marriage wedding rings

How the Church can reasonably respond to same-sex marriage

Well-known pastor and author Rob Bell recently stated that he now supports same-sex marriage. Odyssey Networks posts a new interview of him explaining this new viewpoint: “What we’re seeing right now in this day, I believe God pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters and pastors and friends and neighbors and co-workers… And we’re realizing that God made some of us one way and some of us another.” (You can watch the full video here.) Bell says “the ship has sailed” and that the church needs to do an about-face and support same-sex marriage.

But is advocating that the government “legalize gay marriage” really the right approach toward dealing with this issue?

I will be the first to admit that the Church universal has not always handled homosexuality well in the past. It is one thing to consider a lifestyle to be “not as God intended” and advocate that people change their hearts, minds, and behaviors, it is another thing entirely to demean, to hate, and to perpetuate the violation of individual rights.

Nonetheless, there is no “special category” of rights that you possess if you are a homosexual. As I have stated many times before, there is no such thing as gay rights, only individual rights. Let’s get back to that thought in a moment.

Bell’s video does ring true in a few particular ways. We do need to treat gay people with respect and dignity, as is proper for all created in the image of God. We absolutely must remember they are our “neighbors” just like everybody else, love them as we love ourselves, and treat them as we want to be treated.

However, such is not an argument for the church to accept same-sex marriage. It just means that we treat people like human beings. This is where Bell deviates, I think.

So, here is where we stand: Many Christians are having trouble reconciling these difficult ideas. They know that the Bible has things to say about sexuality. They know that they don’t want to be put into that terrible group that holds up signs saying “God hates fags.” They know that they cannot ignore gay people and their community.

But these same Christians have no means of harmonizing these thoughts in a political and cultural climate that presents us with seemingly only one option.

The disconnect is their theology of the State and of law. It causes them to make a mistake in reasoning that the State needs to solve this problem (with more legislation, more regulation) and the church just needs to fall in line. Without a better way of thinking, they cannot decouple the legal status government grants “marriage” with the special theological status of the Christian sacrament of marriage.

But there is another way: take the liberty approach and support freedom for all. Instead of seeking greater government involvement in marriage, we ought to be pro-contracts, pro-freedom of association, and pro-independence of the church.

For far too long, gay couples have not been allowed to make legal arrangements with their partners to deal with issues of property and medicine. This is absurd, and it is a breach of human freedom. Gay couples ought to have every right that anyone else has to make these arrangements. Gay people have the right to pursue common peaceful interests. The government should extend the special tax benefits to gay people as well. (And why wouldn’t conservatives want the government to have less money anyway?) In other words, Christians must support the freedom to contract and the freedom of association. That is equality under law.

Furthermore, we must advocate for the independence of the church. Christian marriage is an institution of the church, not that of the government. The state should not have the power to regulate Christian marriage. Similarly, it is not the right of Christians, however we view homosexuality, to tell others how they may initiate contracts with others. Therefore, if a homosexual couple wishes to file a contract and they want to call it a “marriage contract,” then that is their prerogative and I have no right to forbid them from doing so. If they want to call it a “civil union” instead, that’s fine as well.

Let gay couples make their arrangements and call them whatever they want, and let the government store those contracts. But let Christian marriage stay a Christian sacrament. The government should not force classifications of relationships upon Christians, non-Christians, homosexuals, heterosexuals, or anyone else.

No church is thusly forced to recognize a gay couple as “married.” No gay couple is thusly forced to be “second class citizens” under the law.

In summary,

  1. Christians should support the fundamental freedom to associate with others in pursuit of common interests.
  2. Christians should support the fundamental freedom to contract for mutual benefit.
  3. Christians should support the extension of legal benefits of “marriage” to all those who wish to initiate contracts in a similar way.
  4. The church ought to remain independent, but not uninvolved. We can do so by advocating freedom for all.
  5. The government ultimately needs to get out of marriage.

Freedom works, and everybody wins.

This is not the post to forever close the debate, but rather to appeal to some simple principles that surely Christians can get behind regarding the issue of same-sex marriage.

Many thanks to the members of the Christian Libertarian Facebook Group for inspiring parts of this post.