Gay Marriage: Why Christians Shouldn’t Try to Ban It

J.R. Daniel KirkDaniel Kirk (no relation) writes an interesting post Regarding Amendment 1in North Carolina. It is interesting not only to people in North Carolina, or who consider it home, but to Christians worldwide, and especially here in the UK where moves to legalise same sex marriage are under consideration. This is because the core of the proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment is as follows:

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

Daniel’s response to this is simple:

You don’t have to vote for Amendment 1, even if you don’t think God approves of homosexual behavior.

And this is the basis of his reasoning:

We have a responsibility to guard the morality of the church in a way that God has not given us responsibility to guard the morality of the entire world. …

When we hold positions for reasons that are clearly and fundamentally religious positions, we must take extra care not to impose these on our non-Christian neighbors–if, in fact, we would love them with our religious convictions in the same way we would have them love us with theirs.

In other words, as Christians we should not be seeking to impose our own moral standards on the world. If we try to do so, we are not showing Christian love to our unbelieving neighbours.

I agree. In fact I would take this a little further than Daniel does explicitly. If we seek to impose our moral standards on outsiders, we give them the impression that the Christian faith is a matter of obeying rules. That is a complete denial of the gospel proclamation to unbelievers, which should be that God loves them and gives them his grace even while they are still living sinful lives. As Craig Groeschel writes today for the Huffington Post, Rules Create Toxic Religion. And the sin of a homosexual relationship is no worse in God’s eyes than the sin of showing self-righteousness and of misrepresenting the gospel.

The issues here in the UK are rather different from those in North Carolina. Here we already have civil partnerships for same sex couples, and there is no question of abolishing them. So the human rights argument Daniel presents is not really applicable here. The pressure for allowing full same sex marriage seems to be coming more from the political correctness lobby than from the gay and lesbian community. So I will not come out in support of the government’s same sex marriage proposals. But I think Daniel has also given me good reasons not to oppose them.

37 thoughts on “Gay Marriage: Why Christians Shouldn’t Try to Ban It

  1. Don’t you think that part of the problem here, is that the Church is part of the state so it feels it has a say in public morality?

    So by the same token should the established church be dis-established?

    And would such a move make it easier to guard the morality of the church or make it more vulnerable to being overwhelmed by secularism?

  2. Iconoclast, that’s certainly part of the problem here in the UK. Indeed the state expects the church to be its moral guardian, even when it ignores what the church says. That doesn’t mean the church should accept that role. So yes, I fully support disestablishment, but that’s another issue.

  3. Absolutely spot on, Peter. Whilst I disagree with the view that holds same-sex relationships to be sinful (I’ve expressed my views on this elsewhere so won’t reiterate them here), I recognise that some do hold that view; and for those who do, who also wish to engage with the world rather than alienate themselves from it, this must be the way forward. Thank you.

  4. And our responsibility to show the world God’s requirement for mankind? Following your logic German Christians should have allowed Nazis to persecute and kill Jews – it is only our religious faith that tells us this is wrong behaviour.
    Mankind abandons God’s laws always to our detriment. Sin always has consequences and these consequences are always communal.
    It is our Christian duty to call for godly standards and behaviour. If these calls are ignored – so be it. But we must at least stand up for the truth.

  5. Stephen, that’s a good question. I agree that there must be a point somewhere where the church has to stand up against evil. Perhaps that point is where there are innocent victims. So we should stand up against paedophilia as well as murder, but not against consensual sexual activity, of any kind, between adults.

    But where innocent victims are involved it is by no means clear that “it is only our religious faith that tells us this is wrong behaviour”. I’m sure most atheistic humanists would disagree here. Arguably it is our shared humanity, and the conscience which we all have, which we believers would say God puts in us, which leads most of us to reject murder as wrong behaviour.

  6. I think that part of it has to do with picking and choosing your battles. I still can’t figure out why same-sex marriage is a battle that so many conservative Christians here in the US think is one of the most important battles to wage.

  7. Good challenge, Peter; but I’m not sure that the negative necessarily follows from the positive (or whichever way around it is). When I hear those such as Cardinal O’Brien vituperating against gays, I feel that I have a moral duty to stand alongside my gay brothers and sisters and say, This is not the authentic voice of the church; and that, I think, requires me to stand alongside those who are calling for marriage equality (not for gay marriage: I make no call for gay marriage; I call for marriage equality).

    And contra your assertion that the call for such is coming more from the PC lobby than the gay community itself, I invite you to visit the Coalition for Equal Marriage which is an initiative of a gay couple and endorsed by such gay representative groups as Stonewall, Lesbian and Gay Christians, Changing Attitude and many others alongside a number of human rights campaign groups.

    For me, this is nothing to do with political correctness: it is about redressing an injustice largely perpetrated by the church/Christian community against a minority group.

  8. Pingback: Imposing our moral standards on outsiders | eChurch Blog

  9. Rhea, I don’t think picking and choosing your battles is the answer to Stephen. In other words, I would look for a real difference in principle between gay marriage and mass murder, not just pragmatism over which fights can be won. But I agree with you in not understanding why Christians think this is the most important battle.

    Phil, I see your point. I agree that “vituperating against gays” is not the authentic voice of the church. But two wrongs don’t make a right, so I don’t agree with Christians joining in with militant secularists in a campaign largely directed against Christians. I understand that Stonewall etc joined the Coalition for Equal Marriage. But they were not the ones putting the initial pressure on the government to introduce “equal marriage”. Meanwhile there can be no “equal marriage” unless the government allows opposite sex couples to be in civil partnerships.

  10. Stephen, to me it’s a question of applying the criterion of harm. I look at the Nazis and I see immediate and obvious harm in their activities: we must stand against it. I look at those in gay relationships and I see no harm whatsoever.

    There is, quite simply, no comparison – apart from when I look at the way some Christians treat gays and I see attitudes that sometimes seem to come apallingly close to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews; and against that I must take a stand (in fact, did not the Nazis treat Jews and homosexuals in much the same way?).

    I regard sin as that which harms another or oneself; you, I think, from our previous conversations, regard sin as that which offends God, and you define that which offends God as that which the biblical writers condemn.

    That strikes me as too easy, too simplistic: we must ask deeper questions of the text. The attitude that declares The Bible says it; I believe it: that settles it is a recipe for lazy thinking. We must ask why do the biblical writers say what they do? What is the underlying issue? But that, I think, represents an entire conversation in and of itself which would take us off on a tangent here, so I’ll say no more.

    Yes, everything has consequences; and the consequences of Nazism are truly terrifying; but the consequences of marriage equality, especially when the proposed legislation specifically protects the church … in truth, I can see no consequences Christians need to fear: as the Coalition for Equal Marriage gently and humorously expressed it…

    If marriage is redefined (again), those who believe in the modern definition of “traditional” marriage will still be married. They will still have the same sexual orientation. People’s careers will remain intact, the sun will keep shining, and toast will still have a tendency to land butter-side down…

    I have yet to see any convincing argument by those opposed to marriage equality for the supposedly dire consequences they predict: it is nothing more than scaremongering and an attempt to ring-fence the church in its fear of contamination. As I see it, the church today is becoming — if it has not already become — what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were, and Jesus himself stands outside and weeps over her now as he once wept over Jerusalem. Lord, have mercy.

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  13. If this were actually about a simply a “clearly and fundamentally religious position” I might have some sympathy, but it is not.

    The problem with the gay marriage proposal is that it requires all of us to acknowledge as ‘true’ a falsehood – that a ‘same-sex marriage’ and a ‘heterosexual marriage’ are the same – and they are not, because same-sex sex isn’t sex in the way heterosexual sex is sex. One doesn’t produce babies, and hence offspring and famililes, the other does.

    It is because we are being asked to endorse a falsehood that we should object.

  14. John, the question is not about being asked to endorse something but rather about whether to protest against it.

    Perhaps someone of your acquaintance has specifically asked you to endorse marriage equality, but I suspect not: I suspect that the only request that has come your way has been to join the protest against it; and that is another matter entirely.

    The government’s proposals (you have read them, I take it?) specifically ring-fence this as a civil matter and protect the church from any requirement to endorse or approve same-sex relationships.

    Unless you are a Roman Catholic who believes that every sexual engagement should hold the potential for procreation, your argument about producing offspring is entirely spurious; or would you deny marriage to infertile couples, to older couples or to those who simply don’t want to add to world’s the burden of overpopulation?

  15. phil, briefly:

    1. Insofar as the govt proposed a consultation, my opinion has been sought (as, incidentally, it was for Scotland).

    2. If I did not disagree, that would be an ‘endorsement’.

    3. The ‘ring fencing’ of religion is irrelevant to my argument, which is about the ‘secular sphere’.

    4. The particular instance of infertile marriages is irrelevant to the main point that same-sex sex is not sex.

    Sorry to be brief, but also v busy.

  16. John, I can agree with you that same sex marriage is a linguistic and logical confusion of categories. But I have better things to spend my time on than trying to police our government’s use of language.

  17. Peter, et. al.
    I have not taken nor had the time to read through this comment string as I usually do so forgive me, please, if all this has been covered.

    In the U.S. Constitution, the rights of every human person (just in case anyone imagines there really is such a thing as a “corporate person”!) are guaranteed. Every citizen, for instance, has the right to vote, the right to do commerce and the right to freely exercise their own religion. Now we are facing a tiny constitutional crisis over whether gender can proscribe an otherwise constitutionally assumed right to marriage. In the states of Massachusetts, California and Iowa where the constitutions of the states gave no mention of an exclusion of a right to marry based on gender, the courts ruled (correctly, I believe) that no one could be denied a presumed right on the basis of gender. Therefore, if Joe Blow has the legal the right to marry Jane Row, Jill Doe also has the right to marry Jane. Citizenship is not articulated by gender.

    The reason so many states have been pushing amendments to their state constitutions, is because, unless such gender exclusions exist, eventually every supreme court in every state was going to come to the same conclusion and strike down state statutes which forbid marriage based on gender.

    Two facts will render this traditionalist backlash moot within the next thirty years in the United States.

    1) If lawsuits are brought on a federal level in a given state against the constitutionality of a given state’s prohibition of any person’s right to marry another, eventually, one of those federal challenges will be decided against the state’s constitutional prohibition in the federal district court. When that happens, the case will be dragged, from district to appellate to the U.S. Supreme Court. When that happens the state constitutional prohibition will be overturned. If not by this Court then by the next or by the next. Why?

    2) The second fact: the U.S. demographic on this issue breaks along generational lines. Over age 70, 85% per cent oppose “Gay Marriage.” Between age 70 and 50, 65% oppose. 35-15? 80% per cent in favor. The fifty-fifty point hits somewhere around age 45.

    So, in twenty years, the 30-somethings will be 50-something and the universal right of most people to marry each other will be the “what’s the big deal?” law of the land in the U.S. I believe it will happen sooner rather than later because the stats I quote above have been shifting toward “Gay Marriage” (I prefer calling it, “the right to marriage for everyone”) for the past fifteen years. Just like Obama, most everybody has been moving on this issue and the 50/50 point moves up, age wise, faster than the years pass.

    Personally, I wish we had a system like I saw at work when I lived in Switzerland where everyone who got married participated in a civil ceremony, signed the license and had, from that moment on, a legal civil union so that the covenant of marriage was reserved for Christians, Jews and others who actually saw it as an agreement between the couple and their god.

    If we did that over here, we could get us pastors out of “the authority of the state” game which we now play and our churches would still each clearly decide whether we approve of marriages of same-sex couples, all of whom would have a right, like everybody else, to a civil union. Then the obvious legal right to legal civil unions, upon which all those other medical and civil rights and privileges are based would not be a moral issue outside the churches at all.

    In our western liberal tradition, governments and the constitutions (written or unwritten) which direct and shape their policies have always broadened, safe-guarded and guaranteed the rights of their citizens. These thirty-one states in the U. S. have used their legal systems and structures to deny some citizens a right which is safe-guarded for all others. Such behavior shamefully flies in the face of 400 good years of legal progress, progress which Christians have used to their advantage in the liberal western democracies in ways which Christians in the Muslim countries and in many of the former iron curtain nations can only imagine.

    When Christians or other faith communities use their systems of law to force compliance with their faith-community’s morality by those who do not share their views they move toward theocracy, a system of government which simply cannot be just in a pluralistic world. Faith in King Jesus can only be entered into willingly. If we would be just we must not take on the ways of Sharia law and the Taliban, not even on matters about which we feel strongly.

  18. Amen, Trace! And the ‘Golden Rule’ as given to us by King Jesus is to do to others as we’d have them do to us. Upon what basis, then, would we impose rules upon others when, if our positions were reversed, we would not have rules imposed upon us? Grace must win the day or we are all lost.

  19. Something which I think addresses Trace James’s comments was mentioned by phil earlier: “I have yet to see any convincing argument by those opposed to marriage equality for the supposedly dire consequences they predict …”

    The problem with this argument is that it is historically the wrong way round. It is not that same-sex marriage will be introduced and then all sorts of dire consequences will follow. Rather, the dire things have happened already and same-sex marriage is conceivable in the light of them.

    pre-marital sex as the norm, divorce as common-place, illegitimacy as neither here nor there — these are all things which have arrived already. There really isn’t much else to follow.

  20. … and that lot, John, is largely courtesy of the heterosexual community: as Lynn Lavner expressed it, “The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love heterosexuals. It’s just that they need more supervision.”

    You can’t blame the gay community for the immorality and failings of the straight community. It is heterosexuals who have betrayed and made a mockery of marriage; and bizarrely, it is that same heterosexual community who now wish to rule against gay couples who wish to make a lifetime commitment through marriage.

    I could be wrong, but I suspect that just as God shamed Israel through calling the Gentiles, God is now going to shame the heterosexual community by a new era of marital faithfulness expressed and lived out by gays…

  21. phil (sorry, can’t do capital p on this keyboard yet), you’re right, of course, about the world generally and Christians particularly. One of the things that struck me as obviously wrong with Jeffrey John’s argument was that ‘permanent, Faithful, Stable’ no longer applied to marriage in the Church, so why should it be seen as an argument for other relationships.

    So, will we ALL start urging a return to holiness?

  22. May I say, incidentally, that we all need help with this? However, it was much easier for me as a young person in a culture with certain standards to maintain those standards for myself. Now that the standards have changed, it is more difficult – for me and I guess for youngsters.

  23. Pingback: On Marriage for Everybody and Why It Is Coming Soon to the U.S.A. « Trace’s Studies in Grace Blog

  24. Phil said:
    \”I could be wrong, but I suspect that just as God shamed Israel through calling the Gentiles, God is now going to shame the heterosexual community by a new era of marital faithfulness expressed and lived out by gays…\”

    With all due respect, you are terribly wrong. What is sin to God will always be sin. God will not honor a people who disregard their own bodies and His very word. It will not happen. Also, please understand that there is always a remnant who want to Glorify God a whom will not bow to the norms of this evil world. You mention Israel being shamed, but did not God not save a remnant who would not bow to baal?

    Question: do you have any scripture reference that would make you think such a thought that cannot be found in scripture?

    I would like to add that marriage is not a institution of the man but God. It seems that many on this site have missed that point and have made it about man and laws. It is not.

    Marriage—Christ and the Church
    Ephesians 5:
    22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

    25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body,[d] of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

    Christ is The Groom and The church is the bride. A Groom cannot be a woman and a bride cannot be a man. Unless God is confused (He is not), again, He will never, ever endorse same sex marriage.

  25. Trace, thank you for your comment, and your detailed explanation of the US legal situation. I can only agree with you that on current trends both here and in the UK it seems highly likely that “gay marriage” will be fully accepted within a few years, or at most decades. That is of course quite independent of whether that acceptance is right. But I agree with you also that Christians should not be seeking to obstruct this trend, and also that it would be better to decouple state sanctioned unions from Christian and other religious marriage.

    John and Phil, that was an interesting exchange. I was pleasantly surprised to find it ending in agreement, and I too can agree with you both.

    Paul, that’s an interesting point. But Phil was alluding to Romans 10:19 and Deuteronomy 32:21, which in context seems to mean that God was using the Gentile nations to shame Israel even while those Gentiles were persisting in sin.

    This amused me, in the context of this thread:

    A Groom cannot be a woman

    Indeed Phil cannot be a woman, but his wife Sue can be, even though she is also a priest. At least, Paul, your redundant capital “G” makes up for John’s failure to give Phil a capital “P”.

  26. Hi All, as a relatively new reader of this blog I will obviously have missed much of the context behind the comment string but thought it would be worth mentioning that trends can (in fact usually do) reverse. One quote of interest…

    GK Chesterton
    “Cheat the Prophet.” The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.”

    Similarly in one of CS Lewis’s (apparently not terribly good but I enjoyed it) books the Pilgrims Regress he gives a picture of a society that swings from one extreme (left) to another (right) and so on ad infinitum.

    The current trend is apparently towards the liberalisation of marriage but that may largely be a function of a organised and persistent gay lobby who have done all the leading on this topic for the last 60 years. As the church + others have decided to make a stand and may even push that stand into positively affirming the value traditional definitions, of no pre-marital sex, permanent faithfulness, a child being brought up by his own parents etc… then the trend may reverse.

  27. Christopher, welcome! Indeed the trend may reverse. That’s why I wrote “on current trends”. I don’t expect a reversal, but then I don’t claim to be a prophet on this one. Time will tell.

  28. Perhaps we need simply to apply the wisdom of Gamaliel?

    So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God! (Acts 5:38-39, NRSV)

  29. Phil, that’s an interesting thought. But I don’t think we can apply the Gamaliel principle to everything that happens in the world. I don’t suppose you would want to apply it to Nazism or to Communist oppression, which certainly flourished for a time – nor to many positive political proposals which have not succeeded. In fact I wouldn’t want to apply it to anything outside the church. But I can see that this is a matter for debate.

  30. Phil, I like it! The thing that gets me is that some Christians think that they can fix up problems in the world, when in fact they can’t even get things right in their own backyard.

    Peter, I’m not so sure about your point of “self-righteousness and of misrepresenting the gospel”.

    Grace is not a license to sin, for believers or non-believers. Biblical standards are crucial, but the church is able to convey what those standards are without appearing to give unsolicited advice. Remember what Jesus said about throwing your pearls before swine!

    In any case, whether or not society legally recognizes such relationships, they already impact society in much the same way as the porn industry or prostitution. To speak out against one form of “sexual perversion” and not the other is little more than picking and choosing. And at the end of the day, these things are all wrong in God’s eyes.

  31. Robert, my point about “the sin of showing self-righteousness and of misrepresenting the gospel” was surely the same point as you are making, that we shouldn’t single out homosexual practices above other sins.

  32. Thank you, Phil, for that link. Andy’s proposals make a lot of sense. Indeed I would say that I agree with them.

    But here is another link I could recommend: I have resolutely resolved to read nothing further on the gay marriage debate. My resolution is not as resolute as Stuart’s, but I think there is little new to be read or written on this matter.

    Besides, while you are still partly immobilised and have time on your hands, I, like Stuart, have new aspects of a busy life to get on with – hence little activity here. More news to come soon.

  33. Thanks Peter – I shall have a read; and I’m feeling similarly inclined, at least as far as writing about the topic goes … there’s much I could say, but the word exhausted fits the bill somewhat… hence no post at my place…

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