Thoughts Regarding ‘Same Sex Marriage’
Pastor Brad Bailey
I write this at a time in which our culture is deeply divided over whether marriage should be understood to be an equally appropriate union for two people of the same gender or whether it inherently represents the union of a man and woman. This issue of whether to accept ‘same sex marriage’ has become an issue as polarizing and passionate as any.
Thoughts about HOW we approach the issue
Let me also initially state that I have limited addressing “politicized” issues in general for several reasons.
One of the difficulties in addressing this issue is that so many have formed strong and settled perceptions of what they see as ‘the other side.’ To become perceived as aligned with any ‘side’ is often to be perceived as endorsing all the tenants and tone of that side… when in fact I may not agree with much of what is commonly presented. Many who either oppose or support ‘same sex marriage’ seem to flow from a position of moral simplicity and a tone of moral superiority which can be deeply immoral itself.
Secondly, I also do not desire to create a community whose most public gatherings are ‘bannered’ with political positions that create barriers for the diversity of lives who should be welcomed to come and meet Christ. Let me clarify that I am not addressing this particular issue because I believe it is more important than others. All issues that affect the health and justice of human community are worthy of our thoughtful engagement. I have chosen to offer some thoughts on this issue primarily because it is an opportunity to help navigate some of the complex and often contentious issues of our day.
Thirdly, the legislation of moral issues is rarely as simple as it may appear. There are many issues in which thoughtful people, desiring to be faithful to God, can be drawn to different positions based on different perspectives and principles at hand. While I support maintaining that marriage is intended to represent the union of a man and woman, I recognize that there are very thoughtful arguments for God-honoring followers of Jesus to NOT support bans against ‘same sex marriage.’ One Christian perspective even referred to a ban against same sex marriage to be “a mission of oppression, exclusion and persecution.”
Let me dare to state my simplest perspective at this point. I believe that we were created to experience and express a complimentary sexuality as distinctly male and female. I do not believe God’s ultimate design and desire is that of same sex union. I believe we should exercise both compassionate understanding to those who experience same sex attraction while also understanding that true compassion includes pursuing God’s design and desire for wholeness in the many facets of our sexuality.
Before going further let me say to those who currently support ‘same sex marriage’ that I do not inherently disrespect you for such a position. I believe that the very nature of sexual orientation is complex. As such, I can understand the natural inclination towards accepting ‘same sex marriage’ as an expression of one’s desire for being tolerant and supporting equality. Let me add that I believe that those who find themselves with an attraction to their same gender are not inherently bad people…less moral people... and are certainly not my enemies. More importantly, I do not believe that God sees you as such.
Thoughts about WHAT the issue involves
The very nature of either approving or banning same sex marriage engages many related issues that can be brought to bear in how people consider it’s merits… including the nature of homosexuality itself… as well as the relationship between ‘church’ and state. I cannot begin to do justice to the many related issues but rather hope that some of the thoughts shared will help consider the issue in the light of Christ.
Let me attempt to engage a few of the issues that are raised by considerations of ‘same sex marriage.’
Does banning ‘same sex marriage’ bear the problem of imposing a religious conviction upon those who don’t share it… thus reflecting a lack of separation between Church and State?
Some have noted that the very freedom that comes with separation of Church and State is being violated by those who seek to ban ‘same sex marriage’ because it seeks to impose a perspective rooted in a religious understanding upon all. As one group who themselves seek to follow Christ but oppose any attempt to ban ‘same sex marriage’ state, “We serve a God who does not coerce the conscience on Sabbath or marriage…. amending the state’s constitution to coerce a religious and moral viewpoint is contrary to our traditional public witness.” I believe it is imperative that we see the limits of legislation. I also believe that the “Church” should not become a partner of legislated power with the State (as happened in
However, I do believe that 1) every citizen should feel the right, if not even the responsibility, to add their perspective to any defining democratic assessment that seeks to guide what is best for the common good (i.e. vote their perspective), 2) the defining of marriage is a unique situation because it can be argued that it bears an historic and even transcendent understanding that should remain intact while using other terms to define different choices distinct from marriage, and 3) alternative terms for same sex partnerships can allow for any number of rights to be extended and as such do not inherently coerce the conscience or remove the rights of anyone.
Does accepting ‘same sex marriage’ simply reflect our natural cultural progress in defining what is simply a social contract?
If marriage is deemed merely a social construct that is ever changing, then what marriage represents can be redefined to fit cultural change. However, it has been noted that marriage is actually the basis for culture and precedes the formation of culture itself. Without the foundation of marriage, communal life could not exist. As
“The truth is, it is not culture that constructs marriages or the families that marriages begin. Rather, it is the other way around: Marriage and family construct culture. As the building blocks of civilization, families are logically prior to society as the parts are prior to the whole. Bricks aren’t the result of the building because the building is made up of bricks. You must have the first before you can get the second.”
(For more of this point, see http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6801)
Does the acceptance of ‘same sex marriage’ effect the larger institution of marriage?
Some have noted that the argument that same sex marriages will undermine the nature of marriage and destroy the traditional family is a flawed one. The primary voice behind Proposition 8, (2008
However, while it is shamefully unfair to redirect our own struggles upon others, there may still be valid concerns for the effects of establishing the normalcy of ‘same sex marriage’ upon the future health of marriage and family. No culture throughout all of human history has ever embraced ‘same sex marriage.’ No race, tribe, kingdom, nation, or society that I am aware of has ever embraced same sex marriage (until the very recent post-industrial
Would the legal acceptance of ‘same sex marriage’ force children and churches to conform to convictions they may not share?
Many have voiced that the affirmation of same sex marriage will soon be forced upon our children in the public schools and upon our churches and spiritual communities through being required to equally provide for same sex marriages in order to avoid what would be deemed ‘discrimination.’ Others have noted that such a potential is being projected beyond a sound basis. After all, most school systems haven’t developed a formal curriculum that defines what will be taught to younger children. Clergy have generally been exempt from operating outside their religious convictions in most matters.
I am not an expert in educational or church-state law or it’s history. However, I do think that history shows some truth and some naïveté on both sides of this argument. It is simplistic to consider the government as coming close to bearing absolute force upon a child’s formation. Parents must embrace their unique influence. It may become harder to raise kids with a clear understanding of one’s personal convictions when the schools tend to embrace an increasingly different worldview and moral compass… but many have done this throughout time and reminded us we must embrace the responsibility to raise our children despite what lies in the common culture. The same holds true for the leaders of spiritual communities who must operate within a culture despite how accommodating it is to their worldview and moral compass.
On the other hand, I believe that those who dismiss concerns for how a decision to accept the equal rightness and rights of same sex marriage will come to influence what is deemed necessary in education and clergy freedom are perhaps being naïve. We are in the midst of huge social changes in which issues of discrimination are leading to the most serious and expedient of changes in both what is taught in the educational system and what is practiced in the employment context. In general, social change does build on itself. What most could not have initially accepted… they surprisingly come to accept in a relatively short period of time. So I believe that the concerns for how an official affirmation of same sex marriage will become ‘forced’ upon those who disagree with it’s nature… are both overly stated (all such force is relative) and yet bear very serious merits over time. Some schools ARE developing and presenting that which teaches the acceptance and normalcy of same sex marriages. Religious institutions are facing legislative issues regarding potential discrimination regarding use of facilities and hiring.
Do bans against ‘same sex marriage’ represent discrimination and the elimination of “basic rights?”
The issue of how ‘discrimination’ may be involved is not as simple as it is proposed. Every culture sets boundaries which are ways of ‘discriminating’ against certain patterns. The discrimination that we deem unacceptable is that which denies fair and equal rights to someone simply based on amoral qualities of their intrinsic nature (gender, ethnicity, physical capacity, etc.) It is critical that we consider more thoughtfully whether same sex attraction should be considered as an intrinsic and amoral quality for which rights must be protected.
The issue of discrimination generally presumes that same sex attraction is both a predetermined inherent trait (thus such desires are simply what some people were ‘made’ to be) and is amoral (reflects nothing unhealthy for human good.) I believe there are several problems with presuming ‘determination’ including the following:
· Biological determination of same sex attraction has not yet been established in any clear and consistent way.
· Disposition is not the same as determination. The findings clearly support only the potential for of a disposition and only in some cases… and in such a way that it is clearly NOT a matter of determination. Any genetic patterns noted (which are still unclear) do not determine a particular behavior. Even when there is evidence that there may be predisposing factors for some who experience same sex attraction, the evidence would also suggest that it is merely a disposing factor alongside one’s formative experiences.
· Disposition does not establish something as positive nor as meriting “rights.” Like similar partial findings regarding physiological dispositions towards rage, alcoholism, and depression… discovering a physiological disposing factor in some cases of a behavior, does not establish whether the behavior should be deemed as negative or positive. Notably, our culture has not determined that those disposed towards depression, violence, or alcoholism to act out such desires in order to be authentic.
· Embracing that any disposition towards a behavior establishes it’s ‘rightness’ and a culture’s need to confirm such a ‘right’… is entirely inconsistent with our logical and legal precedence. It establishes a cultural precedent and pattern of ‘rights’ that arguably can be demanded for many ‘dispositions’ on the very same grounds.
· Genetic determination as a basis of positive affirmation of same sex attraction and same sex marriage is further inherently challenged by the basic fact that same sex relationships cannot naturally reproduce and would not bear the positive tendencies of evolutionary development.
Let me summarize a few points of my perspective on this issue.
First, I do not believe that we can legislate morality, but I do believe that legislation serves as a significant backdrop for morality. (The simple fact that laws prohibit stealing and murder helps communicate what my children understand about what is right and wrong... even while I know that such laws cannot make them or myself a good person.) Laws help serve the corporate culture’s moral sense… but they don’t by themselves dictate the kind of people we will become. Good laws do not necessarily make good people although they can serve as a good backdrop or foundation. I view legislative regarding the meaning of marriage in this light.
Second, I also believe that the nature of being male and female is significant and sacred… beyond something we can fully grasp…and beyond something our current culture should be so quick to redefine in an attempt to deal with homosexuality (which we also don’t yet fully understand) and concerns for discrimination. There are huge implications for changing the nature of family. To decide that the role of a father or mother, unique in their complimentary gender related nature, is not significant in the formation of children, defies what much research and personal experience would tell us. I believe that out of a cultural trend towards a false idea of what ‘tolerance’ means, many are ignoring the implications of redefining the family simply to meet the desires of ‘alternative lifestyles’ which are born of desires we don’t yet fully understand.
Thirdly, until recently, marriage has always been a religious rite and ritual and civil unions were granted by civil authorities. As such I believe there may be merit to respecting the church (spiritual community) to be the entity which defines and offers the sacrament of marriage, and allowing the civil authorities to manage civil unions. As I do believe that God’s ultimate intent was to create us male and female… and “for THAT reason (referring to the basic complimentary nature just stated), a man was to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife… and become one,” (Genesis 2:24)… I believe that marriage should be understood as the union between husband (male) and wife (female). I believe that in the midst of so much confusion in our current culture regarding sexuality, it is vital to not allow marriage nor the meaning of gender to be easily redefined… especially for our children... while also imparting honest love for all who experience same sex attraction… including those who may choose to embrace such attraction as a lifestyle. From this perspective I would prefer to allow the secular state to define civil unions, and even provide for their practical needs in a loving manner, while not defining the nature of marriage outside the sacred meaning in which it has been given. It is not a matter of seeking the government to define marriage but rather to simply not redefine it’s original meaning. In this sense, to propose that marriage inherently represents the union of a man and woman is neither intolerant, nor discriminatory (in an unjust sense), nor imposing of religious beliefs on those who do not share them. It simply maintains the meaning of what is uniquely marriage.
I don’t presume that all who gather as part of the Westside Vineyard community will share this perspective. Far more deserves to be considered… and by more voices than my own. However, I do hope these thoughts may serve to help you consider this significant issue that lies before us. The Biblical testimony is clear that we should seek the welfare of the people God has set us to live amongst. It is also clear that we must embrace our distinction… and cannot assume that the culture around us will share our perspective. May we seek to let the light of Christ be expressed through us… in both grace and truth. May we live in the peace that our guidance lies not in what the governments of our world may recognize, but what God reveals. May we rise to the challenge, that faithfulness to our calling is defined far more by our own choices than that of our governing laws… especially in regards to marital relationship.
Your pastor and partner in Christ,
More on the broader issue of homosexuality can be found on our website at: http://www.vcfwestside.org/222957.ihtml
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