Blog has moved, searching new blog...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Christians Can Be Grateful For Gay Marriage

Last week Illinois became the 16th state to allow same-sex marriage. And promptly joined the previous 15 in their devolved, anarchic state of a post-apocalyptic society and broken families. ...Just kidding.

But you might think all of that if you were following Christian responses. The simplest way I can say it is that these responses were largely disappointing.

Most of them talk of gay marriage "destroying the family." One Illinois Catholic bishop even performed an exorcism on the State of Illinois for its sins just 30 minutes after Governor Pat Quinn signed gay marriage into law. Afterward, His Excellency told reporters he wasn't trying to single out any one issue. This is doubly tragic - first that His Excellency would think such an exorcism was appropriate and second that he would not say with courage, "Yes, this is about gay marriage. Yes, I'm opposed to it. Yes, I stand by the actions I performed just minutes ago." However you feel about gay marriage, honesty is admirable.

I have remained indifferent to the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage. I have opinions but I don't feel I have a horse in that race. But many Christians think they do.

So why should we Christians be grateful that gay marriage can be legalized? Because the government still has no interest in defining the spiritual realities of sacramental marriage. And it doesn't claim to.

There's a reason that when you are married in church you still have to register your marriage with the state. The church will recognize your marriage from the moment you say, "I do." The state only cares about the legal framework being followed and that you've signed a piece of paper.

What's happening with gay marriage is a legal action. I normally champion holistic seeing - that we can't separate spiritual from emotional from physical. But when it comes to governments, they have a very specific purpose and function, and it is not a spiritual one. They are interested in structuring a productive, healthy, society and, in our very fortunate case, allowing citizens to pursue their own happiness.

American Christians love the separation of Church and state, and I mean absolutely love it. We go bananas for it, especially when something like universal healthcare comes to the fore. We want the government to stay out of our religion! But then we turn around and expect that our religious beliefs should be the basis for governing on the issues that we actually do care about. Like gay marriage.

But here's the truth: Christians don't realize how lucky they are that the issue of gay marriage has developed the way it has. We aren't facing the issue of people wanting marriages between three people or with minors or to loosen divorce entitlements to make "marriage" a somewhat fluid definition. We aren't looking at an assault on the structure or seriousness of marriage. We're looking at a group who wants to keep the structure but just be a part of it. Our biggest issue is that gay couples want to affirm marriage's importance as-is.

The issue of our time is that gay couples want to buy into our system: they want monogamous, lifelong relationships, a house in the suburbs, two kids, holidays gathered with their families, and on and on and on. It looks exactly like the image of marriage Christians hold up except for the couple being gay. Some Christians understandably think that that part does matter though others don't. What I'm trying to say is that this image is not so scary. It's not foreign. And since our Constitution is a legal (and not spiritual) document, it's hard to argue they don't have that right.

"But society will break down! Children need a mother and father." Granted, it's hard to argue that by natural design children don't need a mother and a father because, after all, every human has required them for his/her existence. But since gay couples understandably won't be naturally producing their own children, this means there will be more stable couples in society willing to adopt. This is huge! The world has so many children in desperate need of loving homes.

And before you condemn gay couples who want to adopt children you need to answer the question, "Am I willing to adopt a child in need? When I'm married and/or financially stable, do I plan on doing it then?" If the honest answer is no, then you have lost any right to deny adoption to them. People who condemn gay couples adopting but refuse to do so themselves are like the Levite passing the robbed man on the road and then saying the (good) Samaritan shouldn't be allowed to help. Do you think a child in search of a forever home is going to care that their parents are gay? No, no they won't. This particular principle of help and love coming from outcasts is such an offensive theme in the gospels that even today Christians deny its application in our lives.

I see a difference between asking "do you approve of gay marriage" and "should gay marriage be legalized," not because of the answers necessarily but because the questions get at two fundamentally different things.

Our government is designed to not govern based on religious conviction. And the legalization of gay marriage affirms that. For that reason I can say, "Thank God."

Related Posts:
When the Church Fails Homosexuals
Where is God, the Right or the Left?


  1. This is great, Sam. You've navigated this issue carefully and are using sound logic, I think. I particularly like that you point out that gay couples aren't looking to undermine marriage, rather they "want to affirm marriage's importance." This is spot on.

    I also like your arguments about adoption, though I think it's important to note that for many gay couples, marriage is about more than raising children. For those of us who are spiritual, it's also about being accepted as having a loving relationship that is sanctified before God and is acceptable within the church family (at least in churches that sanction gay marriage, obviously this doesn't apply to Catholics). Again, the reasons here are marriage-affirming, not undermining.

    There's still a lot to be worked out on these issues—including relevance and social expediency of marriage in general (gay or otherwise). The way the government, more so than the church, chooses to address this will define how marriage is treated in coming years.

    1. That's an important distinction - that marriage is about more than just raising children. I always appreciate your perspective, Phillip. Thanks!

  2. Too few people can see the difference between simply disapproving of something, and wanting the law to restrict the freedoms of others to keep them from doing it. Thanks for writing this!

  3. Well this is incendiary. :-)

    Just wanted to say that, mostly.

    I enjoyed this very much! At bare minimum, entirely thought provoking. I'm not done thinking so I have practically nothing to say. But, I'll post when I do.

  4. [part 1]

    So, did some thinking…

    You believe government exists to structure “a productive, healthy society and … [allow] citizens to pursue their own happiness”. This is a pretty broad definition and you haven’t defined terms. The terms I’m primarily thinking of are “productive” and “healthy”. Since this hasn’t been done, I can do the following. I can say that “healthy” means marriage between only men and women since that’s the way God built mankind. If a citizen is made happy by killing his neighbor (your third purpose of government), then points two and three of your definition of government come into conflict. What is the solution? We usually say government can intervene, and for the purpose of maintaining point two of your definition (a healthy society), the government can stop/punish the person from killing his neighbor. So, when point three of the definition conflicts with point two, point two trumps (in this instance). Now I will apply this rule. Marrying a person of the same sex makes me happy (point three of your definition), but then I and my partner wouldn’t be healthy (point two of your definition) which forces the government to intervene and stop me from marrying someone of the same sex. Conclusion: gay marriage should be illegal according to your definition of government.

    Anyway, that was a rather long and laborious way of saying the primary terms need defined if you’re going to be totally convincing. But l have to say I was thoroughly thought provoked. :-)

    First and foremost “government” should be defined. And that in and of itself could be a long and laborious effort. But it seems worth it. (It’s an exercise I’d like to complete.) What is the purpose of government? That’s really what this is about. I feel the definition of church is clear. No one (in the Western word) considers a theocracy a viable option anymore - it doesn’t even take up space in our consciousness - so the place of the church is simply and beautifully worship and becoming (not that there won’t ever be conflict between church and society). But government has many potential functions: on one end, as bare and simple as making sure we don’t all kill each other, all the way to the other end, a nanny state. My point in completing this exercise is to state that unavoidably, and inherently, the state is a moral/religious/spiritual/decision-making body. It’s nice and pleasant to think of the state as a pure mechanism of “keeping the peace” or “defending the borders” or “keeping all our libraries running (which could be debated)”, but this isn’t the case simply because there’s a reason we do the things we’re doing, which will reveal the moral/religious/spiritual nature of the enterprise. Perhaps the stated goal of the state is not to tell men how to direct their souls, but in stopping people from killing each other and in generally keeping the peace, the government has taken a moral stand that life is good and to be protected. Now we have to answer, what kind of life? And the lid comes further off the can of worms. As the government tries to answer what kind of life we should live, what kind of life is healthy, it takes a moral/religious/spiritual position.

  5. [part 2]

    “American Christians love the separation of Church and state, and I mean absolutely love it. We go bananas for it... We want the government to stay out of our religion! But then we turn around and expect that our religious beliefs should be the basis for governing…”

    I agree with you completely - this is an excellent point. But I think the premise should be examined. What does separation of church and state mean? And better yet, can it be done? I would say “No” to the second question. And in all honestly, I feel too tired to answer the first question. It’s not possible for two bodies, of such massive import, not to affect each other. They can’t be separate! The church governs how you think (if you adhere to one) and thus how you act. It is therefore significantly more fundamental than state. But the state also governs how you think. How? The educational system. The educational system surely affects us to a far larger extent than the church due to simple face time: 5 days a week versus 1 day a week. Of course the state doesn’t claim to know the state of your eternal soul while the church does, so perhaps the two forces become equal. Both affect/drive how you think - although the church in a much more direct/apparent way. The two most fundamental institutions in human existence can not not affect each other (they both teach us how to think) and thus separation, in a pure form, is impossible. Perhaps the only way we could truly have separation of church and state is if the state became incredibly simple and existed only to keep the peace (note: that will never happen).

    “And since our Constitution is a legal (and not spiritual) document, it's hard to argue they don't have that right.”

    Well, I’m surprised to hear you say this. You really believe this? Can the spiritual and the legal be separated? No. Everything is spiritual up to a degree and from a perspective. You can truthfully and accurately claim that the primary purpose of the Constitution is legal - no one would argue that. But you can’t take spirituality out of the Constitution simply because you can’t take spirituality out of anything. [I just did the easy part - deconstructing part of an idea - but I haven’t done the hard part - constructing a new idea in its place and/or then applying it.]

    “I see a difference between asking ‘do you approve of gay marriage’ and ‘should gay marriage be legalized...’” - yes, true, a thousand times over. Good point.

    I liked your article so much. Thanks for making me think more. The thinking is not finished. I didn’t engage more than a tenth of your article… Thinking is hard. :-) I really don’t know what I think on most of the gay-related questions, and more importantly I’m unclear on the place of government itself. Perhaps it should be different at different times through history?

  6. (Part 1) Amanda, thanks for engaging so much with this! You've offered a lot of feedback so let me just respond to some of it. I'd like to clarify some of my points, affirm some of your positions, and challenge you on others.

    What is government? I'm speaking of a literal government, our local, state, and federal governing bodies, statutes, processes, etc. You're asking a philosophical question of "What is government?" which is a very good question but I'm not holding such a loose definition. I'm trying to speak of government in the same sense the courts or Constitution do when they say, "government shall/shall not do X."

    Is everything spiritual? Yes. Absolutely. Like you, I firmly believe in this reality. I believe everything from gay marriage to reading the morning paper has a spiritual component. But to my mind, the question isn't is this a reality but rather Should the government operate from this point of view? No. The separation of church and state is a phrase used by Jefferson in a personal letter, and not one used in a legal document. But you could argue that the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting government from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof does indeed enshrine a sort of "separation of church and state" legally. And I think this is a wonderful thing for a democratic, pluralistic society. In such a society, which we have, I want the government to act from a position of agnosticism. I don't want it elevating one religion (Christianity) or group of religions (monotheisms) above others. I don't want it trying to have a hand in the religion game at all. And I believe government in such a society governs best when it does not try to define deeper realities that are spiritual. Because eventually the problem becomes, "on what basis, on what authority, and according to whom?"

    There will never be a literal separation of church and state because churches *exist*. They own land (a process regulated by gov't); they get involved in public things like parades and schools and food shelters; and they collect and distribute money, which is federally regulated. So no, in a strictly literal sense you cannot separate the two. But in a philosophical sense, I believe you really can. And should. And gay marriage is a great example.

  7. (Part 2) You challenged the purpose I outlined for government of creating a productive, healthy society where citizens can pursue their own happiness. I should note that this is what I think a *good* government does, again, given the realities of our modern, pluralistic world. I affirm your points about conflicts of happiness and health and productivity. The conflicts here are why we have laws and lawsuits that force clearer definitions of those principles.

    I would challenge your view of homosexuality not being healthy. If we are to take my definition of government being agnostic and not operating based on spiritual beliefs, then it can only define health via scientific study. Gov't could look at the fields of psychology, sociology, political philosophy, etc. to try to determine if gay marriage (or homosexuality itself) proved healthy or unhealthy. If we had convincing evidence from, say, psychology, that gay marriage damaged the mental stability of persons who participated in it, then I would say our government could reasonably make justifiable laws to prohibit the performance of gay marriage. In other areas of sexuality where the government seems to take a moral stance - like with sexual relationships with minors or with incest between consenting adults - this seems to be what has happened. We have psychological and medical evidence that these things are Not healthy. As far as I know, that is not the case with gay marriage. And since the government can't quote Christian Scripture as a basis for laws, I don't think there's anything from a legal, secular perspective preventing gay marriage. That was the point I was trying to make in arguing that it was legally permissible and in line with governments’ purpose of creating a society that is productive, healthy, and with free and happy individuals. But I certainly concede that our laws are more than just practical, fact-based rules because we have inherited many of them.

    A last point here - individual happiness from the government's perspective necessarily means "so long as it does not harm/hurt others or oneself." Your point is well taken. But again, in a secular society, it's hard to argue that gay marriage is hurting anyone else.

    Perhaps that's enough for now. I think you were right to want clarification of broad principles like "health," "happiness," "government," etc. Thanks for challenging me! Feel free to keep this going and reply with other thoughts. And a sincere apology for waiting so long to reply. The blog really got away from me around the holidays.