I write these thoughts as a Christian citizen. I found yesterday’s decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States disappointing, to say the least. SCOTUS, by a 5-4 vote, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which barred federal recognition of same-sex couples. DOMA had been enacted by Congress and signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton.
At least the court did not mandate same-sex marriage for the whole country. Currently 37 states have constitutional amendments or laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Here are four rambling observations:
First, I believe it’s important for Christians to speak out, but not lash out, on issues of concern. Sometimes the only difference between a discussion and an argument is tone of voice and attitude. None of us will ever be a good witness for Jesus with an attitude of condescension. I’m not anti-anyone and God certainly doesn’t have an anti-anyone stance. To quote the apostle Peter, “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Repentance means we choose God’s way, not our way. That’s true for those with heterosexual attractions and homosexual attractions. God loves us all, He wants to show mercy to us all, and He invites us to follow Him on His terms. I believe that, according to Scripture, God calls us to faithful sexual expression only within the boundaries of marriage and that marriage, as defined by God, is an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman. I will not write that previous sentence on a baseball bat and beat you with it, but neither will I hide that conviction under a lampshade.
Second, I understand that by speaking out at all against same-sex marriage, in either a public or private forum, that I will be misunderstood. That’s unfortunately unavoidable. But I do not view same-sex marriage as a civil rights or justice issue, but a moral one (but certainly not the only one). Same-sex marriage is not about race or gender or civil rights discrimination. Remember that there is no ban anywhere in the US forbidding same-sex relationships. These relationships are legal in every state and if a same-sex couple were my next-door neighbors I would want to be the kindest next-door neighbor possible. But to sit silently by while our nation attempts to redefine what God has already clearly defined, i.e., marriage, is something I choose not to do.
Third, I am no longer surprised that not everyone who embraces the Bible as influential also embraces the Bible as authoritative. Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson is a theologian and Bible scholar at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He has produced many helpful resources over the years. However, when articulating his support for same-sex marriage, he candidly put his rationale on the table:
“I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? … I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.”
Dr. Johnson is refreshingly honest and his first point is obvious: the Bible forbids same-sex sexual behavior and no amount of linguistic gymnastics can get around the clear meaning of scripture. However, he says, the clear meaning of scripture regarding sexual behavior is not the ultimate authority. He chooses experience over scripture. I agree with Dr. Johnson in that the meaning of scripture is quite clear regarding same-sex sexual behavior (notice I did not say same-sex attraction). I disagree in that I believe scripture is indeed the ultimate arbiter of Truth regarding who God is, what He wants for us, and what He wants from us.
Fourth, I understand that the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic, particularly as it relates to sexuality and marriage, is shrinking in influence. God is more than welcome into our postmodern world of no-absolutes as long as He doesn’t try to play God and meddle into our personal lives. So, what to do? I’ll not wring my hands and pout over the fact that my value system is becoming more and more “alien-like” in our culture. To the contrary, I will continue to rejoice in God, pray for our nation, build a strong family, build a strong church, treat all people with honor, and unashamedly articulate answers for my faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).