How Love Really Wins

I’ve written about same-sex marriage before. It’s a touchy subject with opinions running to insane extremes (like everything else). But maybe by writing a little of it here I can sort it out in my own mind. Maybe even offer some light where there is so much heat.

The passages that are generally cited to support what we call “traditional” marriage are in Genesis, where God created Eve as a helpmate for Adam and affirms “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife” (Gen/ 2:24 NAB), and Matthew (19:5), where Jesus quotes the Genesis passage. These would seem to suggest that marriage is willed by God as between a man and a woman. However, there are a number of instances where Biblical men were involved in marriage to a number of wives. 1 Kings 11:3 states that King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, which must have kept him quite busy. Makes you wonder about the wisdom part. But anyway there is no instance in the Bible about a marriage between two persons of the same sex.

What we think of as “traditional” marriage, like much else that we consider traditional, is actually quite modern. It is true that at least in the West since the Middle Ages monogamy has been preferred, enforced by the Church, and that starting in the thirteenth century the Catholic Church required potential marriage partners to post “banns” or announcements that they intended to marry (in order to reduce the instances of fake marriages). Up until this time the Church accepted the word of the parishioner as to whether or not they were married. After this the marriage ceremony began to be held in the Church, but the ritual did not officially become a sacrament until the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. And until the last two centuries marriages had much more to do with political and economic alliances than with love.

“Homosexuality” is not addressed in the Bible, because homosexuality falls under the category of gender identity, which is a twentieth-century concept. The Bible has a bit to say about homosexual practice but never supports it. Christians by and large believe that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law so those quoting Deuteronomy as a warning against homosexual practice are off base. But the New Testament also identifies homosexual activity as sinful. The Bible also identifies heterosexual activity outside of marriage as sinful.

The reason why it’s important to distinguish between “homosexuality” and “homosexual activity” is because the first indicates what you are and the second indicates what you do. God may condemn what a person does but never what a person is, because each person is in the Image of God. Since we concede that all are sinners, if God condemns anyone he condemns everyone. That is in fact the whole point of the Incarnation. Because no one can be justified by their own merit, Christ paid the price for all.

That last part doesn’t add up to a license to sin because the way to receive Christ’s merit is through his death. We die a spiritual death and leave behind our old lives, taking on the life of Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul writes, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:19-20 NRSV). What that means is that once we are “in Christ” we move away from sinful activity. The “good news” is not that we can sin and get away with it, but that we become able not to sin. In fact, as Paul tells us, we eventually become unable to sin. This doesn’t mean that we never sin, but that we can’t persist in sin. What honest Christian can deny that they have purposely chosen sin, even in open rebellion to God, and found themselves convicted by the Spirit (conscience, whatever) to the point that they had to stop? So one of the indications that we are actually “in Christ” is that we become more aware of how sinful we really are. John Newton, former slave-trader, English clergyman, and author of the hymn Amazing Grace, said at the end of his life: “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” Bottom line: we can’t persist in sin if we are in Christ.

That is why the Church cannot sanction activity that scripture unequivocally identifies as sinful. And that means all sins, not just the ones we don’t like. And that’s why I cannot support same-sex unions as valid Christian marriages. I am not in a position to, but if I were and I were asked, I would not perform a marriage ceremony involving two people of the same sex. If I were under coercion, I would suffer the consequence.

BUT. As indicated by attitudes of public morality I think most citizens of the United States are not Christians. The United States is a pluralistic society. In the same way that I draw the line at being forced to violate my conscience as a Christian, I concede that those who disagree with me have every right to do so. Even if they think I’m a bigot or homophobe or whatever. I’m not asking for anyone’s permission to live out the Gospel, nobody’s asking for my permission to live any other way. And that’s fine. That’s what tolerance actually means: not that I agree with you or approve of anything, but that even if not that’s not really my business. Thank God that in the United States I have the freedom to profess my beliefs without persecution!

Because the Church and the State are and ought to be completely separate institutions, and because the State contains people of all backgrounds and ideologies, what laws the State enacts or enforces are beyond my immediate concern unless they violate my own freedom of conscience. So if the State wants to grant recognition to something that has nothing to do with me who am I to complain? It will only become a problem for me if the State tries to force me to accept as Christian what in my mind as stated above is clearly not. Obviously there is no universal definition even of what is and is not Christian, and there are many who call themselves Christian who feel differently about the issue than I do. I’m totally OK with that. I’m not seeking your approval; I can’t imagine why you’d need mine.

As a professor I am bound to teach all of my students. Some are gay, some are not, some are Christian, and some are not. I often don’t know who is what, and even if I do I cannot distinguish between them in the performance of my job. They are not asking for my approval, and I am not offering. I’m just doing my best to love them and help them get through the course.

If God is going to judge and condemn anyone, that’s his business. It’s not mine. He has made it clear to me through his Word that I am as great a sinner as anyone, and I need all of his grace to avoid my own condemnation. And I believe that the true meaning of Christ living in me is that he lives through me as well. As a co-worker with Christ my mandate is to help to build the Kingdom of Shalom, the peace that surpasses understanding. I can’t do that by condemning you, only by loving you. As MLK said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

As a Christian I believe it is my calling to bring light, not darkness. Light only comes through love. So I will love you as Christ loves me. Christian love is not what I do with my sexual organs, it is how I place you ahead of me. It is more than anything else sacrifice. The greatest example of love is the cross. So I will love you in spite of whatever separates me from you. I will love you even if you despise me. I will love you as you are nailing me to the cross and spitting on me. I will love you as much as I can for as long as I can. And I will not ask you to love me in return.

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