How Might Christians Respond To The Question of Homosexual Marriage?

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Today marks the beginning of a monumental Supreme Court debate about a state and nation’s ability to define the parameters of marriage.  With the recent state elections moving in the direction of affirming same-sex marriage as a normative political and social value, many Christians are being pressed into an awkward and unforeseen circumstance: They must come to terms with how to respond to the question – What do you think about gay marriage?

At least three religious-ish sounding responses to the question have made their way into the public eye within the last month.  Each offers a possible response to the gay marriage question. In this blog post I want to address each response and offer my answer to the question at hand.

1) The first begins with a cup of coffee. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was recently caught on an NPR audio file lambasting a company shareholder for his opposition to gay marriage (Washington state recently voted to legalize gay marriage).  This leaked audio file caused a reaction from conservative groups on facebook calling for a boycott of the coffee company.  But notice the internal logic and sequence of the reported events.

The shareholder, Thomas Strobhar, runs a Dayton Ohio based company called the Corporate Morality Action Center, an organization that seeks to challenge corporations on issues like gay marriage, abortion and pornography.  Mr. Strobhar apparently purchases shares of a company so that he has a platform to show up and troll CEO’s about ethical issues.  In this particular meeting, Mr. Strobhar raised his hand in order to make an unsolicited and unwarranted connection between the affirmation of gay marriage by Starbucks and a recent quarterly dip in numbers. He made the statement in the form of a question to which Schultz responded with gusto.

Not to claim any wisdom of leadership, especially of a Fortune 500 company, but Schultz could have responded in many other ways to Mr. Strobhar’s question.  His curt and ungracious response was a misstep for sure. But, Mr. Strobhar was equally guilty of pushing Mr. Schultz’s button with a self-described “maverick” style of aggression.

Strobhar’s position presents option 1 in the response to the gay marriage question.  In this position, Christians make it their agenda to confront proponents of Gay marriage in bombastic and argumentative ways.  

I don’t tend to recommend this approach for many reasons, most importantly because aggression tends to choke off dialogue.  This conversation is complicated and requires nuancing, facts, longitudinal studies, discussions of natural law, and discussions of what the Bible says and doesn’t say.  Nuancing generally cannot take place where aggression has become the mode of operating.

2) Option 2 comes from spirituality writer Rob Bell, who stirred up controversy in the past few weeks by aligning his evangelical Christian heritage with a pro-gay marriage position.  Bell stated:

I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.

Bell represents a second position on the issue of gay marriage: Christians transform Bible doctrine in a way that accommodates the gay marriage momentum. 

This option is not appealing for several obvious reasons.  Most pressingly, why hold to the Bible’s teaching at all if it directly conflicts with the culture?  If one has to transform the Bible’s plain teaching, then just get rid of the Bible.  Why hold on to this Bible tradition in the first place?  Isn’t Bell trolling all of us in a different manner than Strobhar?  In this case, Bell has nuanced his position without holding to the plain teaching of scripture.  In other words, Bell has left the Bible by the wayside and is holding to his own choose your own adventure Christianity — which is not Bible Christianity at all.

3) The third option comes from another famous CEO and involves the best tasting chicken nuggets on the planet.  By now you know the story. Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A, made some off-the-cuff remarks to Baptist Press writer K. Allan Blume in response to his position on supporting the Biblical view of marriage.  Cathy responded, “Guilty as charged.”  Pro-gay writers and bloggers quickly pounced on the phrase and reported it as being, not in response to being pro-Bible marriage, but as a response to being anti-gay marriage.  While being evidence A of suspect journalistic integrity, it produced website clicks, college protests, and political grandstanding.

So how did Cathy respond to such negative criticism?  By sitting down with gay activist Shale Windemeyer and talking openly about his pro-Bible marriage position.  Windemeyer recalled the first phone call:

On Aug. 10, 2012, in the heat of the controversy, I got a surprise call from Dan Cathy. He had gotten my cell phone number from a mutual business contact serving campus groups. I took the call with great caution. He was going to tear me apart, right? Give me a piece of his mind? Turn his lawyers on me?

Never once did Dan or anyone from Chick-fil-A ask for Campus Pride to stop protesting Chick-fil-A. On the contrary, Dan listened intently to our concerns and the real-life accounts from youth about the negative impact that Chick-fil-A was having on campus climate and safety at colleges across the country.

Dan Cathy.  Hateful oppressor of gay people? Nope.  Evil CEO with an evil agenda? Not quite.  Homophobic wealthy white Southerner?  Negative.  Shane Windemeyer called Dan Cathy “respectful” and “civil.”  And with this story, we see that Cathy demonstrates a third option in the Christian response to gay marriage: Christians live in the tension of confidently proclaiming the Bible’s teaching while respectfully and lovingly pursuing relationships with those who identify as gay for the Glory of God.  

By now it is obvious that I wholeheartedly affirm the third position on the gay marriage question and I commend it to Christians everywhere.  I think it is the way forward, because it has historically been the way that Christians have approached these emerging issues.  The Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 4:15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

When it comes to the gay marriage question, I think Christians would be wise to follow Paul’s advice:

  1. Make growing in the satisfying relationship with Christ your daily goal.
  2. Know truth and boldly speak truth.
  3. Make “lovingness” your method and the manner in which you do all things.

Today the Supreme Court will debate the future of the political definition of marriage.  I, personally, don’t have much hope for this discussion ending up on the side of the Bible’s definition.  There are several God-centered folks who will make some political arguments for the traditional definition of marriage.  I am not someone who would be good at speaking into that world.  That is not my calling.

All this being said, I am not ultimately saddened by the prospect of the government taking a position that may be contrary to Scripture.  My hope rests, not in horses or chariots, but in the Name of the Lord.  I will continue to follow Paul’s advice no matter what the government decides.  I have been and will continue to love God, lift up Truth, and love people.  I hope my gay friends will truly practice the tolerance they talk about by respecting my position.

About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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176 Responses to How Might Christians Respond To The Question of Homosexual Marriage?

  1. Jeff Porter says:

    The issue is not whether Christians should accept homosexuals, homosexuality, or same-sex marriage. That is up to the teachings of your particular religious faith. The issue is whether same-sex relationships are recognized under civil law equally as opposite-sex relationships. This is about equal protection under the law, not whether your particular religion accepts the relationships. The failure of Christians to see the distinction has done great harm to the Church. The cause of Christ is not a tool for enacting political and legal power over those with a different worldview. We are a diverse country. Your religious views are welcome in public life but don’t expect civil law to be dictated by your particular religious doctrine just because you say the Bible tells you so. If Christians want their views reflected in law, they need to learn to put their arguments in non-religious terms. Make a civil case for why the law should be the way you want it, not a religious case.

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  3. Keith Rabe says:

    Before the Flood, “Mankind did what was right in his own eyes”. End result was a purging or sweeping away of those who seemingly thought it was right to do whatever, even if it meant to go against God’s Word. Please do not forget what was done by God at Sodom and Gomorrah. God cannot tolerate the evil that men do. Eventually His wrath will wane and the sinner will die in his sin and be cast into the Lake of Fire! The sinner can also be saved from his sin through the Blood of Christ and turn from his wickedness and change the lifestyle to please God and His Word. You cannot water this down and God’s Word will not change to accommodate the desires of men. Yes, Christ died for sinners. Why can’t men acknowledge this mercy, love, and grace, and change their hearts, then strive to purify and sanctify themselves to make ready for the judgement seat of God? I too follow Paul’s advise and lovingly will share the Word. I am not afraid of the Gospel and will boldly speak out against corruption in our land when the shoe fits. I pray for the healing of the land.

  4. William Reed says:

    My questions for Rob Bell, “What about a man and two women?” “What about a man and his sheep?” Don’t you think we should affirm people wherever they are as you put it.

    This is the mindset of people when we lose the Bible our authority.

  5. Spot on brother Doug, exactly how I feel about this situation…. Man its good to see how much your faith has grown. Last time We were around each other you were embracing it as I was walking away, Doug even in my darkest hours guys like you and the rest of the gang kept me as grounded as possible when I was spiraling out of control inside. Its only in the past 3 years I have come back to make my amends with God. Proud of you man, this is great!!!

  6. Stan Murray says:

    For a compelling, real life account of the biblical way to deal with this cultural phenomenon see this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ_YI6INTQU

  7. Chad Welch says:

    I appreciate your post and the tone of it. I do, however, find your second point to be somewhat dismissive. That fact that other Christians have reached a different conclusion does not mean that they are not “holding to the plain teaching of scripture.”

    Heliocentrism, slavery, miscegenation were all, at one time, seen as the plain teaching of scripture. It wasn’t until 1995 that the SBC formally renounced the church’s support of slavery.

    I guess I think that history should give us enough humility to realize that God fearing, Bible loving Christians can come to honest disagreements about their interpretation of scripture. It doesn’t mean that they are just transforming the Bible to fit culture, even if you think their conclusions are wrong.

    I think it is also worth considering if this is one of the essentials of the faith.

    In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

    • Doug Hankins says:

      Chad, yeah I could have been more nuanced in my handling of the Bell statement. That being said, I stand by my ultimate conclusion in his statement. When he uses the phrase “ship has passed” that indicates, for me, a defeatist attitude towards the matter at hand. I am confused as to how someone who worships the God of universe can ever have a defeatist attitude towards any particular issue.

      Furthermore, the hermeneutical research on this issue in particular (same se behavior) is compelling — the Bible is holistically restrictive when it comes to same sex behavior. If the whole counsel of scripture doesn’t indicate that the “ship has passed” then what right do we have as followers of the Bible to make such a statement.

      Here is where my judgement comes in – and you are right to point out that it is not an essential issue. I would label that attitude of “ship passing” as “transforming the plain text of the Bible.” Again, having grown up atheist, I am just not sure why someone who is a believer would take the following sequential approach:

      Step 1: Read what Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
      Step 2: Ask the interpretive question, “What does this verse mean when it says ‘relations with a man as one does with a woman?'”
      Step 3: State that this verse does not mean same sex behavior.
      Step 4: Argue that this verse is highly contextual and should be discounted or diminished due to the fact that we throw out laws regarding shellfish and poly-cotton blends.
      Step 5: Look to similar NT texts and dismiss them for the same reasoning.
      Step 6: Conclude that because our current cultural climate is less restrictive on sexual behavior that the Bible needs to be less restrictive on sexual behavior.

      Again, how is that sequence not accommodation or transformation?

      Or let me put it to you, Chad, how do you deal with all of those OT and NT texts? Am I missing something? I want to be teachable in this area.

      • Chad Welch says:

        It was your choice to use Bell as torchbearer for the view that homosexuality isn’t at odds with the Bible. Having not read any of his books or even heard him speak for me to guess at what he meant would be just that. There are other progressive Christians, including people within the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

        When considering the OT Law I think you need to be very cautious when you are picking out verses while ignoring the verses around them. We no longer require the brother-in-law of a childless widow to marry her in order to give her children (Genesis 38:9) (Matthew 22:23-30)

        We have to at least consider that we are no longer creating a nation/race for God that some of these laws may not be pertinent. That the purpose of every marriage is not creating offspring. I think really the onus would be on the person picking out one verse while ignoring those around it to explain why it is still relevant while, as you point out, shellfish and poly-cotton blends are not.

        One argument for that is that it is mentioned again in the NT. This is a long piece but I think it does a better job than I could explaining the issue with that.

        http://thislilblogofmine.tumblr.com/post/43936622958/homosexuality-and-the-new-testament-understanding

        The last thing I would mention is that when it comes to slavery, it seems those Christians and the pro-slavery side had much better Biblical argument.

        “If we prove that domestic slavery is, in the general, a natural and necessary institution, we remove the greatest stumbling block to belief in the Bible; for whilst texts, detached and torn from their context, may be found for any other purpose, none can be found that even militates against slavery. The distorted and forced construction of certain passages, for this purpose, by abolitionists, if employed as a common rule of construction, would reduce the Bible to a mere allegory, to be interpreted to suit every vicious taste and wicked purpose.” – George Fitzhugh, 1857

        Yet I don’t think the majority of Christians still hold the view that slavery is acceptable.

        • Doug Hankins says:

          Chad, what hermeneutic do you find most helpful to your walk when dealing with OT laws and NT commands and the interplay between? Have you found this hermeneutic to be consistent?

          • Chad Welch says:

            I am not a pastor or a theologian. There are people much smarter and more studied than I am on both sides of this issue. Looking for a school of hermeneutics I would point to one of these people over myself. The best I could do is try to explain the long and winding road that got me where I am today.

            Now I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am not looking to justify myself or a close friend or family. It was not an attempt to find a way for someone I love to fit with the confines of Scripture. The catalyst for even exploring the issue was response to number one that you mention. I knew many Christians who were so angry at gay people. It it like they turned it into some sort of super sin.

            So the first step on my journey began when many Christian I knew were talking about standing up to gays and fighting the homosexual agenda. I started cooking meals at home for people living with (and in those days dying from) Aids.

            This was the beginning of the journey. If you really want I could try to walk through the steps to where I am today, but as I said it was not a quick change.

            I guess that if I had to summarize my particular hermeneutics it would be, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

        • dan says:

          spot on Chad. thanks for bringing an intelligent and well thought out progressive christian point of view to the table. Doug’s larger point that we need to non-combative in our dialogue applies just as much to progressive Christians engaged with conservative Christians as it does with conservative Christians engaged with progressives of all stripes.

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  9. Jennifer says:

    Spot on, Doug! We as Christians need to focus less on being right and more on being light! I am incredibly grateful that God chose to love the sinner, but hate the sin–and hope that I can do the same in the relationships in my life. Grace was given to me and I should extend that grace others.

  10. Jim says:

    I agree with much of what you have said. It just makes me sad to see our society going further down the rabbit hole. I also see how this will affect many other areas such as what our children are taught at school and that worries me. How do we raise our kids to be in the world and yet not of it when they are so thuroughly lambasted with teachings contrary to the Bible? I know we are not supposed to worry and that God is far more powerful than societal views. I know that approaching everything with love in our hearts and the knowledge of the Bible in our heads is key. Even still, it makes me rather uneasy that our government is trying to decide things like this for us.

  11. Michael says:

    “If one has to transform the Bible’s plain teaching, then just get rid of the Bible?”

    Welp, that statement alone fills up my daily quota for reading logical fallacies.

  12. Doug,

    I do not think the third option is a good option for Christ followers to hold onto. I agree with most of this statement, but not the second part of it. You state, “Christians live in the tension of confidently proclaiming the Bible’s teaching while respectfully and lovingly pursuing relationships with those who identify as gay for the Glory of God.”

    You are correct in saying that we should live in the tension of confidently proclaiming the Bible’s teaching while respectfully and lovingly pursue relationships with those who identify themselves as gay. However, those who identify themselves as gay, “for the Glory of God” should not be allowed to take part in the community of believers. Paul is clear in Corinthians that those who proclaim Christ, but act in contrary ways should be dismissed from the community so that their soul should be saved. If we are to welcome homosexuals who claim to be follower’s of Christ, then we are condoning their behavior. However, welcoming those who are gay and who do not pretend to be believers are not expected to follow the principles of Scripture because they are still slaves to sin, are unregenerate, and cannot see the truth.

    Furthermore, the passage you quote from Ephesians is directed toward believers and how they are to act within the body of Christ. Even if we were to apply this Scripture to the situation at hand, the loving thing to do would be to not enter into relationship with homosexuals who claim to be believers so that they would come to a relationship with Christ and be welcomed into the fellowship of the believing community.

    Thanks,

    Jeff

    • Doug Hankins says:

      Jeff, Thanks for the post. I should point out that I never stated that we should accept gay behaving Christians into the fellowship. I am not making an ecclesiological statement in this post. 1 Corinthians is explicitly clear that believers who practice immorality should be removed from fellowship for the goal of restoration to the body and continuation in sanctification. I am in agreement with the Bible on that point for sure.

      In this post, however, I am speaking to the fact that Christians are not seeing a whole lot of gay behaving people getting saved through the current evangelism efforts of the church. Given that, I am asking aloud how we might adjust our evangelism efforts in bringing gay behaving people into the Kingdom of God. Speaking the truth in love is an attitude that believers are called to demonstrate, especially within the context of the church (Eph. 4). But does that mean that we turn that same Christ-like attitude off once we turn towards evangelism?

      I am curious how you approach evangelism of gay behaving people in your area of the states. Do you find that Option 1 or 2 are more effective? Or do you have another approach?

  13. Brad says:

    SeparateChurch,
    A real obvious question that people of certain political ilk seem to evade is: “Where does it say ‘separation of church and state’ in the constitution?” Secondly, look at the on-slaught of immoralityon our senses since the 60’s “free love.” The issue of divorce in heterosexual marriage is not an indication of the invalidness or passe-ness of the institution, but an indication of secular, liberal, and ungodly cultural forces that are deliberately altering our conception of what a proper relationship should be. Compare everyday apparel that females wear compared with 50 years ago. Contrast what you see on TV now with what was on TV 50 years ago. On the radio. On music videos. In concerts that have “entitled” beautiful, wealthy famous artists propulgating their “anything goes” message to tens of thousands of young people per performance.Everything is lust, get it on now, with whoever or whatever. “Falling in love,” infatuation, sex. That’s not what sustains a good marriage relationship! So why is the institution of hetereosexual marriage in such trouble?! Even amongst Christians? We have all been sucked into this message being blasted in our ears over and over, MTV, mainstream network shows, where every dating couple is in bed for marriage, and a gay character or reality participant–always so happy and self-assured in nearly every episode. We are the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water and we don’t know it!

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  15. SeparateChurch says:

    I believe in the inerrancy of scriptures, but this is a separation of church and state issue. We are to expect those who believe to act in Christian theology. Not those who do not. Comparing a matter of mutual adult consent to abortion or pornography is a poor comparison as those matters are not of mutual consent and exploitative (unborn or age-restricted). We love the co-habitating, the child out of wedlock and yet focus on this matter with energy and venom. Christian divorce rate is as high as non-Christian. It is an institutional Spec in our eye and we need to deal with that and accept that we live in a “free” society.

    • Doug Hankins says:

      Shannon, I think you make several great points and would affirm each of them. The Church is in quite a mess with the Christian divorce rate, abortion, pornography, etc… And it would seem like we can pick and choose the topic based solely on political motives. That is why I agree with you that we should not address the gay marriage issue from a political position but from a theological one.

      Thanks for your read and comment.

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