Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A More Excellent Way

Last May I posted a blog on the issue of gay marriage in the wake of North Carolina's vote to ban it and President Obama's declaration that he supports it.  In light of the Supreme Court hearing arguments this week about the constitutionality of gay marriage, I thought I'd throw my measly two-cents into the debate.  I am fearful of what the court's approval will do to marriage in America.  I fear that if the court finds gay marriage to be protected by the constitution and make it the law of the land rather than allowing states to make their own decisions, it will become open season on traditional marriage.  Gay marriage will likely not be the end of the devaluing and dismantling of traditional marriage in America.  I'm concerned about what that will mean for the long-term well-being of our culture and society.  Will even churches be compelled to approve or perform marriages for homosexual couples or face consequences for refusing to do so?  This thing could open up Pandora's box.  I'm also concerned about God's further judgments on our nation for embracing behaviors (and not just sexual behaviors either) that are outside His will.  It already seems to me that God has let our nation go our own way for some time now.  Has He given us over to our depraved minds (see Romans 1)?  Are we already reaping the consequences of our nation's moral decay?  Maybe.

But all that aside, with the gay marriage issue fresh in the news, I wanted to share my feeble insights.  They are not just about gay marriage, by the way, but heterosexual marriage as well.  And since I really don't have any newer thoughts on the matter since I posted these thoughts last May, I'm re-posting that same blog today.  So for what its worth, here goes …. 


It’s an issue that won’t go away.  North Carolina votes it down.  The President announces he’s for it.  We’re talking about gay marriage.  Polling indicates a growing acceptance of gay marriage among Americans.  Certain branches of the church (who for 2000 years believed and taught that homosexual behavior was sinful and outside of God’s boundaries for sex) have either endorsed such behavior, sanctioned such marriages, ordained practicing homosexuals to ministry, or are at least arguing about it in heated division at their annual conventions.  A reformed Jewish rabbi asked me if homosexual practice and gay marriage were issues I had to deal with in my congregation.  “Not really,” I told him.  “We Baptists are still fussing over what women can and can’t do in church.  'Gay' issues are barely on our radar.”  Sometimes I wish we Baptists were more cutting-edge on cultural issues, and sometimes I like being the last team in the race.  I like being among the last on the issue of gay marriage.

And here’s why: we can’t make a winnable argument in our culture.  “But what about the Bible?” you ask.  Well, the Bible, in both Old Testament and New, makes no bones about the fact that homosexual behavior is sinful.  Leviticus 18 includes this behavior among a range of sexual sin.  Paul includes homosexual behavior in a list of various sins in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1.  And in Revelation 21, the Lord told John to write down the fact that along with the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars, the sexual immoral (which would surely include practicing homosexuals and adulterers and pedophiles and those who practice casual sex with just anybody who’s willing) will be left out of heaven and consigned to hell.  “Case settled!” says the Bible-believer.  Sure, it seems simple enough if we take the texts at their face value and accept the Bible as our moral authority.  But we can’t make a winnable argument from the Bible when those who want to endorse homosexual practice and gay marriage don’t accept the Bible as a moral authority. 

And this is really the crux of the issue: most of us want to be our own authority.  If we don’t believe in God or accept the Bible as our authoritative guide for faith and practice, then we’ll either pitch out the Bible altogether as archaic, irrelevant rules that have no bearing on today, or we’ll twist the Bible to make it say anything we want it to mean.  Really, isn’t that the heart of the matter?  We only want to submit to authority that views something the way we want to view it—which means we want to be our own authority and make up morality as we go along to fit our changing values and views.  So while an argument from the Bible might persuade people who believe the Bible is their authority, it won’t persuade those who think the Bible is mostly a bunch of hooey.

The same goes for the Bible text from Genesis 2, a text Jesus quotes in Matthew 19, that God created them male and female, and that a man should leave his father and mother and unite with his wife and the two should become one flesh.  And then there’s that text in Genesis 1 where God tells the man and the woman to be fruitful and multiply. It seems to me that since God imagined and created marriage, God gets to make the rules.  Psychologists don't get to make the rules.  Marriage therapists don't get to make the rules.  Lawyers, judges and legislatures don't get to make the rules.  You and I don't get to make the rules.  God gets to make the rules.  And this is God's rule, God's plan: one man and one woman for a lifetime.  I like what Frederick Dale Bruner wrote in his Matthew commentary on the Bible's teachings on marriage:

They were, as we say, “made for each other.”  If God had supremely intended solitary life, God would have created humans one by one; if God had intended polygamous life, God would have created one man and several women; if God had intended homosexual life God would have made two men or two women; but that God intended monogamous heterosexual life is shown by God’s creation of one man and one woman.  (The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28, p. 251.)

Again, it seems pretty clear to me and to pretty much every civilization we know about in history, that marriage is a man-woman thing, not a man-man or woman-woman thing.  But if one refuses to accept the Bible’s statements (and the practice of civilizations from the get-go) then no biblical argument opposed to gay marriage will find any traction among those who favor it.

See what I mean?  I’m not sure we can make a winnable argument in our culture against gay marriage.  When there’s no standard of authority beyond an individual’s personal preferences and tastes and what makes a person happy, we can’t even argue from common ground.

So maybe we can make a better argument from our behavior.  In his book Bad Religion, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a practicing Catholic, wrote these words:

The Christian case for fidelity and chastity will seem partial and hypocritical if it trains most of its attention on the minority of cases—on homosexual wedlock ….  It is the heterosexual divorce rate, the heterosexual retreat from marriage and the heterosexual out-of-wedlock birthrate that should command the most attention ….  The Christian perspective on gay sex only makes sense in light of the Christian perspective on straight sex, and in a culture that has made heterosexual desire the measure of all things, asking gays alone to conform their lives to a hard teaching will inevitably seem like a form of bigotry.

Douthat is right.  We do seem hypocritical to espouse the virtues of appropriate heterosexual behavior and marriage when plenty of church folks are shacking-up or pursuing divorce simply because one claims to have "fallen out of love."  So many of us don't practice our own ethics; how then we can condemn those who practice theirs—even when we believe their ethics are out of step with God's ways?

I hate to sound pessimistic, but I'm not sure we can make a convincing argument on this issue.  But we can practice a more excellent way.

  • We can keep our marriage promises.  Weather the storms, get help if your marriage is struggling, but work to stay together for a lifetime.  That's a more excellent way.
  • We can be sexually faithful in our marriage.  We can commit to practice sex only within the boundaries of heterosexual marriage.  Premarital sex, adultery, and same-gender sex are outside of those boundaries.
  • We can seek God's help to rid ourselves of hatefulness and malice toward others and season our rhetoric with grace and love.
  • We can be as vocal in our opposition to heterosexual sins as we are to homosexual sins.
  • We can be as forgiving and loving to hurting homosexuals as we are to hurting heterosexuals.
  • We can befriend homosexuals as the opportunity presents itself.
  • We can lovingly communicate to all people that life has a higher and nobler purpose than indulging one's sexual fantasies or achieving orgasm.
  • We can honor celibacy and singleness as a valid way to live a holy life.
  • We can encourage heterosexual and homosexual sinners with the good news that in Jesus Christ we can have victory over our temptations.
  • And we can encourage all people, regardless of their sexual sins, that in Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection and saving power, people can change.

I'm sure there are better ways to address this issue.  I confess that this feels like a rather clumsy attempt to do so.  But I submit these humble proposals in the spirit of the apostle Paul who, after addressing an argument among the Corinthian believers concerning spiritual gifts, offered them a more excellent way: the way of faith, hope, and love—the greatest of which is love.


  1. Great insights, John! Homosexual advocates would like to think that their rejection of the Bible is a checkmate against Christians. But God does not just reveal Himself in Scripture. He reveals Himself in nature, and the "natural use" of the female for the male, and the "natural use" of the male for the female (Paul speaks of in Rom 1:26-27), is an important part of that revelation. Unfortunately later generations of Reformers threw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of Aquinas' observations about "natural law," but appealing to natural law appears to be very Pauline. Our sinful race not only tries to suppress the specific revelation of God in the Bible, but also His general revelation through the created order. Nature and the "natural use/relations" will render those who never repented and trusted Christ before death "without excuse" on the Judgment Day.

    Homosexual practice is contrary to the design of God, not just because God says so in Scripture(Lev. 20:13), which He of course does, but also because we discover in the natural world that the parts don’t fit. This is not just
    physiological, although it is that. If you keep all the nuts in one bag and all the bolts in another, you won’t ever build anything. But “the parts” don’t fit anywhere else either. They don’t fit spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or
    culturally. Homosexual advocates like to represent this point as a cheap laugh line from “traditionalists,” but Paul shows it to be a cogent point, an unanswerable argument. We must remember that it is possible to win an argument and lose a soul in conversations with people in the sin of homosexuality and in the other sins listed with it. We can and should hold forth the hope that sinners described in 1 Cor 6:9-10 can be rescued as vs. 11 describes. If Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6 are true, then it seems extremely unloving for Christians to avoid sharing with homosexuals the Gospel message--we are all lost and Christ saves us from our sins if we surrender to Him. It's not hate speech--the Holy God, who has every right to kill you the first time you sinned, loves you so much that He came to this earth to suffer the death that He did not deserve but you deserve. Actually, everybody hates. The question is not whether a person hates, but what they hate. Proverbs says that to fear God is to hate evil and all who hate wisdom love death. Either we love God and hate evil or we hate God and love evil.

    I can't help but wonder if the American church bears some responsibility for the judgment we now experience as a result of our inordinate love of material blessings and equating American citizenship with citizenship in the Kingdom of God. There seems to have been millions of Christians in this country who longed for America to deliver herself by returning to her "noble, true self," instead of longing for Christ to save her from her corrupted, wicked self. For many Americans, America is the idol. There's nothing wrong with loving your country. But there is something wrong with having your love for your country display what you think the standard of righteousness is. America is just like any other nation in terms of faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God. What the 1st amendment is purported to be saying is not our authority. Jesus is our authority and King. Since He is the true King with all authority, we must turn from praying and preaching for a return to an idyllic America toward praying for and preaching the only unshakable Kingdom to as many as we possibly can.

    Well, your insight inspired me and triggered thoughts I think are along the same lines. I appreciate you.

    1. Wow, Mike. I wish I had said that. Thanks so much.

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  3. It should be noted that there are other perspectives, even among SBCers: (this is PG13, so you may want to put the kiddies to bed before reading).

    And as for threatening the age-old institution of marriage... Let's keep in mind that for most of the last 2000 years (and even now in too many places), wives were little more than chattel, to be discarded, sold, even killed when they failed to perform their expected duties. Some of our early theologians even questioned whether women had souls. Seems to me that letting gay people marry is hardly going to tear happily-married men and women apart.

    Finally, the suggestion that the black man in the White House will somehow compel churches "to approve or perform marriages for homosexual couples or face consequences for refusing to do" is nothing but paranoid fearmongering that would make Fox News proud. Let's not ever forget that we were making the same kinds of arguments about black folks just a few decades back...

    1. Thanks, John. I've read the article you cite in Christian Ethics Today. I appreciate his viewpoint but obviously numerous Bible scholars would be in disagreement with his conclusions in regard to this issue. For most of the history of interpretation this matter was settled with huge consensus. While that shouldn't be the only deciding factor, it is significant.

      As I point out in my blog, I'm not glorifying heterosexual marriage. My view is that the horrible state of that institution doesn't help those who argue against the idea of same-sex marriage. People are going to do what they want to do--especially since most of us think moral authority resides in our own viewpoint. Same sex couples will live together as they have for a very long time. I just don't know how that relationship can be called marriage. Has marriage in any culture (until recent times) been anything but a man-woman institution. Call it a civil union or a "committed relationship" but "marriage"?

      I just don't view same-sex rights on the same level as civil rights according to African-Americans or gender-rights accorded to women.

      And it was not my contention in the article that "the black man in the White House" will compel churches to approve or perform marriages for homosexual couples or face consequences. However, I think if this becomes the law of the land, the courts could very well compel this.

  4. Here's a better link to the article mentioned above:

    About the author: If still alive, he is now in his late 90s, a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (1936) and of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (1946). His ministry included the chaplaincy during World War II, pastorates in Louisiana, and teaching Bible at Louisiana College, Pineville. He left the ministry in 1966 and worked until retirement in the Office for Civil Rights of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.