Monthly Archives: May 2012
I have noticed that much of the anti-marriage equality talking points focus on the question of who gets to create rights, objection to creating new “special rights” for people, and the argument that no “right to marriage” exists.
But the question of rights — what they are, who has them, how they are established and protected — is not complicated. A basic review of high school Civics Class will suffice… or at least a quick review of an Intro to Political Philosophy.
Generally, there are two kinds of rights (or liberties), broadly understood as “negative rights” (or liberties) and “positive rights” (or liberties). That is, we both have the right from certain things (negative rights) as well as the right to certain things (positive rights).
In the United States, are rights are detailed in our foundational documents (Declaration of Independence), the Constiution and in our laws and jurisprudence system.
At its simplest, the Declaration of Independence expresses are rights this way:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…
In other words, we have the right to pursue and protect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. While those are very general, both in the Constiution and jurisprudence, more specific rights get spelled out: free speech, free press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, right to due process, right to privacy, right to bear arms, etc, etc.
The general principle is this: presumptions favors freedoms, liberties and rights. We do not need to grant rights (they already exist… life, liberty and pursuit of happiness!) but at times, may need to limit rights for a compelling state interest. (As part of the “social contract”, we all agree that a compelling state interest may be grounds to limit individual rights; the courts exist, in part, to adjudicate this very issue… does the state have a compelling interest in limiting rights).
So while we don’t vote to create rights, sometimes we vote (by representative in the case of legislation or directly in the case of a referendum) to limit rights based on a compelling state interest (burden of proof, being on the state or on those trying to limit rights.)
The legal procedings around the appeal of California’s Proposition 8 is an example of this process. Those opposing marriage equality tried to make a case to the courts that there is a compelling state interest against marriage equality. The courts, so far, have roundly rejected these arguments and found that there is no compelling state interest in limiting marriage rights to only heterosexuals.
There may be good and valid religious reasons to oppose marriage equality. But that is a far cry from a compelling state interest in limiting the rights of a minority population in our society.
We are not a theocracy nor do we force our religious convictions or morality onto others. The religious objections to marriage equality are legally irrelevant. The only way to oppose marriage equality is to actually believe there is a compelling state interest against gay couples getting married.
There are those who do believe that there is a compelling state interest. They site bogus science about the harm of gay relationships, gay parents, etc. They make hyperbolic claims that gay marriage will undermine a foundational instiution and undermine our very society. Of course, there is no evidence for this claim — empirical or otherwise. For example, no one can point to any societal damage that has been done with marriage equality in Connecticut.
The right to marry is different than the rite of marriage. The government should be silent when it comes to the marriage rite; and religious conviction is no reason to limit marriage rights.
Frankly, it is really that simple.
And while there is no argument for a compelling state interest in limiting marriage rights from gay and lesbian people, we know that the harm to our citizens is real and tangible… just watch this video:
And while there is no sound scientific argument against gay marriage, gay parents or gay families, there is a compelling state interest in supporting gay families… and respecting them… again, just watch this video:
We live in a country based on rights and liberties and the protection of both. We rightfully reject any law that overly limits our rights and freedoms that are not justified by a compelling state interest. There is no compelling state interest against gay marriage; and therefore, there is no legal argument against it either.
For we hold these truths to be self-evident…
One of the tough things about being a professional chef, is that you miss almost all the really big and important celebrations in life. We work holidays and weekends… just how it is. When others are off from work, celebrating, going out… we work. Just part of the deal.
A few weeks ago, I missed a wonderful wedding celebration for a good friend from my college days at Clark University. My friend was celebrating here numptials with her beautiful wife-to-be. Two families were coming together, two lives uniting as one. And for my friend, I could hope for nothing more for her. Her journey has been long and hard… and now she has found her soul mate… and I wish I had been there to celebrate with her and witness their vows and covenant before God.
And this Saturday, I will be missing one of the most wonderful celebrations I can imagine. An adoption celebration (complete with mobile pizza truck!)!! A wonderful young couple from my church just got word this week that their long awaited adoption of their two sons was finally legal and complete.
These women are inspiring to me in their devotion to each other, their sons, and as disciples of Jesus. as far as I can tell, adoption is the greatest of all Christian sacraments. (I know it is not technically a sacrament… but it should be!) Adopting — especially adopting those who are troubled and coming from a tough siuation, through DCF, for example — may be the greatest self-sacrificing Christ-like act I know of. And these women have taken it on — because they are called by God as a couple — wife and wiife — to enter this ministry of love. And to see this family together, to get to know the boys… it is such a beautiful thing. It is a privilege just to be their friends, to watch from the side, to see Jesus at work in their family. I am sad to miss this celebration!
This week in the news, marriage equality has again become a hot issue — for positive reasons and negative reasons. North Carolina voted to ban marriage equality while the President of the United States came out in favor of it. And even as President Obama spoke out in favor of it, Mitt Romney doubled down on the social conservative front to oppose it. So, in other words, this issue is not going away and will be a huge issue in the upcoming election.
I don’t know what the answer is… but I think part of it is helping people share and hear each other’s stories. It is tempting to say that all those who oppose marriage equality are just closed-minded bigots. But it is not helpful. Somehow, we need to create spaces where people can talk, listen, share, laugh, cry and learn to understand each other.
Frankly, I don’t know how that will happen… but I believe it is the responsibility of the church to be a catalyst for this kind of healthy relationship building.
While nothing beats being at a celebration… and nothing beats just sitting down and talking over great food and drink… videos can tell some great stories. Regardless of which side of the equation you are on — whether you support marriage equality or not — you will watch both these videos… if nothing else, to better understand…
And then I would love to hear your thoughts…
This video is one of the most powerful video stories I have ever seen… made me cry:
And this is about as articulate an explanation as I have heard:
A good friend asked me the other day why my harshest critiques — at least on my blog, Facebook and Twitter — are reserved for evangelicals? And why I rarely if ever critique liberal churches, mainline churches, etc?
Why do I critique evangelicalism?
Because I am an evangelical.
I critique from within the community of faith — not attacking it from outside.
I challenge my brothers and sisters to embrace grace and gospel; to model the radical inclusivity of Christ; to live out their faith with Kingdom values as followers of our King.
I also critique evangelicals because the stakes are higher.
To be honest, I do not care if elements of the LGBT community or liberal press are hostile towards Christians. It matters not to me at all. Welcome to the diaspora… where we are foreigners and aliens on mission together.
But when evangelicals attack, exclude, condemn, bully and brutalize… I believe there are eternal consequences. And this matters a great deal to me. So I challenge it.
Maybe if I was a mainline liberal (in terms of theology), I would reserve my critiques to mainline liberalism. But I am not — so I will leave that to someone else.
I am an evangelical. So I will call evangelicals to be the church God intends us to be. And I will criticize, challenge and chastise accordingly… because Jesus desires His Bride to be pure and righteous and full of justice and compassion and mercy and grace…
Part of the problem for me, is that I went along with the “party line” against LGBT folks for so long… and many people got hurt. I know LGBT folks who today are not following Jesus because of the damage done by well-meaning but terribly-wrong evangelicals. My critic voice is part of my penance.
And so I will continue to call out in us (as evangelicals) those areas that need to be called out… praying that we (as evangelicals) would heed the call and seek increasing justice, compassion, mercy and grace in the name of Jesus Christ.
Traditional marriage is between one man and one woman.
It is also “till death do us part.”
A literal reading of the Bible teaches that divorce is evil and that remarriage is adultery.
A literal reading of the Bible also prohibits marrying someone who is not of your faith (in the OT, this means Israelites can only marry Israelites; in the NT, this means, of course, that only Christians can marry Christians).
According to the Bible, the only true marriage is one in which one man and one woman, who are part of a faith community, make a life-long covenant to each other and God, to be married for life.
Therefore, being a supporter of traditional marriage, I am compelled to support legislation that bans:
– All divorce, except in the case of physical abuse or neglect.
– All remarriage.
– The marriage of atheists, agnostics, or anyone of any religion other than Christianity or Judaism. (To count as a “Christian”, you must be baptized, be a professed believer in the Lordship of Christ, believe in the physical resurrection, and have a born-again experience. Generally, Catholics are in, mainline liberals are out; Mormons are definitely out. To be “Jewish”, your mother must be Jewish and you must be able to trace your lineage to prove that you are in fact of Jewish blood).
– Any intermarriage.
– Any same-sex marriage.
We must ban all of these because we support traditional marriage. Those who are divorced and remarried shall not be recognized as married for tax purposes, insurance, etc. Same with all the other categories listed above.
WHO IS WITH ME?
Pretty much the entire “Biblical” case against homosexuality can be found in 7 verses. The traditionalists build their case based on these verses and a worldview based on Creationism and Adam & Eve.
Suffice it to say, based on good hermeneutics (that is, the proper interpretation and application of scripture), I think the best (that is, most faithful) reading of the text is that God does not condemn anywhere loving, committed, monogamous, life-long, Christ-centered gay relationships.
Most certainly, there are certain same-sex relationships and practices that are condemned in the scriptures. For instance, homosexual rape is condemned. As is the inherently abusive relationship between adult men and young boys. Scripture is clear in condemning these and I think, for the most part, even today, we all agree in those condemnations.
But in order for the traditionalists to build a case against all homosexual relationships and against all homosexuals, they rely on a logical jump going from the specific example to the universal principal.
This is a dangerous, and I think logically flawed, jump that is designed to simply be self-affirming of the position the traditionalists are trying to argue for — that is, this is classic eisegesis, not good exegesis.
Here is how the argument goes:
Scripture condemns X-specific behavior.
Therefore, scripture condemns all X-general behavior.
Scripture condemns homosexual relations between free men and slave boys (X-specific).
Therefore, by implication, scripture condemns all homosexual relations (X-general).
Of course, the logic is self-evidently flawed:
Scripture condemns heterosexual adultery (Y-specific).
Therefore, by implication, scripture condemns all heterosexual relations (Y-general).
In the New Testament, all we have are specific examples of things that the writer (usually Paul) condemns. In the Old Testament, we have narratives that generally condemn specific behavior.
We also have the Levitical Holiness Code that condemns all homosexuality, but it comes in a a section that (a) Christians universally agree is not binding under the New Covenant (except for gays, apparently) and (b) includes other prohibitions that we totally ignore (wearing clothes made of mixed fibers, dietary laws, laws about menstruation and the stoning of disobedient children, etc).
Much is also made of Romans 1 in regard to the more universal argument. But in Romans 1, Paul is using homosexuality as a rhetorical example to essentially lure his listeners (traditionalist Jews) into his argument about universal grace; he is not, in and of itself, making a theological argument or claim about homosexuality.
Paul simply picks an example for his audience that he knows will resonate culturally. Homosexuality was considered evil and disgusting by religious Jews of the day. Today, if speaking to a Muslim population and trying to make the same argument, Paul might well choose an example of a Muslim teen, who listens to Western music, dresses in western clothing and drinks and chews and runs with women who do too. To this hypothetical modern audience, this teen man would clearly have brought condemnation upon himself! (Ahhh yes… Paul’s point precisely… that we all have!!!!!). But none of this would speak to Paul’s feelings about — let alone God’s feelings about — this young Muslim teen who listens to American music. All we learn is what his audience thinks about such things… not what God thinks.
Suffice it to say, Romans 1 says nothing about what God thinks about homosexuality.
The final place where traditionalists make their biggest logical error is again with the specific-to-general logical jump.
Much is made of Adam and Eve as being the model married couple. And of course, God created them and brought them together in sexual union that the two will become one.
I affirm that this is, in fact, a beautiful picture of marriage and that God created marriage and intends us to live in this kind of “one flesh” relationship. It reveals something about the creativity and beauty of God… that we are most human when we are in intimate community together with another.
And, the traditionalist will often remind us that God created “Adam & Eve” not “Adam & Steve”, as if this makes clear that the relationship/marriage we are talking about must be heterosexual.
This is the specific example to universal principle logical jump:
Adam was male and Eve was female (X-specific).
Therefore all unified (married) couples for all time must be male and female (X-general).
The problem with this logic, of course, is that we being very selective about WHICH X-specific factors matter and which ones don’t. In fact, we choose based entirely on the conclusion we are trying to create — the essence of bad exegesis.
The male was named Adam and female named Eve (X-specific).
Therefore all unified (married) couples for all time must be named Adam and Eve (X-general).
We rightfully reject this argument, reasoning that the names of the two people involved are not the relevant factor.
We could make the same argument based on a number of factors and variables: race (both Adam and Eve were semitic people, presumably), height, age, hair color, relationship to each other, etc etc. But we tend to dismiss all of those issues and then make gender the key “big idea” of this passage.
But why? It is certainly not emphasized in the text. There is little discussion of gender. The emphasis is on community and unity, on intimacy and family unit. Things that are reflected in the Holy Trinity.
The text emphasizes relationship, compliment, partnership. Not gender. But we conclude, based on our own pre-supposition about what marriage must mean, that the key component of this model that is universal is gender.
But there is neither a logical nor textual reason to conclude this.
Now some will argue that this is a slippery slope to, for example, polygamy. They argue, that if the model isn’t one man and one woman, why can’t it be one man and two women?
Well, one answer is that this particular text makes it dificult to make the argument because the author actually makes the specific-to-general argument explicit (as opposed to, the claim that it is implicit, which we have now debunked).
“This is why the two shall become one.”
We get specific example (two become one) and then it is repeated as a general universal principle. It is not a logical jump, but an explicit teaching of the scripture.
Okay, the naysayer will grant. No polygamy. But what about marrying animals or adults marrying children or such…
(The argument goes that if we take the position that the Genesis narrative is not primarily about gender, it opens the doors to lots of other “bad” behaviors we want to ban).
Well… there are certainly other Biblical (and even non-Biblical)
principles at play, such as the Great Commandment to love one another and to love God. So we have grounds for rejecting relationships that are not based on mutual love (a child in an abusive relationship cannot reciprocate freely that love… same with an animal.) Of course, Biblical-folk must be a bit careful here because, by our modern standards, the relationship between Joseph (probably at least 20 years old and perhaps several years older) to Mary (at most 13 or 14, possibly younger) would be scandalous and illegal.
But we recognize that societal standards have changed we understand the narrative in its historical context.
So, in conclusion:
First, before we can use the Adam-Eve model as a hammer to beat gay people with, we must first make the case that the universal teaching of that narrative is about gender. I don’t think anyone can realistically make that argument.
Second, when we look at the other passages, all we see is very specific condemnation of very specific types of relationships and behavior. There is not warranted grounds to universalize that teaching/ethical claim — or at least, the burden of proof is on those who want to make these universal.
Finally, some will ask, can I find any positive examples of gay marriage or relationships in the Bible? The answer is possibly (or maybe here), but not definitely. But that is not the point. We don’t need to find examples of marriage in the Bible with two working parents, with three kids, who drive mini vans. Those aren’t the key factors… work, children, jobs or transportation. The key factors are love, partnership, unity in the flesh, etc. So I have models to follow in the scripture… the same ones you do.
As someone who loves the Bible, believes it to be the inspired word of God, believes it to be authoritative and instructive, and believe that it testifies to and reveals the Living Word of God (Jesus), I believe that we must respect the scriptures. When we make them say more than they do — or manipulate them to coincide with our own pre-conceived conclusions — we do as muc damage to them as when we take things out and ignore its basic teaching. The logical flaw of specific-to-general reasoning runs the danger of adding into the text that which is not there. (Rev 22:18-19)
Conservative, evangelical Christians love litmus tests. They love litmus tests that determine who is in and who is out, who is theologically rigorous and right and who is theologically liberal and limp (note: there is no greater insult within traditional evangelical churches than the charge of liberalism. It is the “witch hunt” of our day!)
For a long time, the litmus test was simply about being “born again”. If you didn’t have a “born again” story (preferably with a date and time attached), you probably were not a “real Christian”.
Then the issue turned polictical: abortion. That was the true test of whether you were truly a Christian.
Then back to theology: “inerrancy of scripture” became the new litmus test.
And now? Gays.
How you feel about gays is the new litmus test, and God have mercy on you if you get it wrong!
For example, mega-church pastor Andy Stanley is now being accused of being a “liberal” (read: heretic, deceptor, false teacher) for a recent sermon he gave in which he used an illustration from his own pastoral ministry about homosexuality, but did not condemn homosexuality as sinful (he also did not say that it wasn’t sinful). You can read about the dust up here and here.
For the record, Andy Stanley is one of the most bonified evangelicals you will ever find — and I mean that in the good sense. He is a classic evangelical running a successful church that is leading people into authentic relationships with Jesus, impacting their community, teaching the Bible, serving those in need, etc. Though I am sure Andy is more conservative than I am, I have nothing but respect for him and his ministry.
To accuse Andy of being a “liberal” who has abandoned the authority of scripture is absurd. But this is where the new litmus test leads us. Unless you recite the “right answer”, the “company line” — and do so without hesitancy or doubt — you are out.
Among conservatives, there is no room for discussion, debate, wrestling, wondering, wandering or questioning. There is no room for doubt, no room for theological diversity, no room for exploration. And there is certainly no room for gays and those who dare to believe that God does not condemn them all.
And so, to keep the church faithful, we apply these litmus tests.
And in so doing, we instantly transform the Good News from a message about amazing grace and radical inclusivity, to a message about exclusion, judgement, condemnation and close-mindedness.
In other words, we quickly stop becoming ministers of grace and ambassadors of Jesus, and become the New Pharisees.
Out of fear, the old line traditionalists have sacrificed fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the altar of theological litmus tests.
And the saddest part to me is that as they deny grace to so many, they too fail to live in the joy that grace brings — for they live in fear and judgement, not in the joy of grace and truth.
Is there any good news here?
The good news is that the quiet desperation that traditionalists cling to is a sure sign that the battle has already been won by those whose vision of the Gospel and Jesus is one of love, inclusivity and amazing transformative grace.
Within 50 years, the “gay issue” will be no more of an issue in the church than women in leadership, inter-racial marriage, or a dozen other divisive issues. People will wonder what the debate was ever about and history will reveal that the faithful remnant, again, will have preserved the true Gospel against the New Pharisees.
Are there still churches that deny women full and equal status to men? Yes, but these churches are dying.
Are there still churhces that oppose inter-racial marriage? Yes, but they are few and far between and universally written off as fundamentalist whack job racists.
Will there be churches that persist to persecute and condemn gay people? Yes, but these churches will slowly die off and the ones that survive will too be relegated to the fringe of fundamentalst whack jobs.
The Good News?
Jesus always wins.
Which means that truth always wins.
And that love always wins.
And all of this means that silly theological litmnus tests… always lose.