Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Addressing the Two Debates Regarding Same-sex Marriage

(I'm re-posting and re-editing this, to keep the discussion out there among followers of Jesus.)

"We must acknowledge that when some American citizens are fearful of expressing their religious views, something new has snaked its way into the village square:
an insidious intolerance for religion that has no place in a country
founded on religious freedom."


For Christian theists concerned about the way the same-sex marriage discussion has gone in America, I suggest there are two issues: one legal, the other religious.

The Legal Issue
Regarding the legal matter, the issue is about the definition of “marriage.” Might we in America have a civil discourse about this? The truth or falsity of the statement We should allow for same-sex marriage rests heavily on the meaning of the term “marriage.” Some of us, myself included, feel like many of our government leaders have rushed forward to change the meaning of marriage, without discussion. 

The term "marriage equality" changes the definition of marriage, without discussion. Of course if "marriage" is defined as a union between consenting adults, irregardless of their gender, than same-sex marriages should be legally allowed. But that has not been the legally prevailing definition of marriage. If marriage is defined as between a man and a woman, anything outside those parameters is irrelevant, and no injustice is involved in disallowing gay unions to be called marriages. As Ryan T. Anderson has written, "A truth acknowledged for millennia has been overruled by five unelected judges." (Anderson, Ryan T. Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, Kindle Location 89) Without allowing for an extended, civil discourse. Any citizen ought to feel troubled by such an act of unrestrained power.

Read the editorial in CNN by Robert George (prof. of jurisprudence at Harvard and Princeton), Sherif Gergis (Princeton and Yale), and Ryan T. Anderson – “Gay Marriage, then Group Marriage?” They write:

“Of course, if marriage were simply about recognizing bonds of affection or romance, then two men or two women could form a marriage just as a man and woman can. But so could three or more in the increasingly common phenomenon of group (“polyamorous”) partnerships. In that case, to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex or polyamorous ones would be unfair — a denial of equality.” Please read this entire editorial. 

For a more complete version see their recent, essentially non-religious book What is Marriage? Man and Woman – a Defense. As you read it jump off the cultural bandwagon and think your way through it.

The Religious Issue

There is a second debate going on, this one within religions, and within Christianity. (Irreligous people, of course, will be uninterested in this.) It is over the statement: Does the biblical text disaffirm same-sex unions? I believe it does. 

Stop here. I disagree with Christians who think that, somehow, the biblical text does not disaffirm same-sex unions. I can say this without hating anyone. Disagreement does not equal hatred. Even if I was not a Christian and was asked to look as objectively as I can at what the Bible says about same-sex unions, I would conclude: it does not affirm them; indeed, it speaks against them. One can surely admit this without hating anyone. Again, to disagree is not to hate.

If someone says they are a “Christian,” then I reason as follows.
1. We are obligated to follow God’s will.
2. God’s will is given to us in the Bible.
3. The Bible forbids same-sex unions.
4. Therefore, same-sex unions are against God’s will. 


On P1 (Premise 1): Virtually all Jesus-followers affirm this to be true.

On P2 – again, Jesus-followers will have little problem with this. There may be discussion on the nature of biblical authority. That is another, and important, discussion.
Note again: Let's say you are an atheist. As an atheist you see little or no authority in the Bible. But of course. Christian theism is not your worldview. The Bible means little or nothing to you as a life-guide, just as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion means nothing to me as a life-guide (and yes, I read it, and made about 45 posts in response to it).

But if you are and claim to be a follower of Jesus, then it follows that you place a high premium on the words of the Bible. The Bible is our metanarrative (everybody has a metanarrative, even post-modern theorists who reject metanarratives). For those few billion people in this camp, we can and should have discussions over the meaning of the biblical texts, their interpretation, and the nature of their authority. And, again, we can discuss without hating one another. (A good book on explaining the biblical text as metanarrative is N.T. Wright, The Last Word.)

Re. P3 – this is where the intra-Christian discussion lies. If you want to go straight to the heart of this discussion I can suggest nothing better than Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, by Dan O. Via and Robert Gagnon. See, e.g., these reviews, which I copy to defend the scholarship contained therein.
“Christians challenged by questions surrounding Scripture on same-sex relations will find an invaluable chart for navigating these confusing waters.” — Joel B. Green, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“Gagnon’s brilliant condensation of his arguments should be a significant asset for clergy and laity, while Via opens new challenges.” — Catherine Clark Kroeger, Associate Professor of Classical and Ministry Studies, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no finer presentation of all the main issues.” — Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no other work that so clearly illumines the biblical issues at the heart of the controversy.” — Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School (endorsement inside book)
“Presents a vigorous, illuminating debate about the implications of scripture for contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality. I strongly recommend this book.” –James F. Childress, Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics, University of Virginia

Via is pro-gay marriage, Gagnon is against gay marriage. Both are New Testament scholars. But note this. Via agrees that one cannot interpret the biblical text as supportive of same-sex marriage. So he gives us a principle that seems of God to him as a justification for allowing same-sex marriages today.

Note: I have extensively studied and been involved in this discussion since the 1970s. Yes, I have done all the contextual studies and word-studies relevant to the context, plus read everything available by Christians who disagree with me. (BTW - just because someone disagrees with me on this does not mean, in my mind, that they are not a Christian. Disagreement with a person's theology is not equivalent to judgment of a person.) 

For Gagnon’s more complete biblical argument against textual support of same-sex marriage see his The Bible and Homosexuality: Texts and Interpretation. Of this book reviews include:

“…In its learnedness, [Gagnon’s] book will…be in the vanguard of its position and cannot be ignored….” — Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki, and author of Homoeroticism in the Biblical World (From the Jacket Flap)
“…the fullest and best presentation of the conservative position….expressing the case same-sex intercourse sympathetically and convincingly.” — I. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, University of Aberdeen, Scotland (Blurb Inside Book)
“…the most thorough examination of the scriptural and theological…perspectives on same-sex relations….a tour de force.” — Marion L. Soards, Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (From Jacket Flap)
“Gagnon has offered a learned, judicious, and comprehensive examination of the biblical testimony….fair and compassionate…a major resource….” — Brevard S. Childs, Sterling Professor of Divinity (Hebrew Bible), Emeritus, Yale Divinity School (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s book is an extremely valuable contribution to the current debate….I recommend this book wholeheartedly.” — C. E. B. Cranfield, Professor of Theology (New Testament), Emeritus, University of Durham (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s incisive logic, prudent judgment, and exhaustive research should make this book a dominant voice in the contemporary debate.” — Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., Professor of New Testament, Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem (From the Back Cover)
“I believe that this volume will become a classic in the ongoing discussion of the church’s…response to homosexuality.” — Duane F. Watson, Professor of New Testament, Malone College (From Inside Book)
“I know of no comparable study of the texts and interpretive debates that surround homosexual behavior.” — Max L. Stackhouse, Stephen Colwell Professor of Christian Ethics, Princeton Theological Seminary (From the Jacket Flap)
“No Christian concerned with homosexuality can afford to ignore this book.” — John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford (From the Back Cover)
“This is a brilliant, original, and highly important work,…indispensable even for those who disagree with the author.” — James Barr, Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University

We have rushed over the cliff without a civil discussion. (Five white Ivy-league lawyers decided on the meaning of "marriage" for our nation. What if there had been a national discussion, and then a national vote?)

I think the area we should be most concerned to address is the legal issue, and not the religious issue. This is because, overwhelmingly, we don’t legislate biblical morality. For example, biblically, gossip and gluttony are sins. Engaged in, they mitigate against human flourishing. But I don't think we should legislate against them. I don’t think we should make a law against gossip, or a law against gluttony. 

Continue to address the meaning of “marriage.” 
Don’t be intellectually seduced by the bandwagon fallacy.

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