Redefining Marriage?

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My father over at his blog posted a two-part series on gay marriage. It started as an initial post called “Redefining Marriage,” which proved controversial enough among his theological colleagues that he felt a need to post part 2 to clarify.

What follows is in reply to part 1.

Same-sex marriage is now a fact of life with state after state endorsing it as a bonafide marriage contract. This has brought me to reconsider the subject hopefully without prejudice and just a soupçon of bias. I have come to the conclusion in studying the, so-called, relevant scripture that God does not approve. But by the same Biblical message I cannot limit God’s grace in matters of the heart. [emphasis in original]

My take:

The theology of homosexual relationships is more complex than the most outspoken Christian theologians would indicate. We pull out proof-text after proof-text, but without taking into account the cultural context—or even the moral point—the biblical writers were speaking to. Sodom and Gomorrah may have been evil, but in this case the liberals happen to be right: they were violent and did not respect the rights and needs of the foreigner (both of which are important values which show up repeatedly in the Bible); homosexual lust was not the point of their crimes. In the first century Roman Empire, homosexual conduct largely served as a means for powerful men to play out perverted sexual fantasies at the expense of their subordinate underlings, in a social structure that even modern gay-rights activists would probably agree with Paul (in Romans 1) constituted “indecent acts.”

The fact is that the biblical writers simply didn’t encounter or speak to homosexual relationships of the sort we’re dealing with in our society.

That doesn’t put God’s seal of approval on modern homosexual relationships. It only means we can’t indiscriminately pull out proof-texts, mete out condemnation, and expect to get anywhere constructive.

On the other hand, we are all struggling. And if you bother to notice in the book of Romans, that was Paul’s point. “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things… Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (2:1,3). To paraphrase Paul: you who rail against sexual immorality, are you sexually immoral? “You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you'” (2:22-24).

This is something I think Christianity could learn from the Jews. (And that section of Romans does appear to have been written to Jews in Rome, and reflects Jewish values.) Each of us is on his own spiritual journey, and part of our job here on Earth is to make the earth a better place. That means, first and foremost, that we must humble ourselves to one another in order to obey the law of love, that we not neglect “the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23).

So, yeah, I think I agree with you, Dad.