When someone, particularly a stranger, talks to us at length about the specifics of their sexuality, the general response is similar and predictable. Almost to a person, it is received as boorish, tone-deaf self-indulgence. It’s just bad manners. Except when it’s seen as heroic.
Of course, this is exactly what we are seeing with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s happy proclamation of the details of his sexuality, enhanced with his deepest and most personal feelings about it.
A small group of evangelicals have recently founded a curious organization, Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. I will have the pleasure (sincerely) of getting together with their leading spokesperson this week at an important conference on evangelicalism and sexual ethics. In anticipating this meeting, I want to put my thoughts down regarding my general disagreements with effort and the case they make for their work.
I have three primary concerns.
- Their basic proposition – EME states in the first line of their statement “we believe you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married.” And they conclude by saying, “What we should be able to agree on is this: You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.” These are two gigantic whoppers of assumption.
It is too much to get into here, but there is simply no biblically faithful case for same-sex marriage and family, either religious or civil. Nor can one make a case that is faithful to historic Christianity belief or practice. And this is not from want of trying. Some of the theological revisionist cases seeking to square this circle are better than others, but each of them are at base the same and take tremendously novel liberties with basic biblical hermeneutics.
- Religious vs. civil marriage – They make a key and I think strategic distinction between a Christian and a civil understanding of marriage. They contend they are not asking evangelical to change their theology of marriage necessarily and therefore can seemingly avoid the whole theological debate.
But this is a weak effort at distinction, like that used by supposed “pro-life” politicians on the abortion issue where they claim the tenuously tight-rope position of being “morally opposed, but will not force their beliefs on others.” Few devout, Bible-believing evangelicals – which EME says they are – have ever seen this as a reasonable position. It’s a bendy effort to have one’s cake and enjoy it to. It is the same here on marriage.
The only problem, however, is that I didn’t see any real arguments. I saw a lot of emotion. I saw appeals to injustice and craven caricatures of Christianity, but I didn’t see any real arguments. …[T]here’s not a coherent argument about the nature of marriage. And that’s what this debate Americans are having is about, isn’t it?
I agree. Such an important and complex discussion on marriage cannot ignore the fundamental question of what marriage is, either as a theological or public and social institution. But EME ignores this question in total, a serious failing. Is there a public case for what marriage is and should be as a necessary human and social institution? Of course there is and it is quite robust. Just a few quick examples are here, here and here. Plenty of others exist and are easily found.
- “Marriage Equality” – I could not reject the use of this phrase in stronger terms. It is a carefully and literally focus-group-tested rhetorical tool that the pro-SSM marriage folks started using a few years ago. To be honest, it’s very effective, but cheap and manipulative. How? “Mr. Stanton, aren’t you for marriage equality? No, I am firmly against equality.” It puts one’s opponent in a seemingly impossible position. Smart rhetorically, but inaccurate and unprincipled.
It’s similar to how a particular parenting philosophy presented itself many years ago among evangelicals called “Growing Kids God’s Way.” When our children were little, well-meaning friends would ask, “Are you guys doing Growing Kids God’s Way?” I wanted to respond, “No, we’re doing ‘Growing Kids Satan’s Way’!” as if we that were the other option.
There’s a good measure of arrogance in absolute identification choices such as these and they lay a heavy judgment on those who take a contrary position. I prefer “marriage redefinition” as it’s more straight-forward and freer of manipulative baggage. The explanation is important.
Current marriage law simply does not discriminate against gay and lesbian people. Straight out. No civil authority anywhere issuing marriage licenses queries couples if one or both of the individuals are same-sex attracted, gay, lesbian or otherwise. As long as they meet the requirements of the law, the state simply doesn’t care what their story is. It’s not their business. They don’t even care if they actually love one another. Every story we hear about a same-sex attracted person announcing they are leaving their opposite-sex spouse proves the point. On top of this, rights are conferred upon the individual citizen, not couples. So same-sex attracted people – like everyone else – enjoy marriage equality. Under current law, they can marry as freely, easily and fully as anyone else. So let’s drop the claim that traditional marriage law is discriminatory to same-sex attracted citizen, either in intention or result.
But I see your eye-roll and what it communicates.
Obviously same-sex individuals don’t want to marry under current law, they want to marry according to their relational and sexual interests. Of course. But this means they believe the current definition of marriage under law doesn’t allow them this option. Therefore, they must press for changing the way marriage is defined under current law. And that is exactly what happens when courts demand states recognize such marriages: the state must literally amend the way marriage is defined in its legal documents. This is a not an academic point.
These are just three of the reasons I think EME’s mission is ill-conceived and unlikely to plow any ground among evangelicals.
I have long thought that one of the most vulnerable parts of the LGBT movement is its proclivity to over-reach in their political and rhetorical work. There have been many concerning examples of this over the years and it makes them vulnerable to people who will see that sometimes these folks don’t play nice, that they are not really about “live and let live.” No small number of them don’t tolerate those who disagree with them. Another one of these over-reaches has recently emerged in Houston from it’s proud lesbian mayor. And it’s a doozie.
A handful of pastors who have opposed and worked to repeal a so-called “equal-rights” city ordinance – along with thousands of citizens – have been ordered by the city via the courts to turn over to the government the following as the subpoena demands:
“All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the ordinance], the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
- Pastors and their congregations oppose and seek to repeal a city ordinance through the legal process.
- The city leaders don’t like that.
- Said city leaders demand these pastors bring themselves and their work down to town hall for a good scolding and possibly legal action.
Can you believe that? If that is not over-reach, I don’t know what is.
Curiously this very city government is violating its own ordinance in order to protect the ordinance. In the second paragraph of the ordinance, it states:
WHEREAS, the City of Houston seeks to provide an environment that is free of any type of discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity or pregnancy
Yes, the ordinance protects religious belief and practice, at least in word, but the city doesn’t seem to want to do so in deed. And yes, pastors and their churches have a fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed right to hold and act on their convictions free from government intrusion or control. Even to do so from the pulpit, in the pews, in the Sunday school classes and the social halls.
So, if you live in Houston and are a pastor of a church, you would do well not to disagree with your city government or they retaliate.
This is a move on Mayor Parker and her city council’s part of world-class arrogance and disregard for both the rule of law and spirit of democracy. It is imperialism and we can suspect that Texans nor the higher courts will stand for this dramatic over-reach.
Lots and lots of ink being distributed over the past two days regarding this new document out of Pope Francis’ Synod on the Family. Like many, I’m getting notes for friends asking, “So what’s the deal? Is the Church really folding on the gay issue?”
Well, the most reputable, highfalutin papers tell us they are, so they must be, right? And they tell us with such relish: “Finally, that dinosaur of a church is joining the 19th Century, ready to admit the sexual revolution happened and finally getting with the freakin’ program.” They did essentially the same with JPII on some comment he made about evolution and Benedict on condoms. So this is “been there, done that” all over again.
There are five things to consider when reading such news reports:
First, just like Francis’s famed “who I am to judge” statement – which nearly every journalist confidently quotes completely out of context – it is a good idea to look at the original text and see for one’s self what was really said. Anyone can do that here. The juicy parts are found in sections 36-39 (cohabitation) and 50-52 (homosexuality).
Second, as has been stated very well by others here, here and surprisingly and crisply here, this not in the least, by any measure, in no degree a rule-making or even suggested rule-changing document. It is simply a report on what was discussed at this stage in the Synod. The Synod, nor the Pope himself, has the power to change church doctrine. Deep breathe people, Catholicism doesn’t change with the fashions of the day. Never has. And that is why so many of these elites so wish it would as they make plain in their news stories.
Third, this is a pastoral Synod, not a theological one per se. It is about how bishops will shephard their flocks in real nitty-gritty of this “we’re not in Kansas anymore” world we live in today. Simcha Fisher beautifully explains this angle on her blog.
Fourth, there is indeed concerning language in the document. But the concern comes primarily in its lack of clarity, something that has plagued this Pope’s communication too many times since He came to St. Peter’s chair. He seems to like playing it loose. He is not the measured and precise academic that Benedict was/is nor the careful and practiced philosopher/thespian that was JPII. He too often just talks and leaves the clean up for his deputies. As for these seemingly concerning statements, we are simply not really sure what they mean and what they don’t. The Vatican should and must do better as pastors and teachers.
Fifth and finally, language such as “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people…?” is only surprising to those who assume we shake people down at the door to ensure none of “those people” sneak into our pews. We don’t grab them by the back of the pants and scruff of the neck give them a hearty heave-ho if they are caught infiltrating. Suppose we change that sentence by one word. It still has precisely the same meaning, but would be of no interest whatsoever to the press:
“Sinners have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people…?”
This is precisely what the Church is saying, and has always said. As I explain in my new book, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor, sinners are the only folks the church opens itself up to because they are the only people Jesus knows how to deal with. And that includes everyone: you, me and everyone else whether gay, straight or otherwise.
- Here is one interview i particularly enjoyed with Chris Fabry on Moody Radio who is such a masterful interviewer, always is!
- Another fun bit is this podcast with my crazy Lisa Anderson who runs Focus’ Boundless ministry.
- And of course, such events stir up dust among those who disagree and this rant here is a common and very well-worn one.
I have a new book, out Oct 1, and I was delighted today to find it has already garnered a review.
When you write a book – working so hard and long on it – it is a little un- nerving when it finally enters the world. It’s your baby that you’ve been gestating for months, struggling with bouts of anxiety, exhaustion, hopelessness, confusion and doubts. It can induce fits of vomiting and heart-burn. Then finally, one day it emerges and you wonder if people will love it like you do. Will they think it’s special or a terribly ugly baby? Will they laugh at it or find it lovely? There’s only one way to find out. You have to put it out there and nervously wait for the reaction of others.
This first review of the book today made me happy and encouraged. He “got” what I was trying to communicate and explained its substance and message. He liked my baby.
Let’s hope for more like this!