Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gay marriage and all that

This post is going to be fairly in-depth, but I'd ask everyone to please read all of it before commenting. Also please stick by the rules of debating - play the ball not the man, be sure to rebut your opponent's points rather than just putting your own, and remain calm and respectful at all times. Thank you.

I'm going to take this matter in several stages - first homosexuality in general, and then the question of gay marriage.

1. Is homosexuality Biblical?
I am (as most of you know) a fairly right-wing conservative Christian. That makes me accountable to God and His rules of life, as found in the Bible, for everything I do and believe in. So I'm going to start with an examination of the Bible to see exactly what it says about this whole topic.

It's fairly clear that the Old Testament frowns on homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 describes homosexuality as "detestable" - a stronger word than that used to describe any of the other taboos except for bestiality. It's the same word as is used to describe Molech, the Canaanite deity who required parents to sacrifice their children by burning them alive on his image.

As well, a culture of homosexuality is used as an example of the depravity of Sodom (Genesis 19) and Gibeah (Judges 19) - obviously, the original readers of those books understood homosexuality to be completely off limits.

Does that still apply today? It's true that Jesus never condemned homosexuality, and that much of the Law of Moses is no longer applicable today. Is homosexuality now as acceptable as eating bacon? Let's take those points one by one.

Jesus never bothered to address homosexuality as it was not a problem in the culture He was ministering to. They were Jews, they had the Law of Moses. There were other things Jesus never condemned - incest, possession of a wild bull, witchcraft, disrespect for the elderly, etc. That's why we have the rest of the New Testament - to apply Jesus' teachings to other cultures.

And that brings me to Paul's letters. For those that say Paul's opinion doesn't matter and that we should only go by Jesus' own teachings, we have an endorsement by Peter (Jesus' right-hand man) in 2 Peter 3:15-16. Peter refers to Paul's writings as Scriptures - the same word used of the books we now know as the Old Testament, which Peter and his readers held in the highest regard as God's own word. So Paul's teaching on sexuality should be the same to us as Jesus' own.

Does Paul allow homosexual relationships within the church? After all, in Galatians 3:28 he says "... you are all one in Jesus Christ" after telling us there is no difference between male and female. Does that mean the distinctions in sexual relationships are nullified?

No. In Romans 1:26-27 he describes homosexual relationships as "shameful", "unnatural", "indecent" and a "perversion".

But what about the other apostles? Did they agree?

Yes. In Acts 15 the early church had a major doctrinal crisis on its hands. It was making the transition from a largely Jewish population who were accustomed to following the Law of Moses in its entirety, to including non-Jews. Peter pointed out that following the whole law is impossible and that our salvation comes from Jesus' work on the cross. James agreed and gave Scriptural backing for it. Together the apostles, speaking with the aid of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised (John 14:26), settled on four things (or three, as two were closely related) from the whole Law of Moses which summed up the universal moral law, as distinct from the ceremonial law which only applied to the Jews. One of those things was sexual immorality. They didn't need to define it, as the whole Law of Moses was already being taught in the churches. Thus it was perfectly clear to the early church that homosexuality was not to be practised.

Does this still apply today?

Yes. In Revelation 9:21, at the end of a description of a future event where those who rebel against God will be subject to torture by locusts with a scorpion-like sting, sexual immorality is listed as one of the forms of that rebellion. It's quite clear that God calls people of all ages and cultures to obey His laws in the area of sexuality.

2. So what does that mean for us today?
I'm going to widen the debate somewhat. I've shown that homosexuality is against God's law; to what extent should the church enforce God's law on the nation?

As Christians we understand that God is benevolent and, as the original engineer who designed the world and the human race, knows what's good for us. After all, "Righteousness exalts a nation" (Proverbs 14:34) and "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 33:12). But does that mean we should force God's laws onto people who don't want them?

I'd like to draw a parallel between this Godliness at a national level and our salvation at a personal level. God knows that it's better for us to go to heaven than hell. But does he force us to be saved? No. The offer is good for anyone, but it only applies to people that accept it out of their own free will. That's where the various monarchs and archbishops in the middle ages went wrong - they thought forcing people to join the church was the right thing to do. It's not. People everywhere are invited by God to come and accept the free gift of salvation. We have the responsibility to tell them plainly the advantages of doing so, but we have to let them go their own way if they prefer to.

And it's the same in the area of sexuality. The church has the responsibility to tell the government and the general public that homosexuality is against God's way and is therefore harmful, but it has to allow people to make their own decision once that's done. Paul says it clearly in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13: "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside."

But notice what it says there about those inside the church. This agrees with Jesus' own teaching in Matthew 18:15-17 - anyone who calls themselves a Christian is to be accountable to the authority of the church, and if they are acting contrary to God's law and refuse to repent, they are to be expelled from the church and we are to break our association with them.

Does that make the church harsh and unloving? No. In his later letter Paul tells the Corinthian church to forgive the former member who had in the intervening time repented of his sin (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). This also shows that what seems at first to be "intolerant" is in fact the most loving course of action possible, using the true meaning of love, which is an action in the overall best interests of the person. The excommunication alerted the person in question to his sin and brought him to repentance. He was then restored to fellowship and his position was better than it had been before. This is God's pattern for us to follow in the matter of sin within the church - any sin, including homosexuality.

3. How does this apply to the gay marriage debate?
Gay marriage is never specifically forbidden in the Bible - although as we have seen homosexuality is forbidden which makes it pretty clear that gay marriage is out of the question by default. But as we have seen, we are only to enforce this within the church - outside the church we can educate and inform but we must leave people to make up their minds freely.

So when our governments are debating whether or not to legalise gay marriage, the church's actions need to be in open view. We shouldn't be using political machinations to sway the minds of the people who determine party policies, we should be telling the public the facts and letting them make up their own minds (and votes) on the matter.

However, we must also protect our ability to "judge those inside the church", as Paul called the Corinthians (and by extension all churches) to do. That means churches must be free to excommunicate homosexual members and refuse to marry homosexual couples. The danger, in today's politically correct environment, is that a church which limits the scope of marriage to the definition in God's law may be charged with discrimination. If the law is to be changed to allow gay marriage, it must also allow any celebrant to refuse to marry any couple for any reason, without fear of litigation.

After all, that's no different to how things are today. In the Presbyterian church (my own denomination) a minister may only marry a couple if at least one of them is a member of the church. He is also required to undertake a study with the couple to ensure they understand the vows they will be taking - he has to be confident that they genuinely accept them before agreeing to perform the ceremony. This right of refusal must not be eroded by changes to the law.

So in conclusion:
Homosexuality is against God's law;
There are people outside the church who disregard God's law, but the church is not to judge them;
The church has a responsibility to enforce God's law among its own members;
The church has a responsibility to tell people about the advantages of following God's law, but must leave them to make up their own minds.


SometimesKate said...

A very good post. I see your points, and see why you feel they are valid, but I do disagree.

In regards to Sodom and Gommorah, I think that the issue was more homo-sexual gang rape, because I am not sure those men would just as easily have slept with one another. And given that no one seems to mind offering virgin daughters, or the fact that a woman was gang-raped to DEATH, it says a lot more about a mindset, in my opinion, far more detestable. So if you're going to use that as an example, you'll need to be in favour of heterosexual gang rape.

Well, not really, that's hyperbole, but my point is still valid. You're right, Jesus didn't mention quite a few things. But since he is God, and he would therefore have known this was going to be an important issue, if he felt strongly about it, then he would have said something.

No, I don't think any church should be compelled to marry anyone. Just as I can't walk into any church and get married because I'm not part of that church.

My personal opinion is that everyone, no matter their persuasion, should have a civil ceremony because it matters to the State. (render unto Caesar) Then have whatever religious ceremony appeals to the couple.

Estel Talroval / Theophilus Balsamon said...

There's one more thing I keep hearing: that the Bible only specifically forbids male homosexuality. I haven't had an answer to that except for a reference in one of Paul's letters (I forget the reference) to "unnatural" relationships between women, in the same paragraph as declaiming male homosexuality. Oh, and some also say that homosexuality isn't unnatural because animals do it. How can I answer them?

Michael Angelico said...

Romans 1, just after the bit I quoted.

It's irrelevant whether homosexuality is natural or not. What matters is that God said not to.

Incidentally, the argument that "animals do it therefore it's all right" will also justify polygamy and cannibalism.