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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gay Marriages of Biblical Proportions

Should a pastor preach a sermon where he proclaims the Biblical truth that marriage is between one man and one woman only or should he remain silent because that issue has been deemed political?

Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley says, "Thirty years ago, a pastor could preach a sermon from Scripture that marriage was between one man and one woman and no one would have been concerned or would have even thought to complain to the IRS that the Church was violating the Johnson Amendment in the tax code by speaking politically. Yet today, if a pastor were to stand in the pulpit and preach a sermon that says marriage is between one man and one woman, that sermon would be instantly deemed 'political,' and somehow church-goers, and the culture at large, would assume that the Church was wrong and should stay out of 'politics.'” (Erik Stanley, "When Biblical Becomes Political,", September 7 2011)

For a little history lesson about the Johnson Amendment, let's flashback to 1954. That year, Lyndon Johnson – then a powerful senator from Texas facing a tough re-election battle --  found his road to Capitol Hill effectively blocked when two influential private nonprofits distributed thousands of pieces of literature against his re-election bid.

Johnson decided he had to be neutralize the impact, and he soon hit on an ingenious plan to silence his opponents. On July 2, 1954, he proposed an amendment to a pending tax overhaul bill. His amendment (which included churches and Christian ministries within its reach) prohibited nonprofits from supporting or opposing candidates for office. It passed unanimously, without objection or debate.

The amendment not only stopped the opposition of these two non-profits in their tracks but also, for the first time in 200 years of American history, authorized the federal government to punish a pastor for preaching about candidates during an election season.

The Alliance Defense Fund has launched the Pulpit Initiative push the government out of the pulpits of America and protect a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing any government censorship or control. 

As This Relates to Gay Marriage

These questions seem pertinent to the argument about government, politics, and the issue of gay marriage:

* Is it in the interest of religious freedom to allow the government to make that decision (preaching about candidates) for us?

* Is it the job of the state to decide how closely a church can follow the mandates of Scripture in governing itself?

* Is it beyond time to remove this restriction and to restore a pastor’s right to preach freely without fear of any government censorship, intimidation, or reprisal?

What Do the Religious Say About Gay Marriage?

Using the Bible to condemn gay marriage or to defend it is both a very popular means to organize support and a powerful means to stir debate.

People against gay marriage focus on the words of the Bible in a didactic manner and tend to moralize as they use their understandings of the symbols in the words. To these people, to give sanction to gay marriage/same-sex marriage would be to give approval to the homosexual lifestyle, which they say the Bible clearly and consistently condemns as sinful.

On the other hand, those who support gay marriage say believers should quit focusing exclusively on what the Bible didactically "says" and, instead, converse with the text in its broader cultural context to abide by loving principles encouraged by Christ. They believe to be religious means to refrain from personal attacks, insults, and persecution and believe in inclusion and openness.

The Bible -- Use It To Oppose Gay Marriage

Jesus did not specifically teach on homosexuality, but He saw the creation accounts in Genesis as authoritative in His day. He talked of marriage between male and female and a union meant to be life long. When asked questions about marriage, Jesus said:

"And He answered and said to them, 'Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,'" -Matthew 19:4 (NKJV)

"But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.'" -Mark 10:6

And the reader who seeks advice in Corinthians finds these words:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God." -1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NKJV)

Thus, opponents of gay marriage use these passages to show that no marriage can be sanctioned by the Church if the very basis of the marriage involves acts that put the couple outside of eternal salvation. These opponents believe no matter what our society may legislate, the law of God is clear - that a marriage is not a godly marriage if it is a same sex union.

The Bible -- Use It To Support Gay Marriage

An open-ended, progressive view of the Bible is why John Shelby Spong, a former Anglican bishop and popular progressive thinker, can describe the religiously conservative position on homosexuality as being "trapped inside dying definitions" and praise those favoring gay rights as part of an "emerging new consciousness."  (Brian Tubbs, "The Bible on Gay Marriage,", July 26 2008)
Retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church John Shelby Spong, for example, writes: "The Bible...was once quoted to support slavery, to oppose science and to prevent women from achieving equality. On every one of those issues the Bible was quite simply wrong. To quote it now to uphold the evil of homophobia is no less wrong."

Most Bible-believing evangelicals would disagree with Spong's assertion that the Bible was "wrong" on those issues. Rather, they say, people misquoted and abused the Bible to "support slavery, oppose science, and prevent women from achieving equality."

People like Bishop Spong call for a new Reformation, in which many of Christianity's basic doctrines should be reformulated. He believes the following:

"All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation,  can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination."

Derek McCoy, an assistant pastor of Hope Christian Church and also the leader of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, says people must consider biblical verses like: "We are fearfully and wonderfully made" Psalm 139: 14. He claims the underlying message is “the way that they are made is equated to the way that anybody else is made, so therefore any lifestyle they choose is equitable to what Scripture says." (Stephanie Samuel, "Pro-Gay Religious Groups Pit Scriptures in Fight for Marriage," Christian Post, December 20 2011)

Bill Wylie-Kellerman, the Detroit pastor of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, told Newsweek, “I love the Bible, and stake my life in the biblical witness.” He also said he believes it calls him to “struggle for full inclusion of gay people and their gifts.”

Wylie-Kellerman argued the law in Leviticus barring the Israelites from homosexual relations was part of a purity code meant to keep the Israelites separate from Babylon. Because Jesus welcomed the “unclean” to him throughout his life’s ministry and fulfilled the purity code in his body on the cross, Wylie-Kellerman asserted, “In Christ, there is neither gay nor straight.” (Stephanie Samuel, "Pro-Gay Religious Groups Pit Scriptures in Fight for Marriage," Christian Post, December 20 2011)

My Take

First of all, I believe any issue worth public scrutiny deserves the respect of all. Pro or con, a person should be able to believe and support his opinion. In addition, that person should be given the right to speak freely about the issue, no matter his position or his occupation. To bar ministers or politicians from freely stating strong beliefs is wrong. They should be able to take a podium and give support for their convictions as long as they are respectful and considerate of their opposition.

Respect for and understanding of opposing views is necessary for the cultivation of argument, belief, and change. Those who "stonewall" without concession can expect others to believe their research and consideration of the topic is shallow and weak. Stubbornly "standing on words" or emotionally supporting "vague ideals" encourages stagnation.

To believe every Christian who is against gay marriage is "a hateful, judgmental bigot" is wrong. Likewise, to believe every Christian who is for gay marriage is "an unholy, hypocritical queer lover" is wrong. However, open and logical dialogue that encourages better understanding is a necessary part of civil union. And, there is room for opposing beliefs to coexist in a homogeneous society.

This is one of those debates I just don't understand. Why are we so concerned with labels and basic human interaction? Married, outside of wedlock, shacking up, living together, cohabitation, rooming together, polygyny, polyandry, on and on... I can find it all right in my own backyard. What is going to stop people from pursuing their mating preferences?

If Christians require a certain belief, Christian straight believers can have a "Christian" wedding with a Bible. If gays require a certain belief not represented in the Bible, gay believers can have a "gay" wedding with a justice of the peace. If one straight Christian and two gays want to join together, the trio can use a Bible and a JP. People who don't believe in Christianity or in the law still demand to have the graces of both in marriage. I just don't get it.

I don't think the beliefs matter nearly as much to most as do the financial benefits. But, as people live together and reap the "good things," they also will experience the "bad things." Romance, love, marriage, convenience -- then likely will come lots of cooling, liking, divorce, and payments of support.

Let the entire wild world have a go at living in harmony. Just let other, dissimilar unions alone. Let the other beliefs alone while you are at it. There is plenty of work to do in your own "marriage." The money is down and I'm betting with the odds -- the lawyers will "clean up" in this sweepstakes, no matter if it's Adam and Eve, or Adam and Steve, or Genevieve and Eve. "Here comes the bride... er, brides... er, groom... er, grooms..."

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