Thursday, January 23, 2014

Homosexuality: Letter to a Fellow Believer

I wrote the following letter last year (2/2013) to a fellow Christian who was articulating a certain view on homosexual marriage and what the church's response should be.  


I read your blog post on homosexuality and I thought I would offer some thoughts in response.  I enjoyed our conversation on this issue.  It’s good to have good, critical interaction.  So many today don’t want to engage in reasoned discourse so I’m glad you are open to it.  I’m going to offer mostly critical comments on your post.  I hope you see this as a sign of respect as I think your ideas are worthy of rational analysis.  Also, I’ll be mentioning some source materials in quotations and footnotes.  I’ve been reading and writing on this issue of marriage and homosexuality for a number of months and I’ve also spent some time engaging with others who take a view very similar to the one you articulate in your blog post.  I’m trying to assess the arguments as well as develop my articulation in defense of what I think is the proper view on this important theological and ethical issue.  So I hope you will indulge the length of this letter.  And one more thing…I want to convince you that I’m right!

First, let me say that the position articulated in your post was very courageous.  You uncompromisingly held to the sinfulness of homosexuality even knowing that this would potentially draw disagreement and, perhaps, even anger from friends who disagreed.  You also, however, affirm your support for same-sex marriage and this probably causes you to be put in a position where you “draw fire” from both sides!  I was also impressed with your strong focus on Jesus and his gospel of grace which all of us sinners so desperately need.

Let me begin my interaction with your thoughts.  You write:

It’s time to accept something. We cannot, do not, must not try to control the state of the world. We cannot force a moral code or view onto others. We are not called to force the world to be “right”, we are called to love others, and to share the gospel.

I don’t think Christians who oppose homosexual “marriage” are trying to force anything.  We are recognizing what has been recognized for thousands of years in various cultural contexts—including recognition in our own culture and enshrined in American law—that marriage is between a man and a woman.  Recognizing this is not an attempt to “control the state of the world.”  It is a desire to reflect the moral realities latent within the world.  Seeking to stand for this time-honored and reasonable moral principle ought not to be considered a form of “control.”  This use of “force” seems to be prejudicial language. 

You didn’t use the language of “discrimination” but since some who hold positions similar to yours do I think it’s important to recognize that any law about marriage will of necessity discriminate against some other conception.[1]
Any legal system that distinguishes marriage from other, non-marital forms of association, romantic or not, will justly exclude some kinds of union from recognition.  So before we can conclude that some marriage policy violates the Equal Protection Clause, or any other moral or constitutional principle, we have to determine what marriage actually is and why is should be recognized legally in the first place.[2]
To enact any law is thus to discriminate.  The question revolves around whether the discrimination is lawful or unlawful.  For the state to uphold the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman is not unlawful discrimination.  The state is recognizing what the nature of marriage is.  Those who favor same-sex marriage are arguing for a new and fundamentally different understanding of marriage.  It is no “disrespect” to a triangle to say that it is not a circle.  It is not “disrespect” to homosexuals to argue that their relationship is not one that falls under the definition of marriage.
You write:
What you are doing by denying homosexuals the right to marry is trying to force the country under a law that only supports the moral code recognized by (the majority of) Christians.
You, again, use the language of “force.”  The irony in this is that this is what the promoters of same-sex marriage are trying to do!  They are attempting to use the courts to by-pass the will of the people so as to “force” their agenda upon the mass of Americans who disagree with their views. 
You write:
Also, homosexuality, particularly homosexuals in a committed, loving relationship and wanting to publicly declare that sentiment to the world, is NOT our biggest threat or enemy.
Are you thinking of long-term effects or only of what effects take place immediately?  What if the large scale acceptance of homosexuality is indicative of God’s judgment on a culture—does that not constitute a significant threat?  Of course, homosexuality may not be the “biggest threat” but if marriage is redefined there will be profound negative consequences for people.  The attempt to hold on to traditional view of marriage can and should be seen as an attempt to “love our neighbor” in seeking the good of the culture.  Consider these words of Maggie Gallagher:
Every human society has recognized that there is something special about the union of husband and wife. Amid the spectacular myriad of relationships that human beings create, marriage is unique for a reason: these are the only unions that can create life and connect those new young lives to the mother and father who made them.
For same-sex marriage advocates to make good on their promise of marriage equality, the very idea that children need a mom and dad must be delegitimized, rendered unspeakable in polite company. Same-sex marriage represents an intellectual and moral repudiation of the idea that marriage is grounded in any human reality outside of government, that government is obligated to respect and protect. Marriage is becoming an idea at the mercy of changing fashion, without deep roots in human nature.
And our current marriage culture is in serious trouble. According to a new Brookings Institution report by two major family scholars (Brad Wilcox and Andrew Cherlin), “the sexual disorder that marked the underclass in the sixties has moved up the class ladder well into Middle America.”
The study discovered that by the late 2000s, “moderately educated American women were more than seven times as likely to bear a child outside of marriage as compared with their college-educated peers.” While college-educated mothers showed a six-percent rate of nonmarital births, the rate of nonmarital births for moderately educated mothers was closer to the rate for mothers that do not have high school degrees—44 percent and 54 percent, respectively.
Add to these statistics that 43 percent of moderately educated young adults between ages 25 and 44 report that “marriage has not worked out for most people they know,” while only 17 percent of highly educated young adults report this.
The collapse of our marriage culture has economic costs. The cost to taxpayers of our rising rates of fatherlessness and fragmentation is at least $112 billion each year, as government expands to meet the needs of children in broken families. (For more statistics, see Benjamin Scafidi’s economic analysis, “The Tax Payer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: First-Ever Estimates for the Nation and All Fifty States.”)
All of these children in fatherless homes are casualties of the deepest idea of the sexual revolution: human institutions that limit sexual desire must be remade in order to achieve “maximum feasible accommodation” with adult sexual desire.
Same-sex marriage will contribute further to the erosion of our marriage culture by making it unacceptable to say that children need married moms and dads. Our goal should not be to strengthen Americans’ commitment to good romances, but to strengthen our commitment to marriage as a social institution dedicated to bringing together male and female so that children have mothers and fathers. In that institution, the government clearly has a stake because it is so vital to the common good.
Far from being a neutral or pro-liberty position, same-sex marriage amounts to a government takeover of an ancient and honorable institution. Here, there are deep similarities philosophically between the abortion and gay marriage movements. At the heart of each movement is the belief that by re-jiggering words, elites change reality itself. A human life can be redefined as a cluster of cells. Marriage can be remade to mean whatever the government decides. Reality itself can be re-mastered to accommodate sexual desires.
But in truth, government cannot create life, and did not create marriage, and government has no business redefining either.[3]
The state is interested in the public good and should recognize that which is morally right and beneficial to the larger society.  Good laws reflect that which is morally right and also contribute to creating a culture of goodness. 
Law and culture exhibit a dynamic relationship: Changes in one ultimately yield changes in the other, and together law and culture structure the choices that individuals see as available, acceptable, and choice-worthy. Given the clear benefits of marriage, we believe that the state should not remain politically neutral, either in procedure or outcome, between marriage and various alternative family structures. Some have sought to redefine civil marriage as a private contract between two individuals regardless of sex, others as a binding union of any number of individuals, and still others as any kind of contractual arrangement for any length of time that is agreeable to any number of consenting adult parties. But in doing so a state would nec­essarily undermine the social norm which encourages marriage as historically understood—i.e., the sexually faithful union, intended for life, between one man and one woman, open to the begetting and rearing of children. The public goods uniquely provided by marriage are recognizable by reasonable persons, regardless of religious or secular worldview, and thus provide compelling reasons for reinforcing the existing marriage norm in law and public policy.[4]
You bring up the issue of the ranking of sins.  You write:
If we were going to rank sins by gravity (which we really shouldn’t, because all are equal in the eyes of the Lord)…
This is a common idea but it doesn’t seem to be true.  Theologian Robert Gagnon has addressed this issue in great detail in response to Alan Chambers who argues for this claim.[5]  I will quote a few sections from Gagnon’s essay (page numbers refer to the PDF version mention in footnote #5).
The fact that all sin is equal in one respect—any one sin can disqualify one from the kingdom of God if one doesn’t receive Christ—does not infer that all sin is equal in all respects—some sins provoke God to bring judgment upon his people more than others.  (p. 16)
Nobody actually lives in the belief that all sins are equally severe on a moral plane.  Indeed, it is often those who argue in connection with homosexual practice that all sin is equal that get particularly upset if one compares homosexual unions to (adult) incest, bestiality, or pedophilia.  They do so precisely because they regard incest, bestiality, and pedophilia as “really bad” and don’t want homosexual behavior to be associated with them.  Such a reaction, however, is already a concession to the obvious principle that some sins are worse than others.  (p. 18)
Gagnon goes on to list a dozen scriptural texts that teach that some sins are worse than others (see pages 18-20).  Then on pages 22-24 Gagnon demonstrates that homosexual practice is one of the more severe sexual sins in scripture.  I would encourage you to read Gagnon’s arguments since his arguments call into question any notion that homosexual practice is a “surface sin.” 
I will stop here.  This is a big topic and it has many facets.  Again, I hope you see my thoughts as an attempt to take seriously your arguments.  I also hope we can keep the discussion going.  Our common bond is ultimately in our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Let me know what you think—I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


[1] Discrimination is not necessarily bad.  We are accustomed to thinking that any use of the word “discrimination” is bad due to certain connotations but this is not the case.  When a day-care facility refuses to hire someone who has been convicted of child sexual molestation we consider this prudential discrimination.  Laws against theft “discriminate” against those who feel that thievery is a valid pursuit.
[2] “What is Marriage?”  Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, & Ryan T. Anderson Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy vol. 34, no. 1 (Winter, 2010), p. 251.
[3] Maggie Gallagher, “Defend Marriage: Moms and Dads Matter”
[4] “Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles” The Witherspoon Institute (August, 2008), p. 7.
[5] See Gagnon’s essay “Time for a Change of Leadership at Exodus?” available here: .  Pages 15-25 are especially focused on this particular issue.