Sunday, February 9, 2014
Attempting to resolve the same-sex marriage controversy from a Progressive Christian viewpoint
Gay Marriage and The Progressive Christian
I find it impossible to resist composing this short dissertation on the recent movement of same-sex marriage into the media spotlight, and all the consternation it has been causing. The legal and moral status of gays and lesbians has always been problematic throughout human society. In modern American society, it occurs in at least two contexts: socioeconomic and moral. We begin with the socioeconomic questions raised by the issue. It is no small surprise that homosexuality has remained a social issue for centuries. Its first mention in writing known to modern man is the Bible. Under the US Constitution the issue of sexuality was not even mentioned. Jesus never mentioned it, but the apostle Paul did preach against it as documented in the first three chapters of the book of Romans. But what is less known is that Paul was evidently celibate by choice, and particularly after he began his ministry, which gives Paul's words a monastic tone even by the standards of his day. Homosexuality is also condemned in the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy, among other places. Much more currently and to the contrary, the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the Texas Sodomy Law relies on the 10th Amendment states' rights.
On moral issues the government has two options: It can be a leader and pioneer greater protection for sexual options as it did when Truman desegregated the military, or it can follow the lead of state governments on the issue. It has no standing to increase regulation of sexual matters without a clear and present need. The recent Defense of Marriage Act treads dangerous constitutional ground by allowing states to opt out of the full faith and credit clause in the Constitution. Then again, it may be a more dangerous precedent to the top 1% for the Congress to pass a law that it can ignore the Constitution by statute. This may give the remaining 99% of us ample legal firepower to take back our country from those high, mighty and privileged who have shamelessly stolen it. It sure looks to me like the right wing can no longer hide if it wishes to honor such a dangerous precedent.
The Fourteenth Amendment expanded the role of federal intervention into sexual politics. This Amendment requires the Federal government to guarantee that state laws provide equal protection to all of its citizens, period. If a State government, acting as the agent of culture, grants a privilege or a protection in any area, then all in that State must be given an opportunity to enjoy it. The Nineteenth Amendment was passed just over 50 years later, giving everyone an equal right to vote. In a democratic society the mores of the dominant culture are reflected in these regulations. In this country the Judeo-Christian culture is dominant, and its mores are reflected in the law. If this were a predominantly Muslim or Mormon culture polygamy could be an accepted part of the law. However, in the current dominant culture in most states polygamy is considered a crime. In the area of sexuality cultural mores are fluid. In the days of the Hebrew Patriarchs polygamy was considered moral, as it was more practical in a primitive society. As society moved to a more urban setting this changed, and the sexual mores reflect this change.
In the American culture tolerance is a strongly held virtue. This is by necessity, as tolerance of the differences of others leads to their tolerance of our differences. In former times anti-Catholicism and a hatred of Black and Jewish people was a part of American civic and religious culture. Among most Americans these are no longer considered acceptable, and rightfully so. As the belief in tolerance has increased many have come forward to demand acceptance. Among these are gays and lesbians. As the culture changes, the law is adapting to it, especially given the wider application of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. An aspect of equal protection is the question of laws prohibiting homosexual behavior. Many argue there is no question involved, as they have been taught that homosexuality is wrong and that is the end of it. That is adequate for teachings on personal morality. However, in a free society, trying to base public policy choices solely on religious authority, however well intentioned, simply wouldn't work when put into practice. Moral teachings cannot dictate public policy choice. Rather, they are to be used to inform rational choices in the context of a free society.
I see three moral objections to homosexuality in its current state, the biblical example of Sodom and Gomorrah, the nature of the homosexual relationship and the majority’s feelings about the homosexual act. There can be no argument that the sins of the city-state of Sodom and Gomorrah cried out to heaven for justice. I do have some hagging doubts as to whether the sin that cried to heaven was simply homosexuality, or something worse. A reading of the biblical text shows the sin of Sodom was not its permission of homosexuality but its inhospitality to Lot’s visitors, who in reality were the Angel of the Lord. Genesis states that the crowd wished to have its way with Lot’s visitors. One does not demand to rape God's representatives on earth and expect to come away unscathed. Rape was the sin of Sodom, and I firmly agree that this does cry to heaven for justice.
The homosexual relationship can be examined for completeness. Biologically it is obviously incomplete, as by its very nature it precludes the ultimate in sexual love, the creation of a new individual. However, this does not preclude it from being the ultimate form of love. The ultimate form of love is to lay down one's life for another, or through selfless dedication. There is nothing in the homosexual relationship that precludes this, and in fact it often occurs when one cares for a lover who has been stricken by AIDS. As for me, living here in Atlanta – a place where there are a lot of gay people – I don't enthusiastically support gay folks but I tolerate it and give equal treatment to them because they are entitled to it by law. To do otherwise is to judge, and the Bible warns us repeatedly about judging other people. The apostle James said it very well in James chapter 2, verses 12 and 13, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” “Do not judge”, Jesus said, “for you who pass judgment on others do the same things yourselves”.
The final objection is that many find homosexual sex personally disgusting. While this is an argument for not engaging in homosexual relations personally, it is not strong enough to prohibit it to others who do not find it so. Personal preferences and prejudices do not determine public policy choices. Part of one’s sexual preference is to exclude other preferences. It is natural for displays of homosexual affection to disquiet heterosexuals, just as displays of heterosexual affection give some queens the willies. In a majority gay culture, do heterosexuals want their conduct regulated? I think not. Those who are disgusted by the idea of homosexuality need to ask themselves which is more disgusting, the act itself or the state taking an interest in the act. What would Jesus do?
Having argued that the first principle of morality is that God loves man (as that is God's nature), it follows that any moral code must reflect God's desire that man be happy and fulfilled in his humanity. Behaving inhumanely is inherently not natural. In both natural law and divine law homosexuality is not disordered for one who was created homosexual by God. Under such an ordering, the teaching that homosexuals refrain from their God-given sexuality is disordered, as its effect is to alienate homosexuals from the Church and place them outside its wise counsel on monogamy as opposed to promiscuity. When the Church promulgates a teaching it is responsible for the result. If the result of a church teaching is teen suicide and adult promiscuity, then the teaching against homosexuality is disordered.
Some religious people wish to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals, or teach them to remain celibate in order to undertake religious practice. After some careful thought about this for a long time, I disagree. To teach another about morality, you must first gain their trust. The reason gays and lesbians don't trust evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics is because the would-be evangelists don't trust the gays when they authentically state that they did not choose to be gay, that God created them that way. So these evangelicals, all of whom are straight, claim to know where the gays are coming from. Except they can't, so by teaching homosexuality as being a choice, they lie. To be trusted, you must trust. Authenticity is important. It is why alcoholics listen to each other rather than ministers to get sober, they trust someone who has been there - not someone who has not.
Other Protestant groups do not wish to evangelize gays. They are instead under the misguided notion that God punishes a culture that allows homosexuality. This is not only silly; it is uncharitable. God demands we treat others with charity, even and especially those we don’t agree with. Practicing legal discrimination in God’s name is flat out wrong. I have long believed that if Jesus were teaching the story of the Good Samaritan today, he would change the Good Samaritan to the Good Drag Queen. Or maybe some black dude from prison. Or maybe an “illegal alien”, if any of you still remain under the mistaken notion that illegal human beings exist. This was just His style. If you don’t think so, then you really don’t know the Lord as well as you think you do. Speaking as your pastor, it's part of my job to tell you all this stuff. Your salvation in Christ is directly proportional to your tolerance of others who are unlike yourself.
Public affirmations of sexuality among heterosexuals is not only condoned, but legitimized through laws on marriage and family relations. Under equal protection homosexuals have an equal right to state sanction. It is also in the state's best interest to acquiesce to such rights. The AIDS epidemic has highlighted the public health question involving homosexuality. When monogamous homosexuals are not given access to the institution of marriage, then the law implicitly endorses promiscuity. Venereal disease has always made promiscuity a dangerous choice, both for straights and gays. With the advent of AIDS it becomes fatal. The sanctioning of marriage by homosexuals lessens promiscuity and brings gays into the moral order. In doing so it helps to halt the spread of disease. As such it is in the interests of the state and the society. Social and religious leaders who accept the legitimacy and morality of monogamous gay relationships then have standing to teach that promiscuity is wrong. Until they do so, they are hopelessly out of touch, putting their gay brethren out of reach.
Evil people rule when good people do nothing.