A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Some Thoughts on Gay Marriage, the Supreme Court, the Mythology of History, Shallow Pop Theology, Civil Rights, and Other Subjects that Just Might Get Interjected in This Series of Posts #1

Well, I suppose I should weigh in on the issue of gay marriage and the Supreme Court decision on the matter, since I'm being asked to do so. Several months ago I was asked to weigh in on the topic, but after a few posts I withdrew from the discussion because some of us think the issue is more complicated than either the traditionalists or the progressives will allow. It was clear in attempting to articulate that complexity, I was simply dismissed (a.k.a. excluded) from both sides because first, while I believe that the Bible is fundamental to Christian faith, I didn't just want to quote Scripture like many of the traditionalists seem fixated on doing from a particular hermeneutic; and then second because I have stated that while the subjects of sexual orientation and inclusiveness were two important parts of the discussion, contrary to progressive viewpoints, I suggested that those two matters alone were not sufficient to approve of gay marriage from a Christian point of view. Since I'm not a good parrot and refused simply to repeat the tired talking points of either side, I was simply dismissed by both sides. So, since I am a very busy person, I felt it was a waste of my time to continue to be part of what is no longer a serious discussion in my beloved United Methodist Church, but a boxing match where both sides are viciously beating up on each other because there can only be one winner allowed. I do not desire to have a seat at ringside, so I decided to take my thoughts and go home.

But it seems that I must now say something. I have no interest in making one side or the other happy. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a people pleaser. Neither am I interested in identifying with either side, both of which have all too often behaved quite badly. The purpose of this post is to express my thoughts on this matter as they are today. Some may be interested to know what I think. Most will not, and that is fine by me.

First is the matter of the Supreme Court-- the topic of this post. There is a difference between the way the state views marriage from the church. According to the state, marriage is a right not to be denied, which is now extended across the U.S. to gay and lesbian couples. The church has never viewed marriage as a right, and those Christians who believe it should be so understood by the church need an introductory course in the theology of marriage. For Christianity marriage is a gift from God given to two people. No pastor is required to officiate at any particular marriage ceremony. I have the authority, which I have exercised more than a few times over the years, not to officiate at a wedding. I do not even have to have a reason why I might refuse to perform a particular marriage (though I always have). The point is that Christian marriage is not a right owed; it is a gift received. So, the question of gay marriage for the church is not about whether gay couples have a right to be married by the church, but whether they should be included in receiving the gift of marriage by the church. This means two things-- one for progressives and one for conservatives.

For progressives-- if you are going to argue that the church has to perform same sex marriage because it is a right, I will tell you now, that is a non-starter. You need to argue better if you hope for what you want to happen. It may have convinced five of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, but as a church, we have different concerns. As my Bishop, John Hopkins has stated,
I celebrate the fact that we live in a country that seeks to treat everyone equally and does not restrict religious freedom.  However, the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court does not determine our theological position. 
Nor should it. And neither should we the church reformulate theological and moral convictions to get with the program of modern Western Liberalism. If gay marriage in the church is a good thing, it must be a good thing theologically and morally from a Christian point of view. The church, the foretaste of God's kingdom, will last forever. All nation states, including the empire that is America, will one day pass away.

For conservatives-- perhaps it is time for you to finally come to grips with the fact that America has never been a Christian nation and that your continued insistence on telling that story is much more a promotion of mythology than of history. Yes, it is true that the United States was founded in the context of Christendom, where the culture of a nation vaguely reflected Christianity and vestiges of Christian values, but the idea that the United States is a decisively Christian nation, not only undermines the church as the only true Christian nation in human history, but it is an outright distortion of the history of the United States. Those who have been stating since yesterday that we are now a post-Christian nation because gay marriage is legal are simply wrong. The United States can't be a post-Christian nation because it was never Christian in the first place. One can make the argument, however, that America is a post-Christendom nation, but I think that has been in the works for a long time. I'm in agreement with Roger Olson when he states,
American conservative (traditional) Christianity is at a crossroads; this is a crisis. It wouldn't be if they had before disentangled their theology of marriage (including divorce) from government decisions, if they had recognized that America is NOT a "Christian nation" and that true Christianity is always, everywhere, a counter cultural remnant, a group of "resident aliens," a colony of God's people NOT connected to any state or government.
It was not the task of the Supreme Court to reinforce Christian values or undermine them. It was their task to interpret how the state understands marriage, nothing more and nothing less. Christian marriage was not the issue. Only the church can decide that.

Conservative Christians need to hear the words of Daniel Kirk, who does not support gay marriage in the church:
The position I came to in terms of our secular society is this:
  • Christians are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.
  • We are called to do unto others as we would have done to us.
  • This means advocating for our neighbors to have the same rights and freedoms that we would not want taken away from us.
In other words, it is sometimes my Christian duty to ensure that my neighbor has the right to act in ways that are contrary to my Christian belief. 
In this case, the reasons people have for maintaining a traditional view of marriage are religious. We are a nation of religious freedom. We cannot take away from others what gives life to ourselves.
My musings on these matters will continue in the next post.


Cornelius said...

Allan. Well said here. The only problem is Christians are expected to accept something against their belief but the others do not have to accept what Christians believe. And if it ended there, fine. But if a business doesn't want to supply a gay wedding, rather than the couple merely going to one of the many many other such businesses that would gladly accept their money, they take them to court. Sue them. Slander them. Try to get them shut down. Call them hater and bigots. Tell me, who are the haters in this story? That is the problem I have. If gay marriage is legal, it should also be illegal to attack a Christian business for not wanting to play their game. There is a great hypocrisy afoot!

ndrwcn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ndrwcn said...

Allan, well argued. I look forward to the reat of your posts on this.

George Plasterer said...

I agree with much of this, coming at it from a politically more libertarian position. However, something I have been pondering lately is that this position assumes a kind of society that I am not sure we have anymore. It assumes an underlying regard and respect for individuals, the dignity and worth of individuals, regardless of how we might differ. However, if those promoting equal rights for Gay/Lesbian marriage were really interested in that, if someone did not want to work at their wedding, would they not just walk down the street to find someone who would? It seems to me that the activists after silencing and shaming those who, regardless of their reason, do not believe this relationship is morally right.

Bill Thacker said...

"For progressives-- if you are going to argue that the church has to perform same sex marriage because it is a right, I will tell you now, that is a non-starter."

Nobody in America is demanding that. Not one lawsuit has called for it; no gay rights group has mentioned it. The only people talking about it are Christians who fantasize about being persecuted by the government they almost totally control.

Think about it. Can you imagine any couple that would want to get married in a church that doesn't want them and by a pastor who's only doing it under threat of arrest? You do understand that the term "shotgun wedding" means the *groom* is held at gunpoint, not the preacher, right?

Remember Loving v. Virginia, when SCOTUS struck down laws against interracial marriage? And do you remember how after that, the government announced they would be arresting pastors who refused to perform interracial marriages? No, of course you don't, because IT DIDN'T HAPPEN.

But I understand why religious conservatives fear court-ordered gay weddings. Conservatives have never accepted the separation of church and state, and have always felt free to use the government to force their beliefs on others. So now they expect GLBT people to do the same thing to them.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments. Actually, there are some progressives in the church arguing for marriage in the church as a right. Yes, there are plenty who are not, but I am simply saying that for the church theology must matter in this discussion. The state will do what the state will do, but the church has other concerns that must be taken into account.

By the way, the religious left also uses its beliefs in an attempt to enforce their beliefs on others-- e.g. taxing the rich to feed the poor, forcing Christian businesses to bake cakes for events they personally do not accept for religious reasons. Now those may be good things, but the point is, the left is just as ready to erase the line between church and state when it suits their agenda. Let's not kid ourselves. I even had a commenter on this post in social media suggest that while individual pastors should be not be forced into performing same sex marriages, any denomination with a blanket rejection may indeed be violating civil rights and should be forced to change their position in order to leave it up to the individual church and pastor.

I suggest you read James Hunter's book, "To Change the World."

I suggest you read

Bill Thacker said...


Thanks for your reply. Apparently I misunderstood you; since I've heard so many conservative Christians expressing angst that jackbooted storm troopers would be arriving to force their pastors to marry same sex couples, I thought that's what you meant.

If you're only talking about progressive church members who call for changes in church policies... that's the private business of your church. As I understand the governance of the United Methodist Church, you're a fairly democratic lot, so I think you can't simply dismiss those progressive members by saying "It's a non-starter." You'll have to reason with each other.

You also wrote, "By the way, the religious left also uses its beliefs in an attempt to enforce their beliefs on others-- e.g. taxing the rich to feed the poor, forcing Christian businesses to bake cakes for events they personally do not accept for religious reasons."

We all use our beliefs to guide our politics. The issue is whether those politics have valid secular justification, or they're purely religious dogmata.

The reason same-sex marriage is now mandated nationwide is that a string of court cases found no secular justification to prohibit it. The only unimpeachable argument against same-sex marriage is religious dogma. And it's unconstitutional to create laws on that basis. This is the same reasoning that chased Creationism out of our public schools.

But when progressive Christians support same-sex marriage, they don't just say "My faith tells me it must be legal." They have solid secular arguments that stand on their own without any religious assumptions. I think the same can be said about tax policy and forcing public accommodations to serve GLBT customers; both can be justified by secular arguments, so religious motives are irrelevant.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I think it has also been argued that there are secular reasons for the state to oppose abortion and other conservative issues as well, which get no attention because the liberals in the media have no interest in telling that narrative. There was a book written a while ago on the liberal case against abortion. It got no attention at all.

I would also suggest that it is likely impossible in the Western Christendom world to promote any moral issue purely on secular grounds. I think if you dig deep enough there are always religious assumptions behind even secular arguments. The separation of church and state argument is appealed to by both sides only when it conveniently suits their purposes

Bill Thacker said...

"there are secular reasons for the state to oppose abortion and other conservative issues"

I agree.

"I would also suggest that it is likely impossible in the Western Christendom world to promote any moral issue purely on secular grounds."

I don't agree, so that's something you'd need to prove.

I don't see why secular philosophy can't provide moral guidance at least equal to religion's. (Given some of the past atrocities that happened under religious moral guidance, that's not all that difficult.) Further, science is beginning to decode human morality, promising a more enlightened view of that topic than anything based on the musings of ancient people who thought insanity was demonic possession.

But most of all, I don't agree with the claim that Christianity (or religion in general) actually promotes most of our culture's morality. I say that for the most part societal mores evolve on their own, and religion adopts the prevailing attitudes.

A prime example is the recent ruling on same sex marriage. Today most Americans, even most *religious* Americans, support same-sex marriage. They reached that position without the moral leadership of their churches and in most cases *despite* their churches' condemnation of SSM. And we already see major denominations changing their teachings on homosexuality -- a process which will accelerate now.

"I think if you dig deep enough there are always religious assumptions behind even secular arguments."

I don't agree with that, either. I think morality is instinctive to us and religion simply identifies the prevailing attitudes then claims credit for them. Would you like to explore some cases, either here or by private email? As a challenge, what religious assumptions underlie these moral conclusions?

- That men and women of all races deserve equality under the law.
- That people must be free to choose their religious beliefs.
- That representative government is superior to monarchy.
- That the government can't search your home without a warrant.
- That having sex with a child is worse than fornication with an adult.