Let me first say this: I don’t usually blog on the topic of homosexuality. My field is biblical scholarship and I tend to leave the issue of homosexuality to those who have found themselves having to deal with it on a very personal, psychological and emotional level. Indeed, the best voices to discuss this issue are those like my friend Mike Haley who found himself trying to reconcile scriptural ethics of sexuality and his own orientation. I have heard no one -- absolutely no one -- deal with this issue as well as he has. This is a very sensitive topic and one which needs to be dealt with on a much better and much more empathetic level than in the past. As Rachel Held Evans points out, we often lose people at the expense of winning an "issue."
However, with the recent Amendment 1 debate in my home state of North Carolina and in light of much of the aftermath which I have seen, I thought it wise to provide some points of discussion which I hope will help frame the discussion in a more sensitive and understanding frame of mind. My guess is that the vast majority of people who went out to vote on Amendment 1 this week did so without having a solid understanding of why they were voting one way or another. That is, I suspect that most who voted either yes or no did so out of mere passion or prejudice. The outcome, as you probably know, came out in support of the classic view of marriage: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” Homosexual marriage was upheld as illegal. Nothing, on that front, was changed.
So far in the aftermath of the vote I have seen harsh language used in retaliation from both sides: “idiot” “bigot” “godless” “fundamentalist” “close-minded” “stupid” and, of course, “homophobic”. After the polls turned in, I’ve even seen fellow North Carolinians unhappy with the polls posting a state picture of North Carolina which says “48th in Education.” The implication is obvious: the result of the vote is because we’re stupid.
Until this past year I was a NC resident of twenty-four years. I hate to see so many of my friends and fellow residents at each other’s throats! Relationships are broken. Friendships have been relegated to the dust. Opinions which were otherwise not part of our daily lives have suddenly come up to be part of our identity. But as I noted a moment ago, I have a suspicion that most people who went out to vote did so without truly understanding our dialoguing on the issue. "If we really were educated we would see that to uphold marriage as between a man and a woman only is simply primitive and unethical." Frankly, I can see where this sort of response can be about as offensive as the many "hoorahs" from evangelical Christians who voted to uphold the amendment. There's no room for this...on either side.
It is part of my deepest convictions, however, that this debate is absolutely a debate over worldviews. That is, in asking–or demanding–that others alter their views on homosexual marriage we must be asking that they give up something crucial to their worldview. As a Christian, I cannot demand that an atheist share the same biblical view of sexuality as I do. That is, governance over an issue such as this (and others including adultery, pornography, pre-maritial sex, etc) is first of all an in-house issue. We may suggest that they constitute sin, but we cannot expect that non-Christians abide by Christian values. Besides, a true admission: we need to clean up our own crap. But given the reality of the separation of Church and State, it does become a Church issue when the State demands that our Christian worldview take a backseat. When others say “abandon your view of marriage for the sake of ours” it absolutely becomes an issue over whether the State has a legitimate claim to “know better.” The analogy that this is akin to slavery or woman’s suffrage denied simply does not make sense given what we do know of scripture from scholarship (though, we recognize that scripture has been used by many for immoral reasons), but for sake of brevity I will post on this at another time.
Now, since I suspect most people who deride the Christian view as “homophobic and bigoted” don’t truly understand why we suggest there’s a biblical view of sexuality. Let me bring up two questions worth considering.
Is marriage primarily religious or political?
Scripture tells the story of God’s creation: the earth, the heavens, the animals, the vegetation, the humans. In Chapter 2 of Genesis, the second chapter of Scripture, we see the precedent of marriage in Adam and Eve: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Marriage is affirmed as between a man and a woman from the very beginning. If this, then, is the account of the first human animals endowed with the soul (for even in an evolutionary model, we would never say that pre-human species that were co-habiting were “married”), then we are presented with a religious sacrament. Marriage is God’s idea, not the president’s. The government might reap benefits from the religious sacrament of marriage, of course, but the true commitment is made before God, not the state legislator. Perhaps it's best, then, to distinguish Christian marriage from legal/political marriage...but that's not the discussion we're having.
What is the purpose of marriage?
Life. One of the unfortunate legacies of our deterministic, fate driven culture is that we have this funny notion that marriage is for “happiness.” This simply is not true. While the ability to choose a mate is an absolutelyfantastic idea, many cultures around the world and throughout history have never seen it this way. Arranged-marriages: they leave a bad taste in our mouth but that’s only because we’ve never experienced a culture like that. Indeed, cultures which don’t share our own practices of choosing a mate might equally share a disdain for our model. But ignoring the question of which model is better (neither, I suppose), the simple fact is that divorce is a rarity in such cultures. Why? Because marriage is not primarily for happiness. It is for holiness. And what, really, is holiness? Life.
Theologians have long argued over what the dominant theme in scripture is. I am utterly convinced that from Genesis 1 to the end of Revelation, scripture is completely framed around the question of life. The first command to Adam and Eve? “Paroo…Ravoo” Be fruitful, multiply.” The geneologies, the promise to Abraham, the exodus from slavery, the dynasty of David, the birth and resurrection of Christ, the new heavens and new earth. “Idou kaina poio panta.” Behold, I make all things new (Rev 21.5). The purpose of marriage, then, is primarily life. Homosexuality, then, stands in contrast to this this theme.
I say all of this not to harp on those who struggle with homosexuality. But the rhetoric used recently in my homestate, unfortunately, fails to consider why it is that we have a biblical view of marriage at all. It’s not arbitrary.
It will be a long time till I write on this again and my main goal was not to stir up controversy, be called a homophobic, or put down my gay neighbours. Listen, I have many friends who are gay and several who are themselves married. My main concern is not whether this harms my marriage–it doesn’t. But this is a question of meaning and definition. My greater concern, indeed, is whether denominations like the UM Church (who recently argued on this issue) sees it as a permissible institution for Christians. In any case, however, I think the two questions above need to be essential talking points in the conversation: What is marriage and what purpose does it seek to achieve? Perhaps then we can move forward and actually find some common ground.