This post is part two of my thoughts regarding the recent Supreme Court decision to allow gay couples the right to marry. In part one I shared my thoughts on the legal (logical and non-religious) aspects of marriage equality. In this post I’ll walk through the theological minefield of same gender relationships. As always I share my ponderings as an individual. My denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has released several teaching documents and statements related to human sexuality which I invite you to research. The views expressed here are entirely my own. That being said:
As a Christian, I support the decision of the court.
However, I truly respect the beliefs of those who view same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s Will (although I disagree). I respect those beliefs as long as they aren’t part of a larger conspiracy of hate and bigotry and religious persecution complexes that are bordering on hysteria. I have NO patience for this kind of panic and fear/hate mongering. There are those screaming that because the country is allowing consenting adults of the same gender to marry one another, our country is going to hell. What I want to know is why THIS is the thing that’s pushing God over the edge? Why not slavery and the MURDER of unknown numbers of African people forcibly brought here and USED and disposed of when they were no longer useful? Why not the MASSACRE of unknown numbers of Native Americans when we STOLE their land, calling it our “destiny,” corralling them on reservations and making their lives a living hell? Why marriage and not these horrors perpetrated knowingly and with malice toward others? A God that would overlook such atrocities but strike us down over the legal union of loving consenting adults is to me the very definition of theological lunacy. If that sounds harsh, well, yes. Gay marriage pales in comparison to a LOT of really sinister things we’ve done, and are continuing to do, in this country. We need to keep things in perspective.
My support of same sex relationships, comes not from simply reading the Bible – but HOW I read the Bible – and this is the primary focus of this post, NOT individual texts. I am not a literalist. Indeed, I think no one truly can be, because even those who purport to take the Bible literally end up weighing certain passages as more important than others. My Church of Christ grandmother was adamant in her church’s belief that since the New Testament made no mention of musical instruments in worship – that there should be NO musical instruments in worship. All music is “a cappella.” Now, there are plenty of mentions in the Old Testament of musical instruments in worship – so Church of Christ people (God love them) are making an interpretation that New is more important than Old. Most Christians aren’t kosher. Most Christians don’t celebrate Passover, which God declared to be a “perpetual” ordinance. I don’t know ANY Christians in this day and age who think slavery is a good thing, although it was common and even blessed in both the Old AND New Testaments. Indeed both the supporters of slavery AND abolitionists used Scripture to support their beliefs. A few words from Paul about women has kept us out of leadership positions for EVER, and yet we have examples of Deborah the judge, Anna the prophet who blessed baby Jesus, Mary who was told by the risen Christ to announce the resurrection to the poor men who were hiding, and others who clearly held positions of leadership. It’s impossible to follow the Bible without making decisions about differing passages. THAT is interpretation, whether we like it or not.
Granted, it is a hard thing for us to read and love Scripture, and yet ponder and pray and discuss and debate and sometimes fight over meanings. Which passages should be laws for ALL time (thou shall not murder), and which ones were meant to guide specific groups in a specific time and place (women should keep their heads covered)? It is hard work.
- It is easy to look at a passage that seems to speak against homosexuality, and say “YES. It’s an abomination It can NEVER be ok!”
- It is hard to look at that same passage and ask, “Well, what was the writer really talking about? Were they talking about consenting adults or something more sinister?”
- It’s easy to read a passage that says men can’t “spill seed,” and say “YES. This is why men can’t have sex with men and why masturbation is evil.”
- It’s hard to ask, “Well, WHY?”
It is easy to take Scripture at its face value. But in the end, that view doesn’t really respect the beauty and history and the blood, sweat and tears of the Bible and the story of the faith within it. I would argue that wrestling with the history and context, and the arduous task of weighing the “perpetual” versus the “temporary” is the more respectful way to approach our beloved document of faith. Martin Luther once said that the Bible was the cradle in which we find Christ. The Bible is NOT Christ. Truly truly I tell you, I love the Bible, but it is not the Bible that saves me. That honor belongs to Christ alone. I do not worship the Bible. I worship Jesus Christ, my lord and savior.
There are two main reasons for the biblical prohibitions against homosexuality. I warn you, it’s a bit graphic. If you’d rather not, then skip the next two sections…
NUMBER ONE – The survival of the race was of paramount importance. The whole purpose of marriage was to have LOTS OF BABIES. This is understandable. The nation was constantly at risk from war and disease (including infant mortality and maternal death). Lots of babies also included LOTS OF WIVES to have the lots of babies. The idea of a relationship (even between a man and a woman – husband and wife) that DIDN’T include procreation was anathema – hence women lending out their slaves to their husbands to have babies for them if they were “barren” (how nice – sanctioned RAPE so the man could have an heir). The idea of marriage for procreation still exists in some ultra-orthodox Jewish circles. I recently saw a movie about a woman who killed herself because she was childless after years of marriage. Her husband loved her and wouldn’t divorce her despite intense family pressure to do so (because marriage ≠ love, marriage = procreation), so killing herself FREED him to remarry and have children. There was no guarantee of that however, because they couldn’t discover the reason for their infertility due to the biblical prohibition against “spilling seed” (wasting sperm) – the other major biblical argument against homosexuality.
NUMBER TWO – Biblical biological knowledge was just plain WRONG. WRONG. According to the Bible, or I should say, “biblical thought,” the whole baby was contained in the sperm, and the woman’s womb was just the soil in which the seed was planted. Our biblical ancestors knew nothing of eggs and conception. So, spilling seed was killing babies. Any man ejaculating babies into anything else besides a woman’s “soil” was killing those babies, which completely went against rule number one – to perpetuate the species. We know now that’s not true. Spilling seed doesn’t kill babies. That poor woman in the movie above KILLED HERSELF, when perhaps their whole problem was with her husband’s fertility – but he wouldn’t get tested because he could not “spill seed” into a cup to have his sperm count analyzed (even for medical purposes).
After the hard work of respecting and loving and digging deeply into Scripture, what I am left with is this: Biblical prohibitions against same-sex relationships have absolutely nothing to do with who it’s acceptable to love, and everything to do with the importance of procreation. Given the world we inhabit today, I believe that while the biblical injunctions against homosexuality may have been of primary importance for the people of that time and place – they are NOT for people of this time and place. I am not the only one who has come to these conclusions. And I did not simply accept the words of others – this issue has been important to me and an object of study for YEARS. I hope this time and wrestling is seen as a sign of my deep love and respect for Scripture, and not as some would argue “just tossing OUT Scripture.” Ultimately, however, I have no control over what others think of these conclusions or of me – but that’s okay, I sleep well.
So as a Christian, I support the decision of the court. Again, I respect those who disagree. We can still hold hands and pray and sing and even worship together, as long as that respect remains on both our parts. It can and does work, I promise you. And if you can’t make space in your heart for respect and love of neighbor, if you can’t see your way to hold hands and pray and sing and worship with me because of this, then I will pray FOR you.
I realize as I finish that I haven’t made space to discuss how I will practically deal with this as a pastor. Just quickly – at least for now it isn’t an issue in my congregation since my folks are well past the marrying years. I haven’t officiated a wedding in YEARS. However, if asked, I WILL cross that bridge – but that’s another post…