Guest blog by Troy S. Braswell
In recent news, I have heard many conservative Christians voice their opinion on the subject of marriage and encourage other Christians to take a stand. One such voice said we must “teach truth and communicate hope while being committed to allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us…” He was right about that, though I am certain I am not what he had in mind.
For the past year or so, I have quietly supported the work of Citizens for Equality, a local organization within Pickaway County, OH composed of individuals, both gay and straight, with a common love of, and concern for, all people who experience injustice or inequality based upon actual or perceived sexual orientation. Citizens for Equality (nearly all of whose members are Christian) would like to officially extend a word of thanks to both President Obama and Vice President Biden, and commend them for sharing publicly their belief that gay and lesbian couples should be permitted to marry, and for doing so even in the face of political fallout in an election year. For my part, I was pleased that the president chose to frame his position within his faith as a Christian and with reference to the “Golden Rule”: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The current debate on marriage is one with which many Christians have a real problem. Of those, responses range from mild protest to outright hatred. Just last night I saw a video from my home state of North Carolina wherein a Baptist pastor suggested in a sermon, erecting an electric fence sizeable enough to enclose and hold the entire population of gay men and lesbian women… until they all die out. For the record, that is NOT a Christian attitude.
In the public conversation, those who support gay marriage are often cited as well-meaning politicians, legislating judges, or talking heads, but noticeably absent is reference to pastors or fellow Christians who also support equality as part of a larger understanding of social justice. From my own denomination, I have heard conservative members of the PCUSA describe all such Christians as having “thrown out the Bible” in favor of political correctness. That statement could not be further from the truth. I, and all other Christians who support equality, do so because of Scripture, not in spite of it.
While it is true that there are stories and passages in the Bible which condemn persons participating in homosexual acts, these passages, just like passages which exclude Gentiles, support the institution of slavery (Leviticus 25:44-45; 1 Peter 2:18-20), and limit the rights of women (1 Timothy 3:9-15), must be interpreted within their historical and cultural context and more importantly in light of the liberating grace and love of Jesus Christ. Having studied the Bible in this context, I don’t believe God will ever judge anyone negatively for being gracious and extending civil rights, but recognize that Jesus spoke no harsher words than to those who denied them.
Furthermore, in defending the current definition of marriage, people often cite its sanctity as an institution established by God. For the record, God never said to Adam and Eve “Marry, be fruitful, and multiply.” The words in Genesis 2:24 are commentary explaining why people marry but nowhere in Scripture does God “institute” marriage. Personally, I do believe in the sanctity of marriage, but it is not dependent upon the qualifications of those who are married. Instead, it depends upon the love in their hearts and the blessing of God in their union. If not, marriage lost its sanctity ages ago when it entered the secular realm, for the word “sanctity” is itself a term of faith connected to “sanctification”, meaning to make holy. Consequently, there is no sanctity of marriage outside a religious context.
Marriage however, exists both within a religious context and also as a secular institution. Because of this, pastors have always been, and should remain, free to marry whomever they believe God has joined together and to not marry others. But Christians who vehemently defend separation of Church and State on the one hand, fearing the loss of this right, while insisting that their definition of marriage be applied unequivocally to all who wish to be wed, on the other, practice nothing short of hypocrisy. Likewise, the freedom of religion in our constitution exists so that no one religious view can be forced upon any other religious group or person. And current marriage laws do exactly that. One cannot make the argument for the limitation of marriage rights without an appeal to either religious Law or to natural law, which itself presupposes creationism, again a religious concept. There exists no secular reasoning for denying homosexual couples the same rights and protections that marriage offers heterosexual couples. There exists only religious reasoning based upon a limited interpretation of Scripture which does not reflect the views of all Christianity, including my own. The only question the State should ask is: “Does our law protect or prohibit civil liberty?”
I am a pastor and I believe in the equality of all people, including gay people. I have not always believed as I do now. Ten years ago I knew what I believed concerning homosexuality. I quoted Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Romans, and 1 Corinthians in support of that belief and freely admitted that my only prejudice was against gays. Then something truly unexpected happened. Someone I love came out to me and suddenly this was no longer an abstract theological concept but very real life. Since that day, guided by the Holy Spirit, I have come to know many other people who are gay, heard their stories, and seen their faith. The end result of this journey in faith has been not that I have changed my mind, but that I, myself, have been changed. And so, here I stand. I share this truth in the hope that through it, God might change others, too.
Troy S. Braswell is pastor of Circleville Presbyterian Church in Circleville, Ohio.