Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why the Church Can't Support Gay Marriage (even though we want to)

As a Christian living in San Francisco, the LGBT capitol of the United States, possibly of the world, I love the gays. I smile when I see a family with two dads or two moms thriving and enjoying life. As the Holy Spirit regenerates my heart, everything in me wants to fight for the oppressed, stand up for the rejected, and speak out for the outcast. So today as the red equal sign goes viral on the internet, I want to change my profile picture; I want to stand with my friends who are earnestly hoping for marriage equality.

From where I stand, there are a lot of reasons why the gays should be allowed to marry. There are plenty of good political, economical, and sociological reasons, but there are zero theological ones. Since this blog (and my life, for that matter) is devoted to representing and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, I need to explain why I cannot support gay marriage.

Now, let me be clear about what I am addressing here. Somewhere along the line, Christians developed the reputation of being closed-minded, homophobic, racist, progress-hating bigots. That's a far reach from Jesus' message of "Love your enemies," and "Turn the other cheek!" A while back I wrote about the confusion between Christianity and moral deism and I think it's important to acknowledge that our churches are filled with moral deists who have prejudices against the gays for no reason at all except that it was how they were raised. Yes, that is bigotry and we need to repent of it! If the question on the streets and in Washington is whether we should extend socio-economical privileges to same-sex couples, I will stay out of that debate (*1). But if the question intrudes into what the Bible teaches, then I must defend scripture.

Lately, some biblically astute folks have been suggesting that scripture does not, in fact, forbid homosexuality. I'll call this "pro-gay theology" (two words I never thought could go together) in reference specifically to the school of thought that insists God sanctions homosexuality. This belief has already moved beyond tolerance, beyond acceptance, all the way to biblical legitimization.

I find this pro-gay theology bizarre for several reasons:

#1 - Pro-Gay Theology calls 2,000 years of Christian doctrine wrong.

Sometimes we are wrong. I'm a protestant; I think Luther was a cool guy, I'm glad he had the guts to stand up to Rome, and I'm glad he refused to recant. But it would have been highly ironic if his theses had centered around tolerance, because what he did was the opposite of tolerant. Let's just be honest that the pro-homosexuality argument is not growing out of a hunger for spiritual reform; it's simply an obligatory response to modern culture. This debate did not originate within the Church; it has always been culture vs. the Church.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition of the verb "tolerate" is, "To respect (others' beliefs, practices, etc.) without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing." Even the computer-based dictionary Encarta includes in its list "To accept the existence of different views; to recognize other people's right to have different beliefs or practices without an attempt to suppress them." However, when you turn to Encarta's definition for "tolerance," a subtle change appears: "Acceptance of different views; the accepting of the differing views of other people, e.g., in religious or political matters, and fairness toward the people who hold these different views." (*2)

The Church has always been tolerant of homosexuality. God called it sin, (along with lots of other sins, I might add) but never denied or tried to obliterate its existence. The Bible's response to homosexuality is forgiveness, not intolerance. However, this shift of tolerance away from "accepting the existence of" homosexuality, to actually "accepting" it, is new. This new tolerance asks Christianity to condone homosexuality. In order to do that, we have to reject the authority of scripture, as well as the last 2,000 years of Christian doctrine.


#2 - Only the Bible has the ability to define biblical terms.

At least half of the debate comes down to definitions. Define marriage. Define sin. Define love and tolerance. Those are enormously Biblical concepts for every Christian. Now, if you reject the authority of the Bible, fine. But Christians must not pretend to embrace the Bible's teaching while simultaneously redefining biblical principles. Marriage is well-defined in both the Old and New Testaments (Gen 2.24-25; Mk 10.6-9; Eph 5.28-30). Sin is well-defined (Lev 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:9-10). Love is well-defined (Jn 3.16; 15.12-13; Ro 5.8; Eph 5.2,25; 1 Jn 3.16; 4.9-10;).

If we redefine marriage to include sin, we are guilty of heresy. If we redefine love to be synonymous with tolerance, we are guilty of heresy. This is a battle over religious doctrine, not just politics or social justice.


#3 - Separation of Church and State.

Let's say, for instance, that the public wanted to push the Church to ordain abortion as a sacrament. Let's say the Supreme Court was even considering making a law that defines abortion as a holy religious institute. There would be an UPROAR from the Church, right? Why? Isn't it an infringement on women's rights for the Church not to hallow abortion?

Well, no, it's not, because sacraments are the Church's business. The Supreme Court has the power to make abortion legal, but not to make it holy. Holiness, again, is defined by scripture, and scripture is clear that it's sin to kill an unborn child. When the Supreme Court starts telling the Church what it can and can't call "holy," the State has overstepped its boundaries.

Likewise, marriage is God's territory; it's the Church's institute. It always has been, ever since creation (Genesis 2.24-25). It was holy and sacred then, and is still holy and sacred, now. Other cultures outside the church have adopted the custom of marriage, but they don't have the right to change or profane it without Christians objecting, any more than they can change the message of the Gospel.


#4 - God alone has the power to forgive sins.

If the battle over gay marriage was only about being able to buy a house together, sharing insurance, or being able to be by the person you love's hospital bed, then the Supreme Court ought to find a way to give same-sex unions equal rights. That's not too hard, and California is already almost there. But somehow I don't think that's all this battle is about. It's not just about legal rights; it's about moral rights. The gays don't just want equal privileges in the State's eyes (that desire is completely justified), they want equal privileges in God's eyes.

That's why the battle is centered on the term "Marriage" and not simply "Same-sex unions." By redefining marriage, we are trying to sanctify sin. But the Bible says only God can forgive sin (Ps 130.4; Is 43.25; Dan 9.9; Mic 7.18; Mk 2.7,10; Jn 20.22-23). This is foundational to the gospel message.


#5 - Salvation comes only through Jesus

This is the heart of the issue. Romans 5.20-21 teaches us that God gave us the law (which includes forbidding homosexuality) in order to increase the trespass, that is, to show us our brokenness and our need for grace. Romans 2.4-5 explains that it's our awareness of sin and of God's kindness (grace) toward us that leads us to repentance. Meanwhile, Romans 2.12 says that all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. It's crucial that we see our shortcomings, so we can see our need for a Savior!

Jesus, the very One who created the world, humanity, and sexuality (Col 1.16-18), the One who wrote the offensive laws (Ro 9.33), is the One who offers each of us salvation, by His blood (Acts 4.12; Col 1.22; 2.14). Everything that was written, both through the laws and the prophets (yes, this includes the laws against homosexuality and the laws about marriage) was written to point to Christ (Mt 5.17; Lk 24.44; Jn 1.45) so that everyone who hears the Gospel and repents will be saved (Joel 2.32; Mk 16.16; Jn 3.17; 10.9; Ro 10.13,17).





As the debate continues, as the Supreme Court reconsiders Prop 8, and more states legalize gay marriage, I rejoice that moral deism is dying in the United States. But I grieve for the confusion that the new definition of this sacred institution will bring to those who are not yet saved. I pray that the Church will become more earnest than ever in protecting marriage as the image of Christ and His Church, that we will lay down our lives for our spouses, that we will devote ourselves to local Church bodies, and that we will preach the gospel more boldly than ever.

And I pray that King Jesus would come quickly.


___________________

Footnotes:

*1 - Politically, I absolutely support equality in all its forms. But this isn't a political blog, and I'm not primarily a political person: I'm a citizen of a different Kingdom.

*2 - http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/02/26/contemporary-tolerance-is-intrinsically-intolerant/

11 comments:

  1. Great blog Kristi! Makes me miss you even more. Hope you and that growing baby are doing well. Love you!

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  2. Thank you for this article! You said it so well that I shared it on my facebook. I'm also using the cross now as my profile picture! It so appropriately counter acts the equal sign that was/is being used! Blessings to you!

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  3. Well written article on a tough subject. You made some very good points that I hadn't thought of before. You are an amazing writer :) Love you!

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  4. Thank you!! Great post that i pray also goes viral !

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  5. I am glad to see a christian taking the stance that tolerance of homosexuality is needed from the religious community, but am appalled at how people are trying to use verse to defend an 'anti-gay' because its a sin argument. To say you will follow the bible with verbatim compliance to one verse means you have to do the same to all versus, and even the most fundamental christians do not do this. The reason people not of the christian faith get upset with this argument is the idea that you, a person, have the ability to pick and choose phrases from a book that become moral law while ignoring other parts of the book. Either women should wear turbans in church (corinthians) and it better be of the same fabric (leviticus) and nobody can eat shellfish (leviticus) and your husband didnt get a haircut (leviticus) and homosexuals should live in sin (leviticus) or you should be stoned for being blasphemous (leviticus). So the bible says homosexuality is a sin and you get to decide that specific portion is right? Then I get to decide all the other portions are right, got any stones?

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    1. Excellent question. I've responded below.

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  6. Rookie, I appreciate that you're approaching the subject from a biblical viewpoint, and I'd be glad to explain why Christians believe some laws endure while others have ceased.

    You used the word "verbatim" to refer to a literal interpretation of scripture. Theologians indeed try very hard to interpret the Word literally. Of course, any form of literature requires some level of interpretation, and it's important to handle the text the way the author intended it to be read. For example, if you tell me, "it's raining cats an dogs outside," do you mean that there are actually domestic animals falling from the sky? No. (We call that a "literalistic" interpretation.) What you LITERALLY mean is that it's raining very heavily. That is exactly how we want to interpret scripture: literally. We call this branch of scholarship, "hermeneutics."

    Hermeneutically, there are three types of laws found in the Old Testament:

    Ceremonial Law includes laws about sacrifices to atone for sin so that worshippers could approach a holy God. As part of Israel's sacrificial system there was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can’t go into God’s presence without purification.

    Civil Law addresses the way God wanted his kingdom to be run. The Bible is clear that God is King of his people. But in the Old Testament, that kingdom existed in the form of a nation-state, so all sins had civil penalties. Civil Law included government structure (Levirate and Nazarite laws, priestly consecrations, etc.) tax laws, laws to keep order, as well as punishments for breaking such laws. Things like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution, because God wanted to set his nation apart from neighboring peoples.

    But in the New Testament the people of God become an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is no longer a civil government, so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how a case of incest in the Corinthian church is dealt with by Paul (1 Cor 5.1ff; 2 Cor 2.7-11.) Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

    The final category of law is Moral Law. These laws were set in place to reflect and teach us divine truths about who God is and what he ultimately wants for his children. These laws are eternal. Even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them. (see 1 Sam 15.21-22; Ps 50.12-15; 51.17; Hos 6.6). When Christ appeared he declared all foods ‘clean’ (Mark 7.19) and he ignored the Old Testament clean laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

    Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13.8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live. The moral law is an outline of God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so all the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Mt 5.27-30; 1 Cor 6.9-20; 1 Tim 1.8-11.) If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it still applies to us today.

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  7. Christians believe the main premise of the Bible is that Christ came to offer salvation to all who believe. When Christ died on the cross the veil in the temple was ripped through, showing that the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its clean laws had been done away with. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us “clean.” (Heb 10.19) It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we were to continue to follow the ceremonial laws. 

    Once you grant this premise, all the various parts of the Bible make sense: Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mish-mash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.
     
    So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense and is perfectly consistent with its premise. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus was the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But the one thing you can’t really say in fairness is that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to accept the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing other ones.

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  8. Religious freedoms and the "gay agenda are on a crash course in America and this is a speeding train no mere earthly can stop.

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  9. I guess Rookie ran out of stones...

    Seriously, this is an amazing write-up on an extremely touchy subject. I will refer to it often in the future whenever I am in the sort of conversation which benefits from this information. I wish I would have read it a month ago because I ended up having to remove a friend from Facebook, a professed Christian who is arguing the exact same way Rooike did. I think this knowledge would have possibly prevented that.

    Truly remarkable discernment, Kristi. I just wish Rookie would have stuck around to see your response.

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