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Monday, November 03, 2008

Opposing Equal Marriage Rights (Part III)

In Part II I tried to address those who would shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, look, it's what the Bible says; I didn't come up with it." But, Part II doesn't end the discussion. Paul says you shouldn't be greedy. He says you shouldn't be sexually perverse. He says you shouldn't be swindlers. I agree with all of these, and in fact, they provide good advice for our times. My point is, that Part II doesn't "prove" that you should blow off what Paul said, but it should help people understand that just because some folks who don't like gay people found a verse or two opposing gay sex, the job of the Christian seeking to understand whether gay relationships are valuable before the eyes of God is not done. There is more searching to be done.

So, what to do with two people of the same gender who are romantic in love with each other? If tradition is most important, if the old ways is most important, than we should not recognize their love. Their love is different than what we are used to and it is contrary to the Hebrew law and Paul's instruction. On the other hand, if love is what is important, if that love has some how replaced adherence to tradition, then we should recognize their love.

Look at what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount about some related topics:
Adultery
"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce
"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
It seems to me that these scriptures suggest a move away from legalism toward a deeper understanding of fidelity. I've suggested before that a major theme of the Sermon on the Mount is this shift.

Of course, most important for me is not my study of scripture on this topic. The fact is, I know several couples in which both people are men or both people are women. It is simply inconcievable that these relationship are lesser than those in which one person is a man and one is a woman. Just as with any question of faith, it is my experience that has the most powerful impact on what I believe.

9 comments:

Matt Dick said...

Typically, someone else articulates a point I tried to make some time ago a lot better than I ever could. Michael Shermer wrote:

Mark my words. Here is what is going to happen. Within a decade, maybe two, Christians will come around to treating gays no differently than they now treat members of other groups whom they previously persecuted — women, Jews, blacks — but not because of some new interpretation of a biblical passage, or because of a new revelation from God. These changes will come about the same way that they always do: by the oppressed minority fighting for the right to be treated equally, and by a few enlightened members of the oppressing majority supporting their cause.

Then what will happen is that Christians will take credit for the civil liberation of gays, dig through the historical record and find a few Christian preachers or bloggers who had the courage and the character to stand up for Gay rights when their fellow Christians would not, and then cite those as evidence that were it not for Christianity, gays would not be equal.


Jim, this is why, in our earlier blog discussion, I reached the limits of my arguments. At what levels of support/attack do you reach before you can lay a freedom movement at the feet of "Christianity" versus the culture in general? How can you say that, because some Christian leaders advocate for equal rights, that it was an inevitable outgrowth of the religion. As I said before, I am much more convinced that notions of equal rights had their origins in the Magna Carta, and its progenitors and ultimately in the notions of citizenship from the Roman Empire and Greek philosophy.

linda said...

Matt, I generally agree with you that Christians are no more likely than the population at large to treat gay people and straight people alike -- to not see sexual identity as a descriptor any more than they see skin color, gender, or any other quality in a person.

The distinction lies in the motivation of SOME Christians. SOME Christians will move toward that absence of discrimination consciously BECAUSE of values that emerge FOR THEM from their understanding of how God beckons them to be. Other people may similarly lose the practice of discrimination because of values that originate somewhere in them besides faith.

Please note: (In my understanding)God's ability to work among and within people is not limited to Christians. Christianity isn't a container in which all of God's activity resides. (I believe) God is working among the whole people, including the oppressed who rise up and compassionate people who stand beside them and advocate.

It's just that when I articulate my position, I see it within the context of my faith and use language that reflects that context.

JimII said...

At what levels of support/attack do you reach before you can lay a freedom movement at the feet of "Christianity" versus the culture in general?

Previously we've talked about whether religion had been a force for good or evil. Frankly, the day after religion succeeded in amending two state constitutions to further oppress people while at the same time progressive churches are unable to even declare their entire denomination to be open and affirming of the GLBT people, it is hard for me to say the net has been good, in general. Of course, there are movements like the American Civil Rights movement which was entirely a product of the Southern Black church. To take that movement away from the plus side for religion can only be done by asserting the rule that good that come from religion really come from society in general. [I'm not nearly as familiar with the abolitionist movement.]

That said, my current ambition is to use religion as a force for good. Being a Christian has made me a better person. And I believe it has made many people better than they would otherwise be. And I believe the church has the power to make society a better place.

And that is the point of this series of posts. Not to prove that the Bible supports gay rights, which would be absurd, but to demonstrate that the lessons we've learned as Christians should lead us as citizens of modern society to support gay rights.

If progressive churches started having meetings all across the country, which lead to marches, which led to ballot measures reversing Prop 8 & 102 and others of their ilk, then the church would have done something good.

Matt Dick said...

It's just that when I articulate my position, I see it within the context of my faith and use language that reflects that context.

Understood, and let me say I think it's a rare and fantastic quality that you've explored your own heart and mind enough to have teased out that truth. Stated generally, that's true of everyone.

Matt Dick said...

And that is the point of this series of posts. Not to prove that the Bible supports gay rights, which would be absurd, but to demonstrate that the lessons we've learned as Christians should lead us as citizens of modern society to support gay rights.


Of course, and as I mentioned before, the other blog petered out for me as I became increasingly uncomfortable just attacking the tenets of your faith over and over again.

The direction you have taken in your faith is an obvious good. And Christians of your stripe are increasingly a part of what I think will be a necessary movement if we are to improve things.

Again, the origins interest me on an academic level.

If one looks at two passages in Leviticus and keeps one but not the other, one has necessarily brought ethics from another source, yes? This may be the crux of my argument.

linda said...

OK, so it would be much easier to have this conversation around a table with one of your beers in front of each of us, Matt. Barring that possibility, here goes:

I can't tell for sure what the source of aggravation is for you, Matt. It seems maybe that you are bothered by the notion of giving credit to Christians or Christianity for the kind of social transformation that would result in homosexuality being a non-issue. (This is, of course, all hypothetical since we're not there yet. But I see it on the horizon -- it is possible -- it is coming. I do believe, however, that it may be as far away as the election of Barack Obama was from the passion of my young adulthood over the civil rights movement.) At least that's what your quote from Michael Shermer suggests (BTW, I liked the quote a lot.)

"Then what will happen is that Christians will take credit for the civil liberation of gays, dig through the historical record and find a few Christian preachers or bloggers who had the courage and the character to stand up for Gay rights when their fellow Christians would not, and then cite those as evidence that were it not for Christianity, gays would not be equal."

You lifted from my earlier response a phrase in which I name my Christian faith as the context for my positions on social issues. (Ahhhh, but are these social issues or issues of faith?)

This may provide a hint at why it is so difficult for you and Jim and me to arrive at common ground. I think it might be fun to talk about how social justice and faith are related in the hearts and minds of people of faith... specifically Christian faith.

I think Jim was pretty clear about the direct link between the civil rights (social justice) movement and Christianity (specifically black Christianity) in America. It would be hard to logically disassociate them.

At what levels of support/attack do you reach before you can lay a freedom movement at the feet of "Christianity" versus the culture in general?

There are a couple of observations I'd like to make. I believe that God is moving in places where God is not recognized. If I'm right, then God is moving in "culture in general." Also, if I'm right, it doesn't matter much to God whether or not you lay the credit at the feet of Christianity. It is what it is. God is at work. (I believe ) God is always at work. If it doesn't matter much to God, then I guess it doesn't matter much to me whether or not people credit Christianity with the transformation it will take for us to get beyond this particular manifestation of evil in our society.

But while we're at it, let me talk a little about this Christianity I profess. I understand Jesus of Nazareth to have been the consummate rebel -- not in a hateful or destructive way. In fact, I read him as being all about construction or reconstruction. He loved his God, the God of Israel, and he loved his faith enough to challenge it. He didn't so much build a movement as he lived a moment. He consorted with ordinary people -- many of them outcasts -- and seemed (according to the gospels) to shun the religious/political elite (remember that at that time in that place there was no separation of church and state). He called for empowerment of the marginalized, mercy in the form of food and clothing and housing for the poor, and liberation of prisoners. Well now, that would bring chaos to our land. And that is exactly what the Jesus I know calls for. His ministry seems to have shouted an upending to the way things were as no one has since. I'd love to see the "KINGDOM" he talked about come here and now. We could use some upending.

So when Jim talks about Christianity being a vehicle for social transformation based in a wisdom that looks beyond legalism, the Holy Scripture as literally interpreted, and cultural biases, I say amen. And amen.

It doesn't mean you have to claim Christianity to be a part of this good. I hear Jim saying, and I would join him, that if we are to be truly Christian, then we WILL (we are compelled by our faith), be a part of this change that embraces ALL people.

Then again, maybe you are simply the antagonist to Jim the protagonist. If so, it's delightful & I heartily respect what each of you does.

Sometime I want to talk with you about this "fundamentalist" view and "the other" Christian view that I call progressive (there's no really useful name yet that I know of). I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian environment, and while I have found my way to another way of interpreting and articulating my faith, I appreciate and believe that I understand something of the fundamentalist view. We are not separate animals, but rather two parts of the same one.

Blessings!

linda said...

"Again, the origins interest me on an academic level.

"If one looks at two passages in Leviticus and keeps one but not the other, one has necessarily brought ethics from another source, yes? This may be the crux of my argument."

You mention Leviticus. It would be helpful if we could get commentary from an authority on Jewish law. Leviticus is Jewish law. I understand that some Jews adhere closely to ancient laws, including those about clothing, hair styles and food. I understand that others are much more liberal in their interpretation. For some interpretation of the law (scripture) is literal and for some the goal seems to be living according to the essence or spirit of the law (the second, in fact, is what Jesus proposed).

What I do know is that I'm not Jewish, grew up without the rich practices of a faith that would have left me with an innate understanding of why long ago my ancestors were taught not to wear fabrics woven of two fibers. If I were, I believe I would today have a reverence for something that no longer applies to me. That reverence might be my way of "keeping" a law that I would not "practice".

So your question would be whether I choose not to practice the law because of some influence outside my religion, or whether the impetus for disregarding the literal meaning of the law comes from my faith.

I maintain that you cannot separate them. There is no answer to your question except "both."

Religion is the practice of faith/beliefs in the context of a society. Religion IS a fabric woven of two fibers.

JimII said...

I'm going to elevate the rest of this to a new post, but I wanted to address this:

If one looks at two passages in Leviticus and keeps one but not the other, one has necessarily brought ethics from another source, yes? This may be the crux of my argument.

We've covered this ground before, but it is worth repeating. The Bible is a powerful tool, a record of the stories and laws God's people lived by for hundreds of years. After being compiled it has survived for hundreds of years more. Natural Selection tells us it would not have survived so long if it didn't have some value. That said, the Bible does not define my faith, at least not alone. My faith is also defined by my experience with other Christians, traditions passed down through my church, and my own reflection.

So, it is not a problem for me to interpret scripture in light of my culture for two reasons: (1) I do not believe the Bible is the perfect word of God, and (2) even if the Bible were the perfect word of God, evolving culture presents new problems.

In 500 BCE there was no such thing as gay marriage, global warming or surgical abortions. So modern Christians, even those who want to read the Bible as a tech manual, have to figure out which scriptures most effective provide guidance for the problems we face.

Final thought, those Christians who hate gays are picking and chosing among the scriptures every bit as much as I am. Why would they condemn homosexuality and yet allow women to speak in church? To quote a friend of mine, "If one looks at two passages in Leviticus and keeps one but not the other, one has necessarily brought ethics from another source, yes?"

Matt Dick said...

I so love this discussion, thank you both.

Linda, I'll start with a disclaimer that I'm not aggravated, I promise. I am challenging certain ideas, but I am no enemy of Christianity. Quoting Sam Harris is not the best way to prove that, but it was a more eloquent summation of that argument than I had ever made.

You made a point several times:

I believe that God is moving in places where God is not recognized.

This presents quite a barrier for me to penetrate. If God is doing His works in ways and through people and cultures where He is not recognized, then I don't think I can effectively make any argument about Christianity's role in culture.

I think Jim was pretty clear about the direct link between the civil rights (social justice) movement and Christianity (specifically black Christianity) in America. It would be hard to logically disassociate them.

He was, and this is precisely what Harris addresses when he says that if some churches fight for good, and some resist, then how can we decide which was Christian and which was not? How do we know that those black churches were good because they were Christian and which were good and Christian?

I don't presume to know the answer.

I appreciate and believe that I understand something of the fundamentalist view. We are not separate animals, but rather two parts of the same one.

I have known you both and from the outside let me say that it can be awfully hard to see you both as even remotely similar aside from the superficial.

That reverence might be my way of "keeping" a law that I would not "practice".

This statement and the rest of the paragraph are a really elegant summation of a real distinction. I think you've really nailed a point that's hard to make and easy for me to forget. Thank you, this gives me a perspective and some thoughts I didn't have before.

Religion IS a fabric woven of two fibers.

That's just a cool thing to say. I'll need my Jewish friends to think about that statement.

And finally, from Jim:

Final thought, those Christians who hate gays are picking and chosing among the scriptures every bit as much as I am.

Undoubtedly. I recognize that and I don't think you would be self-identifying as a Christian if it weren't true.

Finally, I'll just come in again and say how much I love and respect my Christian friends. I hate the adversarial tone this sometimes takes. I have spent many hours in services (mostly daily Southern Baptist services in high school), and there is always a great deal to learn and consider, and the people I've known have been made better by their faith and I do recognize that.