Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why Christians Should Back Down on Gay Marriage

...confronting a couple of big flaws in the vehement Conservative Christian opposition.

Independence Day is tomorrow, and our country celebrates freedom from tyrannical rule.  Yet there are some who would prefer to enforce tyrannical rule on others.  There are some who seemingly cannot accept the possibility that their perception of things is not the only "right" way.  I am thinking here of those Conservative Christian spokespeople who still argue with great passion against the legalization of gay marriage.  While I am a straight, married man, at various times my wife and I have both worked closely with people who are homosexual, and some of our closest friends are gay.  Some of these individuals have more solid monogamous relationships than some heterosexual couples we know.  It seems at first glance that the issue doesn't really affect me directly, but it also seems incongruous to celebrate historical freedom while ignoring current inequalities.

I don't actually think anyone needs to defend gay marriage.  When people open their eyes and see homosexual couples in the light of truth, I trust that they will find nothing more than people with all the same relationship joys and sorrows as heterosexual couples.  The problem is that ignorance and volatile rhetoric can stand in the way of seeing all people with equal honesty.  As far as I can tell, the Conservative Christian argument against gay marriage is based on two ideas.  The first is that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and the second is that homosexuality is in and of itself sinful.  These somewhat dishonest premises deserve a closer look before anyone uses them to judge a group of human beings.

There is no biblical absolute regarding "one-man, one-woman" marriage.  There may be a legal precedent in this regard, but legal definitions of things are revised as a society evolves.  Basing a concept of what relationships should look like on a culture thousands of years and thousands of miles away seems ludicrous to begin with, but a little reading reveals that the modern Christian idea of marriage is not really a scriptural concept.  At best, it's an interpretation based on cultural norms.

Sure, at the very beginning of the Bible, Adam and Eve are touted as the first people in the book of Genesis.  Then, we cover five generations in a single sentence just a few chapters later, and we read that Lamech (Adam's great-great-great-great grandson) married two women.  It isn't judged as to its morality, it is simply a statement of fact.  Lamech doesn't face any particular hardship or punishment because of this polygamy.  A little further along in Genesis, Abraham's wife, Sarai, suggests that he sleep with her handmaiden, as if there's nothing morally problematic about it.  From there on, there is matter-of-fact discussion of men taking multiple wives and concubines throughout the Old Testament.  The children of concubines are considered legitimate heirs, and these women are treated as members of the household.

In fact, the Bible instructs that when a man takes a second wife, he is still obligated to clothe and feed his first one (Exodus 21:10).  Gideon, a righteous man who brought 40 years of peace to Israel, had many wives (Judges 8:30), and Solomon, considered to be the wisest man in the Old Testament, had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:2-3).  All of this is before Jesus, though, so it's understandable that Christians would discount the premise of the first two-thirds of a holy book in favor of a concept of marriage proclaimed in the New Testament.  Except that there is nothing in the New Testament proclaiming that marriage must be between one man and one woman either.

Jesus tells a parable about seven virgins who are waiting on a bridegroom, suggesting that a one-man, seven-women marriage was not an unthinkable idea.  Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy that an "overseer" in the church should be (among other things) the husband of but one wife, which implies that there are other reasonable possibilities.  Nearly everything that Christians interpret about one-man, one-woman marriage is external to the actual Bible and then interpreted back into their holy scriptures.

I understand that just because the Bible contains information about something, this does not imply approval.  The challenges and pitfalls of having multiple wives are clearly indicated, just as the challenges and pitfalls of many other situations are illuminated.  Adultery, which would presumably be sexual relations outside of the approved household, is frequently discussed as a sin, but sexual relations within a marriage relationship are never condemned, no matter how many wives one has.  Adultery is actually deemed wrong in one sense because it is equivalent to theft, stealing another man's property (wife).

There is a blatant bias in this discussion, in that a man can have multiple wives (with all of the joy and hardship it may bring), but a woman cannot have multiple husbands.  Culturally, women were not deemed full-fledged people when these scriptures were written, so it's difficult to see how any commentary about marriage between two equal human beings can be entirely based on biblical writings.  It must be accepted that some amount of adjustment and updating is required because our culture is different from the culture of ancient people.  Otherwise, any discussion of marriage based on Christian scripture should assume the reasonableness of polygamy and the status of women as valuable property.  So how does one pick and choose what to update and what to let stand as it is written?  The one-man, one-woman definition of marriage does not hold up to scrutiny as a biblical basis for denying homosexuals the right to marry.


Claiming that homosexuality is sinful also doesn't hold water as a legal argument, since the distinction between absolute legal issues and subjective moral matters is at the heart of the separation of church and state.  Using assumed sinfulness is a bit of a cowardly approach to begin with, since the Christian stance is that everyone is sinful in some way and cannot be otherwise.  According to the actual scriptures, no human being can live a perfect life free of sin, but it makes sense for church leaders seeking power or popularity to pick and choose which sins get the most attention.  I have never heard of protesters picketing public ceremonies with signs reading: GOD HATES THE HEARTLESS or GOD HATES GOSSIPS.

Based on the idea that homosexuals should be denied legal equality because they are sinful, there are a lot of other groups to whom we should deny rights.  Since Jesus never actually spoke against homosexuality, Christians have to use the words of the apostle Paul, who mentioned it in two of his 13 letters which made it into the Bible.  In Paul's letter to the Romans, just after he mentions men "committing indecent acts" with other men, Paul includes among the sinful greedy people, envious people, people who cause strife, deceitful people, arrogant people, people who spread gossip, boastful people, heartless people, ruthless people, and more.  If we took to heart the assumption that we should exclude rights to all those who sin by the standards of the Christian Bible, we would not be able to justify a free society on any level.  Capitalism is, at its very core, sinful by these standards.  And people who are allowed to arrogantly proclaim that they know what God wants have already condemned themselves.

If we just measure by the seven "deadly" sins of greed, envy, gluttony, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath, it would seem that homosexuals who desire a monogamous marriage relationship are not committing a sin.  People of any sexual persuasion who desire intimacy outside of marriage could be considered lustful, and there are plenty of Conservative Christians who get caught with their proverbial and literal pants down.  Actually, for a religion with a primary mandate to love, the Christian church manages to spew an incredible amount of judgment and hatred, which seems pretty close to pride and wrath from where I'm sitting.

Like everyone else in America, Christians are entitled to their opinions, but that doesn't mean that their opinions should form the foundation of national law, especially when their opinions are based on the flimsiest of premises.  There is no clear "one-man, one-woman" definition of marriage in the Bible, and although homosexual behavior (outside of marriage) is considered sinful by one New Testament writer, so are a multitude of other behaviors practiced by Christians day in and day out.  It is utterly senseless (another sin Paul lists in the first chapter of Romans) to allow for cultural interpretation in the matter of biblical polygamy and to stringently cling to a scriptural condemnation of homosexual relationships.

I find it hard to believe that I am the first person to point out these inconsistencies.  Maybe all of this has been said by others, in which case I am happy to add my words in support.  As a member of the arts community, I operate in close contact with gay people, straight people, and people who don't share that kind of information with me.  They are all people, and I cannot see any rational reason that any of them should have more or less rights than anyone else.  Especially in a country which celebrates freedom from tyranny.

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic argument, but might I add...

    From a constitutional standpoint, I find it incredibly hypocritical for the Church to expect First Amendment protection without honoring the protections it offers to those outside the church to not have a goverment that takes orders from religious leaders on policy and legislation (like in England...which was one of the major forces behind the founding of America).

    And also...denying legal privilages to one specific minority group based on the majority's assumption of it's own superiority is kind of the whole reason behind the 13th and 14th Amendments.

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  2. Yes, there are certainly numerous legal arguments in favor of gay marriage, which is why some states have started to set aside the hypocritical and fear-based objections of the church. Some people have their own view of history, though, and your point about religion and politics in England may be completely lost on them. I do appreciate the constitutional perspective.

    Ultimately, I believe that the more rational and sensible voices will prevail on this issue, and I am hopeful that some people will take the opportunity to examine their own hearts in the process.

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