Why I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage
For those seeking to operate from a Biblical perspective, we must understand that there are at least three relevant (to this discussion) ethical contexts in the Bible, and that the Bible keeps those contexts completely distinct. There are ethics for Israel, while the nation was under the Mosaic Law (much of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels consider this context); there are ethics for those who are called Christians (the name first given in Antioch to those who followed Christ, see Acts 11:26, 26:28; and 1 Pet 4:16); and there are ethics for those who are unbelievers (who have not believed in Christ as prescribed in, for example, John 3:16). The Bible offers ethical prescriptions for all three groups.
First, for Israel under Mosaic Law there were 613 commands to be obeyed (discussed in detail especially in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and explained by Jesus in Mt 5:19-48). This Law was never intended to provide righteousness (Rom 3:20, 28), but rather to draw the contrast between a holy God and sinful humanity (Gal 3:24.) Christ fulfilled that Law (Eph 2:14-16) and it is no longer in force (6:14-15), even though it is still a tutor to lead people to Christ (Gal 3:24-25) and thus has tremendous didactic value (1 Tim 1:8-11, 2 Tim 3:15-17). Under this Law, sexual sins were treated very seriously, and actions including adultery and homosexuality were punishable by death (Ex 20:14, Lev 20:20; Lev 20:13). One of the reasons cited for the adultery death penalty was to “purge the evil from Israel” (Deut 22:22). There are two important principles in view here: (1) adultery and homosexuality earned the same penalty, and (2) in addition to its illustrative value, the Law served to purify the nation. We will discuss these two ideas later.
Jesus later explained that the Mosaic Law was not simply about external obedience, but even more so had to do with the inner character of the person (ultimately demonstrating that no one had ever fully obeyed the Law). He cited the seventh commandment (Ex 20:14, Mt 5:28) as an example of the internal implications of the Law, noting that one who had simply lusted upon a woman had committed adultery in his heart (Mt 5:28). Such an offender would have then been guilty of the whole Law (Jam 2:10).
Second, for Christians (as was the case for Israel), the ethical standard is God, Himself: “…it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (see 1 Pet 1:14-17). While Israel was given no special empowerment to obey the Mosaic Law, Christians are equipped for holiness by the Holy Spirit who is to fill (or control, see Eph 5:16-18) them. If Christians are walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:17, by the word of Christ richly dwelling in them [Col 3:16] and by the renewal of the mind [Rom 12:1-2]) He will produce fruit in them (Gal 5:22-23). If Christians are not walking in the Spirit, then they engage in deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21) – including immorality and impurity. Christians are reminded to flee immorality (1 Cor 6:18) and to not even allow a hint of immorality to be named among them (Eph 5:3). Paul even exhorted believers not to associate with believers who could be described as immoral (1 Cor 5:9-11), but interestingly, he did not suggest that Christians should not associate with immoral unbelievers (Jesus also left an example in this regard, see Mt 9:11-13).
Before introducing the third ethical context (for unbelievers), it is necessary that we consider the Biblical data regarding the absolute moral nature of homosexuality. The most definitive explanation is found in Romans 1:24-2:1, which describes how homosexuality arose as a means for expressing rejection of God’s design and God as Designer. The passage is undeniably condemning of homosexuality, and it also equally condemns other improper characteristics such as greed, envy, deceit, 1:28), and even disobedience to parents (1:30). In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Paul explains (like Jesus in Mt 5) that righteousness is required to enter the kingdom of God, that those who bear the fruit of unrighteousness (including among other things, adultery and homosexuality) need to be justified (by faith), and that among the Corinthian believers there were those who were formerly characterized by such things. Further, in 1 Timothy 1:9-11, Paul identifies homosexuality – along with immorality and lying, among other things – as contrary to sound teaching. In light of these descriptions, it is no surprise that God’s Law given to Moses would mandate the death penalty for such things. But as Jesus illustrates, if we applied the Mosaic Law to ourselves, we would also be guilty of death for violating the seventh and sixth commandments, simply by lusting or by thinking hateful thoughts.
Consequently, in any plain–sense understanding of the Biblical text, we must recognize that homosexuality and other sexual sins are repugnant to God. Playing hermeneutical games to soften God’s position is dishonest and unhelpful. Further, we must understand that all sin is repugnant to God; so we must be careful not to create an unjustifiable hierarchy of sins. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Some violations of God’s character are explained in a more comprehensive way, while others are only mentioned in passing; but the bottom line is this: sin is sin.
The third and final (for purposes of this discussion) Biblical ethical context is for unbelievers. Israel was at the first under Mosaic Law, is no longer under that Covenant, and will one day be in a New Covenant relationship and ethical context with God (Jer 31:27-34). Christians are told to walk in the Spirit, through submission to His word, in order that they might become more like Christ. Unbelievers are never told to walk in holiness. They are not placed under Mosaic Law, and are not subject to the 613 commandments. Nor are they expected to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Of course, unbelievers are accountable for their deeds on the basis of God’s moral absolute standard (e.g., Rev 20:12-13), but never are they called upon to change their behavior. The unbelieving adulterer’s or homosexual’s primary problem is not his or her sexual sin – the sexual sin is merely the logical outworking of an unrighteous standing before God (in other words, we sin because we are sinners, we are not sinners because we sin).
The ethical prescription for unbelievers is very simple and it has nothing to do with behavior: believe in Him (e.g., Gen 15:6; Hab 2:4; Jn 3:16, Acts 10:43; Eph 2:8-9). Belief in the heart (Rom 10:10) is the equivalent of repentance (changing of the mind, e.g., Acts 2:38, 17:30). Once a person believes in Him, that person is transferred positionally to God’s heavenly kingdom (Col 1:13, 2:20, 3:1-3), and is a new creature in Him (2 Cor 5:17) created for (not by) good works (Eph 2:8-10). This does not mean that God ignores or excuses the deeds of unbelievers, it just means that He has prescribed a method for dealing with them (belief in Christ, who died as our substitute and rose again to prove He was qualified do it). Once a person believes, that person is part of the body of Christ, and is now in the ethical context for Christians – there are new moral responsibilities, and divine empowerment to meet them.
Christians are not under Mosaic Law. Neither is Israel, any longer, for that matter. Likewise, unbelievers are not answerable to Christian ethics (how can the Spirit bear fruit in them if He is not in them?). But all are accountable for our continual violation of God’s character. As a Biblical Christian, then, I cannot condone homosexuality – or any other sin – for myself or anyone else in the body of Christ, and we are to judge within the church on such matters (1 Cor 5:12-13). So without hesitation and without compromise, I voice agreement with the Scriptures that there is no place for homosexuality – or any other sin – in the body of Christ. We are not to partake in or celebrate these things (Eph 5:7, 11). Even in saying this, I recognize my own frailty (as Paul recognized his, see Rom 7; 1 Cor 10:12-14), and am reminded that we are always to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15), to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:1-2), to demonstrate lasting patience (1 Cor 13:4), to have compassion and mercy (Jude 22-23), to be kind, tender–hearted, and to be forgiving (Eph 4:32). We are to do good to all people (Gal 6:10). In opposing any action or idea we must understand the Biblical basis, the Biblical purpose, the Biblical methods, and the designed Biblical outcome.
Why I Support Same-Sex Marriage
In the previous section I only offer one reason for my opposition to same-sex marriage, to homosexuality – and any other sin – within the body of Christ: the Bible is unmistakable in it’s disapproval. As I am committed to submission to God’s word, regardless of outcomes, I can only voice agreement with its themes. With respect to why I cannot oppose the legal freedom for homosexual people to marry, I offer seven reasons. Further, I must admit that what I cannot oppose I must be willing to support. So, while I obviously cannot support homosexuality (or any other sin) as worthy of celebration, I must support the legal freedom to engage in such actions insofar as the constitutionally guaranteed rights that are identified in the Declaration of Independence (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) are not impinged for anyone.
Reason #1: Legally, America is bound by the Constitution, not the Bible
Yes, the Bible was a profound influence on Locke’s Second Treatise, and on other catalysts of the Constitution, but America is not governed by the Bible. Yes, the founders acknowledged the importance of morality and even of the Bible and prayer, but they also acknowledged that democracy would only work for a moral people. They understood that human government was imperfect, and that it could never be too big to fail.
When we legislate based on the Bible we force ourselves to take one of three positions, or something similar: (1) we legislate against all sin (as those in power interpret it), in which case there is no longer any wall of separation between church and state, and people no longer have the freedom to worship as they please; (2) we legislate against some sin, assuming the Bible provides no direct guidance regarding what should be legislated, in which case we are legislating on arbitrary personal preference, without strong concrete Biblical justification, and we have no Biblical basis for legislating against some sexual sins but not others; (3) we legislate against some sin, based on partial Biblical guidance (for example, based on the Ten Commandments, but with inattention to the other 603). In any of these cases, we are either oppressive, based on the standards of the Declaration and Constitution, or we are arbitrary and even hypocritical. Upon what basis do we legislate then, if not on the Bible? The Declaration and the Constitution.
Reason #2: It is not the Christian’s responsibility to ensure the sexual purity of society
While Christians are to judge the actions of those within the church (albeit with love and grace, and for purposes of restoration) we have no Biblical jurisdiction to judge unbelievers on such matters. Unbelievers are not answerable to Christian ethics, and are not equipped for spiritual fruitbearing. To illustrate, Jesus had no moral expectations of unbelievers. Notably He approached those who were willing to listen (e.g., the sinners with whom He associated, Mt 9:10-13) differently than He handled those who were too spiritually proud to hear His message (e.g., the leaders addressed in Mt 23:14-29).
Likewise, while Paul acknowledged the wickedness of humanity, he had no expectation that the Corinthians, for example, should avoid association with unbelievers (1 Cor 5:9-10). He warned Timothy about the increase of wickedness (2 Tim 3:1-7), but especially warned him to avoid those who would infiltrate the church carrying deceptive teaching. Further there were many instances in which Paul associated with unbelievers, but he always kept the goal in sight – to introduce them to Jesus Christ (e.g., Acts 17).
Jesus and Paul both illustrate in their interactions that the goal is not to ensure the sexual purity of unbelievers, but that they come to know Jesus. Consequently, I cannot find Biblical justification to legislate against homosexuality and gay marriage based on the idea that society must maintain a level of sexual purity. Now, importantly, in a constitutional democracy part of submission to authority (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-24) is to participate in government – to elect and serve as representatives. So we certainly do have the freedom to support legislation against homosexuality and same-sex marriage, but to suggest that we must legislate against these things cannot be Biblically supported.
Reason #3: The ideal of marriage in the Bible is very different from the contractual agreement licensed by the state
The Biblical ideal of marriage, described in Genesis 2:23-24 and Ephesians 5:29-32, is a physical relationship between one man and one woman, and is accompanied by a unity in direction and purpose. In light of this Biblical pattern, same-sex marriage is an oxymoron. But it is important to recognize that the word marriage is not used in either Biblical context. The concept of marriage presented in Genesis and Ephesians can fit no other relationship.
Marriage, in American jurisprudence, is understood as a contractual, licensed relationship with responsibilities, privileges, and regulations governing the forming and dissolving of the relationship. The most specific definition of marriage is found in DOMA, which reads, “…the word `marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” In light of the privileges and responsibilities endowed in this legal union, the debate is regarding the basis for restricting marriage to monogamous and heterosexual relationships. The two historical foundations for the restriction are (1) Biblical and (2) traditional. And if we trace tradition back far enough, we discover the Bible as the root.
It seems that while there is little opposition to homosexual civil unions, there is still widespread opposition over gay marriage – in large part due to the use of the word marriage. When the (English) Bible doesn’t even use the word in its two most important contexts describing the concept, our gaze should be drawn away form the word and to the design itself – a design that is by definition, heterosexual and monogamous. If the state (meaning, supposedly, the people) wishes to apply the word marriage to define a legal union between two non-heterosexual people, I can find no exegetically sustainable Biblical argument to counter that. Further, I would argue that government shouldn’t be in the business of regulating affections and relationships – including defining and regulating marriage – at all (though admittedly, our country has moved far beyond such an ideal approach).
Reason #4: The slippery slope argument, even if true, is a logical fallacy
“If we allow same-sex marriage, society will become increasingly immoral.” “If we allow same-sex marriage, then we will have to allow incestuous relationships, polygamy, and bestiality.” “If we allow same-sex marriage, the traditional family will ultimately be destroyed.” These are some of the greatest concerns I have heard voiced over the issue. Each are legitimate to some degree, and yes – every legal action has profound implications in other areas. But can I legitimately argue against polygamy? For Christians, yes. As a legal freedom, no. Legally, polygamy is indeed in the same category (or at least is closely enough related) as same-sex marriage. Bestiality and incestuous relationships are not in the same category, because in these contexts the willingness of the partner is suspect at best and indeterminable at worst. The outcome of the same-sex marriage debate is not dispositive in these latter areas.
As for the destruction of the “traditional family,” Pauline eschatology (e.g., 2 Tim 3:1-7) gives us little hope that such a fate can be avoided. Paul wasn’t trying to fix society, he was trying to save members of it. He didn’t expect a sterile society that would provide no opposition to Timothy, his child in the faith. Should I oppose same-sex marriage because of my concern for obstacles my daughters might face in raising their own families? No. I should train them well, and if their training is worth anything, then they will be equipped to handle any obstacles they face.
Reason #5: We must give attention to our eschatology
Eschatology refers to the branch of theology that considers future or end things. Historically there have been two major interpretive approaches to Biblical eschatology. First, amillennialism (no literal 1000 year kingdom of Christ on earth) and postmillennialism (Christ returns after the kingdom is established) expect that Christ will return to a triumphant church. In other words, the church will be successful in converting the world to Christianity, and then Christ will return. These systems interpret eschatological passages in the Bible in a non-literal way, and conclude that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. These systems seek to recreate Israel’s theocracy in the church. For Christians holding to these views, it is important that they are active to conform society to theocratic principles.
A second approach, often called premillennialism (and more specifically, dispensational premillennialism), interprets Biblical eschatology in a more literal way, and expects that the church will not convert the world, but that one day Christ will return to a world that has almost entirely rejected Him. Christians holding to this view, while seeking to be active as good citizens, do not view it as their responsibility to conform society to a theocratic model. In short, how we interpret the Bible regarding eschatology has significant impact on how Christians view their role in the legislative and governmental process. As one who seeks to interpret the Bible with a consistently literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic, I cannot justify attempts to Christianize society by political and legislative means. Do I seek to make disciples? Yes. But I will defer to the methods of Christ.
Reason #6: Same-sex marriage and its non-relationship to pastoral teaching
“If there is gay marriage, then pastors will not be able to teach the truth…they will be censored.” This is related to the slippery slope argument, and also reminiscent of non sequitur. Gay marriage has no intrinsic relationship to what a pastor can or cannot teach. For example, adultery is legal, and yet pastors teach about adultery with no legal implications. Adulterers are not up in arms ready to storm the cathedrals for impugning the character of adulterers everywhere. But even if they were – and even if there were laws passed against teaching Biblically on the topic of adultery, do we not have the courage to follow the apostles’ example?
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard”…(Acts 4:19-20)…”We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Pastors, as one of you, I address you directly: let us teach the word accurately, and let our words be seasoned with grace, obeying God rather than men, consequences be damned. Leave off trying to legislate others to make our own situations more comfortable. Courage, men!
Reason #7: The cost is not worth the benefit
My final reason is grounded solely in the idea that we can win battles and yet lose the war. We may earn a Pyrrhic victory in keeping society for a little while more compatible with an aspect of Christian ethics, but in so doing we have declared war on a group of people that need a Savior just as much as we do. For such were some of us. If a large enough portion of Americans wish for the freedom to enter into legal unions that are not heterosexual, then may they not pursue such legal freedom under the governance of the Declaration and the Constitution? If we would oppose them, we had better be certain that we are right before God in our opposing them. Remember – it is one thing to judge within the body of Christ, that is our responsibility to one another as brothers and sisters – it is an entirely different matter to sit in judgment of those outside of the body of Christ. Do we have the freedom granted us by the Declaration and Constitution to oppose gay marriage and the legality of certain relationships? Absolutely we do. But what are our priorities? What are our goals? Are we at all concerned with presenting the love of Christ to a society desperately in need of Him, or are we in a hurry for His judgment to come and eradicate wickedness from the face of the earth?
There are men and women that I love deeply who are involved in homosexual lifestyles. There are men and women that I love deeply who are involved in adultery and murder as Jesus defined it. There are men and women that I love deeply who are involved in lying, cheating, stealing, swindling, gossip, and many other things that are contrary to sound teaching. Further, I am guilty of many of these things myself – and thus in God’s eyes I am guilty of all. Are we messengers of God’s judgment, or are we following the apostles’ example as ambassadors of God’s love?
“Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:20-21).
We can never condone sin, and we cannot honor God while compromising on such issues. He models for us how to deal with sin, and how to engage with those in its grips – both believers and unbelievers. Brothers and sisters, let’s be sure we are thinking Biblically as we engage monumental debates such as how we as Christians ought to work within and impact the unbelieving society around us.
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10).