Reading the Bible killed my faith. In time, I learned how to read the Bible in a way that wasn't anti-science, and doesn't make God out to be an inhuman monster.Read More
One of the most common questions I get from readers is, "How can we relate to the Bible today?" That will be a topic for a future post in my doubt series. In the meantime, we cover how people approach the Bible in episode 3 of The Liturgists Podcast. Dr. Peter Enns joined us for this discussion (he's the author of one of the books on my reading list).
If you get caught up on the literal vs metaphorical vs mythical ways people interpret the Bible, this episode is for you. It's in the Top 15 on iTunes Religion & Spirituality chart!
A night out for drinks and karaoke lead me to wonder about spirituality. What are the roles of science in faith in describing reality and helping us live out our lives?Read More
This is hard for me to write. I have a lot of gay friends, and I have even more conservative Christian friends. No matter what I say on this issue, I will confront the most basic identity of some of my friends. My most powerful instinct is to remain quiet.
You may ask, "Why say anything?" I speak out because I see suffering, and that suffering is unwarranted. I'm convicted that to remain silent would be a moral failure.
If you want to see why I don't think it's sinful to be gay, read this post. Even if you believe homosexual behavior is sin, I believe your argument is still poorly supported.
First, I'll talk about liberty. Next, I'll move onto purpose. Finally, I'll talk about consistency.
Although we are One Nation Under God, there can be no doubt that America represents an incredible diversity of religious beliefs. America may be more diverse than ever, and the unreligious now represent a full 20% of our population. Many of these various religions incorporate values and beliefs that directly contradict each other.
My conservative Christian friends believe that God has defined marriage as one man, and one woman based on their understanding of the Bible. On the other hand, some of my progressive Christian friends believe that interpretation isn't correct. Meanwhile, my secular friends don't believe the Bible has any inherent authority whatsoever.
Who's right? How do we prove it? Can we get all the groups I've listed, and many other unlisted ones to agree to a standard upon which a decision can be made?
I doubt it.
If we can't even decide on a standard to decide this issue, what hope do we have of coming to an agreement?
I'd say basically none.
Luckily, the people who had this whole American Experiment idea thought of this. America is a country who's framing documents are designed to restrict the powers of the government. Our Constitution is all about guaranteeing individual liberty. I once heard an American History professor say, "the right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins," to sum up the American idea of liberty.
In that context, we have to ask the question: In what way does the marriage of same sex persons affect anyone else's liberty? If gay marriage is legalized, straight marriage will not be outlawed. You can still hold the religious belief that gay marriage is immoral. You will not be forced to attend a gay wedding ceremony.
But, the liberty of gay Americans are affected by this lack of marriage rights. There are extraordinary legal benefits to marriage that extend beyond the tax code. Think about hospital visitation rights, or the transfer of estate assets following death. These are complex, liberty limiting issues for gay Americans today.
I've yet to see a solid secular argument against gay marriage based on the loss of anyone else's liberty. I love learning, and I would be happy to listen to any argument that extending marriage rights to same sex couples restricts the marriage liberty of heterosexual couples.
I've been told that the point of marriage is procreation, and that because same sex couples can't procreate, allowing them to marry undermines the institution of marriage. It's not a very strong argument for two reasons.
1. There are sterile heterosexual couples, and I'm not aware of any movement to restrict their marriage rights.
2. Homosexual couples can reproduce using the same strategies we offer infertile couples: surrogacy, donor sperm, adoption, and similar methods.
If procreation is the point, we have to concede that homosexual couples can reproduce as well as sterile heterosexual couples. Sterile couples have marriage rights today, and on that ground gay couples deserve the same right.
If we examine the issues that are a threat to the institution of marriage, the data is clear. Declining marriage rates among heterosexual couples has lead to a historic level of children born outside of marriages. Less heterosexual couples are getting married, and the ones that do are waiting later in life to do so. Marriages also end frequently as heterosexual marriages often suffer from infidelity and divorce. None of these issues shows any meaningful link to the right of gay Americans to marry. In fact, it seems that straight people are a significant threat to marriage today!
Some Americans hold that the Bible is the perfect, infallible Word of God. The right to the belief is legally protected, and should be. Religious liberty is essential to a healthy society.
In terms of imposing law, there's a problem if you claim Biblical authority. You don't apply scriptures consistently, and you don't even lobby for all scripture to be applied to secular society. Let's look at some examples, and the first one is specific to marriage.
Right after Jesus delivers his line about one woman and one man in the Gospel of Matthew, he's asked about divorce. He responds "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."
These words are reported as coming from Jesus himself. The language is far less ambiguous than New Testament mentions of homosexuality. Also, while ancient conceptions of sexual orientation were much different, marriage had similar themes in that day (admittedly romance didn't play much of a role).
I have to ask the question: if you oppose gay marriage, do you also oppose the rights of divorced people to remarry? This is the Word of God we're talking about, and adultery is listed with the same dire consequences as same sex activity in the Old Testament, and is listed right along side homosexuality in the New Testament.
If not, your position is inconsistent, and I have to ask you why you are letting one part of the Bible slip by while following another.
If you oppose remarraige, do the women in your church wear head coverings? If not, how do you get by those scriptures? Context? Audience? If context and audience liberate you from head coverings on women and/or permit remarriage, why can't those same tools be used to justify gay marriage?
Now, let's suppose you oppose gay marriage and you believe women should always wear a head covering in church. I bet you and I could talk and within 10 minutes I can show you a part of scripture you don't live up to, and that you will try to explain away with context. Also, why aren't you lobbying to have laws enacted that require all women to wear head coverings?
That would be silly. Of course.
Now let's switch things around. Let's say I start a religion because I believe God spoke to me. God told me that there are too many people, more than he intended, and he's calling on mankind to stop having children. Let's say I convince 200 million Americans to join my religion, and we vote in leaders who produce legislation that makes it a crime to have children in America. This religion is larger than all the sects of Christianity in America combined.
Would you be ok with that law?
Let's switch gears. I've heard some people say gay marriage can't be permitted because it would anger God, and he would destroy us in the same manner he destroyed Sodom in Genesis. Ezekiel 16 reads, "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."
Did you see that first part? Sodom was too rich and did too little for the poor. It's only after this point that the Bible mentions haughty attitudes and detestable behavior. Now, I have to ask, do you devote as much energy to the needs of poor Americans as you do lobbying against gay marriage rights? Again, this language is less ambiguous that the passages regarding homosexuality in the new testament.
If you oppose gay marriage rights, I can't see how your points hold up. If you reject it for religious reasons, how can you impose Biblical values on secular people? And why this issue, when so many other clear violations of Biblical standards are legal and accepted in modern societies?
If you oppose gay marriage based on procreation, what allowance do you make for sterile couples, and why?
If you oppose gay marriage because you fear God's wrath, why do you believe that this is the issue that will enrage God, when the treatment of the poor is a more discussed theme throughout the Bible?
For all these reasons, it's time to move forward and grant all persons the right to marry the individual of their choosing.
NOTE: I don't know why comments are posting. I don't have moderation enabled, and I can see your feedback in my admin panel. :(
My friend Bradley Grinnen has a blog focused on spiritual encouragement and inspiration. Bradley has a wonderful heart, and he's someone who has helped me unpack more than one thorny issue in my own life. He's the kind of friend everyone should have.
I did a guest post on his blog today about Jonah and how we relate to others. It's not as good as his stuff, but I hope it challenges you anyway (especially since I stole the content from my friend Cathi, who is much smarter than I am).