Friday, June 28, 2013

Christian Faith, The Bible, Homosexuality, and Same Sex Marriage: A Prayerful Analysis of the Issues

With the recent ruling by the US Supreme Court regarding Same Sex Marriage, there are devoted Christians who, in good faith and genuine commitment to the teachings, traditions, and foundations of the Bible, have asked how any Christian could possibly advocate for Same Sex Marriage in light of what the Bible says. It is a fair question and one that deserves a fair answer.
Christianity is divided over the topic of homosexuality. Of this fact, there is no question. In all fairness to both sides of the homosexuality and Same Sex Marriage debate, coming to a mutually agreeable compromise on how Scripture should be interpreted, applied, and lived in Christian fidelity to our Creator is very difficult. It is fair to say that both sides of the rancorous debate rely highly on interpretive assumptions and faith foundations that we both believe are fundamentally true. Therefore, to suggest otherwise, is accepted as heresy. If one side is absolutely right and the other absolutely wrong, there can be no communication. Consequently, conversations of this nature are fraught with difficulty. Essentially, it comes down to what one believes the Bible says.
So, what does the Bible really say? Realistically, the answer to that question depends on who is doing the interpreting but in order to cut through the emotional and highly irrational rhetoric that is flying around, this is my attempt to offer a little perspective on how two very devout and faithful Christians can read the same Bible and come up with such vastly different interpretations. 
The questions are multiple.  Is homosexuality a sin? Should a homosexual person hold leadership in the church? Should a homosexual be allowed in the church or restricted from the table? Should the church bless and affirm same-sex marriage? What exactly does it mean to be “gay” or “lesbian”?  Is sexual orientation a choice or a genetic predisposition? Do so-called “gay rights” extend to bisexuals or transgendered individuals (women and men who, through surgery or hormone therapy, change or alter their gender)? Is homosexuality a sin or perverse distortion of normal sexual orientation? If the church speaks of homosexuality as a sin, is that engaging in hateful speech and discriminatory language? What should the church’s stance be regarding these complex and emotional issues?
                Unfortunately, these questions do not have clear-cut and simple answers.  As faithful believers and Christians, the first place believers should turn regarding these complex questions is to the Bible. Unfortunately, in this we are left to our individual faith, the customs and traditions of the church, and the Church’s experience in engaging the world throughout history in the name of Jesus Christ.
Neither the Old Testament Hebrew nor the New Testament Greek contain words that can be directly translated to the English words “homosexual,” “lesbian,” or “gay.” There are definitive implications and correlations, but the concepts contained in the ancient Biblical languages are distinctly different. The Bible lacks any cognitive, practical, or theological understanding of explicit “sexual orientation” as it is commonly understood in a modern context. Many Christian Traditions fervently believe that sexual orientation as it references anything other than normative heterosexual behaviors within the context of a one-man-one-woman marriage is sin and therefore unambiguously condemned by Scripture. While there are legitimate reasons for this conclusion, it necessarily truncates any faithful conversation on the complex matters of human sexual identity. Given the realty that not all Christian traditions adhere to the same theological and moral interpretations, the ambiguity of sexual orientation is left for prayerful discernment in this document.
This does not mean the Bible is silent on the subject, only that English translations are based on conjecture rather than literal translation.  That is, at least in part, why the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality are controversial.  Its references are not necessarily as clear-cut as many believe. With that in mind, it is good to look at what the Bible does say and explore how variant interpretations approach the Sacred Word.
 It begins with a story from Genesis 19 that is familiar to many; the depravity and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude 7 offers a New Testament commentary on the Sodom and Gomorrah story. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are the references in the Holiness Code and Old Testament Law that condemn the practice. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 contain two sin lists that typically include homosexuality.  Most critically, there will be a look at Romans 1:18-32 which is arguably the most significant argument regarding homosexuality in the Bible.
                The issues regarding homosexuality, same sex marriage, and Christianity are more complex than can be adequately addressed in one blog posting such as this. The focus of this particular analysis is limited to the specifics of scripture. Many questions will be left unanswered awaiting further prayer and study.
                Finally, in posting here, I am assuming that homosexuality is open for civic, prayerful, and respectful discussion. Everyone can agree that the culture is changing with regards to acceptance and inclusion of homosexuality as normative. While some celebrate this as a triumph for equality and justice, many others legitimately fear it as a deadly slide into sinful disobedience into God’s judgment. For the Christian on either side of the argument, we must remember that for many, we believe our very salvation may be at stake so we are prone to be very defensive of our own beliefs and judgmental of others.  As much as each is able, it is vital that we make the make the effort to engage with Christian love, respect, and prayer; withholding any initial judgment and prayerfully considering all options, theological assumptions, and interpretations. Then, prayerfully coming to a faithful understanding of how one can faithfully approach the matter of homosexuality and same sex marriage in the Christian faith while understanding that others may rightfully disagree with one’s own conclusion. Ultimately God has the final answer.
          In this posting all scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
Genesis 19:1-29 – Sodom and Gomorrah
          In this Biblical story men from the town of Sodom are depicted as trying to gang rape the two male guests of Lot.  The explicit implication of homosexual contact in narrative not only grounds this text as a common reference in preaching on homosexuality, but the English rendering of Sodom as the root for the practice of sodomy has further crystallized Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexual sex and God’s judgment. Yet, a careful examination of the text reveals much more than homosexual issues. In fact, homosexuality and the act of sodomy in human sexuality may actually be insignificant when compared to the primary message.
Lot extended appropriate hospitality to two male strangers who where journeying through Sodom and Gomorrah. The two guests were in actuality male angels sent from God, but their identity is known only to the readers and not to the main actors in the narrative.  When faced with the travesty of his neighbors gang-raping his guests, Lot bargains with the villagers to prevent the crime and, parenthetically, his bargain is exceptionally vile and inexcusable. In the end of this story, God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah for the depravity exhibited by the villagers.
This text itself neither condemns nor condones homosexual sex.  It is, however, interpreted elsewhere in scripture; Jude, Ezekiel, Matthew, and Luke. Understanding it in context of these other Biblical references is vital for a faithful interpreter of scripture. This is important when looking not only at the homosexual implications of the text, but also while exploring the other—and often overlooked—realities presented in the passage.
While bargaining with the angry mob, Lot tragically and unapologetically offers his own daughters as sexual alternatives to his male guests. This is a bewildering and abrasively offensive turn of events in the narrative. Yet, in its implications, the passage is also rooted in the archaic understanding of women as the property of the male head of the household and does not take into account a necessary mutuality of sexual health. This obscure, but unavoidable reality in the Sodom and Gomorrah story also further illustrates the great danger in making absolute appropriations of the story for moral judgment since there seems to be no condemnation toward Lot for essentially prostituting his own daughters.
Jude 7 reads, “Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Some ancient manuscripts translate “lust” to be “went after other flesh.” (A further discussion of Jude 7 follows below.)
Ezekiel is more direct and to the point. God, speaking through the prophet says in 16:49, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
Matthew and Luke recall Jesus’ words of condemnation toward unrepentant cities. Matthew 11:23-24 and Luke 10:12 specifically associate Sodom with cities that fail to recognize and accept God’s anointed messenger in their midst. Matthew 10:14-15 condemns cities that fail to show the disciples appropriate hospitality and welcome.
Repulsive as it may be for many in the modern world; ancient records indicate battle field rape was a practice in the Ancient Near East.  This was the way a victorious army would humiliate and degrade the loosing army. As with rape in general, the crime is not really sexual in nature, but one of violence, hatred, and power. One does not rape out of sexual desire for the victim but out of lust for power over, and the subsequent humiliation of the victim.
The majority of Biblical evidence indicates the “sin” in question at Sodom had nothing—or at least very little—to do with sexuality. Rather, Sodom’s great sin was the inhumane treatment of others, violations of hospitality laws, and wealthy arrogance.  It is only in Jude’s letter that condemnation of homosexuality is explicitly mentioned. Yet even then the exact intent can be scrutinized.
Interpreting the Sodom and Gomorrah story into the context of modern Christianity with regards to homosexuality is tenuous at best. In spite of homosexuality’s common association with Sodom there is little specific cause to use the account of Sodom and Gomorrah as rationale for condemning homosexuality.  Jude’s interpretation, however, deserves further consideration.

Jude 7 – “After other flesh”
The argument against homosexual conduct in Jude must be seen in the broader context of three distinct sins being condemned. Jude uses historical events as examples of deprived and ungodly behavior.
The first (v.5) recalls the Israelites in the wilderness and their unwillingness to trust God so they could enter the Promised Land. Jude’s point here highlights Israel’s failure to trust God and the subsequent dire and often deadly consequences.
The second example (v.6) takes on a supernatural tone. Citing the ancient tradition recorded in Genesis 6:1-4, Jude calls attention to evil or fallen angels. Their crime in the eyes of God was sexual union with mortals on earth, thus giving cause for the great flood which, in turn, serves as the foundation for needing the flood and calling of Noah. Such union violates the created order and is therefore sinful and punishable by God. Jude is specifically writing to counter false teachers (people in positions of authority, control, and spiritual influence) who themselves engage in acts of illicit sex with those under them (often with those under their influence and subsequently without any legitimate power to refuse sexual advances). Jude’s point is that they will be judged in the same manner, as were the “fallen” angels of Genesis.
Finally, the third example (v. 7) recalls Sodom and Gomorrah specifically. Within the framework of this reference, there are actually three implied sins.
1.       Use of violence and inhospitable behavior
2.       The act of homosexual sexual contact and rape
3.       The act or desire of going after “different flesh” (humans toward the angels)
The witness of Jude can legitimately be interpreted in two ways. On one hand, the practice of homosexuality can be easily condemned by citing this passage. Jude’s reference to false teachers can also be used to speak out against homosexual persons having any leadership or teaching positions in the church. Similarly, the notion of violating the created order is a frequent condemnation of homosexual activity.  Providing that sexual contact is primarily or exclusively created for the purpose of procreation and therefore must take place in exclusively heterosexual contexts, any deviation from this practice would be considered a pursuit of “different flesh” and a violation of God’s created order. In this instance, homosexual contact of any kind is sin and must be condemned by the church. It should be noted, however, that assuming sexuality is solely for procreation, heterosexual couples in legal marriages who have sex and, by any means are either infertile or choose to use birth control, may also be in violation of God’s law.
On the other hand, there are some contextual issues that favor a different interpretation. Jude, writing in the Greco-Roman tradition, would have been keenly aware of the popular homosexual activity of his time. It was common in the culture of the day for men to have young sexual partners in relationships that constituted exploitation, male prostitution, and sexual slavery. Given this context, and the direct implication of homosexual rape in the Sodom story, Jude could be writing against the specific practices of rape and exploitation. Given this reading, Jude is not speaking at all about the practice having adult consensual sex with members of the same gender. In this instance, homosexuality as is commonly understood today, would not be sinful and therefore it must not come under judgment by the church. Sexual exploitation of any means is sin!

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 – “An Abomination unto the Lord”
A cursory glance at the two verses in Leviticus that condemn homosexuality leave little doubt as to what was being said. 18:22 reads, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” 20:13 reads, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
These references belong to the Holiness Code of Leviticus and make up one of the 613 laws of the Old Testament. Many of these laws are not followed today; not even by the most ardent followers of the Old Testament Levitical or Holiness Code. This reality results from the fact that many laws require the Jerusalem Temple and its sacrificial system. Likewise, there are also many laws interpreted as unnecessary in modern culture. Finally, Christians generally disregard many of these laws (for example the dietary regulations, purification regulations, regulations regarding menstruation, and strict 8-day circumcision) on the belief that in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, they are redundant.
For the Christian, in dealing with the prohibitions in Leviticus, the question must be one of how much or what part of the Law is applicable.  Do the verses that condemn homosexuality apply in today’s world or not?  Due to the fact that some of these laws are still followed by the church and others are disregarded, any decision on the applicability of the Holiness Code is easily defendable or refutable. Consequently, as with much of scripture, one must prayerfully consider how God is leading on the matter and trust the Spirit for an answer. Understandably, not all Christians will “hear” the same answer from God on this so respect for diversity may be the most critical thing!
In addition, a challenge facing modern Christians lies in the issue of sexual orientation, sexual exploitation, and consensual sexual expression in mutually loving and affirming relationships. It is possible that God was prohibiting ALL form of homosexual contact. It is also possible that God was prohibiting the exploitative use of people for sexual gratification but not the genuinely shared consensual exchange of sexuality in mature, affirming, and equally “oriented” relationships.

1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 – The Sin Lists

Both Corinthians and Timothy include homosexuality in lists of other sins. These lists are of “people that will not inherit the Kingdom of God” and those guilty of “lawless behavior.”  The term translated “homosexual” in the Greek text has come under some scrutiny. Some imply that it cannot refer to people exchanging sex with members of their own gender. The Greek indicated in these passages comes closest to the modern understanding of the word “homosexual.” It literally translates “one who lies with a male.” Yet, there is some ambiguity to the precise meaning of this word, thus prompting some scholars to disregard an absolute specificity of homosexuality.
It is most probable that Paul (author of both books) was thinking of the Holiness Code and the Leviticus passages mentioned above when writing. This being the case, a very solid argument is made that Paul was reinforcing this part of the Levitical Holiness Code as law as essential for Christians to follow. Given this argument, homosexuality cannot be acceptable and must be condemned by the church.
          Note however, that the exact meaning is ambiguous. Although the Greek distinctly implies some sort of homosexual contact, the exact meaning of the text is unclear. As has been noted previously, forced and coerced sex between grown men and boys was common in the Greco-Roman world of the First Century (See Jude 7 above). The Greek wording is also found in non-Biblical references associated with inhumane sexual exploitation.  Given the cultural context of its day, it is possible that Paul is not condemning consensual sex, but rather the unholy and despicable practice of child sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, and rape.  If this is the likely translation, it is reasonable to argue in favor of accepting consensual sex between adults. In this instance the church should not condemn homosexuality providing it conforms to the same moral and healthy standards applied to heterosexual sex.

Romans 1:18-32 – The Theological Argument

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse;
21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools;
23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves,
25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,
27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.
29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips,
30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32 They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

Any Christian Biblical conversation regarding homosexuality must take seriously this passage from Romans. Unlike the other passages, this one is much more direct and distinctively theological in its makeup.
This entire passage is essentially setting up an argument that will not be resolved until the second chapter of Romans.  In this section Paul is categorizing the consequences of failure to properly glorify God and verse 21 is the pivotal verse in the passage.  It reads “for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.”
By the time Paul gets to homosexuality, the direction of his argument has shifted from cause (not honoring God) to consequence. Rather than provoking God’s wrath through homosexuality, the sinful behavior categorized is the inevitable result of failing to glorify God.  It does not bring God’s wrath; it is God’s wrath—that is the inevitable consequence of a fallen and depraved human race.
Paul, in part, understands sin to be a violation of the created order and a distortion of the way God intended things to be. From the day humanity was expelled from the Garden of Eden, humanity has been in rebellion against God and God’s creation.  With this in mind, Paul cites homosexuality as a vivid example of this distortion.  Having been told in Genesis 2:24 that a man is to leave his father and mother to cling to his wife that they may become one flesh, and in Genesis 1:28 that humanity is to “be fruitful and multiply,” Paul uses homosexuality as example of how God’s plan for humanity has been distorted through sin. This argument further underscores the priority for one-man-one-woman marriages because of the clear biological and “natural” order of creation and procreation.
At this stage a question arises regarding the appropriate application of the word “natural.” Many advocates of gay rights contend that homosexuality is not a chosen lifestyle but a true representation of what is genuinely natural for a gay or lesbian person.  In other words, heterosexuality is the unnatural way of expressing sexuality for one who has been created by God as a homosexual. Medically and scientifically there is mixed evidence to support this claim and researchers and interpreters who claim research evidence are frequently biased by preconceived assumptions regarding the nature of homosexuality.
Likewise, within Christianity, there is mixed information. Some churches become havens for “natural” homosexuals, advocating the created beauty of each person regardless of sexual orientation. Other churches boast of “curing” homosexuals through Jesus Christ and vehemently condemn the “unnatural” practice. (In the extreme is the practice of organizations such as the Westboro Baptist Church under the leadership of Fred Phelps. This organization has made the outright condemnation of homosexuality the central and most essential component of their entire theology and have, subsequently, garnered headlines and media attention in their efforts to rid the world of the practice completely. Arguably, many of the most Conservative churches who openly oppose gay rights also condemn the distinctively hatful practices and destructive theology of fringe groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church.)  Making up a vast middle ground in theological tradition, many churches are relatively ambivalent regarding matters of homosexuality. They may, or may not, accept the practice, but generally it is not a matter of primary concern or focused attention. (In many cases, they wish it would just go away and feel there are more important matters of faith to think about.)
Theologically an argument in favor of homosexuality is a little more difficult to make in Romans. The understanding of “sexual orientation” as is commonly understood today was completely unknown in antiquity in spite of the fact that there were then, as now, people who felt drawn toward same sex relationships. For Paul, there appears to be a clear understanding that homosexual sex was a chosen perversion and distortion of God’s created order—in other words, a sin.
This does not necessarily rule out the possibility of reading a modern understanding of sexual orientation into Paul’s intent, but it must be done with the knowledge that such readings go beyond Paul’s worldview. As with the discussions above, sexual abuse and distortion of sexual practice and human dignity may have also influenced Paul in his ideology. Some interpreters of Scripture are comfortable with making this theological leap, others are not. It is important, however, to remember all serious interpreters of Scripture (regardless of conclusion) are likely very passionate in both their love of the Bible and God.
Looking at this text in the broader context of Romans, one must see it as a building crescendo toward the pivotal statement in 2:1 which reads, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”  It is here that Paul’s argument reaches its pinnacle. This statement, and not necessarily any previous statement, is what Paul intends to carry the most theological and spiritual weight.
Holding pejorative judgments against homosexuality when contrasted with the claim in 2:1 radically neutralizes all sin as being simply sin, while simultaneously universalizing sin to all of humanity. In other words, there is no difference between the sin of homosexuality and any other sin and no person is without some sin.
Clearly, it is easy and logical to make a strong argument against homosexuality using Romans 1.  Considering it a definitive distortion of the created order, it is logical to adopt Paul’s treatment of homosexuality as unquestionably sinful.  Such judgment, however, must be tempered with Paul’s equilateral treatment of sin.  It may be a sin, but it must not be elevated as particularly worse or more despicable than any other sin.  (To quote Jesus in John 8:7 “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”)
On the other hand, one can make the interpretative application of “sexual orientation” and apply it to the argument; yet only with the understanding that no such concept existed when Paul was alive.  This is, however, substantially more tenuous than the opposing argument. The only way this argument may have any validity is with the assumption that homosexuals are genetically predisposed toward same-sex relationships and therefore heterosexuality is truly the unnatural course for them to follow. Many interpreters clearly understand the argument in the context of sexual orientation to be the most valid application and based on matters of rape, exploitation, and sexual slavery as the real sins indicated in Romans rather than the blessing of a loving, mutual, exclusive, and intimate relationship between two consenting and sexually healthy adults.

The Church, Our Bible, and Our Rich History of Transformation:
The Biblical argument for the acceptance of homosexuality is very complex; particularly when held against a long tradition that has been virtually universal in its condemnation of the practice.  Likewise, this is not the first time the church has faced the possibility of transforming reversals of traditional prejudice and practice. For example, teachings in scripture that imply discrimination against women have long been used to religiously mandate the doctrinal practice of a created inferiority for woman in society. The many discussion in this study indicating a cultural belief regarding women as property rather than as fully human is the most vivid example. Similarly, in terms of slavery, the long-held practice of human slavery was strongly validated through fervent scriptural interpretation. In the United States, a bloody war was fought, in large part, to resolve the bitter tensions arising from the diversity in genuine Christian interpretation and application of scripture in regards to slaves. For many, newly developing and culturally changing attitudes toward homosexuality indicate a similar shift in process.
One may also cite the seismic rifts created in the church as classic thinkers such as Nicholas Copernicus, Johannes Keppler, Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei all challenged the long-held and Biblically supported belief that the Earth was flat and existed at the center of the universe. Similarly, after the writings of Charles Darwin and scientific theories of evolution have taken center stage, Christians have bitterly divided over matters of creation and the biological origins of human life and interpretations of the Creation story in Genesis. When it comes to great changes in the way Christians think based on changes in how the world views itself, this is nothing new—not the controversy it causes, not the painful division that results, and not the entrenched viewpoints of conflicting sides of the debate. Truly, we have been down this road before!
Marriage also has seen tremendous changes over the course of time and throughout scripture. While the Genesis story introduces the concept of the populist “traditional marriage” as defined in terms of one man and one woman, it is the exception in the Old Testament, not the rule. Throughout the Old Testament, men express tremendous sexual latitude including polygamy, the use of prostitutes and concubines, and the freedom to end a marriage without consequences of condemnation. Marriage in the Bible is rarely fostered in love or freely chosen by both bride and groom. Culturally, the woman was the property of her father to be sold by an agreed upon dowry to the family of the groom so that she would become his property. In many polygamous marriages, the union was made for property gain, political advantage, or by means of a peace treaty and the woman frequently had no say in the matter.
Throughout Christian history, men and women enjoyed marriages that appeared “traditional” in the sense that they were defined as lifetime unions of one man and one woman, but these marriages often lacked equality or mutuality. Marriage was defined more in terms of social function and strict gender roles than by love or choice. It is only in the last century that free choice and love have become predominating factors in developing the marital relationship. Predictably, the increased freedoms and choices afforded to women and men have also contributed to an escalation in divorces and cohabitation relationships that function as marriages without the formal recognition. (As an aside, it is the increasing divorce rate and cohabitation rate that pose the greatest threat to traditional marriage, not same-sex marriage.)
Marriage in the modern age, at least for the vast majority of Americans, is fundamentally a love-based covenant. It can (and frequently is) broken. It does not define itself in procreative terms, nor is it bound to gender roles. To some, this seems an increasing degradation into a life of tumultuous decay and sin. To others, the increased equality and priority on love are the fulfillment of God’s law as God is love and those who live in God live in love. Anything less would be deemed a violation of God’s priority for full equality and justice!
The same sex marriage debate enters into the marriage issue at this point. If marriage in the modern age is no longer defined by unequal (and often exploitative) arrangements or property exchanges, but is rather based on the priority of God’s love, and if marriages are not defined by their procreative possibility, then traditional gender definitions no longer have their priority. Furthermore, assuming that a gay or lesbian person truly is created to fulfill their defined sexual orientation, to engage in a heterosexual union is a lie and distortion of God’s love. Yet, along that same line, two people who share the same sexual orientation and, by circumstances of their shared life in partnership together, choose to formalize their partnership into a life-time commitment, that constitutes a practical marriage that is functionally no different from any healthy, legally defined, heterosexual marriage. Therefore, same sex marriage is the fulfillment of God’s law of love.
Homosexuality and same sex marriage are, however, more complicated than previous issues such as establishing the equality of women in church life, abolishing the practice of slavery, rethinking the physical makeup of the unversed, or rethinking the physical means by which humanity came to exist on earth. These issues have great tension within the canon of scripture with verses clearly advocating and prohibiting the concerns. All Biblical references to homosexuality, however insignificant or prominent, are all inherently negative and there is no Biblical mandate or example of same sex marriage. Likewise, there is no Biblical passage explicitly expressing God’s acceptance of homosexuality and those who favor an understanding of homosexuality as sin are legitimate in pointing this fact out. (Some may point to the great love David had for Jonathan as a possible illusion to homosexuality.  In this passage, David is lamenting the death of his dear friend.  “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26)  Although there is no way to absolutely refute this claim, greater evidence does not seem to support it. For purposes of discussing homosexuality and Christianity it is most likely irrelevant to the conversation.)
Noteworthy in the Biblical witness is the fact that at no time does Jesus Christ even mentions the subjects. For Christians, this absence of comment must be taken into serious consideration. There are, of course, two plausible explanations for the absence of comment. First, Jesus assumed everybody already knew homosexuality and same sex marriage were abominations and therefore had no reason to bring them up. With that rationale, the church would have to lean toward condemnation. Second, the practice is of such little consequence in the mind of Christ that it is not worth singling out. With that consideration, the church would lean toward acceptance.
Whether the church accepts homosexuality and same sex marriage or condemns them, Christ’s explicit ministry must be taken into consideration.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus exhibited preferential compassion toward the sinner and outcast while rejecting legalistic religiosity. The church must balance any stance on homosexuality and same sex marriage with the same compassion manifest by Christ himself. It may have to come down to proverbial practice of “loving the sinner while hating the sin” or simply—and perhaps more compassionately faithful—loving the human as created by God, regardless of differences in sexual orientation or marital status.
Regardless of how any individual may feel or how the church as a whole may choose to side, the issue is real and very volatile in the Christian Church. The issue of homosexual inclusively and reality of same sex marriage are two of the most volatile issues driving many congregations to division. Because of these issues faithful Christians divide, leave or join denominational traditions, appoint or remove leaders, and approach or deny ministries. At the level of the larger church bodies such as General Assemblies, Conferences, Presbyteries, or similar gatherings the issue is destructively polarizing as individuals and congregations on both sides of the debate demand universality of their own opinion. On many occasions, the rancor has become anything but Christian in its tone and out of fear, anger, and hatred manifest from both sides of the debate, many Christians have become unfortunate victims of the fracas. Worst yet, the issue will also likely not go away any time soon. Even with the Supreme Court Ruling, there is a lot of unknown future and many Christians on both sides of the argument are genuinely fearful process ahead and of the ultimate outcome.

The call and the challenge for churches at this time is neither to condemn nor embrace homosexuality in the church, but simply to understand the issue in its entirety. With prayer as our means, the Holy Spirit as our guide, and the Bible as our foundation, we are able to more fully explore and study this important and vital issue facing our church today.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What the Supreme Court Rulings on Same Sex Marriage mean to me!

I believe in Same Sex Marriage and continue to support the God-given right for two people who chose to enter into a consensual, loving, exclusive, and permanent lifetime partnership of romance, companionship, and family-building to have that right. I have long said that true marriage has nothing to do with gender. Rather, it is about covenant.

The rulings of Supreme Court, however, do not define marriage or clarify what it is—or what it is not. They simply recognize that the State, not the Federal Government, has the right to define marriage and that any such definition must not be discriminatory.

For those of us who long for genuine marriage equality and justice, today’s rulings are symbolic victories in the progressive movement toward fulfilling God’s word and creating a more just, equal, and compassionate society. Yet, before we celebrate, we must do so with caution and compassion.

We must be cautiously enthusiastic about the rulings because they do not actually legalize Same Sex Marriage. They clear significant roadblocks toward legalization and I honestly trust that many more states will follow this decision and move toward equality and justice.

We must be compassionate toward all amid the changing culture of our nation. There are many people—including some of my most beloved, trusted, respected, and admired friends—who find the Nation’s progressive movement toward marriage equality as a vile and reprehensible perversion of God’s will. The sense of abandonment and betrayal by large segments of their beloved country and faith, as well as a genuine sense of disgust that the Supreme Court would thwart God’s Law is very real for those who oppose Same Sex Marriage. Their refusal of such marriages is not a matter of homophobia or ignorance, as many would postulate. Rather it is a profound and authentic expression of faith that must be respected and compassionately understood.

One factor that I believe must remain central to today’s (and all future debates on the legality of Same Sex Marriage) is that freedom of speech and free exercise of religion must remain central to whatever laws are passed in my, or any other, State. If a person, on the basis of religious doctrine or moral principal does not wish to perform a Same Sex Marriage, their right to refuse must be protected by law.

In the end, no ruling of the Supreme Court is going to define marriage in a way that is acceptable for all, or necessary for all time. Marriage has evolved and changed over time as have virtually all aspects of human culture and religion. Even in Christianity, our faith has evolved and changed over the past 2,000 years and the evolutionary change in the faith's understanding of marriage is part of that epic cycle of God's amazing design. Yet, for all of us who profess a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, the fact remains that we must find a way to be Christians together even when we disagree over matters of faith and practice.  

Advocating for, or against, Same Sex Marriage, however is not enough. If that is all we do, I fear we have totally missed the point. There is a bigger issue out there!

As Christians, there is a serious matter affecting marriages that we have been largely ignoring and must seriously pray about and act on! That is protecting true Marriage!

There are many different ways that people define marriage. As noted above, I define it as “two people who chose to enter into a consensual, loving, exclusive, and permanent lifetime partnership of romance, companionship, and family-building.”  As anyone who has been, or currently is married knows all too well, that is not an easy covenant to keep. Marriage requires dedication, effort, forgiveness, compassion, intentionality, and love. Successful marriages require mutually selfless devotion to the spouse, intentional communication, and relentless commitment to choosing every day to honor the sacred covenant the couple has made. Unfortunately, many marriages fail today because one or all of those vital components goes lacking.

Rather than worrying about who must be denied marriage or fighting over who can get married, Christians need to spend more time nurturing healthy marriages and cultivating a culture where marriage is held in highest honor, respect, and admiration.  We need to work for a world where marriages are no longer threatened by pornography, consumerism, addictions, violence, and infidelity. It is time we truly promote quality, meaningful, and permanent unions grounded in God’s love. We need to be compassionate and supportive of those who have made mistakes in marriages and embrace them in God's love. This, in my opinion, is more in line with God’s will than all the back-and-forth debating we have seen thus far.

So, now the States are free to pursue legalizing Same Sex Marriages without undue hindrance from the Federal level. Thanks be to God! With that behind us, it is time to start lobbying for Marriage! 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why I Support Same Sex Marriage

Frequently I am asked why, as a Christian pastor and person who professes a strong Biblical faith, how can I possibly support Same Sex Marriage?

The simple answer is that it is the right thing to do!

I can argue scripture to fully support my beliefs and those who disagree with my opinion will use scripture as well. We will not agree. 

I can legitimately appeal to church tradition and history to demonstrate the importance of affirming gender equality and justice. However, all those who legitimately understand the tradition differently will counter with their own historical justifications. We will not agree. 

I can claim my personal experience of having worked in Christian ministry for and with many people directly impacted by gender issues. Yet, for those whose experience of Christianity and gender issues is fundamentally different from mine, we will have a much more challenging time finding common ground and points of experience upon which we will legitimately agree.

I support Same Sex Marriage because I faithfully believe it is the right, holy, and Christian thing to do.

Marriage is, fundamentally, a sacred and holy covenant between two people. It can be broken, and unfortunately often is. Marriage is about making a conscious, intentional, and binding covenant that two people will be united in a sacred union of love that is defined in love, intimacy, mutuality, affirmation, affection, and sacrifice. It is neither defined by sex, nor the production of children. It is defined by love. 

Personally, I see no reason why two people who are willing to make—and hold to—that covenant with each other should be prohibited through laws that understand marriage strictly in sexual, reproductive, or strictly religious terms. Unfortunately, there are many fully legal heterosexual marriages that find the full blessing of the traditional church teachings on marriage that never manage to live up to this standard. Before we make it illegal for same sex couples to marry, perhaps we should spend more time, prayer, Bible study, and preaching on affirming the sanctity of the marriage among ALL who enter into this sacred and blessed union!

Some churches will disagree with me. Some Christians will not understand my beliefs. Some pastors will preach and teach theologies that absolutely refute my beliefs. Of this reality I am neither afraid or ashamed. I would never presume to have an exclusive claim on the Truth.  I also recognize and respect that there is not universal agreement on this highly volatile topic. We may simply have to agree to disagree and in that case I do so prayerfully and lovingly because Christ demands no less. In Jesus Christ, I believe we are called to the singular faith we share in Jesus Christ and affirm the validity of one another’s faith experience in spite of our differences.

This vital reality remains unstated that I believe we must say out loud. 

Biblical interpretations, church teachings, legislative actions regarding gender issues, and diverse understandings of Same Sex Marriage are important, but they must never become the focus of idolatrous worship. God is bigger than any political, religious, or social agenda. Let us serve the One God even when we disagree over matters regarding sexuality and forget the sinful practice of letting beliefs about sexuality define our legitimacy as Christians. There is vital ministry to be done so let’s stop shouting at each other and get back to work!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ten Common Sense Approaches to Overcoming the Federal Deficit

Quit letting the deadbeats drain the system of my tax money!

Corporate Welfare will bleed us dry if we don’t cut them off!

Obama Care is a dangerous waste of tax money!

They had better never touch my Medicare or Social Security Benefits!

We have to cut the military because it is killing our economy!

Big Government takes my precious tax dollar and wastes it in needless ways!

The welfare state is just another expression of socialism and should be abolished!

Charitable Tax Deductions drain our economy


There is something wrong with every one of these statements and many others just like them. They all make the dangerous assumption that any specific cut, any single program, any particular ideology on government spending or involvement in our common life will solve all our national financial ills. Furthermore, most of these statements become more than just suggestions. Rather, they stand for arrogant all-or-nothing approaches to resolving our nation’s fiscal worries.

And … none of them will really work!

The fact of the matter is simple. Christians, we have a sacred (Biblical) obligation to care for everyone in our society. As Americans, we also have a civic duty to uphold the common good that supports everyone in our culture. Unfortunately, much of what passes for political and economic solutions to our national economic problems are really only self-serving, one-sided, short-lived, and presumptively judgmental actions that will only exacerbate the nation’s economic woes and potentially drive us to economic collapse.

There is no escaping a tragic reality. Our economy is broken--seriously broken!

There are a few becoming exceptionally wealthy on stocks and trades, as well as boom industries. The vast majority of Americans are barely scraping along. A tragically high number of Americans live frighteningly below the poverty line.  The system cannot maintain such inequality forever.

The Government is one of the most inefficient spenders of money. There is countless waste and bloated spending throughout all sectors of the United States Government. The idea that some are justifiable and some inexcusable generally falls to the distinction of personal preference, partisan posturing,  or is postulated as the primary points of political platforms. Yet, the fact remains, if the federal debt is not contained, the economy will crash, period. The question remains, how do we do it?

Sequester, for all the political wrangling it contains, will accomplish nothing of any long-term benefit. It may save a few dollars here and there, and may actually promote an increase in spending in other arenas. This means the long-term benefit will be negligible. It was, and remains, a clever political distraction with no real substance.

So … what are Christians to do?

Rather than the commonly touted fixes, perhaps it is time the Christians and Americans who really care about the economic future of this nation really must stop shouting each other down and start working toward genuine, legitimate, and common-sense solutions.

Below are ten. They are not a final word, nor are they any presumption of a definitive solution. Yet they stand, as they are, as viable means of beginning down a road with a genuinely positive and effective outcome.

1. Understand that just because you personally do not use a government program or feel you receive any benefit from it, does not automatically make that government program wrong or wasteful.

2. Short-term solutions create long-term problems. It is vital that the nation look at the broad and long-term consequences of economic policy decisions rather than their immediate impact.

3. The dichotomy between “Big Government” and “Small Government” is false and needs to be abandoned completely. The fact is, government spending, incentives, and benefits are completely woven through the entire fabric of our society. Simply shrinking or expanding the government (or any sector of the government) will have a mix of positive and negative consequences that must be carefully calculated.

4. No government program is perfect. Likewise, there is no government program that has absolutely no positive value. Rather than an arbitrary all-or-nothing approach to what should be kept and what should be cut, a thorough understanding of a program’s strengths and weaknesses needs to be considered.

5. Health Care is a major issue and neither adopting nor abolishing Obama Care will significantly change anything until the fundamental structures of how health care is billed, funded, and compensated are changed.

6. Democrats and Republicans must understand that we need each other—neither party can solve the national economic crisis alone. Yet, by refusing to work together, we are actually securing our mutual self-destruction. To that end, we also need to remember that we are all Americans—you know, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Along with working together across partisan lines, we need to drop the distractive and prejudicial labels that confound our conversations and polarize our people. Just because someone does not share the same economic outlook as you, does not automatically make that person a Socialist, Fascist, Marxist, Nazi, Communist, or whatever negative and condescending labels are used.

7. Balance is essential. Left unchecked and unregulated, market capitalism will concentrate too much wealth into the hands of too few and create even worse inequity than we presently know. When government becomes too restrictive and regulatory, it strangles the economy unnecessarily. Either extreme will crash the economy and must be avoided.

8. Dependence on federal money and benefits or allowances is ubiquitous in our nation and cannot be simply minimized, overlooked, or eradicated.  Corporate welfare, federal subsidies, food stamps, non-profit tax benefits, federal aid, health care spending, tax deductions, as well as government salaries, pensions, purchases, and reimbursements, all feed into and take from the economy in many ways—some positive and some negative—and therefore must be carefully evaluated for benefit as well as cost.

9. The human factor is critical. No person deserves to be reduced to merely an economic value, factor, benefit, or determinant. When human life is reduced to its capacity to either give to or drain from the economy, the common good is not served and the human spirit is disgraced for us all.

10. The church needs to become economically wise—true wisdom and not the presumptive propaganda that passes for wisdom in most media news outlets. This involves biblical knowledge of understanding God’s Biblical calls for economic justice, equality, and protections, as well as understanding relevant economic realities, theories, abuses, and practices. As an economically wise church, we must work together to choose and make the necessary sacrifices that are essential for the common good. In addition, we can stand in solidarity to speak for and defend those who much need a voice in the economy so that the ‘least of these’ are never left out in the cold. Finally, we can stand in solidarity with one another in helping everyone make the transition from a broken economy to a healthy one so that, as a nation and global economic driver, we can be the positive change and meaningful financial example that honors God in all things.

Pollyannaish? Perhaps.

But then again, so is every other one-sided, judgmental, and short-term solution floating around out there. The only difference is that this approach at least tries to recognize the complexity and diversity of our economic system rather than propose immediate results from short-sighted solutions.

These ten points alone will not fix anything, but if everyone in positions of influence—even just influence in the privacy of our own homes and through the power of faithful prayer—begin honest, respectful, and meaningful conversations around these critical points, the Unite States will pull out of this economic nightmare with our unity, or dignity, and our national pride intact. If we don’t … Well let’s all just hope we can learn now, rather than be forced to pick up the pieces later.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

After the Bombing in Boston

            Once again the nation is in shock as senseless violence has exploded into our lives. There is no downplaying the emotional impact of random violence in our world. Anger and fear quickly rule the day as suspicions arise, inflammatory—and frequently outright as well as deliberately false—information quickly spreads through various media. Our nation is hurting. Yet, as Christians, a little perspective is a good thing!
            The first thing we need to remember is that terrorism is deliberately and intentionally intended to create terror. The more afraid we get, the more effective this evil becomes. In Christ we can choose to refuse to be terrorized.
            As tragic and horrific as this event was, consider the carnage in terms of automobile accidents. Using statistics from the US Census Bureau, over 100 people die and over 7,000 are injured every day in the United States because of automobiles. Yet, we are generally not afraid to get behind the wheel of a car and take that chance every day.
            The contrast of our daily automobile carnage compared to the comparatively few shattered lives in Boston illustrates a fundamental tool of terrorism. The threat is exaggerated to the point of creating a false sense of eminent danger and subsequent fear. This is why terrorists choose high-profile events such as the Boston Marathon and depend so heavily on viral media sources such as the internet. It plays right into their sadistic game.
            Tragically, they do not require much help in generating the doubt, fear, and outrage they desire. Immediately following a catastrophic event such as the most recent bombing, individuals with paranoid fears and individuals with a pathologically warped sense of humor quickly create, post, and distribute false information causing people to jump to irrational—and often increasingly frightening over reactions.
            As Christians, our first response to such a diabolical assault on our national consciousness is to pray. More than just an antidote to fear and rage, prayer is unequaled at calming our spirits and refocusing our minds on what really matters. What this nation really needs now is more prayer!
            Our prayers need to be honest with God. We are hurting. We are angry. We are disgusted. We are afraid. Prayerfully giving those negative emotions over to God is the beginning point in healing prayer.
            We need to pray for those whose lives have been shattered. This obviously includes the ones who have suffered loss and injury as well as the ones who bore witness to the carnage and rendered aide to those in need. Yet, this prayer also needs to extend to the people who, for whatever unexplainable reason, have felt the need to unleash such despicable violence. Whatever hatred motivated the attack must not be the cause for more hatred or the cycle of violence and inhumanity will only continue!
            Prayer is also needed for the rampant scourge of paranoia and irrational conjecture that is permeating much of the media—especially the social media. Spreading gossip and unsubstantiated rumors on the internet is sinful—no matter how reliable they may seem or how much we may want to believe in their validity. Pointing fingers, seeking out wild conspiracy plots, or touting evil political intrigue makes for wonderful novels, but only hurts innocent people when applied in a disaster such as this.
            It is time that we, as Christians, really call ourselves to prayer. Real, humble, honest, and heart-felt prayer. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Prayer of Hope and Peace after Boston Bombings

Dearest God

When senseless violence, hatred, and the promulgation of fear crash innocent lives, we collectively cry out in our shared humanity, “Why God, Why!?”

In the aftermath of yet another confusingly violent and disgustingly purposeless torrent of inhumanity and evil, help us to stay focused, O God.

Help us, as a people to resist the evil temptation that wishes to return evil with more evil.

Help us to seek your Justice rather than the temporary course of mere revenge.

Help us to reach out in prayer to all those affected—from the lives disrupted by the bombings to the lives so distorted in fear and hatred that they would choose to cause such evil to be unleashed on innocent lives.

Help us, O God, to rise above the anger and hurt of such senseless violence and remember our shared humanity that, seeking the peace that passes all understanding, we may live in your love rather than our very legitimate fear, hatred, and disgust.

Help us, we pray, to be laborers for your peace this day and be the presence of your Son to all who cry out in anguish because of such unspeakable evil.

God, you have said that perfect love casts out all fear, so today, let us live out of that love and be the people you have called and created us to be that fear may succumb to your loving grace and peace.

In Jesus’ Name


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Same Sex Marriage: Vital Topic & Dangerous Distraction

In America Today the most basic and fundamental foundation of our Nation’s soul is in jeopardy. Worse yet, the current debates are more concerned with distraction than correction. I am talking about the American family.

As the Supreme Court heard arguments last week regarding Same Sex Marriage, powerful voices lined up on opposing sides of this understandably controversial question—and for good reason. There is a lot at stake. Equality, Justice, Fairness, Religious Freedom, Biblical Values, and fundamental understandings of this most basic institution of human relationships all hang in the balance. Yet, for all the theatrics and passionate perspectives, the debate is frighteningly dangerous for what it is not doing.  

The Same Sex Marriage debate is not really addressing the fundamental demise of the America family. Consider some of these realities.

  • The national Divorce rate continues to increase
  • Sexual intimacy is increasingly recreational rather than covenantal
  • Fidelity in sexual relationships is often the exception, not the rule
  • Increasing numbers of children are born into single-parent families
  • Gender or Relational inequality within intimate household relationships promotes abuse, exploitation, and unjustifiable human indignity
  • Domestic Violence and child abuse destroys lives, innocence, and security at alarming rates
  • Household members live in states of virtual warfare amongst themselves within the walls of their homes
  • Media portrayals and the misguided hero-worship of sexist, abusive, sarcastic, or unfaithful romantic partners creates a world of tacit acceptance of flagrant, dehumanizing behaviors or attitudes
  • Families spend very little (if any) time together as a family or in shared activities such as meals, games, prayer, or recreation
  • Addiction to drugs, alcohol, pornography, casino gambling, state lotteries, and materialism divert precious financial resources away from family needs and create hostile, contentious, and unsustainable relationships within the family
  • Individuals (particularly women and children) are subjected to degrading and dehumanizing behaviors throughout the culture
  • Preditory lending, explotitiave credit, and excessive economic injustice in the market economy divert vital resources away from most American families
  • Media portrayals of  people create dangerously deceptive and destructive images that erode self-confidence and undermine one's genuineness in the world
  • Unaffordable (or unobtainable) health care creates an unbearable financial strain on families

These are some of the real issues destroying families in the United States today. They are realities that affect same-sex families as well as heterosexual families. They cut across gender, racial, economic, geographic, religious, or educational lines. They affect all segments of modern society and universally threaten to undermine the most vital component of human life.

In time, the Supreme Court will rule. Some will like the outcome, some will not. Regardless of how anyone feels about Same Sex Marriage, amid the passionate posturing and prophetic proclamations that will permeate the debate, let us not forget the central reality. A broken household carries its own destruction regardless of who makes up the partnership at the head of that household. No matter how Marriage is ultimately defined, no definition will make any difference until we work together to strengthen the covenantal relationships that anchor the American household.