North Carolina voters approved an amendment yesterday that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and Barack Obama today announced he was in favor of gay marriage. So here we’ve got a nice political wedge issue in a big election year that really strikes me as mostly an attempt to stir up “the base” in the respective political parties.
I listened to some radio commentary on the subject today and have read a few articles and blogs here and there, and I have to make this confession:
I’ve never understood why this is such a huge issue… for either side.
On the one side… Are there really that many gay and lesbian people that are itching to get married? If so, why? Why do they feel like they need a state-sanctioned blessing of sorts on their relationships?
I really don’t mean this to be patronizing. It’s an honest question. Is the issue really all about equality – as if a marriage license and contract can legitimize them in a way that they don’t yet sense legitimacy? Or is there something deeper going on?
On the other side of the divide… does enacting a state (or federal) law against gay marriage really bring about some kind of meaningful victory in a culture war? Does that mean anything when the culture seems to largely accepts homosexuality? Does the Church really have a vested interest in what the state decides constitutes a marriage contract?
Again, I’m not trying to stir controversy – just asking honest questions.
Let me be clear about a couple of things. I believe that marriage, as defined in the Scripture, is a covenant relationship between one man and one woman, and that any kind of sexual relationship outside of that covenant is sinful. I think I have a high view of marriage that is derived from biblical authority.
So in raising these questions I’m not the kind of wishy-washy Christian who wants to compromise on biblical authority in the face of the rising tide of cultural objections. I am wondering about the wisdom of the Church becoming the vocal political epicenter of these political debates.
I know there’s a school of thought out there that views the church’s role in politics as part of its mandate to be “salt and light” in a society, and I guess to some extent that’s warranted (abortion comes to mind).
But do we really want to become known primarily as just another political activist group? Shouldn’t we be more than a voting block?
Let’s really think about this issue: Is this really a hill worth dying on? To be clear, I’m talking about how the state defines marriage, not how the church defines it, which I see as two very different matters (perhaps this is a key to what I’m thinking here).
How should we approach this issue?
I believe we need to see LGBT people as sinners in need of the Gospel (just like everyone else) rather than as political opposition out to destroy us. And that’s more a call for compassion than fear or anger, which too often characterize our response.
We can approach them with compassion without compromising biblical teaching. In fact, it seems to me that Jesus approached sinful people (“others”) with this kind of compassionate engagement, and obviously this happened without compromising biblical teaching. I’m not sure that political rallies and “get out the vote” campaigns are really anywhere near the core of a biblical agenda for this culture.
(And this is absolutely NOT a capitulation to the idea that “spiritual” beliefs have no business in the public arena. I reject that kind of false dichotomy wholeheartedly. This is more a question of the wisdom of approaching this issue this way).
I’m still thinking through this stuff so am open to engagement and dialogue. I know many will disagree. For what it’s worth, I’d prefer a system where marriage is left alone, but I don’t have a problem with the idea of a civil union where some of the legal rights of marriage (not all) are provided (I’m thinking here of things like hospital visitation, tax or probate-type issues, that sort of thing). Surely the Church would not have to acknowledge or participate in these kinds of civil contracts anymore than the Church participates in, say, “common law” marriage.
Let’s remember a key point we could easily miss:
Christian marriage can (and should) be held to a different, higher standard than state marriage contracts.
In that vein, I’d suggest that the passionate opposition to gay marriage is inconsistent with tacit acceptance of no-fault divorce… but I suppose that’s another subject for another time.
But I’m genuinely interested: What do you think?
Addendum: For further reading, here are two thought-provoking articles on each side of the issue:
Kevin DeYoung: Five Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage
Rachel Held Evans: How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation