If you’re found yourself on Facebook, Twitter, or any form of social media within the past few days, you might see quite a few rainbow flags hanging about, along with much talk of “love winning” or some such hashtag rallying cries. One side gloats over their arbitrarily enforced victory, while the side opposed wanted to take their ball home or act like a bunch of jerks about it. I include Christians and non-Christians alike in both categories, because there seems to be fundamental misunderstandings and brow-beating on both sides. So what are they?
1. Government legislation, Supreme Court rulings, or civil laws do not necessarily make something legitimate. I mean this in the theological sense as much as in the moral one. Passing a law to make something legal does just that – make something legal, from the point of a civil society. For a conservative Christian (I include Catholic and Protestant), it does not legitimize that act under the law, or somehow make it supersede thousands of years of tradition, Scripture, reason, and other sources of authority used for Biblical interpretation and Christian living.
This might be difficult for homosexual marriage advocates to understand, but you can recognize something as legal (abortion, just for example) while still recognizing it as a moral offense to the Creator God. Then again, there are a lot of those in the marriages legal before this particular kind! Christians (who do not confuse their God with the State, understand) see marriage as a theological concept, not as a state dictate. From the Garden of Eden onward, mankind has found many ways to break that promise between people with as many different living arrangements as they could find (or, in the king’s case, however many hundreds of wives). We recognize this reality of our holy texts, while also recognizing their actions as wrong no matter how much they sought to legitimize it (or even when God allowed it – clearly, the word “allow” tells you He wasn’t happy with it either).
2. On the other hand, the reasoning used to prohibit same-sex relationships and marriages simply does not exist with the clarity which people would like to claim in the Bible. Nearly every reference to it takes place in a idol-worshipping context, which has made many scholars bring this to light in the heated social debate. Of course, one could make the obvious association that the Apostle Paul saw all Roman sexual ethics as perverse (pederasty was a relic of Greek times, but still existed in his time frame for sure), or that Sodom/Gomorrah’s sins were many and not just hospitality, but it still requires interpretation.
Even so, Christians do not operate on an ethic of absence – that is, a lack of strong dictates on a particular subject does not make that subject ethically right. Just because idol worship and bestiality appear in the idolatry context does not suddenly mean that Fido and I will enjoy a long, happy marriage in the future (the Bible also issues no particulars on age of consent or willingness to marry, so chalk that one up in your theology too).
3. So really, everybody is on shaky ground in one way or another with this issue. There’s no hard and fast solution to it – we must work it out ourselves. However, for the purposes of the Church, we must wrangle with the confusion between government institutions and our own code of ethics. Same-sex couples will appear in your church, with kids no less! How will conservative Christian churches react? Do we send them away, as we have for decades (assuming no stoning or killing), or do we accept them? This will become a tumultuous time as the church seeks to work out the proper response in a society that clearly approves of something they do not.
4. Is the “love them” response sufficient? In some ways, we could say that Jesus represented this same ethic (since his primary beef lay with religious authorities rather than the typical sins of the day). On the other hand, Jesus also seems to presuppose a Genesis 1-2 understanding of sexual ethics, which is incredibly apparent when the Pharisees ask about…well, marriage!
3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said,“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”7 They *said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
If God thinks that about divorce…well, I hesitate to think what Jesus thinks about new versions of that same union. It is a literal spiritual union between two people of the opposite sex. I suppose that’s where evangelicals get the notion that sex outside of marriage is forbidden, and I tend to agree (if not for purely practical reasons, than theological ones). The ubiquitous nature of the “Bride of Christ” metaphor also leads many Christians to believe that, in a sort of typology, that marriage is the model to which to understand the Church.
And, thus, I think many churches will continue to see homosexuality as a sin, long after modern society decided otherwise (just look at the African Anglican communion, for example – they were shocked that the Anglican churches allowed gay priests or anything of the sort).
5. In the end, then I hesitate to say “Love Wins”, since Love already won by dying on a cross. At best, it represents a legal shift in the American political system (and, perhaps, a kowtowing to trends in popular culture). Not much has changed for anybody, unless you think a piece of paper was sufficient for different sex marriage as well.
But it does mean gay people are about to pay a lot more taxes than they did (which, in my cynical way, is why I believe it happened at all – along with the IRS’ new dictate on mandatory disclosures for any deposits on banks above $10,000 or pay a 50% penalty, that sounds a lot more frightening and real).