Tag Archives: Marriage Equality

Gender Equality and Homosexuality in Scripture

17 Jan

Yesterday, the linking of gender equality and homosexuality came up twice.  The first time was in the context of a class, and the second came over dinner with a friend.  It seems that some folks are putting the two issues in the same camp, assuming the arguments are congruent for both, and that support of one equates to support for the other.  I’ve even had a man tell me he couldn’t support women in ministry because it was a “slippery slope” towards ordaining gay people.  While it is certainly true that a proponent of marriage equality is more likely to promote equality amongst the sexes, the same cannot be said in reverse.  I say that for one, very good reason- the arguments in favor of gender equality are completely different from the arguments for Christian gay marriage.    

Biblical egalitarians, like me, have come to this position after wrestling with texts and evaluating the tensions within the biblical witness.  The point is -there are tensions!  Not every passage of Scripture that deals with women is in agreement with the others.  Yes, Paul limits women in 1 Tim. 2 and 1 Cor. 14, but Paul also praises women as leaders in Romans 16, and writes with the assumption that they will be praying and prophesying  in worship in 1 Cor. 11.  He also has the gumption to say things like, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” (Gal. 3:28-29 NIV).  On top of Paul’s testimony, we have four Gospels which portray Jesus’ counter-cultural encounters with women.  Not only did he offer deep respect for women, but he also brought women into discipleship (think Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Joanna, Susannah, Mary of Clopas, etc).  The conversation gets even larger when we bring in the dozens of Old Testament passages which deal with women.  Often, egalitarians are accused of disregarding Scripture passages we just don’t like.  In reality, however, we’re engaging all of the biblical witness, and interpreting two small passages in light of the entire biblical witness.  We aren’t disregarding passages.  We’re evaluating them within the entire canon of Scripture (the same thing we do with slavery by the way). We not only have the freedom to do this, but also the responsibility, because there IS tension within the text which calls for careful study and interpretation.

The same cannot be said for homosexuality in the Bible.  There are no tensions within Scripture when it comes to homosexuality.  Admittedly, addressing homosexual relations does not seem to be a high priority for any of the biblical writers.  That being said, the matter is addressed in both the Old and New Testaments.  In every instance, the practice is forbidden.  That’s it.  There are no contradicting texts.  There are no writers who disagree with those who came before.   The biblical witness is consistent.  As a progressively-minded person, I would LOVE to say something different.  But I cannot make claims about the text which the text doesn’t make for itself.  

I understand the motivation to link these two issues. After all, proponents of biblical equality and marriage equality are both concerned with the honorable treatment of all persons.  Throughout history, both women and LGBTQ folks have been treated as something less than human, undeserving of love and respect.  Such behavior is unbiblical and unchristian. Period.  Every human has been made in the image of God and has inherent and sacred worth, regardless of that person’s actions or beliefs.  But that’s where the link between gender equality and homosexuality ends. 

My friends, however tempted we may be to link gender equality with marriage equality, these two conversations should be had separately.  Scripture doesn’t link them.  The arguments for/against them are not the same.  Please don’t misrepresent advocates of either by assuming the two positions are necessarily linked.  The church needs to engage both of these issues, but the Bible doesn’t deal with them in the same way, so we shouldn’t either.    

Reflections on the Marriage Equality Debate

4 Apr

Image

Image

The debate about marriage equality has been heated in the USA for some time now, and it has naturally worked its way into the church.  Lines have been drawn in the sand.  The denominations which affirm the LGBT lifestyle are insisting they’re the only ones who love people (and are therefore in the right), while the other denominations are shouting back that they’re the biblical ones (and are therefore in the right).  Although I applaud the bravery of people who are willing to put their opinions into the mainstream- even unpopular opinions- it seems to me that the majority of Christians who have entered this debate have started from the wrong place.  The result has been a culture war in which everyone is a loser.

I would like to humbly suggest that we- as a church- consider two things before we make any statements about the rightness or wrongness of marriage equality.

First, I think we should ask ourselves:  Are my words being motivated by love for a person?  I don’t think it’s enough to say, “I am motivated by my love for the Bible”, or “I love the institution of church”(while it’s certainly good to love them both).  Jesus has called us to love God above all else, but also to imitate his actions and love other humans the way Jesus has loved us.  Almost everyone I know would respond, “Yes, of course I love people who are gay and lesbian.”  In fact, I don’t personally associate with anyone who would say otherwise (at least not openly), but the recent events on social media have led me to believe that many of my brothers and sister in Christ do not love individuals who are LGBT.  I don’t say that because some disagree with the lifestyle- that’s a valid position.  I say that because we seem to have forgotten a very important truth.  “That homosexual” is more than his sexual orientation.  His name is Ted.  He has two parents who he loves beyond words, a little brother who adores him, a degree in accounting, and a good job.  Ted really likes jazz music and his favorite book is O Cry the Beloved Country.  In his spare time, Ted grows tomatoes in his backyard and goes fishing with his favorite uncle.  Ted is a person.  What’s more, Ted is a human being who has been made in the image of God and is the beloved of God Almighty.  The minute we separate a human being from the image and love of God, we are in error and sin.

Perhaps it would be helpful, for those of us who wish to enter into this debate, to first know a person who identifies as LGBT.  I can tell you, I am writing this post with fear and trepidation because of the four gay people in my life who I love deeply.  I don’t love them because they’re gay- as if I’m trying to fill a quota- and I don’t love them in spite of being gay.  I love them because they are human beings, made in the image of God, and they happen to be really cool, funny, smart and brave individuals.  My love for them has shaped the way I approach this subject.  It has forced me to consider every single word and evaluate whether or not I am motivated by a holy love for people.

This same reproach can go the other directions.  Many of my brothers and sisters have come out as adamant supporters of marriage equality.  Their love for LGBT folks is evident, but their love for the community of faith is not.  Before we rail against someone else’s theological position, we must also stop and consider whether or not we are motivated by love for Christ and his bride.  The messages we have to share- whatever they may be- will never be heard until the message is seasoned with love.

Secondly, I think there is a passage of Scripture we- as the church- should revisit. 

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. “’Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

– 1 Cor. 5:9-13 (bold mine)

Paul is a huge advocate for accountability and church discipline.  This passage is written in the context where Paul addresses some sexual immorality within the church.  Very often, my friends on the LGBT side will throw out the “judge not” texts.  Those texts hold true, but do not negate the role of accountability amongst believers.  We are called to both grow in holiness and assist our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.  Therefore, it is biblical and good for those within the church to hold other believers accountable, provided we are equal opportunity critiquers when it comes to sin.  A pastor I met recently named Kevin had some good words on this topic.  He shared with me that everyone comes into the faith at different places in their spiritual walks.  That’s a given.  Some people will progress faster than others.  He told me he is less concerned with where they are in the journey of sanctification than the direction they are facing.  If we are walking with the Lord and facing Christ, then the Holy Spirit will do the Holy Spirit’s job of sanctifying.  Our role in this process is to gently correct and encourage each other to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Here is a link to a video by Dr. Ben Witherington III on this question for the believers.  I agree with his conclusions for the church.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMHXH_xERL8

However, Paul makes it clear in this passage that he is not in the business of “judging” or holding those outside the church accountable.  God will handle that according to his perfect judgment and unfailing love.  It is not my job to be the morality police.  The whole premise that those who are outside the faith can/should be expected to live up to Christian standards of holiness is flawed to begin with because no one is capable of doing that. It is only through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we are made righteous.   Some people will point to John the Baptist’s rebuke of King Herod as justification for “calling out” the sin in government.  However, Herod was a Jewish King who was supposed to be leading God’s people according to God’s standard (Torah).   John was rebuking another member of the covenant community not an outsider.  I’m afraid I must hold to the same conclusion as Paul.  “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church…? God will judge those outside.” God is perfectly capable of handling the eternal implications of every choice humans make- and I’d prefer to leave that job in God’s capable hands.

I know I will have upset some people with this post.  Some will think I crossed a line and others will think I haven’t gone far enough.  Honestly, my intention is not to upset anyone.  I desire unity within the body of Christ, but I am also deeply saddened by the fact that the gay couple at Panera chose to move their table when they realized I was reading the Bible.  Something is terribly amiss when Christians are known for their hatred of a sin rather than their love for human beings made in God’s image.  It’s breaking my heart- and I can’t help but think it breaks God’s too.