Same-Sex Marriage, Obama, and Christian Justice

10 05 2012

This past week was a milestone for same-sex marriage, both bad and good. On Tuesday, May 8th, voters in the state of North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment (called Amendment One) that bans same-sex marriage. Then yesterday, May 9th, the President of the United States announced that he endorses same-sex marriages. Among other things, the reasoning he gave was religious:

The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule — you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated, and I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president.

A plethora of blogs and articles on both sides of the debate gave attention to these developments and I am sure more will come. As the debate (some would call it a battle) rages on, it is interesting that the conservatives, predictably, evoke the language of biblical authority. Some more nuanced conservatives, like Collin Hansen in “How to Win the Public on Homosexuality“, would point out that the issue isn’t merely homosexuality being a sin, but that it is idolatry, that is, fulfilling our desires inordinately is displeasing to God. Another conservative pastor, Kevin DeYoung, blogs “Five Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage” to enumerate the reasons why Christians should continue to contend the legalization of gay marriage.

On the other side of the debate are Christians who evoke the language of love and peace. It may seem at first glance like a watered down argument of tolerance, but there are those who have very thoughtful, biblically legitimate positions on the issue. Jared Byas blogs “I Still Stand as an Evangelical for Gay Marriage” with some very compelling points to which the conservative side should at least give ear. Others who fall in this camp claim that the culture wars themselves are harmful to the Christian witness. Rachel Held Evans writes the very read-worthy blog entry “How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation” claiming the negative affects of politicizing the issue of homosexuality, she writes:

We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.

And when it comes to homosexuality, we no longer think in the black-at-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Amendment One hurts like hell.

The danger that this second camp falls into is to argue from the lines of emotionalism (which Evans almost does), that is, to say opposing same-sex marriage is mean and mean people are never good Christian witnesses, so we should stop opposing same-sex marriage. As good as it sounds, this is a flawed argument, as opposing most culturally normalized sin is inevitably mean but necessary, and Hansen is right in that this line of argument replaces biblical authority with our very volatile emotions. But as much as I understand Hansen and DeYoung’s wariness and point that homosexuality is a sin, they do not understand that legalization of same-sex marriage is not exactly the same. And thus, I must personally side with Evans and Byas, but not because it is mean to be anti-gay marriage. But because of what Byas hints at, concerning Christian justice, in point one of his current blog entry:

I know it is hard to grasp, but this matter has nothing to do with whether or not homosexuality is a sin. If it does, then you are probably being inconsistent since there are lots of things that Christians consider “sinful” that they do not legislate against. For instance, if God wants us as a nation to live by his laws, why are we okay supporting the freedom of religion? Shouldn’t we be out trying to ban other religions? If we are okay with freedom of religion,which is a law that basically mandates that our country allow for idolatry (according to the Christian), aren’t we being hypocritical?

I am still not for same-sex marriage, but I am not for Amendment One. If I could have it my way, I think it is wrong to put into law either banning or legalizing of such a notion. In a sense, the government should stay out of it, but as we do not live in an idealistic world, I think that Christian justice calls for allowing same-sex unions (I am still uncomfortable of calling it marriage). Christians are not only called to evangelize, but our actions are to seal, in a sense, our message. Our actions are to viscerally convey that our message is true. How to do that is not homogeneous, but I know it is not marching to vote for a gay marriage ban and celebrating it. The co-existence of diversity is possible because of justice, and justice requires, like Evans says, the washing of feet, the feet of our friends, the feet of our so-called ‘enemies’. Because isn’t that what our Lord did for wretches like us?

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20 responses

10 05 2012
Charlie

Great post. Now if only you could apply this line of thinking to government dispensed “social justice.”

10 05 2012
Paul P

Thanks Charlie. How would you apply it?

11 05 2012
Charlie F.

Leveraging the government to carry out biblical notions of social justice is wrong on several counts. First, it’s violently judgemental. It’s basically saying, “you heathens don’t know how to serve the underserved, so we morally superior Christians are going to push the violently coercive government to MAKE you serve the underserved.” It’s the exact same thing as the gay marriage issue. Secondly, why recruit the ineffective, secular, unintended-consequence-ridden government to do what Christians should be doing in their daily lives? It makes Christians look like lazy theocrats. The generous, charitable life of the Christian should be attractive enough to court the non-believer to adopt a similar lifestyle. Thirdly, while Christians aren’t supposed to be judgemental, they can be discerning. A discerning Christian should be able to see that government endeavors into charity end in things like tentement buildings, sex scandals (UN boats in Haiti, among others), unimaginable amounts of wasted money, and broken families. The discerning Christian would see that their money is far better spent on private charity than on a government whose sole purpose is to perpetuate itself, not to help others.

23 05 2012
Joe F Kim

charlie, I’m curious as to know what you mean by “government dispensed social justice”. i know you explained it in a follow up comment and I actually sympathize with a lot of your arguments, but I’m curious as to how far you want the government to roll back its efforts. Would you go so far as to say that there should be no welfare program at all?

29 05 2012
Charlie Fritsch

The fed gov should roll back social welfare programs completely. It is neither just nor loving to take money from citizens of one state, run it through a bureaucracy (thereby wasting much of that hard earned money), and dole it out to those in need in a different state. First of all, it’s violent. You are effectively putting a gun to peoples’ heads and coercing them to give up their money for a fund that won’t be used by the majority of their neighbors. Secondly, it’s judgmental. It is literally saying, “you aren’t a generous person, so I’m gonna take this gun, put it to your temple, steal your money, and force you to be charitable.” Thirdly, it’s wasteful. Why is it necessary to employ a federal bureaucracy to deal with local problems. Last I checked, hunger, homelessness, and illiteracy are very personal problems. Obviously, the impersonal “touch” of the fed gov hasn’t done a whole lot of good. In fact, I’d argue that much of today’s plight was caused on purpose in order to create a permanent underclass willing to vote for the candidate who promises just a little bit more government dispensed social justice. It’s sad, really. Now if a state, city, or county wants to put welfare programs on a ballot or to make it party of their policy, by all means. But from the federal level, it’s pretty atrocious.

10 05 2012
lovearsenalhatedook

Paul, to say that the government should stay out of marriage is a pretty radical step. As marriage is set up today in America, and almost every society in the world, it only exists because the government established and maintains it. Government does so to promote the institution (through tax incentives, legal recognition and other rights) because there are supposedly benefits to the greater society when a man and a woman are incentivized to stay together by external pressures. So the central question about SSM is whether legally recognizing the union between two people of the same gender does any good for society (should government be using its finances and authority to be promoting this institution?). I would argue that there is very little benefit to society overall (and probably long-term detriment) by redefining marriage by including couples of any orientation to get married. From this standpoint there doesn’t need to be any discussion of the Bible when defending traditional marriage – it’s just bad public policy and unjust (children deserve the right to have a mom and a dad).

10 05 2012
Paul P

Thanks for the comment, lovearsenalhatedook. (I don’t like your pseudonym, btw.) I understand that to take the government out of marriage is radical, I would even say impossible, which is why I mention “in an ideal world.” But in regards to your comment, I have just a few observations. One, it is not my desire to ‘take the bible’ out in any discussion, let alone this one. The bible is often misused and abused concerning social and political issues, but that does not mean we don’t use it at all, we just have to ponder more on how the bible speaks to all of life. To relinquish the bible is to lose any warrant to claim anything on anything. Secondly, I question your comment that SSM “is very little benefit to society”. Even if it were true, which I don’t think you have any ‘evidence’, this is precisely the type of thinking that perpetuate the culture wars and give Christians a bad name. I would rather has a pleasant homosexual neighbor than a violent heterosexual convict as my neighbor, ‘benefit to society’ is arbitrary at best. Third, practicality cannot be the primary reason for Christian action, sometimes truth is very impractical, Christian truth sometimes is sacrificial. Fourth, you may be onto something on saying that it is unjust to deny a mom and a dad to a child. But the problem is that just parenthood is more linked to the quality of parenting rather than the quantity (or diversity) of parents. Meaning there are heterosexual parents out there that are just plain horrible (why is child service part of our justice system?).

As argumentative as I may sound, my main point is that Christian justice exists to keep peaceful flourishing, to even allow for a diversity of religions. Then if we allow peaceful respect for freedom of religion, why not peaceful respect for freedom of sexual orientation? I think it’s worth thinking about.

23 05 2012
Joe F Kim

Paul, i love this last part you wrote about Christian justice. i would take it a step further by showing how this Kingdom/shalomic justice is attractive particularly to Western sensibilities and would thus be a powerful argument apologetic-wise. if the western mind seeks to create harmonious space for all people regardless of how different they are, then the way they go about it is self defeating. Kuyperian Christianity, at the very least, offers us a way forward.

23 05 2012
lovearsenalhatedook

In response to the last question posed in your last paragraph – The purpose of government in a fallen world is not to promote one religion over the other. There is to be a healthy separation of church and state because the church and state have two fundamentally opposing mechanisms under the created order by which they exist. For the state, it’s the sword, coercion. For the church, it’s freedom. Where the spheres of influence conflate and the church and state are brought into one entity, that’s when you have coercive religion (e.g., radical Islamic states).

Thus, the purpose of government is to maintain the peace and stability for all people, regardless of religion, so that there can be a diversity of religions (to some extent – we will not tolerate religions that result in unreasonable violence, etc.).

So the question, is, does allowing for same sex marriage (SSM) or ANY other form of marriage other than as between one man and one wife do anything to promote the state’s function (to promote peace, stability, collective growth, etc)? Is it good public policy? The answer is no. This is probably a radical view point, but SSM is in the same class of relationships that the government should not promote including bigamy, polygamy, bestiality, etc. The difference with those relationships is that the government does not criminal homosexual behavior. But, similar to those relationships, the government should not PROMOTE it by giving those in those relationships all the rights that exist for married couples including the title or “marriage.”

Simply put, tolerating and promoting multiple religions within society promotes peace and stability because many other religions promote peace and stability and religion is generally a good thing for society as a whole (versus a non-religious or agnostic society). However, tolerating and promoting various forms of sexual relationships does not result in the same public good.

23 05 2012
lovearsenalhatedook

*criminalize
**title of marriage

10 05 2012
chuckdis

if acting on homosexual urges is to a sign of God’s judgment (Rom 1:26-27), then legalizing SSM would seem to be a further step of our society coming under judgment.
what role ought Jesus’ followers play in trying to avert judgment – where our society approves of all manner of unrighteousness?

11 05 2012
Paul P

I encourage you to read Jared Byas’ post and let me know what you think. Especially his take on 1 Cor 5:12-13 and comment on “city on a hill”.

Btw I’m not sure we have a role in averting divine judgement, not only are we unable but isn’t that Jesus’ job? I think our role is more of preservation, to be a salt and light.

What do you think?

11 05 2012
charles

during the early church age, it is said that Christians would risk their lives to help afflicted ones when plagues would overcome entire cities. i’m not sure, but how different – theologically speaking – are natural disasters from the judgment described in Rom 1?

11 05 2012
lovearsenalhatedook

Bad heterosexual marriages do not in any way justify SSM. Bad heterosexual marriages should propel us to try to fix the institution of marriage as it stands in America. Bad parenting should help us reinforce and strengthen marriages (opposite sex marriage), not open the door to SSM.

Also, you seem to doubt some of my claims I made for why there might not be “no benefit to society” from SSM. But that doesn’t give any reason for why SSM should be promoted by the government.

Opposite sex marriage is the best form of marriage because of the complimentary nature of a mom and a dad which often cannot be emulated by same sex couples. This is one area where diversity is important. Naturally, though the purpose of marriage is not solely to produce children, men and women often have sex and create children so it makes sense that that is the marriage that the child grows up in (this is not saying anything about non-traditional families, just what should be the starting point or ideal).

I think more of the culture war is attributable to politicians who quote the Bible to defend traditional marriage. I’m just saying this is unnecessary. However, as Christians, we know that God created marriage as a worldly institution to be between a man and a wife. I don’t understand why Christians doubt that opposite sex marriage is the best and only form of marriage that should be recognized by the government and is the one that does the best to protect children (on a general level, obviously there are outliers) and produces the most good for society as a whole.

11 05 2012
lovearsenalhatedook

Also, even with the idea of religious freedom, there is a standard – Peaceful judaism, Islam and other religious are totally legitimate. However, terrorism or any sort of baby sacrificing practices are not acceptable or legitimate religions in a free and peaceful society. IN the same way, SSM is an illegitimate form of marriage.

11 05 2012
Paul P

Thanks for the follow-up comment. I must say though, your argument is difficult to follow, with too many assertions (e.g. who’s standard makes peaceful Judaism and Islam legitimate?).

Why do you hate duke, btw?

11 05 2012
charles

clearly, because they are devils! blue, but nevertheless devils!

11 05 2012
lovearsenalhatedook

What I mean by “legitimate” is that these are religions that should be protected and promoted by the government. I think most of Western philosophy and civilization as informed by Greek and Judeo Christian thinking would agree that peaceful religions like Judaism and Islam should be protected and allowed to flourish. TO the contrary, other “religions” that promote violence or other dangerous practices should not be deemed religions by the government. The U.S. government actually has to make this decision often with regard to how it executes the First Amendment (e.g. when parents are prosecuted for not taking their sick children to the hospital because they disagree religiously with modern medicine, when people decide not to work on certain alleged holidays, when people practice polygamy…etc). My point is that there is a standard for what is a legitimate religion and the government does and should define it. In the same way, there is a legitimate form of marriage that the government should define…and SSM is not it.

I hate Duke for many, many reasons, but mostly because I love UNC.

11 05 2012
Paul P

I see a Tar Heel… unfortunate.

The question was not whether or not government should define marriage, no one argues that they shouldn’t. But you have once again failed to state where this arbitrary “standard” that is used to define such comes from.

11 05 2012
lovearsenalhatedook

The standard that defines marriage as between one man and one wife comes from many different sources. A few of them are the following 1) religious writings such as the Christian Bible; 2) the cultural practices of bascially all cultures over the span of thousands of years; and 3) the codified law of basically all governments of various cultures over the span of thousands of years.

I guess the next question is then, where is the argument that marriage should be defined as anything other than this? I don’t think there is any argument or motivation except that we should just expand people’s freedoms.

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