Saturday, March 30, 2013

Conversations on Same-Sex Marriage

It was a busy week on social media, and I got lost in a number of conversations sparked by the topic du jour.  Many profiles had turned pink and red in the manner shrewdly concocted by Human Rights Campaign, the LGBT advocacy group, while the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases involving same-sex marriage (SSM).

Facebook is an interesting venue for such conversations, because people who would not normally interact on such topics are mashed together into a common forum.  I am something of a Facebook warrior, insofar as I am perhaps more willing than some to mix it up on a variety of hot-button topics.  So to give you an idea of how this goes, here's a sample:

An Ideology's Search for a Validating Theology

When one non-Christian (but theologically informed) friend of mine suggested this article by Eric Smith on the Patheos "Progressive Christian Channel,"  I thought it deserved response.  To begin with, I felt Mr. Smith's approach was haphazard rather than systematic, and I said so:
Actually I find this one to be a confused mess--an ideology in a rather random search for a validating theology. Mr. Smith does not approve of the text as plainly written, so he takes a shotgun approach toward discrediting it. The strategy is "it doesn't say what you think it says." Or maybe "It's just old and needs to be updated." Or perhaps "Science says something else." If not, then "God is love and love is awesome." He also seems to be confused about the meaning of the word "normative". The fact that there are OT biblical examples of certain practices (including polygamy) does not make them normative. In fact, nearly all OT polygamous marriages in Scripture yield results ranging from poor to disastrous (including such luminaries as Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon). For clarity you need to locate didactic passages (rather than anecdotes), which he hand-waves with vague references to "original language" and "matters of interpretation".
Mr. Smith also gives away his guiding ideology when he chooses the latest advocacy buzz-word, "marriage equality", to describe the issue, rather than a more neutral term such as "homosexual marriage". Moreover, he treats as significant the Facebook-silence of his ideological opponents and attributes it to their fear that they are wrong. Perhaps it is instead their concern that Facebook is a poor venue for reasoned debate, as it tends to invite angry shout-downs ("Hater"! "Bigot!" "Homophobe!") rather than serious, respectful discussion. I'm afraid I've seen it too many times ...
My real point about Mr. Smith's article is that it is not a theological defense, but rather a scatter-shot of his various thoughts and impulses. Of course, the same could rightly be said of my article (though I don't claim to be a theologian), which suggests both of us are writing to our own constituencies.
This last point is worth dwelling on, as my own "Eight Propositions" fall far short of a thorough theological examination of the topic (for this I recommended my friend read "Homosexuality According to the Bible" over on Soul Device). This is significant because there really isn't a pro-homosexuality position to be argued from Scripture, so advocates generally are reduced to trying to poke holes in the Bible's multiple and obvious censures of homosexual acts, or blithely stating, like Mr. Smith: “'God is love,' scripture says. Where love flourishes, God is pleased. This three-word sentence is as simple as theology and Biblical interpretation get. God is love."

As I said, this is "an ideology in a rather random search for a validating theology".

Legal and Public Policy Consequences

In a more general vein, I shared an article from Heritage on "The Consequences of Redefining Marriage: Eroding Marital Norms."  I was interested in this because of the question of whether you can "legislate morality".  One of my more libertarian friends objected that, "If two people love each other and want to get married, more power to them. It is none of my business."  Here my response therefore gravitated toward the public policy demerits:
[T]here are real sociological impacts to redefining this pre-existent institution that don't require religious faith to comprehend. As the author notes, civilizations have been built for millenia on the basic foundation of family structure, basically defined as two parents raising biological children. This is not to say that other family structures are illegitimate (I have an adopted daughter, whom I love dearly), but rather that biological families are the basic, natural building blocks. Over time our society has sought to systematically replace that structure with alternatives (such as normalizing out-of-wedlock births, divorce, extended adolescence, and substituting family responsibilities with government institutions), much to the detriment of children specifically, and society more generally. Previously, government sought to reinforce the biological family as the foundation, though support has eroded recently. What you have expressed is the belief that marriage is basically about companionship rather than about the formation of biological family groups upon which to build healthy societies. I don't believe that same-sex marriage is itself the end of civilization--rather, it is another large step in the direction of societal disintegration brought upon by the erosion of its basic building block.
A fellow believer then weighed in to observe that "Every law ever written was to regulate some form of sin." To this I responded:
One could say that laws against theft "legislate morality", but the reason for them is to protect private property. Similar rationale applies to laws against murder, child pornography, and sex trafficking. All are moral issues, but the reason for the laws is to protect something (life, children, women ...). Laws which set aside heterosexual marriage for special treatment are not constructed for moral reasons, but because the state takes an interest in promoting the formation of natural, biological family units as the basic societal structures. The state does this because it judges those structures to be elemental to healthy society, not because it is moral to do so. People may disagree with that choice, but they should at least not confuse the rationale as being a theocratic impulse.
Is Same-Sex Marriage the Modern Equivalent of Interracial Marriage?

Later, a politically liberal Christian friend of mine observed that her interracial marriage was once considered illegal and unbiblical in many quarters, and then drew the popular parallel.  This led me to challenge the merits of her argument as a logical matter:
Racial equality is the analogy SSM advocates have been pushing--successfully, it turns out. The question is whether the analogy holds true ... In this case, the analogy is attractive: the civil rights case seems obvious and elicits powerful emotions ... Objections to SSM are often overwhelmed by the fear of being caught on the wrong side of history. There may be no stigma as great as being considered a bigot! ... 
This is the reason I bring up the "false analogy" issue, which goes like this: "P and Q are similar in respect to properties a, b, and c. Object P has been observed to have further property x. Therefore, Q probably has property x also." In this case, the idea is that opponents of interracial marriage (P) and same-sex marriage (Q) made arguments that appear similar in certain respects (a, b and c). Interracial marriage opponents have been shown to be wrong (x), therefore SSM opponents must also be wrong (also x). This can break down in several places, especially that which says the arguments share some characteristics, therefore they must be interchangeable, but it does not account for other characteristics (d, e, f, etc.) which are dissimilar. This is why the "false analogy" is listed among the logical fallacies. 
So what is the point of sharing all this?  The fact is that many of us feel bewildered by how rapidly public opinion seems to have shifted recently to accepting the idea that homosexuality is "normal" and SSM is a civil rights matter.   Perhaps we should not be, because much groundwork has already been laid by the dissolution of marriage as a permanent institution in our society.  The fact is, marriage has never been less important to Americans, so here we are.

The Church's Response

So what should the church do?  Ultimately, it all comes back to "Exalt Christ, Make Disciples".  The terms of the debate have been set by the culture, which has grown up out of the now-poisoned soil of spiritual decay, which has been decades (at least) in the making.  The church will certainly need to see to its own, because we have certainly been infiltrated already by this ideology.  Many of our youth in particular are likely to have already bought into the world's system, and are ignorant of the Bible's teaching.

At the same time, we need to be ready to make a defense of the truth in a variety of ways, of which the above represent a few.  This is difficult, because the tenor of the current discussion is such that Christians are very much on the defensive, as we wither under accusations of bigotry.

A fellow believer recently posted a video of Rev. Tim Keller, for whom I have much respect and with whose positions on this topic I agree.  He deals very sensitively with the issue and seems to disarm a potentially hostile crowd with tact and grace:

Even so, I told my friend I found fault with Rev. Keller's presentation, because it seemed to me that this same determination to be tactful seemed to muddy the waters:
I think I know what he was trying to say, but he seemed so eager to show himself as tolerant that he never really seemed to get around to the real issues. He almost seemed to be saying homosexuality was not sinful and that sin is not grounds for judgment, which I'm sure is not what he intended to say. I also felt his framing the question as about "my church" instead of all Christians was confusing. I would have rather he framed it in terms of what the Bible clearly teaches. At some point you do have to deal with 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10, as unpleasant as that can be in today's society, because you don't want the audience walking out thinking you're saying homosexuality is no big deal. So back to the question, "Will homosexuality send you to hell?" Yes, of course it will, as will any other sin without the saving work of Jesus expressed through personal faith and repentance ... which is why part of loving our neighbors involves lovingly telling them the truth, so that they know that faith and repentance are necessary. We really don't need to make it too much more complicated than that, or it just comes out tortured and confusing.
This "tortured and confusing" interaction demonstrates the problem of trying to speak truth in love to a world that has so fundamentally changed the very language of the discussion.  How do we truly "love our neighbors" by speaking the truth, when they stand so ready to accuse us of "hate" for doing so? The answer is ... well, it's easier said than done!

The bottom line is that I'm still working my way through this matter:  how did we get here, and what should we do now?  I invite you to share in the discussion by posting your comments below ...

He Has Risen Indeed!

Resurrection Sunday!  Time to take a break and remember ...

Joy to the world! He has risen! Alleluia!


Thanks for the reminder, Keith.  I look forward to meeting you in glory when this life is through!