In May, the Boy Scouts will address the issue of homosexuality. I assume they will decide not to discriminate against gay scouts or scout leaders.
Twelve years ago, when I started teaching Sociology at a secular college, the subject of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, would come up every semester. Because my students knew I was a minister they would often ask what I thought about same-sex marriage. I told them what I thought (I am theologically conservative), but then would say that I believed one day same-sex marriage would be legal in the United States. I would then explain that I doubt it would happen in my life-time but probably would in their lifetime.
Obviously I was wrong.
It could happen next week!
The whole subject of same-sex marriages came up twice in one day (Tuesday, March 19, 2013) in two different meetings I had with other pastors.
Our society’s attitudes toward same-sex marriage has changed rapidly and I think it’s because those supporting same-sex marriage have done a great job in reframing the conversation. The discussion is no longer a moral, religious, or theological one. The discussion is now about equality and basic human-rights and they are winning the arguments.
As I have observed this trend I have asked myself how I can stay true to my convictions that I believe are biblical, but yet show grace and minister to those who hold differing convictions, that they believe to be biblical as well? How can I stand up for the sanctify of traditional marriage without condemning those whose beliefs are different from mine? Is it possible to find common ground without compromising? I’m not sure it is. I am not sure if I have the answer, but I think that at least part of the answer is reframing the conversation about marriage.
If the conversation about marriage is about love and intimacy and mutual support and financial security and health benefits and tax breaks and even raising a family, then equality and human rights and the pursuit of happiness will win the day…as well it should.
We, as conservative evangelicals, need to reframe the conversation.
As society tries to define marriage more broadly, we need to do the opposite and define it more narrowly. We need to return to a “sacramental” approach to marriage and perform marriages in the church the same way we practice baptism and communion. We need to narrowly elevate biblical marriage and we need to be clear and upfront with people when people come to us for premarital counseling. We need to reframe the conversation, not to change socieity’s attitudes, but to distinguish our definition of marriage from their definition. And we need to do so in humility and love, not arrogance and condemnation.
(Please read the above paragraph again, and this time, slower.)
A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of divine grace. In order for something to be considered a sacrament (from a Protestant perspective) it has to teach something about grace and forgiveness that is bestowed through faith in Jesus Christ. For example, baptism is a sacrament because it illustrates the death and resurrection of Jesus and how we, through faith, have died with Jesus and been raised to new life in Him. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we have forgiveness of sins. Communion is a sacrament because the elements of bread and wine (or juice) represent the body and blood of Jesus which paid the price for our forgiveness of sins.
Likewise, we need to define marriage, not as a Christian ceremony, but as a holy sacrament. In the Person of Jesus you have the polar opposites of humanity and deity uniting in One Flesh. When a person confesses their sins and their belief that Jesus is God and died and rose again (Romans 10:9), that person becomes One with Christ. The intimacy of this unity is beautifully illustrated through the consummation of marriage where two polar opposites (male and female) become “one flesh.” This is why “marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure” (Hebrews 13:4). This is why Genesis records and Jesus repeats, “…a man [male] will leave his father and mother and [be] united with his wife [female], and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 & Matthew 19:4-6). Sacramentally speaking, before sex is a physical act, it is a spiritual act of worship that pictures our Oneness in Christ. This is why the Bible emphatically warns against any type of sexual activity (hetero, homo, asexual, or bisexual) outside a covenantal marriage between one man and one woman. This doesn’t mean that homosexual couples do not express intimacy and love toward one another, and it doesn’t mean that same-sex couples cannot make monogomous commitments to each other. It doesn’t even mean they should be prohibited by law from doing so. It simple means that I believe biblical marriage is a sacrament between a man and woman who enter into a covenant relationship with one another because of their covenantal relationship to God through faith in Jesus Christ. By definition (at least the definition I am supposing), same-sex relationships (regardless of the love and commitment of the partners) are not sacramental. What I am proposing is not about condemning or demonizing differing expressions of sexuality, but about glorifying a holy God and lifting up the name of Jesus. In other words, a sacramental marriage is not about you and your desires but about God and His holiness.
As conservative, evangelical Christians, we have no secular basis to deny any adults the right to love whomever they want to love and spend their life with whomever they want to spend their life, as long as everyone involved are consenting adults. But we do have a theological/religious case that can be made to affirm our belief that Jesus died and rose again to bestow grace and forgiveness of sins so we can be one with Him and how that belief is taught and illustrated through the sacrament of heterosexual marriage.
Through reframing and narrowing our definition of marriage as a sacrament, can we not further distinquish ourselves from culture, letting our lights shine, while at the same time, in the name of equality and human-rights, allowing the secular state to do whatever it wants to do and legalize whatever it wants to legalize? Is it possible we would actually provide a better testimony to the love and grace of God found through faith in Jesus Christ by offering an alternative instead of remaining argumentative in the public square?
One other thing: Reframing marriage as a holy sacrament between a man and and woman no more descriminates than believer’s baptism descriminates against non-believers, and communion descriminates against non-Christians.
So my prediction is that same-sex marriages will be legalized based on equality and human rights. As a result, everyone will eventually be required to stand before the county clerk and exchange vows, not simply get his or her signature on the marriage license and then head to church for the ceremony. Only marriages performed by the state will be recognized by the state. Once that ceremony is complete, couples, if they choose, can have a “ceremony” at their chosen church, mosque, or synagogue. Then, based on religious freedom, and since marriages by the state are recognized by the state, each house of worship can perform, or not perform, any ceremony just like now each congregation has different ideas about festivals like baptism and communion. If we have thought all this out, and make marriage a sacrament, we will have a great opportunity to share the gospel message through marriage.
These are just some initial thoughts. It is still a work in progress and I would very much appreciate your input.