Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Perception for Today: Same-sex Marriage

So it has been a while since I last posted a blog.  There is a topic in the head-lines recently though, and one that has been a hot topic for a long time, that I feel I want to put my $0.02 in about.  The issue is same-sex marriage and homosexuality.  I realize that this is a topic that many people have both strong convictions and strong opinions on.  I also know that virtually no matter what I say, I will anger somebody.  I would not be surprised that some would see my views as controversial, even amongst Christians.

My goal with this blog post is to state my perception, to state what I believe to be the Biblical, Christian perspective, and then also weigh in with my own political thoughts.  I will attempt to be as kind and respectful as possible to all sides, as I do not believe that inflammatory language, degrading remarks, or hateful namecalling is necessary or even right, and any comments that may possibly be left on this blog, from either side of the issue, that use hateful speech, will be deleted.  With that said, let me get started.
The issue of same-sex marriage and homosexuality is a divisive topic.  Usually (not always) the two sides of the issue are those that come from a more conservative persuasion, typically Christian, and will often cite the Bible, saying that the issue is basically black and white.  The Bible says homosexuality is a sin, so it is wrong, obviously a choice, enough said.  On the other side of the issue are usually more liberal, sometimes from Christian backgrounds, sometimes not, people who will tend to say that homosexuals are born with their orientation, it's genetic, and the Bible is antiquated in its old-world mentality with the issue being much more complex than most Christians think.  There are certainly some other, more nuanced views out there, but these two views are often the loudest and tend to be more opposite one another, and also the most prevalent in my opinion.

What if both views though, at least in part, are true?  Now, before anybody gets up in arms over that statement, please keep reading, as this will take me some time to fully explain what I mean.  The simplest way to put it is that it is both black & white AND complex. 

To begin with, let me discuss the part that is black & white.  I will get to the complexities in a bit.  The Christian perspective that is based on the Bible is that homosexuality is a sin.  The Bible is actually pretty clear about this.  As Christians, our final authority is the word of God.  From God, through His word, given to us in the Bible, is where we get our morals, values, ideas of right and wrong, and what sin is.  That is the Christian perspective.  That is what my conviction is.  Some people believe that the Bible doesn't really talk about homosexuality.  Let's take a look.  (All scriptures used are quoted from the New International Version of the Bible).

Leviticus 18:22--"Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable."

1 Corinthians 6:9-10--"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

Romans 1:24-27--"Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.  Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."

1Timothy 1:9-11--"We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

These are verses that speak directly to the issue of homosexuality, referring to it as immoral, contrary to sound doctrine, shameful, unnatural, detestable, and wrong.  Furthermore, we can look back to the beginning of time according to the Bible.  In Genesis, how did God set up marriage?  He created a man and a woman to be the original model for marriage, claiming that it was good.  His purpose was for a man and woman to join together.  Genesis 2:24 states, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh."  We can also see a picture of marriage in the New Testament.  Jesus and the collective church (all of the believers in Christ) are often referred to as the bridegroom and bride, respectively.  The good marriage is again viewed as a husband and wife.

Because of the verses and principles above, I feel that the only option we have as Christians, when it comes to homosexuality, is to call it a sin.  That is why I say that the issue is black and white.  That is why, as a Christian, I oppose same-sex marriage from a moral standpoint, because to condone same-sex marriage, I would have to condone homosexuality, which I cannot or be in defiance to my God.  (Sidenote:  The only way I can see that homosexual sex is not sin, is when one person is victimized sexually (raped, molested, etc) by another person of the same sex.  I could not in good conscience say that the victim truly engaged in a homosexual act because they were an unwilling victim, not a consenual participant, and in that act they did not sin, though the attacker did.  My feelings are the same when it comes to heterosexual rape, molestation, etc.  The attacker sinned, the victim did not.)

Now that I have covered why I feel the issue of homosexualitiy is black and white, allow me to explain why I feel that the issue is also complex.  I think many Christians still think of homosexuality as simply a "lifestyle choice," the operative word being "choice."  This is one of the main things many homosexuals and those who support homosexual lifestyles take issue with, the idea that it is a choice.  If you were to talk to numerous homosexual men and women, probably all or very nearly all would say that they either have always been attracted to their own gender, they were never attracted to the opposite gender, or have known from early childhood that they were gay (even if they didn't know what to call it at that point).  That certainly doesn't seem like they just chose to be gay.  They didn't wake up one morning and just decide, "I think I'll be gay now."  Furthermore, up until very recent history, and even still in many places today, there has been a very negative stigma in society (even amongst non-Christians) associated with being gay.  Choosing to be gay would certainly be quite difficult, as it would usually carry negative consequences of ostrization, disownment, ridicule, threat of assault, and in some cases, sadly even murder. 

So what could the Christian perspective be?  How can we say that a person is sinning if they are simply "born that way" and "can't help it?"  I think the answer hinges on sin.  To be more specific, I think that it hinges on our sin nature.  According to the Christian perspective, we are all born with a sin nature. We are all born sinful.  We are all born in outright rebellion to God, and if left to our own devices, will much more often than not, seek our own ways and follow our own desires.  Furthermore, we have made God's ways to be foolishness and set up our own standards, or own morals, and our own idea of what is right and wrong. 

Now, each person is different.  We all have our own personalities and ways of thinking.  We also have our own struggles and temptations.  There are some things that tempt some people more so than others.  We all have a "bend".  For example, for some people, they find it very difficult to resist the temptation to cheat on their spouse or partner whenever an opportuntity comes up, while for others, it would never be an issue.  Some people are easily tempted by pornography.  Some people are tempted by sex in general and are driven to seek it out.  This "bend" that some people have is not always in the sexual sense either.  Some people, find it very easy to become angry.  Some seem to be compulsive liars.  Still others seem to be naturally bent towards being alcoholics or have highly addictive personalities making them more susceptible to drug addiction.  On the more dangerous side of things, there are some people who have a natural bend toward violence, murder, rape, setting fires, etc.  For all of the people who may struggle with these different things, there are others who do not seem to have this bend.  This is all part of our sin nature.  Our natural desire is to do things which go against God.  James 1:14 states, "each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed."  The Christian perspective is that homosexuality is a sin, a part of our sin nature that some people struggle with, and others don't. 

When left to our selves, living on our own, we live by our nature, not by God's nature.  We choose to follow our own sin nature, and reject God's nature.  For some, homosexuality may be a part of their corrupted sinful nature, and they follow that.  Just because it is their "nature" though, does not mean that it is right.  Neither can we say that it is a simple choice the way that most people think of it being a choice.  For those who would say that they are merely following their natures the way that God made them, so it's God's fault, should note James 1:13-14.  It states, "When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed."  Our very desires, our nature, our very essence is one of evil, evil being anything that goes against God's nature and commands.  Even though homosexuality may be a part of a person's nature, does not mean that they should follow their nature, or that they should not reject that nature.  God has called on all of us to reject our sinful nature for a new one.

With all of that being said, holding onto the belief that homosexuality is wrong, I must also say that I oppose those who are millitantly against homosexuals.  The best way to describe what I mean is the example of the Westborro Baptist Church.  In case you are not familiar with this group, they have on many occasions picketed funerals of military men and women holding signs that say things such as "God Hates Fags."  First off, this is not even true.  Secondly, the way in which they deliver their message is full of nothing but hate and malice.  As Christians, we are instructed to preach the truth in love.  We should not be using hate speech, gay slurs, or trying to intenionally incite anger or violence.  Besides there being no love in their message, there is also no grace, which is the crux of my message (and I am merely trying to echo Christ's message).  And shame on any pastor who says that a homosexual should be hit, locked up, rounded up, mistreated, or abused in any other way.  That is NOT how Jesus dealt with sinners, and it is not how we should.  With emotions high on issues such as this, saying anything like that even in jest, especially from the pulpit should be avoided. 

I think that one concept that many Christians will often forget about is grace.  It seems to me that many Christians who do not struggle with homosexuality put homosexuality in an entirely different category of sin than the sins that they do struggle with, including other sexual sins.  Sure, we may have issues with people who are liars, or adulterers, or prone to anger, but it doesn't seem to me that Christians are millitantly against these sins like they are with homosexuality.  Furthermore, there are many Christians who struggle with temptations to and fall to those temptations of lust, pornography, or adultery.  It seems we are more willing to show grace and love to these people than to those who struggle with homosexuality.  And yes, there are even Christians who do.  Our nature is corrupt.  Some people's nature is corrupt in different ways compared to others.

The point I am trying to make though is that regardless of whether a person is gay or not, they are in need of God's grace and forgiveness.  A person who is not gay, including a Christian, needs the SAME grace of God just as much.  Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God." (emphasis added).  That means everybody.  We are all on equal footing before God.  We shouldn't simply be trying to tell gay people that homosexuality is a sin and try to change them.  We should be sharing the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.  That is what they need.  That is what we all need.  When we give our lives over to God, He gives us a new nature that we can choose to follow.  Don't think that just because somebody has become a Christian and received that new nature though that they will never struggle with homosexuality again.  This is because while we may have a new nature, we have not completely lost our old natures, and we are still able to follow them.  Our old selves will not be completely gone until we reach heaven.  This is obviously evidenced by the fact that Christians still sin and are still tempted by sin.  If you are a Christian that is still tempted by certain sins and struggle with doing the right thing or not doing the wrong thing at times, why would you think it is ok to say that a Christian should not struggle with or be tempted by homosexuality?  They are struggling with sin, just as you are.  The grace of God that we all need in our lives is continual, because we all continue to struggle with sin, no matter who we are. 

So as I hope you see, I believe that the issue of homosexuality is black & white, but I also think that many Christians do a disservice to their fellow man by simplifying it and reducing it down to nothing more than a "choice."  Our sin natures are at the heart of the issue, and because everybody has a sinful nature, we are all in equal need of grace. 

With all of that being said, where then does that leave me on the issue of same-sex marriage.  I don't think that that is entirely as simple an answer either.  So this is where I wish to be more political.  To me, and to many others, marriage is an institution of the church, given to us by God.  Marriage, to me, is a covenant made by a man and woman to each other and to God, recognized by the church.  It is the promise that we make to our spouse to love and honor them for all of our lives, seeking to build each other up and to help one another come closer to God.  Marriage is very much a spiritual and religious union. 

Here is where things become a little less simple though.  (Side note:  I live in the United States, so politically I can only speak to how our government and laws are set up, it may be different in other parts of the world, and I cannot speak for those areas).  You see, in the U.S. marriage is not simply religious and spiritual, it is also legal.  A marriage certificate in the U.S. is a binding legal contract, even requiring a court order to dissolve.  In the U.S. a spouse, legally, (unless otherwise changed by other legal means) has power of attorney should the other spouse be incapacitated, has the right to insurance benefits, has joint responsibility with property, can change tax responsibility, and is the first one entitled to benefits upon death of the other spouse.  Also, a spousal relationship is considered a privileged relationship in the U.S.  This means that in a court of law, one spouse cannot legally be made to testify against the other, similar to (but not exactly the same as) the attorney-client privilege.  There are probably other benefits that I am not even thinking of.

A marriage, in the eyes of God, is much more than a legal contract though.  It is a special covenant.  It is the bringing together of two people to become one.  It is the forsaking of all others, with the commitment before God and man to be one another's support, life-line, partner, friend, trusted confidant, accountability, and lover for the rest of life.  Furthermore, because of the reasons I listed above, I believe that a marriage is between a man and a woman.  These are promises though, that the state cannot hold one accountable to.  On the flip side, all of the legal aspects of marriage (insurance, death benefits, child-care requirements, etc) are things which the church cannot hold a couple accountable to.  So, you see, marriage is both a love commitment and a civil commitment.  Because of the reasons I laid out earlier, I could not in good Christian conscience condone a same-sex marriage.  I also do not believe that the church should sanction same-sex marriage or perform same-sex ceremonies.  I believe that a church should not provide pre-marital or marital counciling for a same-sex couple because I believe that union stands against God.  If I attended a church that did, I feel I would have to leave that church for not following God's commands.  Furthermore, because I believe marriage is a spiritual union of one man and one woman, I do not feel comfortable calling any other union a marriage.  I am okay with calling them partnerships or even unions, but I believe "marriage" at its root is a very biblical concept, and thus cannot apply that term to a same-sex couple.

With all of that being said, our government is not controlled by the church.  The Christian Church, or any religious institution for that matter, does not have the right to tell the U.S. government what they must do or make law.  Christian's can and should influence law and policy, but we must remember that our country was set up to provide all with the freedom to be treated equally under the law.  From a completely legal standpoint, I do see a problem with a lack of rights for same-sex couples.  I do not believe that two men or two women should be together in a romantic relationship for reasons I gave above.  If two men or two women do choose to build a committed life together, however, I do not think it is right for them to face certain penalties or to not have certain rights.
Another good example is one issue being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court right now.  The issue, in a nutshell, has to do with two women that built a life together for 42 years.  They were married abroad, but the U.S. did not recognize their marriage as valid.  When one woman died, the other was hit with an inheritance tax of over $360,000, a tax she would not have gotten if their marriage was recognized by the U.S.  I also see no reason why any person should not be allowed to name whom they want to be their legal beneficiary and who they want to share legal and civil benefits and responsibilities with.  If a member of our military is a homosexual and in a commited monogomous relationship, and they die while in service, I believe their partner should have the right to the benefits that a legally recognized heterosxual spouse would have.  Even though I have a moral problem with their union, I believe it would be discrimination to deny those benefits. 

I cannot advocate for same-sex marriage because it stands against God's word.  I do believe that something must be changed though in order to protect those who are the partners in a union with a homosexual.  I am not sure if calling it a civil-union (not a marriage) is the best way to fix the issues, but I believe it is one possible way.  Perhaps there should be changes in the tax law.  Perhaps it should be easier to name beneficiaries and powers of attorney.  Honestly, I do not know enough about our laws to really know what the best course of action would be in a legal sense.  I am not here to come up with a solution. 

Ultimately, as a Christian, I believe what should be done by those living in homosexual unions is to find faith in Jesus (assuming they haven't already) and to follow him in denying their sinful nature and absolving their homosexual union.  Jesus loves us all, even while we are in midst of our sin, and calls us to follow him.  Romans 5:8 says, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  That verse means that you do not need to fix your life before coming to Christ.  You don't need to "stop sinning" to come to faith in him.  You did not need to stop being a liar, a thief, prone to anger, or a homosexual.  You simply need to realize that you are a sinner, by nature. Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." You are on equal footing as anybody else.  Put your faith in Jesus.  Trust him.  Follow after him.  Study his word.  Let him work in your life.  He will show you the way you ought to go.

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