Friday, October 08, 2010

The final of five (not appropriate for kids)

Tonight I'll conclude what could have been titled "One more woefully short post about an infinitely complicated topic." To wrap up the week, here's what I think is the #1 most explosive topic facing Churches of Christ in America today: gay marriage.

Note that I didn't say homosexuality. The church has felt pretty secure and unified on that one for a long time. But gay marriage is a first for my congregation, since the CoC wasn't formed until about 200 years ago and has always been concentrated in the US.

For a different take than you might have seen before, let me share my opinion on what this fight over gay marriage is not about, no matter what Christians proclaim:

1) It's not about the sanctity of marriage. Divorce rates are embarrassing in the church, just like they are in American culture at large. If we were really serious about the sanctity of marriage, we'd be doing the basics (more premarital counseling, more mentorship, higher expectations of our peers) and the extreme (looking closer at arranged marriage customs and other worldwide practices that seem to lead to healthier, longer-term relationships than the American model) to protect it.

2) It's not about homosexuality as a whole, because it's not really about lesbianism. Besides the fact that the bible doesn't speak on lesbianism, two women being together just doesn't bring the "ick" factor to many heterosexual male Christians. And it's heterosexual male Christians who lead the way in the Churches of Christ on this issue (because women aren't allowed to serve in leadership capacities, as noted in my previous blog post).

3) It's not about freedom and the role of government. Most Christians in the south (where CoC is most prevalent) are in Republican-leaning states, and are linked with policies about small government and minimal regulatory interference in our personal lives. Dictating whether or not two single, consenting adults can get married is a pretty strong form of interference.

4) It's not about love and relationship. The church is all for relationships built on sacrificial love. A heterosexual couple, a men's fellowship group, a youth group of teenagers... all highly valued forms of social and personal connection treasured by the church. I have grown up greatly blessed by this.

So what's it about? Sex. Sex between men, specifically. To keep this post from being too long, I'll just list two of many reasons why I think the church is on dangerous ground here:

1) Marriage is much more than sex. We're saying that two men can't marry because they will have sex, and that sex might be a sin. So is the sin sodomy? What acts are okay and not okay, even within a marriage bond? Leviticus clearly lists "sex during a woman's cycle" as sin against God, but I've never heard a single sermon or church teaching on the topic.

Why not? Because it's none of the church's business what my spouse and I do behind closed doors to enjoy each other's bodies. Sex is only one part of marriage, and it's private.

2) Marriage is much more than procreation. This break between marriage and procreation happened early in human history, and even early in the Old Testament. King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines -- the purpose of that had nothing to do with procreation. This was about sex and power, with Solomon the ruler and the women his subjects.

God looked on Solomon, with his 1,000 sex partners and perhaps no true love, and we believe God still accepted him despite the ridiculous gluttony of marriages. Yet there are people today with one partner, a truly loving relationship, and no path to marriage.

So there you go -- my fast opinion on what this debate isn't about, and what it is about. At the cultural level, this debate is already over and every state will have legalized gay marriage during my lifetime. But at the church level, the debate is just beginning and will continue to be a dividing point for decades to come.

May God bless this mess!

22 comments:

Debby said...

I HATE TYPOS!

That is one thing that I learned in an Episcopal church. It didn't matter who sat down in the pew next to me. I looked at them as someone who was there at God's urging. I did not question their right to be there beyond that. The idea of standing between someone and God made me nervous then, and still makes me nervous today. BTW, I am now part of a very small very traditional church. We have a couple with two children. We've baptized the children, and as far as I know, no one has ever grumbled about the two mothers, either. I figure they'll be judged on their merits and sins, just as I'll be judged on my own. And judgement definately falls into God's business, not mine.

Steve H. said...

Michael,

I believe Romans 2 does mention lesbianism (women burning with lust for one another) but I find it interesting how this debate always takes a religious tact. 20 years ago if someone was against homosexuality or gay marriage they wouldn't be pidgin holed a Christian or assumed the position was taken on religious grounds. Gay marriage is not allowed in China and it has nothing to do with Jesus or Leviticus.

Makes me wonder if in 20 years if you are against incest if you'll be labeled one of those wacky, intolerant Christians

Redlefty said...

Great point, Steve -- I stand corrected on the lesbian comment.

I'm not quite there on your second point, as there are plenty of social norms that have changed over time, and now it seems like common sense that Christians should have fought earlier for those groups (slaves, women, minorities, etc...). I wonder if the church will look back in 100 years and think it fought on the wrong side.

Roland said...

If you no longer accept a man into church because he's homosexual, you lose the opportunity to make him a better man in all other areas.

Logan said...

Makes me wonder if in 20 years if you are against incest if you'll be labeled one of those wacky, intolerant Christians

I love how that one always gets mentioned along with homosexuality (and often incest and NAMBLA and...) as if they are all indelibly linked. I also don't know if pointing to what China does helps your case. :) I agree with one thing that Michael said-I think the real issue here is some people are really disgusted by gay sex, and that's the real root of being against homosexuality. So as Steve points out the real root of those who don't agree with homosexuality isn't religious (as he also said once God didn't have to tell him sodomy was wrong, that disgust came to him on his own).

IMO that explains the Bible's attitude on homosexuality-it reflects human distaste for certain behaviors and ever so conveniently God dislikes the same things people does...I know I'm speaking a little too glibly and generally to just say God's created in our image because he hates the same people we do, but basically that's how I feel about the subject. God simply comes in handy when we don't like something...even though I think the sexual activity in question seems to be natural at least biologically speaking.

The reason I think the debate often turns toward religion is that most folks who are vocal about their opposition and articulate arguments against homosexuality are Christian and usually words the words Bible or God at some point in their argument. I agree one could certainly attempt an argument on purely secular grounds but I think the argument won't hold well (on the other hand though I think one can make a much better secular argument against abortion-perhaps better the Church can make).

On lesbianism...I think the Bible certainly takes a harder and more direct shot at male-male sex, which has led some folks to think a little too hard about the subject: http://www.sexinchrist.com/ Click at your own risk! And FWIW I just noticed my word verification is "congl"...yikes!

Andrew said...

I have also never understood that something should be wrong simply because it is un-natural. Hell, wearing clothes in un-natural. It seems to me that tact is merely an argument of convenience.

Robert Hagedorn said...

Anal sodomy? For a really big surprise, google The First Scandal Adam and Eve. Then click once or twice to get the surprise.

Steve H. said...

Michael,

My point exactly! Norms change...homosexuality was once lumped in the same group as other "deviant" sexual acts such as incest.
The gay community doesn't like their lifestyle linked to incest (and I don't blame them there) because it illicits that "ick" feeling you mention.

My point being, that even 20 years ago the idea of "gays marrrying" would have been anathama. What do we consider anathema today that will be normative in 20-40 years.

Actually I believe the next "sexual liberation" will be the lowering of age of consent laws and I can hear the argument already; "If someone is sexually mature, who are we as a society to say what age is legal and what is not?"

Logan: I use China as an example, nearly every society, religion, and culture has rejected homosexuality as an accepted societal norm and usually without Jesus

Redlefty said...

Steve,

40 years ago interracial marriage and women getting equal pay to men were also anathema. Yet those have been good improvement, in my opinion.

On the other hand, divorce, abortion and other former anathemas are now more accepted and I think we're paying the price for that. So some of those things haven't been improvements.

To me the difference is the core value being honored (love vs. selfishness) and the result of the practice (pain vs. benefit). Interracial marriage honors love between adults, and women's rights brought benefits that exceeded any "pain" of adjustment. Divorce and abortion, however are clearly not helpful to love, and they cause pain.

It's an admittedly lame and short model or argument for me to use, but it's all a comment section can handle. :)

And in the end, I do think gay marriage may honor love, and bring benefit.

Loving this discussion and hope it continues!

Logan said...

Steve I think these quotes from Gandhi will express my thoughts on that: "An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it..Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained..." And then this one from Bertrand Russell helps too: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a wide-spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible”

Michael I love your point...my greatest frustration with the homosexuality debate is that so many people see it only in terms of sex (and that goes for many on BOTH sides). But as author Bruce Bawer put it homosexuality is more than that-it is feeling the same sense of comfort and security in a same-sex relationship that the majority does in a heterosexual relationship. I know gay couples who have been committed to each other for 20+ years...devoutly. Those partnerships are marriages. We never hear about that.

To me the issue is not sodomy (though in a free country consenting adults are free to do what they will) but about honoring and recognizing the couples who have been together in relationships that put many marriages to shame. As Jonathan Rauch put it those folks deserve better than what they get from us-to do otherwise is simply immoral.

I'm not a full-on apologist for the gay rights movement-I don't understand much of its culture and you'll never find me marching in a pride parade. But I'm convinced that homosexuality is natural (the idea one would "choose" such a lifestyle is absurd, we've seen it in other species and no mental health professional considers it a disorder-even a psychologist I had at the Christian college where I earned my BS conceded though us, though he more or less admitted he chose the Bible over what he knew from his discipline). It may have taken us awhile to see that-not surprising, since the majority of people are not homosexuals and usually in history the minority doesn't do so hot.

2 years ago I had the honor of attending a wedding of a lesbian co-worker of mine, who was married to her partner of 20 years. I was standing on holy ground during that ceremony-and that, more than any other reason, is why I feel the way I do. Alright Michael I'll try to stop cluttering your wall now...

Steve H. said...

Logan & Michael,

I respect both of your views and know they come from a desire to honor people...I, of course, just don't agree.

But I do agree that homosexuality is "natural". You will never hear me argue against homosexuality on the following grounds:

* that its unnatural
* that it affects the sanctity of marriage
* that the love some same sex people feel for each other is unreal

When God gives us a command though (I'll argue this as a Christian)its not because we won't want to do something, its because we will, and its not good for us.
Like you Michael, I could write more but I just got back from a long day and I have work in the morning. I'll leave you with a quote from The African Queen. Humphrey Bogart takes a swig of booze and Katherine Hepburn gives him a stern look. He says a little ashamed, "Its only natural mam." She responds, "Nature Mr. Ona is what we were put on this Earth to rise above."

Hal Johnson said...

Great post, and great discussion. For a good while, my position was that gay people should be allowed civil unions, but not marriage. I thought allowing gay marriage would erode the value of tradition. I've changed my mind, though, and I think allowing gay marriage has the potential to strengthen the institution of marriage. But really, to me, it's about liberty. Let two consenting adults get married if they wish, and leave it between them and God.

Andrew said...

Steve -
I am trying to clarify whether your objection to homosexuality is religiously based exclusively,or what composes the other part of your argument. If it is simply that it has always been the norm of societies to condemn it, I think that point has been dealt with.

On the religious end, I understand when religious folks feel an injunction by God not to be homosexual - i.e. they believe the bible says not to, and so they may not. Fine... by all means they should not be homosexual.

My problem is when they widen that field beyond themselves. You indicate that homosexuality is natural, does not harm hetero-sexual marriages, and that love within those realtionships is real.

It seems then that it falls back to a purely religious postition. Which again, is fine for a personal choice, but why should anyone else be forced or pressured into abiding by the moral constraints of an individual when the violations of those moral constraints do no harm to others. Hassidic Jews may feel bound to obey Kosher laws, but it would be innapropriate to push for legislation requiring it of others.

I agree with President Obama's point here:

""Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

The bible says murder is wrong (although it acts it out more as a guideline than a rule) but I could also make a secular arguement as to why it is good for humanity to follow that position. I do not see where one can make a moral arguement on homosexualtiy that could apply appropriately to those outside religious circles (that take a no homosexuality position).

Redlefty said...

Steve,

Thank you for the expansion of your points.

Not sure where this is all going in my own heart, but if I one day return to a stance of being against gay marriage and homosexuality in general, it will be due to exactly your approach and your perspective -- a humble acceptance and submission to God's instructions.

Steve H. said...

Andy...

In what way has the idea that it has always been against sociental norms been dealt with?

There seems to be a notion that someone is "born" gay in the same way someone is born black or a woman. That these people fall in love and that love should be respected and enjoy the same opportunities and privileges as "straight" people. If this were truly the situation, I could possibly buy into it.

But its just not the case. People engage in homosexual lifestyles for a number of reasons other than "birth". Here in Hong Kong there is a lesbian issue among the 150,000 Filipino domestic helpers nearly all who are female. They are along, underpaid, away from their families. They turn to each other and many times the relationship becomes sexual.

Are these women "lesbians"? Which leads me to my next point that reasons for male homosexuality are very different from female homosexuality.

A gay man I worked with back in Colorado once told me (when the issue came up in the news) that he wouldn't let gay men adopt kids I was a little stunned. When I asked him he told me the "gay" lifestyle that is portrayed to the public is very different to the real thing. He shook his head and said no kid should be brought into it. Granted that is one man's view but....

I do have a question? Is it wrong for a person to want to stop engaging in homosexual activity and / or to seek help in trying to do so?

Again, I do appreciate everyone's thoughts

Steve H. said...

Sorry, alot of typos in my last comment. I'm at work at really busy...probably should not be solving the world's issues right now :)

Andrew said...

Hmmmm... I think people are born gay, just like someone is born black or born a woman. Is your heterosexuality merely a product of social conditioning? It is interesting to me that, as students get in touch with me 15-20 years later, I am never surprised to find out that so & so is gay.... I spotted that back when they were nine or ten and had no sense of sexuality yet.

I think societal norms cannot be an objective standard for right and wrong. Usually, those norms are set by convenience, necessity, or prejudice. Every norm should be placed in judgement to determine it's source and if it is of human benefit to continue. I have yet to hear a non-religious, compelling argument against homosexuality.

Having watched many religious households, I do not believe that one's odds of being scarred in a gay household are any more than in a religious household.

I wouldn't say it is wrong for a homosexual to seek that change, but I would question why they would want to. What kind of motivation would you yourself need to convince yourself that you are not attracted to women and instead try to work up an attraction to men. How well do you think you could pull that off?

Don said...

Steve-Being the father of a gay, 29 year old son, I think I have a little bit better picture to what your gay co-worker may have been referring.

"When I asked him he told me the "gay" lifestyle that is portrayed to the public is very different to the real thing. He shook his head and said no kid should be brought into it."

From what I have gleaned from my son, perhaps he was speaking of what the adopted child would have to face from those with an anti-gay
bent. As I look back on my son's life, I can now see the things he had to go thru, and deal with as a person borngay. A seven or eight year old child quickly comes to realize he is different, but cannot as yet conceptualize why. He was as an eight year old constantly bullied. He acted out in perhaps the only way he knew, he rebelled, because he was told he was different, so he acted the part. I thank God he survived his childhood and young adulthood. He is a fine, contributing part of society today who simply desires, along with his partner of five years, to be treated equally with his heterosexual brethern.

I know its retorical but, what would you do if your child "came out" to you? How far does your love go?

Steve H. said...

Don,

I appreciate your son's perspective but I'm not sure it was the same as my co-worker's...

Like yourself, I would love my son unconditionally no matter which lifestyle he chose to pursue.

I think some of the misunderstanding occurs is that people who are rabid in their "hate" are much more vocal than myself who has a number of homosexual friends and yet I do not condone homosexuality. I've said before, if I had to condone every aspect of everyone of my friend's lives, I wouldn't have many friends. :)

Appreciate your thoughts

Bob Barbanes said...

...And this is where I have to chime in and say: God did not dictate the Bible! The quotes attributed to Christ in the N.T. may OR MAY NOT have been said by him. The Bible was written by men...reporters who claim this or that. Nowadays we'd call them "loonies." I no more believe that God "spoke" to the writers of the O.T. than I believe that He "spoke" to Joseph Smith and "dictated" the Book of Mormon.

And along those lines...just what EXACTLY did Jesus Christ ever say about homosexuality anyway?

I believe there was a Creator, yes.
I believe there was a human manifestation of this Creator, the one we call Jesus Christ, yes.
I believe that God loves us UNCONDITIONALLY, yes.
And I pretty much leave it at that, thank you.

As a gay man, I have no internal struggle or argument as to whether being gay is a choice or even a sin. My very existence tells me it's neither. Leviticus says what? Abomination? Feh- good for Leviticus.

But at the end of the day, it's like this: YOU believe in the Bible and use it as your Guide For Everyday Living? Great! YOU think it's wrong to be gay, then don't be gay. But please don't force those views on me. Just as I won't judge you harshly for eating pork or shrimp. Let's leave the judging up to the Almighty, alrighty?

If "marriage" is a civil thing, then just let two consenting same-sex adult people get married and be done with it. If it's a religious thing and that religious thing becomes the law of the land, then what the hell country do I live in again?? Because I thought the laws of the U.S. were supposed to apply to everyone, even those who might not believe in the Bible.

Don said...

Well said Bob. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

Redlefty said...

Great sharing and points, gang!

I'll plan to go ahead and continue the discussion with at least one more new post.