Some Thoughts On Gay Marriage
OK. Here’s what we don’t need on this one: anything decrying homosexuality. This post is not about whether that is a valid lifestyle choice or not. This post is about the church. The thoughts I give are the start of a conversation I hope to have with those that come here. This is a little longer than most posts but for those that work through it I am genuinely interested in some feedback. You”ll hear some things you’ve heard before but hopefully I bring it together in a beneficial way.
The cat’s out of the bag, and my guess is that more cats will come out of more bags. Countries around the world have legalized gay marriage and now states are moving that way in the US. At this point in the conversation the question is not whether this is “right” or “wrong” it’s just the situation we presently find ourselves in this world. So what should the church do? How should we respond? In a revelation that is surprising to nobody I have a few ideas. But first some observations.
First, It seems to me that the word “marriage” has become, ironically, a hindrance in a conversation about marriage. What the church ideally proposes and what the government wants to do are different things. Unfortunately, Christians are as confused about this as many secular people.
A story: A couple in my church had started to date. Movies, dinner, platonic stuff. Here’s the problem: he was married. He had been separated from his wife for three years; his ex-wife, who had started the divorce proceedings, was living with another man; and the divorce was pretty much finalized they were just waiting for a couple of clarifications from child services, in fact, they were several months past a court date when they were first told by the court they were divorced. A couple of board members were scandalized. How could he date someone when he was still married. In discussing this a board member made the statement, “The divorce is not final until the government says its final.”
So I asked a question, “Lets say a couple comes to our church and they have lived together for a couple of years are we going to recognize them as married?” The man answered me, “No, they are living in sin.” I said, “Well the government says they’re married. When a couple live together for a period of one year they are considered common-law married by the government. Their assets would be separated equally as if they had been “married.” So answer me if a divorce can only be ended by the government don’t we then have to recognize a marriage started by the government?” The man had no answer because he didn’t see the hole in his argument. He viewed marriage as a legal contract with the authority of the government making it important. Even sadder, as leader in the church, he had no concern for their dating procedure, or even any thoughts on what proper Christian dating looked like. I think that we should have higher view of marriage than this in the church.
Primarily what the government is proposing with gay “marriage” is a legal contract. A way to protect the assets of both persons entering the contract. Something that should not concern or worry the church. It also allows some partners to receive medical benefits. Again something that should not concern the church. But here’s the problem this is also how Christians and the church are treating “marriage.” Just a contract that is increasingly being enacted for its out clause. As an example of our “high standard” of marriage and our views on the “sanctity” of marriage many studies suggest that Christian divorce rates are currently the same as non-Christians.
Secondly, as opposed to some I believe that we can and do legalize morality. For example, not murdering someone is a moral that has become legalized. Same with rape, thieving, and pedophilia. So the question is not one of legalizing morality, but often of whose morality. Even once that distinction is recognized another tangible problem is what aspects of our morality do we legalize and then further how do we police them?
For example, we may recognize that premarital sex is a problem in America leading to the spread of STDs, and a high rate of teen pregnancies and unwed mothers which are putting a stress on health care (this is a an issue for non-Christians too thats why they are giving out so many condoms). That’s a secular perspective, but as Christian ethicists we would also aver that premarital sex, especially with multiple partners, is not how we should behave as Christians. But can we legalize that? We recognize the stress on the health care system as civilians, we recognize the issue as Christians but do we try to make it illegal to have premarital sex? And if we do how do we police that? What is the penalty? It’s a complicated issue.
Thirdly, we believe in the separation of church and state. In a statement issued a day after the ruling, Americans United (AU), an organization that lobbies for the separation of church and state, praised the high court’s decision, while also making clear that churches would not be required, in the words of the court, to “change [their] religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples” [HERE]. No one is telling the church that they have to perform gay marriages in their buildings or amend their statements of faith under threat of state penalty.
Three problems before we can even discuss a solution:
- Christians misunderstand what a marriage is and often treat it with anything but sanctity. We treat it as a legal contract often as much as non-Christians do.
- We can and do legalize morality–this includes non-Christians–the problem is which aspects of our morality we legalize, and then how to police that decision.
- The church is not being told to perform gay marriages by the state
But should the church impose their morality on the state concerning the question of a legal agreement between two persons? I suggest that we don’t. But what should we do?
First, we should start taking marriage seriously among ourselves if we are going to tell other people what it is. There are gay couples that have stayed together longer than Christian couples. There are gay persons that have remained faithful to their partners while some Christian “leaders” have been adulterous. There are Christians that co-habitate rather than get married. Again, this is not about “right” or “wrong” just about the church first being honest about its practices.
Perhaps, we should use a different word for the union we enter into in a Christian sense: maybe Greek terms like gameo or diatheke; perhaps covenant. Something that clearly identifies in our language that what is going on in this church is not what is going on elsewhere.
Perhaps, the church gets very serious about how it instructs their young people on marriage and helps them through the dating process. Can we step away from the gnosticism so prevalent in our churches? Sex is “bad” don’t do it. Do we take our “beliefs” seriously enough to ensure healthy dating perceptions, relationship dynamics, and dating processes in our youth, young adults, and singles? Do we take marriage seriously enough to require Christian teenagers not be left alone for long periods of time unattended.
Do we take “marriage” seriously enough to demand that anyone that enters a covenant before God in our churches takes extensive marriage counseling and have proper Christian dating dynamics before we administer a sacred ceremony? Or do we just administer a legal proceeding so they can sign a contract (and receive the honorarium)?
Do we take “marriage” seriously enough to show people how to live Ephesians 5 and not just tell them to “believe” it’s true? Will we as Christians turn off HBO, CBS, FOX; close People and Maxim magazine; and STOP having our dating and marriage practices informed more by Hollywood than the Bible?
Could you imagine if we emerged from our fortresses of solitude into an ekklesia that actually invested in each others lives daily, and instructed our children in God’s Word and modeled what a covenant in marriage before God looked like? What if we actually were more concerned with reconciliation than being right in our churches, and learned to bring that to our marriages?
If we were those sort of married people we wouldn’t have to worry about the legal contracts the state was drawing up. Heck, we might even have a few people ask why our marriages are so different.
But then we might not be “right” so I’m not holding my breath that this would be something that many Christians would see as a viable alternative to picketing Congress or creating a Christian state (because that’s always worked out well ). We might even be able to raise up a godly generation. Typical modern evangelical neo-gnosticism: it is more important to have the right kind of beliefs about marriage than have the right kind of marriage by relying on God.
As G.K. Chesterton once wrote “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
This is a small part of a long conversation. I have not covered everything. There is much more to say. Just some first thoughts on a blog of some things I need to think through. I’m open to the possibility I may be mistaken on some points, but certainly the church must do something different and start taking marriage seriously.
And if you have something to say, remember nothing about “those gheys…”