion tells me I must do. For instance, the law could instruct me not to share my faith with other people. In this case the Scriptures are quite clear – we must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

The law can allow a behavior that my religion says I must not do. And here the Scriptures are quieter. While certainly we know that God wants our rulers to be just and merciful, we don’t see anywhere that God says “your rulers should enact all of my laws as laws of the state.”

1 Tim 2:1-4 says this:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Paul says that we pray for our rulers, with the goal or the hope being that we can live peaceful, quiet lives. And note that Paul doesn’t say to pray that our rulers would try to enforce God’s laws on everyone – Paul says to pray for peaceful, quiet lives, and that from that people might come to a knowledge of the truth.

2. If we’re not going to use Christian (or Muslim, or Jewish, etc) principles to dictate the details of our laws, instead we should base the laws on socially-agreed-upon principles of freedom, asking “what is good for society as a whole?”.

Because, really, what other platform are we going to use?

3. Socially-agreed-upon principles change over time.

Just one example out of many: when the USA was founded, the only people allowed to vote were white, land-owning males. This was the socially-accepted norm. Over the past two hundred years, society has come to agree that anyone 18 years of age or older, and who is not mentally incompetent, regardless of gender, race, or land, should be allowed the vote.

Those changes didn’t come about because either people said “oh my, our voting rules are un-Christian, we need to make them more Christian” or because people said “oh my, our voting rules are too Christian, we need to make them more secular”. By and large, the changes came about because society’s views, both Christian and secular, changed.

4. If you’re with me this far, then we’ve gotten to this question: is “gay marriage” a reasonable freedom to allow? Something that will be beneficial for, or at least not harmful to, society as a whole?

And this is where the debate really engages. My position is this: yes, gay marriage is a reasonable freedom to allow, for the following reasons:

  • We can embrace a civil-religious disconnection.
  • State-sanctioned marriage is essentially a specific path through contract law. When you get married, you automatically get a LOT of legal advantages, things that would be difficult to attain otherwise. What good reason do we have to say that any two people shouldn’t be allowed to enter into a contract that way?
  • Society’s views have changed, and we may as well acknowledge the change rather than pretend it didn’t happen.

From a strictly pragmatic Christian viewpoint, too, we need to pick which battles we want to fight. Yes, we want to see each person come to know Christ and become more like Christ. By fighting this semantic argument over civil “marriage”, we aren’t accomplishing anything other than alienating a large group of people who Christ calls us to love. We certainly aren’t helping ourselves gain an audience with them so we can share the Gospel. Real change comes from the inside out, as the heart changes.

5. The government must protect the rights of private groups to discriminate based on their beliefs.

Freedom of association (guaranteed in the First Amendment) implies freedom of disassociation. If a church doesn’t want to perform gay marriages, they shouldn’t be required to. If the Boy Scouts don’t want to allow gays as leaders, they shouldn’t be required to. If a religious organization doesn’t want to hire gays, they shouldn’t be required to.

OK, so I cut it down to 5 points, albeit with a lot of bullets and lists in between. Questions? Comments? Snide remarks? Let it rip in the comments.

6 Comments

  1. I like it, Chris.

    Also, the thought occurred to me during this: Christianity promotes abstinence, but we don’t have laws against extramarital sex. It seems to me that the Bible’s proscriptions regarding sex don’t have different weights [I’ll be willing to be proven ignorant of Scriptural dogma to the contrary!], so why are we drawing the line here and not there? Given the prevalence of pre-marital sex in American Christian culture, I think the persecution of homosexuals has a lot more to do with “otherness”.

  2. Given the prevalence of pre-marital sex in American Christian culture, I think the persecution of homosexuals has a lot more to do with “otherness”.

    I think you’re on to something there, Geof.

  3. Well, it follows a pattern of what we as Christians have selected for persecution over the centuries.

  4. […] What to do about “gay marriage”, part 2 – chrishubbs.com … and why we Christians have also been persecuted, so I think it's human nature. But religion and civil society are both about overcoming human nature through recognition of our collective failings. (tags: gfmorris_comment) […]

  5. I think most of your arguments are pretty specious.

    1. Just because Paul tells us to pray for our leaders, doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t also have voted to define marriage the way God defines it. You do need to allow for the difference between a government that the early Christian had no say in, and the current government in which we have a say.

    2. There is no such thing as “societal good” apart from Christianity. If we didn’t all desperately need Christ, why would he have come to die for us?

    3. This may sound like being a ‘homer’, but frankly…God’s Word _doesn’t_ change over time. And while learning from our past mistakes is a duty, that doesn’t mean giving up on what we understand God to be telling us to do.

    4. My principal objection to gay marriage, as a civil right, is that it DOES legitimatize that position to our neighbors, and to the world. I know you’ve heard this before, but marriage is defined by God, not by man. So…..why should we, as the church, stand back and say that we have no problems with it being redefined? I sincerely doubt that the world at large is going to understand or appreciate the differences between “God says it is wrong, so society shouldn’t do it” and “God says it’s wrong, but he also tells us that we shouldn’t tell anyone not to do it unless they’ve also come to faith and repentance”.
    My secondary objection is that it legitimatizes the idea of the “gay family”. Honestly, I understand that many families are way below par anyway. But is it conducive to the salvation of souls that children would grow up in these sorts of circumstances? I think God (and biology) shout a pretty loud ‘no’ on that one.

    To summarize my main problem with your post: what basis do we have for any laws? Because frankly, “societal good” is not what Christ commanded us to pursue. And if not God’s law, whose law? When it comes right down to it, apart from God, there is no _sufficient_ reason why society should outlaw murder. No one would argue that murder should be legalized.

    Ultimately, Chris, I entirely agree that the current emphasis the church puts on these sorts of things is unwarranted and generally unhelpful. But I’m convinced that it’s falling off the other side of the horse to cede our prerogative to post-modern philosophies of government which say “live and let live”. Libertarianism is a powerful answer to the bloated and lost conservatism of our age, but it is not a savior, and it is not a Good Thing in and of itself.

  6. Just because Paul tells us to pray for our leaders, doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t also have voted to define marriage the way God defines it. You do need to allow for the difference between a government that the early Christian had no say in, and the current government in which we have a say.

    Which is fine and good, but doesn’t actually address my first point. You can conjecture all you like, Peter, about how Paul may or may not have voted, but it’s just that: conjecture. I would note that while Paul (and most of the other citizens of Rome) might not have been able to vote, he did have opportunities to be heard at the highest levels of government… and at no time did he go to Caesar calling for the enactment of laws that would establish Christian morality. What he did call for, each time, was acknowledgment as Jesus as Lord.

    There is no such thing as “societal good” apart from Christianity.

    I would grant that there’s no real good or grace apart from God, but I think we can have an understanding of common grace that tells us that even unbelievers who reject Christianity still experience some societal good, and can in fact achieve great societal good. Yes, we as Christians understand that it is only by God’s grace, but the unbelievers who are doing good things for society are actually, really, as far as I’m concerned, doing good things.

    This may sound like being a ‘homer’, but frankly…God’s Word _doesn’t_ change over time.

    Again, Peter, you’re attacking a position that I didn’t take. I fully agree that God’s Word doesn’t change over time. If you’d care to address what I said about society’s views and understandings changing, you’re welcome to.

    I know you’ve heard this before, but marriage is defined by God, not by man. So…..why should we, as the church, stand back and say that we have no problems with it being redefined? I sincerely doubt that the world at large is going to understand or appreciate the differences between “God says it is wrong, so society shouldn’t do it” and “God says it’s wrong, but he also tells us that we shouldn’t tell anyone not to do it unless they’ve also come to faith and repentance”.

    I’d suggest you check out my previous post on this subject, and the excellent column that Andrew Sullivan wrote directly in this regard. I think we can embrace a civil-religious disconnect here. Sullivan has an excellent comparison of the Catholic church’s view on divorce with the Christian view on gay marriage.

    Libertarianism is a powerful answer to the bloated and lost conservatism of our age, but it is not a savior, and it is not a Good Thing in and of itself.

    You’ve done a lot of stone-throwing here, Peter, telling me what’s bad about my argument, without actually suggesting what you think a reasonable Christian position should be. I invite you to state a positive case so we can discuss it further.

    I fully agree with you that Libertarianism isn’t a savior, but I can’t agree with you that it is not intrinsically a good thing. But let’s allow for a second your posit that is is not. What sort of governmental philosophy, then, would you say is a good thing? Should we have a government that seeks to enact all of God’s laws as government’s laws? How do you see that working out in a world where we know a large majority of the population will not see eye-to-eye with us religiously?

    I await your thoughts and look forward to discussing it further.

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