I hate controversy. Abraham Lincoln was quoted, "You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time." I hate that quote. I want to please all of the people all of the time.
So imagine my stress over Chick-Fil-A Day. I go to a Southern Baptist Church. I have relatives who work for FCA. I have many friends who work for Chick-Fil-A. Oh, and I also have dozens of gay friends. The battle lines have been drawn, and I find myself in No Man's Land between the two warring camps. I can only imagine what my Facebook will look like after I post this.
After all, posting tiny snippets of thought have garnered a lot of discussion and controversy already. So rather than leave my thoughts incomplete and out of context, I'm putting it all out there–my research on this topic of what it means to be Gay and how the Church should respond. I'm sure people on both sides of the issue will find a lot to disagree with below. I don't claim to be infallible, or to have some special revelation. I just want to answer a question that has been posed to me a lot in the last couple of weeks:
"How can you support gay marriage rights as a Christian?"
As a friend pointed out to me, I don't actually support gay rights at all. I support equal marriage rights for all people: I think any two consenting adults should be able to enter into a marriage, regardless of the genders involved. What I want is to apply rights equally to all people, an idea I think is consistent with the founding principles of this nation.
For the last month I have gone through my Facebook friends and Twitter followers one-by-one and prayed for them. I have asked God to make me a blessing to you. I have prayerfully considered how what I am about to write will affect you specifically and by name. Believe me when I say I didn't come to the decision to write this lightly.
I also apologize in advance for the length of this post. If I'm going to open myself up like this in defense of what I believe, the least I can do is give you ample detail into where my reasoning comes from so you have more information to break apart my argument. I'm not writing this for the Internet at large. I'm writing this for my friends, family, coworkers and church family.
Let's do this.
Framing The Debate
The intensity of this debate has surprised me. Where does all the anger come from? What is really at stake? Frankly, the rhetoric on both sides of the table gets muddled and the battlefield is ill-defined. Interestingly enough, the debate seems to have left the political arena in order to claim corporate marketing and communications as the primary venue. Oreo, JCPenny, Target and other companies have publicly affirmed gay rights in one way or another while Chick-Fil-A stands in support of traditional, Biblical marriage. As a result, many Americans are voting with their wallets and choosing not to do business with companies that take a view different than their own.
This is a good thing. It's a healthy expression of Free Speech for all parties involved, and this is how America works. That also means that this is not a free speech issue. No one is arguing these companies don't have a right to take a stance. No one is saying that people lack the right to respond in the public forum, or by boycotting.
If this is not an issue of free speech, then what are we debating? I think it's this simple.
- Gay people want the right to enter a consensual marriage with a person of their choosing, regardless of the genders involved.
- Defenders of Biblical marriage want the legal definition of marriage to be one man and one woman in alignment with their interpretation of scripture.
I hope most of us can agree at least that this is what the debate is about. In this context, the political solution seems simple: let marriage be a religious institution. Give churches the ability to grant marriages to whomever they please, and let government issue civil unions. It's a perfect compromise. It is fair, reasonable and makes everyone involved furious. :)
In Defense of Chick-Fil-A
I love Chick-Fil-A. The food is tasty, and they have healthier options than most restaurants that will hand you a bag of food via a window. I've never gotten poor service from a Chick-Fil-A. My kids love going somewhere with a playground. They're also closed on Sundays–and this means that all their employees have at least one day to spend as they please. I wish more companies did this. I don't think that the 24/7 obsession in America is healthy. Chick-Fil-A also gives a lot of food to the needy–an issue which is near to my heart.
Interestingly enough, a gay Chick-Fil-A employee contacted me after some of my comments on Facebook last week. He thanked me for supporting gay rights. I asked him what it was like to be a gay person working for Chick-FIl-A at this point, with August 1 coming like a freight train. He told me that he is treated with respect and compassion, and he always has been. He is openly gay. It seems that Chick-Fil-A was being sincere when they said, "The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."
To me, that means we misrepresent this company if we say they operate on a platform of hate or intolerance. I believe that Chick-Fil-A tries to contribute positively to society–they're just off the mark when it comes to equal marriage rights for all people.
One of the groups that raised the ire of gay rights advocates was the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Anyone who knows me also knows I am not an athlete. There may not be a person in America less interested in sports than I am. FCA, however, I know. My friends and family have been involved with FCA as long as I can remember, and a beloved uncle of mine works for the organization today.
FCA teaches athletes to live out their faith on a daily basis. FCA gets some of the biggest names in athletics to spend time with high school and college students. They talk about integrity. They talk about forgiveness and generosity. FCA even addresses the topic of bullying, which is a dire need today. In all the FCA events I have attended over the years, I've never heard a message about gay marriage–for or against.
FCA is another organization who stands for Biblical marriage, a topic we'll explore in depth in the next section. Part of that stance inevitably excludes gay people from marriage rights. If you are gay, or if you support gay rights, of course these reeks of oppression. I'm not defending that belief, but I do want to create a sense of empathy in you. FCA and organizations like it want to make the world a more loving, generous, charitable and kind place. Again, it is a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture that causes good people to veer away from standing for equal rights for all people.
The Gay Thing
Now we come to the meat of this discussion. How can I, a Christian raised in the Southern Baptist Church stand in full support of gay rights? How can I support gay marriage? How can I say that gay people stand equal in the eyes of God? My stand comes from research into a few areas: my personal experience talking with gay friends, the biology of gender and sexual attraction, an examination of scripture, and church tradition.
I have a lot of gay friends. As a high-schooler I loved it whenever I found out a male friend was gay. After all, a gay man is very unlikely to ask a girl out, leaving one more girl who may be desperate enough to accept my advances. My approval of gay men was purely practical. As a Christian, I fully believed that their lifestyle was sinful. Of course, I also believed my lifestyle was sinful. I was sexually active in high school–something that left me in a never ending cycle of guilt, repentance and abandonment of my moral code.
For as long as my body told me there was something called attraction, the female form amazed me. The way girls walked, moved, smelled, talked, laughed, ate, and did pretty much everything fascinated me. They were so graceful, so elegant. They were everything we boys were not. And if a girl touched you, woah! A friendly touch on your arm was like being electrocuted with the most wonderful energy imaginable.
This attraction was inextricable from romantic interest for me. One could not exist without the other. My life has been so blessed that eventually I found one woman who was more interesting than all the rest. Her form was better, her laugh more enchanting. I married her before she could realize the mistake of loving me back. It is through this relationship I have learned the most about God's love. I've learned what it means to love someone more than myself. I've learned what it's like to be part of creating life by having children. I've learned what it means to be a provider and a protector. I saw that it was good. My marriage lasts because I married the greatest woman on Earth. No other comes close. Genesis nailed it.
So imagine how I felt one day when a gay friend asked me when I chose to be straight.
What? Never! I've always known girls were what I was into. I've never felt any sexual attraction to another man. Guys never had the cooties, and they never became really interesting when they lost them. My relationship to other men has been consistent. We are friends and nothing more.
And then he told me that he'd never been attracted to girls. He told me he was raised Baptist and as soon as he realized what was happening he panicked. He fought to suppress his attraction to men. He did not want to be an abomination. He wanted to get married, have kids and be like everyone else in his community. He dated girls. He got married and he couldn't get an erection with his wife. He prayed to God asking for help. He read the Bible. After 18 months of misery he divorced his wife, and he talked to his pastor. He was told he was an abomination in the eyes of God. His parents told him that if he couldn't "get right" they would disown him. They did.
He became a practicing homosexual and left the church. He told me that if being gay was a choice, it is never something he would have chosen. Who would choose to be ostracized by their family and community? Who would choose a life of spiritual exile?
Here is a man who tried to do it the Biblical way. Here is a man who made a profession of faith when he was 11. Here is a man who prayed and studied the Bible. What would you say to him? Would you tell him that he just needs to get right? Would you tell him some passage of scripture he's already read? Would you tell him it's not a sin to be gay and it's only a sin if you practice? Would you tell him he's called to be celibate?
I can't. Not when so much of God's teaching in my life has involved romantic love. Not when the reason I am in church today is because a sweet little Baptist girl told me the only way we could date is if I was in church.
There are countless testimonies like the one above. I have personally heard dozens. So often we equate homosexuality with promiscuity, and we miss the mark. There are a lot of gay people that just want to be a part of a church and have a life-long monogamous relationship. We tell them they can't.
Our argument comes down to how people are made by God and our interpretation of scripture. So let's look at those.
The Biology of Gender and Attraction
Are gay people born that way? Is it nature? Or are these people choosing to deny God and live in sin willfully? Let's consider some scientific data.
Gender is an interesting construct. We think of two genders, male and female. In the animal kingdom it isn't so simple. There are asexual animals. There are animals which are both genders simultaneously. There are even animals that spontaneously change gender. As Christians, we believe that all these animals were made by God, and already we see that our conception of gender is oversimplified.
You may rightly point out that a lot of this gender ambiguity is the more primitive classes. You'd be right. But even among vertebrates gender can change. Many species of frog can change their gender if no mates can be found. All clownfish are born male, and it is the most dominant male who turns into a female to allow breeding.
It's also cited that homosexuality is unnatural, and therefore an abomination against God. Unfortunately, homosexual behavior is readily observed in the animal kingdom. Even mammals engage in homosexual behavior as part of dominance rituals, conflict resolution and group bonding. An especially ironic case is roosters–if Chick-Fil-A is really against gay behavior they have picked the wrong entree!
Humans are a special animal. We alone build cities with art and culture. We're the only animal on Earth advanced enough to have written language, and with that holy scriptures. So what of gender in humans?
Humans are without gender for the first 6 to 7 weeks after conception. We have the genetic potential for gender in the form of our chromosomes. Potential males start out with an XY combination and potential females start out with an XX combination. Around 7 weeks sexual dimorphism begins. Human fetuses develop into females unless critical interactions between DNA, hormones and base tissues happen at the right times. If these interactions occur, the tissues that would have been ovaries form instead into testicles. Labia now form as a scrotum. What would have been a clitoris grows instead into a penis. And a baby boy is born! Most of the time. Sometimes though, this genetic potential doesn't make it to a clear gender. Sometimes the penis didn't get enough male influence and it stays near the size of a clitoris. Now you have a male with micropenis. Other times, the female clitoris is very large and penis-like. Sometimes you have micropenis and internal testicles. In earlier decades this meant doctors and parents had to guess a child's gender. They often chose wrong, and raised a child with the opposite gender of what the child eventually came to identify with. You can imagine the trauma and hurt when these children reached puberty and they were attracted to their "own" gender. Likewise, sometimes there are boys who have XX chromosomes and girls who have XY, and once their secondary sex traits begin to form (or not form) in puberty and adolescence confusion and frustration abound. And don't forget about XXY females, who make up a disproportionate part of the female prison population.
So tell me: is a male with XX chromosomes and who is attracted to XX females a lesbian? Or a straight man?
Is a male with two XX chromosomes and who is attracted to XY males gay? Or is he a straight female?
What about someone whose external genitals are ambiguous? What about someone who has testicles and a vagina? Who exactly should they be attracted to?
What about boys who have normal penises, but never grow male secondary sex characteristics? What about boys who naturally grow breasts?
What about the fact that when you study the brain reaction of gay men, straight men, gay women and straight women to sweat you find that straight women and gay men respond the same way to male sweat without knowing the gender of the persons sweat they are smelling? Is that choice? What about the fact that many structures in the brains of gay men are shaped and proportioned like those of straight females? Is that choice?
I don't know about you, but the fact that all these things exist in America today leads me to a lot of questions about how we relate to sexuality. It also gives me a lot of questions about God, who I believe to be the author of biology, gender and sexual attraction.
If like me these issues can confuse you, and you are a Christian you will turn to once place for answers. The Bible.
The Bible and Sex
Have you seen the video where a young, gay Christian named Matthew Vines makes a Biblical case for homosexuality? Following the link in the previous sentence has the video and a transcript and I highly recommend watching or reading his argument completely. Here is a young man who is gay, but also a virgin. By his own actions he remains within the realm of orthodox behavior-he has never had gay sex, or premarital sex. By that standard, his behavior is better than the average Christian! Mr. Vines uses scripture to examine scripture and comes up with the conclusion that the Bible does not condemn committed, monogamous homosexuality.
You may disagree, but you can't deny that he hasn't shown his work. The basis of his argument is primarilt Biblical, with some support from historical context and word study. In other words, he uses the same tools to reach his position as orthodox Christians use to reach theirs. Here is a young man who knows the Bible, and cares deeply that he follows its teachings.
What do you do with that?
Some people say that we just need to trust the whole Bible and not pick parts of it. Yet the Bible does tell us that scripture sharpens scripture. We also have to ask which Bible? There is considerable spread amongst the translations available in English-after all it is not possible to translate one language to another perfectly. So do we stick to just one translation? Well, then which version? Until 1946, even the King James Bible didn't use the term homosexuality so frequently. Bible translations change as orthodox Biblical scholars do their best to wrestle Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic into modern languages and vastly different cultural contexts.
The fact of the matter is that two people can prayerfully read scripture and draw opposite conclusions from its teachings. That's why we have so many denominations, and rifts within those denominations.
Others will say that Mr. Vines uses the wrong exegesis when exploring Biblical terms. But how do they know which exegesis is correct? All these writings are human interpretations right? That means any of them can be fallible. In fact, by even picking an exegesis you add your own interpretation to scripture!
Many of my friends say we must rely on scripture alone, and that our thoughts, feelings and other factors must be eliminated. But what does that even mean? In the very act of reading scripture you interpret it with your own thoughts, otherwise how do the words have any meaning? Aren't you recalling the definitions of the word in a passage of scripture as you learned them? Also, we are told that the scripture makes sense to us because the Spirit of God is within us. Doesn't the Spirit become active in our hearts and minds? Isn't that how we understand scripture? We may say that the Holy Word represents objectivity from God, but we can only experience it subjectively. We aren't objective beings.
The fact remains that Godly, devout and learned people end up with opposite takes on this issue. The Bible directly addresses homosexuality 6 times. As people of Christ it seems to me that our passions should be directed by His teachings. The New Testament is thematically about following God by loving others selflessly. It speaks frequently about the oppression of the poor, and our role to help them. It talks about the evils of materialism. Where is our outrage over poverty? Why isn't my news feed full of brokenheartedness about those in need? If we are really seeking to follow all of Scripture, why aren't we?
If the argument of Matthew Vines is not conclusive to you, can you at least understand that some Christians use scripture to arrive at their viewpoint? Can you see that this view will become more common in the Church, and we may need to find a way to work together to the common goal of making Christ known?
If not, I need to ask you about some other beliefs based on scripture.
The Church and Marriage
Mainline churches today accept a marriage lifestyle that was condemned by Christ. Let's look at Matthew 5:32, "But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery." Wow, ok. What about Matthew 19:9? It reads "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
There we have it in Biblical black and white that anyone who remarries commits adultery. They choose to live in an ongoing state of sin. Some of the same verses that condemn homosexuality in the new testament also speak of adulterers. So what of all the Evangelical Christians who have gotten a divorce and married someone else? Those people are Sunday School teachers, choir members, Deacons, Elders and leaders in churches across America today. On what grounds do we accept them and condemn homosexuals? Any Biblical argument that argues for grace and their inclusion would apply equally to gay people.
So what do we do? Do we condemn remarried people as living in sin? I mean let's be clear by what we say when we talk about Biblical marriage. The Bible has countless examples of Godly men who were polygamists. In the Old Testament, Biblical marriage was one man, some wives and as many concubines and slaves as he could afford. Marriages were arranged, and men had a scriptural obligation to take on the wife or wives of his brother should that brother pass away. That's not one man, one woman. Today we (rightly) find polygamy and human ownership to be morally repulsive. Our scriptural morality has matured.
Less than a generation ago, interracial marriage was likewise taboo in the American church, and Old Testament verses were used to defend it. Today, we don't support that teaching, and we accept couples of mixed races.
For that matter, the New Testament allows slavery and we view slavery as one of the Great Evils. If we say our morality is driven by scripture alone, we are either lying or we don't read all of scripture very often.
Let us also realize that someone fighting for gay marriage rights does not threaten traditional marriage. No one is trying to ban heterosexual marriage. If you are really passionate about traditional marriage and that which threatens it, consider that conservative Christians in the southeastern USA divorce at twice the rate of atheists in the northeast. The threat to marriage and the family today is not gay marriage. It is heterosexual affairs and divorce. We preach about the sanctity of marriage, but our actions reveal our true inclinations. As a straight person, how much easier is it to shout about another sin than it is to do the real work of being a devoted spouse?
Ive edited this piece down as much as I can. I've covered less than half the points in my outline, but I'm afraid I have already exceeded what most people will read. So what would I have you take from these ramblings?
- If you are gay, there are Christians who love you and accept you exactly as you are. I am one of them.
- This is not a free speech issue. Both sides of this debate are properly executing their first amendment rights.
- Support for homosexual relationships and equality is not leaving our churches. It's growing.
- Gender and attraction are more complex than we usually consider.
- The Biblical position is less cut-and-dry than either side will admit.
- If you are a Christian who supports gay rights, now is the time for you to step out and stand up for what you believe too. Not to condemn your fellow church people, but to affirm gay children of God.
- Allowing gay people to marry does not hamper marriage. Heterosexual Christians can still get married.
- The real danger facing marriage is high rates of marital affairs and divorce. If we really stand for marriage these issues should be more more pressing to us.
I may not be able to convince you to believe as I believe. I hope I can convince you to respond to your fellow man, and indeed your fellow Christians in a way that is full of the grace and mercy that you have received from Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
If you are a Christian who stands against gay marriage, there are hundreds of people you know personally who will support you, love you and affirm you. Gay Christians, and indeed gay non-Christians have no such community.
I, for one, stand with them.