This weekend a church member sent me an article from the LA Times concerning Gay Marriage and the Bible. The article is an opinion piece by C.S. Pearce. Her basic point is that as the cultural acceptance for gay marriage continues to snowball it is only a matter of time before the majority of Christians catch on and become allies for same-sex marriage.
The article is more than a blind prophecy. Pearce evaluates history, the Bible and reason to support her optimistic forecast. Whatever her ostensible aim, Ms. Pearce’s evaluations do not have their reference point in the Bible but in the canon of her own experience. The result is strabismal. My goal is to interact a bit with the article and provide some clarity and consistency.
“According to the Pew Forum, a majority of mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics now favor legalizing same-sex marriage. So when our more conservative Christian kin claim that gay marriage is against God and against the Bible, we beg to differ.”
Earlier in the article Ms. Pearce indicates that 73% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. What is the criteria for this number? Who makes up this demographic? My guess is that before you get to the issue of homosexuality you have would have substantial disagreement among this group as to what Christians believe, not the least of which being the authority of the Bible. In other words, it doesn’t surprise me that many people who identify themselves as Christians and who don’t hold to a traditional view of the Bible’s authority would support gay marriage. You kick out your legs of support when you argue that Christians who don’t believe the Bible are supportive of gay marriage. We shouldn’t be surprised to see the same people who have an unorthodox bibliology also having an unorthodox anthropology.
“Most New Testament Greek scholars now point out that there are only three passages that deal with homosexuality in the New Testament — Romans 1:23-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 — and those passages don’t deal with homosexuality as we define it today but rather with temple prostitution and other abuses. Because of dated (and often loved) translations, many versions of the Bible imply otherwise.”
Ms. Pearce is crafty here. She references Greek scholars citing verses (an incomplete list) and then makes a personal jump based on her own agenda. She tells us that the original context doesn’t fit the current context. Notice she is not saying that most Greek scholars say this but that she does. This is further substantiated in the next sentence by reminding us that the translations of the Bible undermine this argument. Remember who serves on the translation committees? Greek Scholars. There are dozens of modern translations that are literal translations and they do not support Ms. Pearce’s assertion (i.e. English Standard Version, New American Standard Version, etc.).
I have to ask one question though, “Why doesn’t she take issue with what these verses condemn?” After all, they do condemn something and that something is concerning sexual sin that is very relevant today. I thought she was a proponent of freedom–even if you agree with her anachronistic interpretation (which I don’t)–you would expect her to impugn it as narrow-minded. Right? This is because she is attempting to persuade people to accept both the Bible and her agenda, not one or the other. The outright rejection of the Bible needs to come later, in the second round.
The Bible, from beginning to end provides no indication that homosexuality, in any form, is acceptable behavior for God’s people. Instead, the Bible, in every instance shows it to be a sin worthy of judgment. This is why I appreciate the candor of honest pro-gay advocates like Luke Timothy Johnson:
The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.
I can appreciate his statements while disagreeing with his position.
Pearce goes on to write:
“Jesus never addressed the subject of homosexuality, other than what can be inferred from his example of loving and accepting everyone, especially the oppressed and those whom the religious establishment considered unclean.”
Two very dangerous things are implied here:
1) Jesus rejected the OT Scriptures.
2) Jesus never judged people.
First, Jesus saw unity within the Scriptures. His whole mission was to fulfill what was written (Mt. 5.17). He saw the historical accuracy and theological significance of biblical events. Jesus referenced Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jonah, and others. Jesus even deployed the occasion of divine judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah (for their sexual sin–cf Jude 1.7) as a warning that God will keep his word and in fact judge sin–even sexual sin (Mt. 10.15). We should be careful about impugning the Old Testament Scriptures as outdated and irrelevant. Jesus quoted them to show the continuity of the Scriptures, provide clarity concerning God’s will, and warn people about how to live.
Second, Jesus did judge people. Even Ms. Pearce alludes to this in her reference to Jesus thinking contrary to the religious leaders. Jesus judges those who play fast and loose with the Bible, seek to establish their own righteousness, and try to live apart from God’s Lordship (rule). Jesus punctuates the Sermon on the Mount with a warning of divine judgment (Mt. 7.21-23). Let’s not forget that it is not the “narrow-minded, uncultured Apostle Paul” or the “antiquated, repressive, and dangerous Moses” who will come again in judgment but it is Jesus. He is the Savior and the Judge (Rv. 19.11-16; Rv. 21.8). There is no refuge from him but there is refuge in him (Ps. 2.12).
“As more and more church members thoughtfully and prayerfully confront the evidence, it will only be a matter of time before the majority of Christians of all stripes become allies rather than antagonists for justice and equal rights for gay people. Then we will come out on the right side of history once again.”
Let’s be clear: as more and more professing Christians turn away from the Bible as their authority they will probably become allies in Ms. Pearce’s crusade. She is right. But this is not a result of becoming more noble and tolerant. Instead it is result of people becoming more comfortable living amid the inconsistency of identifying themselves with a God whose authority they don’t acknowledge. In other words more tolerance within the Christian community for gay marriage comes at a price. This price is an intolerance for God’s authority. In the end it matters less where we stand in terms of history and more in terms of eternity. This is precisely why Christians must know what they believe and why they believe it. It really does make a difference.