Monday, September 07, 2009

Homosexuality, Gay Marriage, Christianity, etc

A friend of mine recently asked me for my thoughts on "homosexuality, gay marriage, etc". This is what I wrote in reply.

No matter where one stands on the factuality of the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis in the Bible, and I am pretty sure dinosaurs and people were never around at the same time, the intention and meaning of the story is fascinating. God makes the first man out of dirt, and the first man is lonely, and needs a "helper-partner" (I've been told that the Hebrew is "ezer-konegdo" and that's what it means, but I don't speak Ancient Hebrew myself), and so God goes and makes his wife, thus completing the species. Now things get messed up a little bit later on when they start disobeying God, but that's besides the point for this discussion. My point is that I'm pretty sure one of the first things that the Bible talks about (after it makes some statements about which kinds of creatures have dominion over which parts of the planet) is that men and women are meant to be equal partners in marriage, and that's the intention for us, as humans. Lots of other things in the Scriptures agree with this, and so we have homosexuality as sin.

I have no idea why men fall in love with men and want to marry them, and likewise with women, but apparently they do it. They then raise the objection that they did not choose to be the way they are, etc, and I see no better choice but to believe them. But there are two thoughts I have about that: First off, it's not genetic, as far as I know. Second off, there are lots of things that people didn't consciously choose that aren't genetic. Furthermore, they say that because they didn't choose it, they can't change it. I, frankly, have no idea if this is true or not, but I do know that there are things about people which they didn't choose but can change, and there are things which they can't change. So that's about all I've got on that one; it is not a settled matter in the least.

Concerning "Gay Marriage", that hot political debate of our day:
First, it's going to happen. Second, I don't really care, with one exception. This is not "A Christian Nation", as if such a thing could even exist, and the majority of people in America are okay with it, so it ought to happen. That's how Democracy, or whatever our system of government is, works. The one exception is the administering of marriage or whatever you want to call it. If there comes a day when churches are not allowed to refuse performing a marriage ceremony for a homosexual couple, on the grounds that such a thing is discrimination, then we've obviously got a problem. I mean, honestly, I am not sure the government should be involved in deciding who can and can't get married at all in the first place, but that's not a very likely situation.

The other thing I've got on my mind is the way that Christians treat homosexuals. Far, far too often, we do a really horrible job of loving them, which is lousy, because Jesus tells us to love everybody. Now, if homosexuality is a sin (is it just the gay sex? is it the attraction? this gets complicated and I'm not sure anyone has the answers), then God wants to save people from that too. How the heck God does that, I don't know. How we (and by we I mean Christians) are supposed to tell people that without their thinking we hate them, I don't know if people have figured it out. But it's a big problem, you know?
A guy who makes music and is also a Christian (but don't tell him he makes Christian music; he gets angry) named Derek Webb, whose music I really like, came out with a song recently called What Matters More, and it's been on my mind a lot recently. You'll find the video below.


Christy said...

Have you read Andrew Marin's "Love Is an Orientation"? It's an IVP book, and I really enjoyed getting his perspective on the issue, especially since it is such a taboo subject in most church circles.

Matthew said...

It's a messy subject to deal with, as you point out. I like to say that I was born with a sinful sexual orientation, too-- an orientation towards lusting with my eyes, using pornography, and objectifying women. All of my sexual sin is an affront to the creation order and God's design for male-female relationships, as He created women to be respected, cherished, and loved as they work side-by-side with men. It has taken me years and years of struggle and prayer to reorient myself to something better.

It's a mess because there are Christians who are simply full of hate towards people and malign them, Christians who don't seem to care much for holiness and don't challenge people to change, and then I think there are a lot of Christians who, deep down in their hearts, do love others but don't think about speaking so that others will listen to them, only to be heard. And so they get lumped in with the hateful folks even when they're not, but they're still not really contributing anything to the discussion.

There are always going to be hard parts of the Bible that we don't like, and they are going to vary widely from culture to culture. But if we reinterpret the Bible so that it agrees with everything we believe, how is it ever going to challenge us?

Ryan said...

i actually started a draft blog post about my current thoughts on christianity, the bible, and glbt. i should get around to finishing that.

i like your honestly, diplomacy, and precision. and your humbleness; it is a start to loving our glbt neighbors.

Christy- i also want to read "Love Is an Orientation." i’ve heard its really good.

Matthew- that is an interesting point about your "objectifying orientation." As to your final point about not letting our cultural preferences get in the way of the bible, you should read this essay that someone linked to in their comment on Tim’s cross-posting of this on Facebook:

Peter A. Hamilton said...

I have pretty much the same opinion about gay marriage and its legality - while it may be morally wrong, I can't see how its legally wrong. However, I have a real hard time sanctioning the rights of a gay couple in raising children. I do not believe it is a good idea to raise children in that type of environment - an environment that I believe is based in sin. I think its irresponsible for me to condone one part that in turn leads to something I strongly reject.

I currently have no way to resolve this.

Timothy S. Milligan said...

The link which Ryan posted, which someone else posted on Facebook, has plenty of issues. But towards the end it has a list entitled "Hebrew Sexual Mores". Some of the points on there are dumb; some of them are danged good, though maybe not in the way the author intended.

Matthew said...

Ryan, I read the Soulforce article and I was unimpressed. The basic arguments, as I understood them, were:

1. The OT has a lot of laws we don't bother with; we can't really know if homosexuality is one of them or not. Interpreting what is right and wrong according to the Bible is hard and sometimes seems contradictory, so we probably shouldn't worry about it too much.

2. Paul (and Moses) were operating under premodern assumptions about sexuality in general, thus, their views on the subject are not nearly as relevant as ours.

In general, the article had, in my opinion, a view of the Bible that considered it useful if it was clear enough but otherwise a source of interest and occasional amusement. The apparent lack of understanding of what ceremonially clean/unclean means, for example, was indicative of a very lax and unhelpful fview of the text.

Matthew said...

sorry, incomplete thought there-- I meant to say "a source of interesting tidbits and occasional amusement."

Timothy S. Milligan said...

Matthew, you said what I meant to say, but way better.

Alex said...

"There are always going to be hard parts of the Bible that we don't like, and they are going to vary widely from culture to culture. But if we reinterpret the Bible so that it agrees with everything we believe, how is it ever going to challenge us?"

The thing that unites most Christians everywhere, across time, racial, class, gender, political, and cultural lines, is that they have managed to interpret their way out of Jesus' command to lose our lives.

Matthew, just because some modern interpretations of the Biblical texts loosen some laws doesn't disqualify reading the Bible in its appropriate cultural context. Your argument is a reductio ad absurdum. There are honest ways to reinterpret the Bible, and it is dishonest to read it absolutely literally. Some layer of interpretation is always required. It is wrong to blunt the Bible's difficult commandments when they do apply, but it is just as wrong to impose rules on people, claiming divine authority, when God himself would not impose such a rule.

There is good interpretation and bad interpretation. No interpretation is not an option.

The discussion we should be having, Matthew, is whether we can, with integrity, interpret the Bible as prohibiting homosexuality. I don't believe we can.

Either way, Christianity will certainly be sufficiently difficult.

Peter A. Hamilton said...

I see where the article is going when it addresses Paul's view of homosexuality as a conscious choice (i.e. always a perversion against the norm). However, even if homosexuality is found to be biological in origin, that still does not excuse the behavior.

People have genetic dispositions to alcoholism, and therefore they drink, and violence is often a result. Does this mean its ok for this type of person to drink, get drunk, and possibly hurt people? Of course not! They are still responsible for their actions and have been presented with a unique challenge in their lives that they must overcome. The same thing goes for other "biological shortcomings" that people have (e.g. eating or mental disorders, like kleptomania and certain sociopathic tendencies).

I am naturally born with sin. That is how I am. I sin numerous times a day, every day. Since I came into the world predisposed to sin, is it ok for me to sin? No!

But, some say, if its biological, the person had no choice in the matter. How can they not be what they are? I agree, I had no choice whatsoever in being born sinful. But I must still resist. But some biological urges are irresistible! Sin often seems irresistible too - but it can be resisted. No one is forcing your hand. It's damn hard, and I all too often fail, but I'm still called to try.

I have a choice. I can choose to reject that part of me which loves, no, adores sinning, even though that is part of my core being. That's why I need Jesus, not just to save me from the evils of this world, but to save me from myself! The old must die for the new to live, and only Christ can work that through in me.

(Note: I was also going to try to work in the idea of how the world is fallen and therefore it is logical to see a natural corruption of nature itself - but I'm going to bed.)

Matthew said...


Of course there is always the difficult task of interpretation, and of course not everything in the Bible is meant to be taken literally. Heck, I'm an amillenialist and an evolutionary creationist. But in the case of the soulforce article, the author pretty much showed up with a predetermined conclusion and then dismantled each text to the point where it could not be considered invalid. That's not interpretation.

As far as my previous argument goes, I think it's very valid and I don't understand how it's reductio ad absurdum. I would appreciate it if you could explain that a little better. As you point out, Christians everywhere are challenged with the hard statements of the Bible. This is a good thing, and it's probably a sign that we're reading the Bible well if there are parts of it that rub us the wrong way and defy our cultural norms. Many of the recent debates seem to me about making the Bible easier to deal with by deciding that parts of it don't mean what they have been thought to mean or don't have anything to say at all. (For example, what do the contested passages mean if they're not about what we thought they meant, and how is that relevant for us today?) We could pick apart each text and argument piece by piece, I guess, if you want?

You are right-- the Bible would still be just as hard to obey if it turns out that homosexual behavior is morally right. But that doesn't mean we can kick the legs out from the texts that trouble us, which is what I feel like the soulforce article does.

I agree with you that it is wrong to impose rules on people by claiming divine authority where there is none. But I do not think that is the case here, because as I've stated before, the arguments, in my opinion, appear to revolve around the same theme: "Did God really say...?"

Rachael said...

i'm so glad i found your blog again.

and, although i don't exactly agree with your post. i respect it. because in the end, love is more important than anything. god loving all people. and all people finding a place in their heart to love all... through "sin" (even though i don't think homosexuality is a sin. because i don't exactly believe in sin, in the first place)