Sunday, 6 April 2014

My Stance on Gay Marriage and Why I am a Hypocrite

Within the last year I have decided that it is impossible for me to believe that a canonical interpretation of Scripture can support gay marriage. Marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of child bearing is deeply founded in a canonical and traditional theology of the body, ecclesiology, eschatology, and even a general Christological framework as it has been understood throughout Christian and Jewish time and space. Of course our theological understandings and hermeneutics based on cultural change always open us up to rethinking things over time (usually for the purpose of justice and peace), but it has to be grounded in strong Biblical precedent and should be able to show that in the long run it will create more peace and unity in the church and the general human family. What is often downplayed in our society is that personal conviction acted out upon society often creates more harm, division, and violence then it is worth. Of course, there have also been times in history where personal conviction turns into communal conviction, and that, along with strong Biblical precedent for that conviction improves society (abolition of slavery as an example). 

In the case of gay marriage however there is simply not enough canonical evidence or support from the global church to change our understanding of marriage, nor is there as much at stake for LGBTQ couples. As oppressive as marriage inequality is (implicit with it is societal homophobia which often isolates and damages LGBTQ people, particularly in small rural communities), it is not forced labor or sex trafficking children. That being said, within the western world I support civil based unions/marriages with their central values being monogamy, fidelity, and mutual love. Within this generalized view of marriage, western culture is able counteract individual inequality. From a Christian perspective however this cultural definition is simply too much of an alteration from the traditional Christian and Jewish understandings and in the long run will do more harm than good if it continues to be forcibly globalized (or at least strongly encouraged with sanctions for those countries who refuse to oblige. See “Global Culture Wars” by R.R. Reno, First Things April 2014). What has happened in the past few weeks with World Vision is a great example of the harm that can come from forcing a large majority of people into a different value system they are not comfortable with (regardless of whether their response was right or wrong).
      Holding to this stance also makes me a bit of a hypocrite. As someone who has recently become engaged, forming a biological lineage for God’s glory is often the last thing on my mind. I am in love with my future wife, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. She is the one I ache to be with, and desire to share my thoughts and space with more than anyone else. She is my best friend, my confidant, and the object of my lust. From a Christian perspective this has only limited relevance to what marriage is about. Occasionally I look into her eyes and perceive a future matriarch who has both the strength and wisdom to lead our children and grandchildren into their own maturation. But this is often an afterthought.       
    It is in these moments where I think about how difficult it must to be an LGTBQ person trying to live the traditional Christian life. Our culture inundates us with what a good life must be. A happy life is a life where finding romantic love and sexual fulfillment are a must have.  Leading a life of celibacy is foolishness, and marriage for the central purpose of procreation is not even on the radar. Marriage, even for the general purpose of forming a better world is barely even on the radar!

We have narrowed the purpose of life down to individual relationality, with very little focus on the greater good of a society.

We boast in the glory and goodness of human rights, yet ignore what it means to have a responsibility to our family and the formation of our Children (traditionally this is why marriage has offered tax breaks).  As long as all civil services are generically equal and you don’t directly harm or infringe upon anyone else you are free to do whatever you want. As someone who has been heavily influenced by modern values I cringe when I think of the unfair advantage that comes from being a heterosexual male. From the Christian perspective I am allowed to be married for the purpose of procreation, while someone from the LGBTQ community is called to live a life of celibacy. My wife will have to bear our children, while at the biological level I am simply called to provide the sperm. These realities seem to be extraordinarily unfair, yet this is the life we are called to as Christians.

The life of Christ seems to only further support a certain level of submission to forces of inequality. Throughout the New Testament we see a calling to take up our cross and imitate Christ’s suffering despite the reality of inequality in the world. 1 Peter 2:18 calls for those in slavery to “submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” As oppression becomes increasingly more implicit within western society, and the insidious ideology of self-autonomy continues to pervade, the Christian tension between submitting to what God’s  Word has to say on the nature of the world, and working to provide individual compassion and care will only increase.


  1. Dear Jesse: In the early Church and in some parts of the world today, a Christian didn’t have the right to teach until he proved to the community what he had sacrificed for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Neither Jesus nor St. Paul asked their followers to “take up a cross” which they themselves were not already carrying. It was the Romans who did that. In fact, Jesus became one of us- a poor, homeless, minority one of us- in order to join us in our cross-bearing and to die. When he stood among the accusers of the woman caught in adultery, he asked that the one who was without sin cast the first stone; and even then he did not cast a stone himself.

    Sadly, our colonialist days have left our Church with the legacy of a top-down approach to power which spends more time casting stones than bearing crosses. Each of us feels like we need to develop an official position on those things causing turmoil in the lives of others. As a white settler to Canada, for example, I am not prepared to make a statement on what God is calling our Indigenous Church to in light of the way they have been cast aside and abused by the ruling majority, of which I am apart. My only call is to listen to them, to pray for them, and to trust that God is guiding them toward the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. Likewise, you are in no place to make a public declaration on what God is calling my people to. Yes, you may walk alongside us, wrestle with us, pray for us, and confess the sins of your ancestors- but that is all. Because when you step forward to teach us, we will first ask you, “How have you suffered? What have you given up in order to earn a voice in this conversation?”

    And then you will recall the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “Is this not the fast I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free… to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” And perhaps then you will remember also that it breaks your heart- as it does mine- that this Church of ours has turned away from the call of the prophet to bicker over what all this means. If you read the news more closely, you will see that my brothers and sisters around the world are subject to persecution, to abandonment, to murder and suicide every day. And for those that, by the grace of God, have managed to cling to the Church, faith is a thing never to be taken for granted.

    I recognize that your contention is not with LGBT people but with the definition of marriage. One day soon, perhaps, we will come to see this conversation for what it really is: a struggle of power, of culture, and of fear. Jesus, meanwhile, continues to bear the cross which the rest of us would place upon the “other.”

  2. As I was heading into work this morning, I was listening to Krista Tippett's interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Aside from his profound sense of joy, what stood out for me were these words talking about the struggle of South Africans to overturn Apartheid:

    "We didn't fight to change the complexion of the Union building (i.e. Parliament), it was to change the quality of our community. We wanted to see a society that was a compassionate society. A caring society. A society where you might not necessarily be madly rich but you knew that you counted."

    I think this statement is profoundly connected to the role of individuals who identify as part of LGBTQ communities. What is God's vision of shalom, but a holistic peace in which we all count? I think we have to listen to struggles for justice in places like South Africa, or, as Allison mentions, within our own country, where Truth must be told, and Reconciliation pursued.

    Because it's about more than those in power counting those who we have traditionally marginalized. And it's important to remember this, especially for folks like me who can tick all the boxes that make me dominant and powerful (white, middle class, straight, able-bodied, male) in our current society.

    We forget all too often, and I'm glad that Allison has pointed out, that there is a thread of Exodus and Liberation throughout our scriptures. That the scriptures are at most times talking to a people in exile. And that the message of the prophets (including Jesus) is a message of liberation and freedom (not freedom from, as our modern world would have it, but freedom for...but I digress)

    We forget all too often, that kenosis is the privilege of the privileged. As Richard Beck suggests, you have to be on top to go down. The sin of the power and the privileged has always been one of demanding that others pay the price for their privilege. And yet Christians must know (though we've forgotten through our history of cultural dominance in the west) that the Gospel was first proclaimed and embodied amongst marginal people, who were part of a marginal sect, in a dominant (and dominating) Roman culture.

  3. The struggle with the cross is not something that we force on those who have less power, lest we confuse ourselves for Romans once again.

    We should all cringe (and this must be more true for those of us who are members of Christ's church) when white, middle class, straight, able-bodied males (The Form of All That Is Good In Our Society) have a momentary wrestling with realities they cannot understand, and pass judgment on entire communities while reasserting the dominant view.

    Coming back to Richard Beck, he shares:

    "We all know what it shouldn't look like. We don't use kenosis, servanthood or the cross to justify telling the abused person to stay in the abusive situation. Such advice heaps theological abuse on top of physical and psychological abuse."

    I fear that this is precisely what we're up to when we unthinkingly cling to tradition in the face of the experience of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer brothers and sisters in society broadly, and the church more specifically.

    The reality is that we have heaped abuse on LGBTQ communities in order to preserve our power. We have clung to the dualisms that tell us that we are right and others are wrong. We're good. Others are bad.

    We're really good at this. You point out slavery. But what about our views of and treatment of women? What of the ways in which we have tried utterly to destroy indigenous people here in Canada.

    Bishop Mark MacDonald has shared numerous times that when the prayer book was translated into Cree, the ordination rites were not included. Presumably based on the assumption that it would never be needed. That has changed.

    The church, for all too long, has assumed that the sacrament of self-giving love that we call marriage, can only be between a man and a woman.

    For all too long, we have assumed that another rite would never be needed. And today, we're confronted with a new possibility.

    This is the witness of many people whose relationships are indeed a means of grace.

    This is the witness of so many whose lives demonstrate so clearly the fruits of God's spirit.

    For those of us who (for whatever reason) are in positions of power, the kenosis of Philippians 2 (conveniently one of the readings for Palm Sunday) cannot continue to be used as tools of oppression. My sense in all of this is that Allison is onto something. There is something about power, culture and fear at play here. But more than that, a misapplication of scripture (and a traditional misapplication at that!) that reads the church into a role of dominance and power over and against those who are not The Form of The (culturally defined) Good.

    Returning to Archbishop Tutu, I wonder what would happen if we all worked towards the creation of a compassionate, caring and self-sacrificial church. I wonder what would happen if those of us who are in positions of power by cultural default took Jesus' kenosis seriously, and emptied ourselves of power and pretense for the sake of creating such a mutually-sacrificial community that might be a sign and light to all people.

    The greater good of society will not be served by further oppression. It will not be served by securing more tightly the bonds of injustice. It will not be served by perpetuating the myth of redemptive violence. And it will certainly not be served by perpetuating a culture of fear of difference.

  4. Hey Allison. I should be clear that my goal with this post was not to teach anyone or tell people what to do. I only wrote this to say that I am submitting to Christian tradition, inspite of my Christian desire to see inequality and the injustice stopped. Part of the problem with the injustice and its relation to power is that I see power struggles on both sides of the conversation. Being raised in the Lutheran tradition (ELCIC) I am seeing rural communities being divided and forced into a belief system they disagree with. I am seeing my Grandma being told she is a bad person for her belief system despite the fact that she gives up 80% of her household income to local and global charities and is the most loving caring person you could ever meet. And I am seeing countries who have been traditionally colonized by western oppression being only further bullied by what is now a powerful force in wester secularism.

    I know that lgbt people are suffering all over the world and I am incredibly sad for that, but forcing countries to do what we want is not the answer.

    The reason I am submitting to Orthodox Christianity has a lot of theological reasoning behind it. And I am not sure your initial argument fits within Christian theology. Telling people that they need to prove themselves before they are allowed to have a voice, seems incredibly contradictory. Was Paul not the first to say that he was the least worthy to be chosen? You know as well as I do that God often chooses people who least deserve it in Scripture

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  6. I agree that fear is often wrapped up in discussion of same-sex marriage, but for me, it is more so a fear that I will be completely dismissed, ridiculed, and condemned as a bigot for desiring to affirm the traditional Christian understanding of marriage. I fear that many see opposition to same-sex marriage automatically as an expression of homophobia and a hatred of LGBT folks.

    It greatly disturbs me that LGBT people throughout the world are condemned, bullied, persecuted, abused, and killed for who they are. But, to love and accept and affirm LGBT people does not necessarily entail affirming same-sex marriage. It makes the argument seem as if, if we can't affirm that people can have sex with whoever they want, we can't affirm their value as a human being. This seems incredibly tenuous to me as a Christian.

    Just as historically dominant and powerful Christians need to reckon with their legacy and the sins of their ancestors, and need to learn to listen for a long time to the struggles of those who have been robbed of their dignity, it seems to me that LGBT people need to at least allow for the possibility that someone can disapprove of same-sex marriage and still value and affirm an LGBT person. And, something as basic and fundamental as human sexuality seems to require that multiple voices be allowed to speak. The question of marriage is a question of good, right, and true expressions of sexuality, and that has bearing on gay and straight (and other) people alike. Issues of power and dominance certainly must be addressed (and by no means will it be easy to do so), but to effectively say that opposition to same-sex marriage is reducible to a struggle of power, culture, and fear of difference seems to over-simplify the issue drastically and irresponsibly. It cuts off the conversation before it can happen, and it seems to presume that anything someone with a conservative stance has to say about marriage should be automatically disregarded.

  7. I suggest that you dispense with the concept of equality in your analysis. It is a nonsensical concept because there is no intelligent basis for which a man/woman can be evaluated to be equal/inequal to any other man/woman. Every individual is simply different from every other and always will be.

    That being said, I also suggest that you re-evaluate this statement: "[i]... My wife will have to bear our children, while at the biological level I am simply called to provide the sperm.[/i]" because it is scientifically false.
    When your future wife gets pregnant, she will no longer be an autonomous individual. She will no longer be in control of her own body and she (along with your child she carries) will depend upon you for protection --- at least for those 10 months while she is carrying your child.
    You are not going to find many pregnant women hunting to support their families. That is the man's job. God made our biology that way.

    The use of the term "marriage" as applied to homosexual couples is a misnomer that we sorry Christians have unwittingly accepted in public discourse. Homosexual "marriage" is conceptually no different from heterosexuals "shacking up" and should be labelled as such.

    Notwithstanding the above, God loves all of His children and He made everybody exactly the way they are. You do not have to be a hypocrite. All you need to do is follow Jesus' word and love your neighbor as yourself. Let God judge and do not make it your business to know [i]how[/i] God will judge your neighbors, brothers and sisters. Just pray for them.