My On-the-Fly Stance on Same-Sex Marriage

Couples lobbying for same-sex marriage equality. From http://www.ca-gaymarriage.com

Couples lobbying for same-sex marriage equality. From http://www.ca-gaymarriage.com

While sharing discussion on various online media about the recent news of Exodus International’s closure, I was asked to share my “stance on same-sex marriage.” I’m actually in the middle of a longer-form writing project focused on this; however, I figured that I might as well share the gist of my thoughts on the matter here in the mean time.

So, I’ve compiled my contributions to today’s discussion to respond still somewhat on-the-fly about my approach to the topic of same-sex marriage. This is partly observational with some forecasting as well as partly prescriptive with an explicit focus on conditions in America and an attempt to root my response in a close reading of scripture. Here are a few of the main points in the observation and forecasting category:

  1. Same-sex marriage will be legalized across America.
  2. Most Americans regardless of faith background tacitly accept a naive distinction between politics, sociology, and ethics that critically complicates how we make decisions about marriage since that state of affairs possesses a public, community-located, and private dimension to its existence.
  3. American Christians are ill-equipped to make good, assertive decisions about the rise of political, sociological, and ethical support for same-sex marriage in the broader culture due to the above taken together with the fact that American Christians possess a weak sexual ethic in general–this is true for both conservative / evangelical as well as progressive / liberal Christians as thoroughly evidenced by the statistical insignificance of faith background on sexual activity.
  4. In an attempt to prevent the acceptance of same-sex marriage in the broader culture, American evangelical Christians have made an ineffective decision to focus on the political and sociological arenas of activity rather than strengthen their sexual ethic and work outwards by way of influencing individual people. This is failing as everyone in the broader culture–including heterosexually oriented Christians–are adopting an ethic that is progressively less robustly informed by scripture.
  5. Even if American evangelical Christians succeeded against all odds to prevent the political acceptance of same-sex marriage, this would not affect people in a substantial way with regard to their behavior; both same-sex and opposite-sex attracted people will continue to behave in conflict with the sexual ethic that American evangelical Christians have espoused regardless of the political climate due to the entrenched, social acceptance of a sexual ethic based on things like freedom of personal choice, consent, and so forth with virtually no reference to scripture as a source of substantive, ethical information.

Here are some prescriptions based on the above. For the sake of being concise, I’ve included myself in the use of the term “evangelical Christians,” although I have some reservations about this phrase given its loaded connotations. When I’m not as concerned about being so concise, I often describe myself as a Jewish follower of Jesus with an orthodox, constructive framework. Right then:

  1. American Christians should abandon the attempt to prevent same-sex acceptance through political and sociological means, refocusing their efforts on developing a more robust sexual ethic that is actually compellingly for everyone regardless of what the political or sociological climate may be. Christians have done this in the past and can do it again; when we don’t do this, we functionally illustrate our lack of belief in the power of the gospel.
  2. American Christians should recognize the difference between marriage as a state of affairs created, defined, and protected by a given nation-state versus marriage as a state of affairs created, defined, and protected by the God of scripture; we already do this to a certain extent by expecting people who want to get married to both a) get a marriage license from the nation-state to effect a political union and b) partake in a wedding ceremony with the church as God’s agent for effecting a spiritual union.
  3. American evangelical Christians like myself should advocate for sexual activity limited to chastity in singleness or else heterosexual marriage from an ethical perspective regardless of the political or sociological climate.
  4. Evangelical Christians in representative democracies like me should advocate for what is in the best interest of the nation-state from a political perspective; based on all the data I’ve analyzed up to this point, this concretely means either a) advocating for the legalization of same-sex marriage, b) advocating for identical rights for civil unions that are equally open to same-sex couples as opposite-sex couples, c) advocating for the dissolution of all legally conferred benefits for anyone that the nation-state recognizes as being married while giving up those benefits in the mean time, e.g. through financial support to the same-sex community.
  5. American evangelical Christians like me should basically ignore a direct attempt to accomplish sociological change in the broader culture through any route other than the persuasive expansion of our own sexual ethic provided that we succeed in fixing it; of course, this will likely be a recursive process since people change over time and effectively communicating the gospel requires fresh articulation and demonstration with those changes.
  6. Evangelical Christians like me should deal squarely with the litany of hurt suffered by the same-sex attracted community specifically by Christians and take protracted, embracing, patient, humble, and courageous action to repair that damage indefinitely into the future with real people.
If the anyone wants to talk about the way I support all the points of this stance, well, this is why I’m writing a book about it! If anyone wants to explore a given point or two for the sake of clarity, be my guest in posting a comment. In any case, thanks for swinging by for a spell, and may God richly bless you today.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. arielle
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 15:35:10

    Please elaborate a bit on prescription 1. I understand you're writing a book, but perhaps you could succinctly clarify this for now here. Specifically, what's been done before, when was that, and how did it effect Christians and non-Christians?

    Reply

    • jacobheiss
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 17:31:13

      (Part 1) Thanks for asking! I cannot give a summary and yet also brief response, but I can take a shot at something in between. Now, there are five assertions in my first prescription: 1) Americans Christians have been attempting to prevent the acceptance of same-sex sexual activity through political and sociological means, 2) Christians should abandon this attempt, 3) Christians should refocus their efforts on developing a more robust, compelling sexual ethic that works in any political or sociological climate, 4) Christians have successfully done this before, and 5) when Christians don't do this, they indicate a lack of belief in the power of the gospel–namely, although not explicitly stated in the OP, the power of the gospel to transform people's lives to an abundantly more satisfying reality and draw them to embracing such transformation.

      If you want a quick, easily accessible, scholarly reference on ways that Christians developed and promoted a sexual ethic that changed people's behavior without an appeal to political or sociological leveraging, the fifth chapter of Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity provides some interesting, ancient examples under the aegis of what he calls "the role of women in Christian growth." This particular locus of information matters because it was not in its initial Jewish context that nascent Christianity found significant conflict over sexual ethics but in the context of the broader Roman world. To illustrate, it is true that scripture provides examples of Jesus's gracious attitude towards people who had breached the reigning Jewish sexual ethic, e.g. his behavior towards the woman caught in adultery according to John 8, his compassion for the "sinful woman" who anointed his feet according to Luke 7, and his engagement with the Samaritan woman who possessed a string of sexually active relationships according to Matthew 9. Nevertheless, Jesus in no way alters the basic ethic in play when it comes to how he directs people to behave in their sexual lives; for example, while he prevents the crowds from stoning the woman in John 8, he still tells her to "go and sin no more."

      But scripture presents us with a very different scenario through Paul's letters, indicating the gigantic difference that the sexual ethic endorsed by Christianity encountered as it emerged from its Jewish milieu to interact with the wider Roman world. Many new believers in Jesus were willfully transgressing all sorts of clearly stated, scriptural boundaries, and their new faith communities were not necessarily holding them accountable to the standards they had been taught. Paul does't have to protect anybody from too harsh a judgment by their community of faith; he has to instruct the community in general and especially promiscuous believers in particular about how the gospel calls them to lead a different life. 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2 provides one good, two-part example of this in play; notice that Paul's attempt to exhort the community by comparing their behavior to something WORSE than unbelievers' activity, "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud!"

      (See Part 2 for the rest)

      Reply

    • jacobheiss
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 17:32:21

      (Part 2) Summarizing an entire chapter of Stark's book is tricky, but the angle he adopts as a secular researcher is to say that the combination of Christian's valuing of people above things and women in particular ultimately yielded widespread, unforced adoption of Christianity with its sexual ethic in tow. Some ways this occurred was through the throttling back on contraception in Christian communities compared with normative Roman practice, a halting of the widespread incidence of infanticide for female babies, the greater promotion of women to positions of authority than typically obtained beyond the Christian community, the care taking of Christian widows, and the likely decline of hazards associated with sexual promiscuity in a late antiquity context. When we take the hyper-surplus of Roman men into consideration, the droves of women who freely adopted Christianity yielded enormous pressure on the rest of society; in other words, the Christian sexual ethic was promoted as a part of the whole thing that individual Romans either adopted or were, from a contextual perspective, more frequently born and reared with reference to than the pagan sexual ethic. Unlike the approach American Christians have adopted recently, the Christian sexual ethic was not promoted by the Christian community towards the rest of society all by itself, it was not legally reinforced in any way, and it created a happier state of affairs for the people who adopted it.

      Obviously, conditions are different in America now than in late antiquity Rome, but the example still provides some transferable principles, which I'll summarize through some questions: Can Christians develop a sexual ethic that, when practiced, is actually more satisfying than the alternatives? (This is one of our major problems since Christianity's sexual ethic functionally grew dependent upon a sort of quasi-Platonic devaluing of the body, not to mention a quasi-Victorian treatment of sexual expression as something "animal-like" or "dirty," etc.) Can Christians joyfully embrace and live out their own sexual ethic first of all, i.e. even if they didn't have to convince anybody else that this was a great way to go? Can Christians compellingly live out and articulate the gospel in general? Can Christians give a damn about their fellow countrymen whose behavior is so starkly different than their own or will Christians retreat into a sort of bunker mentality predicated on trying to protect their own little islands of propriety amidst a falling world–in short, will Christians embrace being sent to the world as was Jesus or will they attempt to protect their own facade kingdom of God by keeping threatening forces at bay? I think the answer to all these things is "absolutely–let's do that right now!"

      I could trot out more contemporary examples to unpack this point, but I figured just one would be best for the time being. Does this answer your question?

      (Note: this was continued from Part 1)

      Reply

  2. Yvonne Chase
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 11:32:50

    So are you for or against same-sex marriage?

    Reply

  3. lerrey
    Mar 28, 2015 @ 14:26:45

    thanks

    Reply

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