Recently, Melody M. posted an article on Park Road’s Facebook page. The article was written by Pastor J.D. Greear and is entitled, “Trying to Respond Like Jesus to the SCOTUS Pronouncement on Same-sex Marriage.” Melody was responding directly to Amy’s post celebrating the recent Supreme Court ruling as Good News. Obviously, she and Pastor Greear do not believe there is anything to celebrate.
Although I appreciate Pastor Greear’s attempt to temper his, and his readers, disappointment in the ruling by encouraging a Jesus-like response, I have to take exception with many of his premises regarding what Jesus/God intended for family and marriage as he interprets from the Bible. Here are my thoughts.
God’s Pattern for the Family
Many are amazed at the speed at which the cultural revolution on same-sex marriage took place, but that is because our society long ago rejected the Creator’s basic pattern for sex and relationships. -JD Greear
One thing I keep hearing is this opinion that letting homosexual persons enjoy recognized relationships of commitment will somehow destroy God’s intention for family. This premise is purportedly based on scriptural witness, but let me ask simply… where? What is “God’s pattern for family” as based on the Bible?
No one appreciates the Bible more than I. (My daily Bible reading iphone app just reminded me “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?”) No one is more intent to let biblical inspiration, instruction, authority guide my life and faith – which is precisely why I believe that when we seek to understand we must do more than just read the words on the page.
In the case of “God’s pattern for family,” however, it seems that some aren’t even reading the words on the page very well. The “family” that such commentators uphold is a relatively modern institution, and while it is not an American invention, the “nuclear family” (with two kids, a two-car garage and a dog), has a particularly American ring – but one that is much more dependent upon the myth of “the American dream” than biblical exhortation. There is not a single example of such a nuclear family in the Bible.
The culture of the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament, was largely polygamous, and nowhere within its pages does the Bible denounce such relationship. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Were all of those “biblical marriages”? And the concubines?
Levirate marriage was also a common practice in Jesus’ day. In this biblical prescription, a brother was to marry his brother’s widow even if he had another wife or wives. This practice kept her from being man-less, a sure path for destitute living in a patriarchal culture.
Additionally, Paul’s words on marriage have been hotly contested over the centuries, but, say what you will, they are hardly an enthusiastic endorsement that everyone run out and get married, happily ever after.
In an article entitled “History of Marriage: 13 Surprising Facts,” Tia Ghose helpfully, but soberingly, reminds us that (heterosexual) marriage wasn’t about equality until about fifty years ago. “For instance… marital rape was legal in many states until the 1970s… [and] women… didn’t have the right to decide on the distribution of community property.” Further, and unbelievably, “if a wife was injured or killed, a man could sue the responsible party for depriving him of ‘services around the home’…”
Many have glorified the “Leave it to Beaver” ideal of the family, but in such a “glorious” day… well, there’s hardly been such a glorious day.
To be clear – I value the “nuclear family.” Nothing is more important to me than my family. I have no greater responsibility than to provide for my sons, to take intentional care in raising them to be upstanding citizens, mature people of faith. It’s just that we need to be honest about the claims we make… And claiming that gay marriage will destroy God’s “plan for the family” overlooks all the ambiguities of such “family,” as portrayed by the Bible. And, how could your marriage - of any shape or definition - endanger mine? No one has ever given me a good answer for this.
Gay marriage will never be a threat to traditional marriage.
Jesus is often quoted: “For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother and cling to his wife…” as a defender of traditional marriage. But if we’re being honest about our adherence to scripture we should ask if he would have recommended such commitment to Solomon – all 700 times.
I’m not trying to be cute. I’m trying to be honest about my Bible.
God’s “intentions” for human beings - if we dare even apply such anthropomorphic terminology for The Divine Mystery - are surely for health and wholeness, vitality, life, love – which comes through committed relationships, in many forms. If a relationship, whether platonic or romantic, creates wholeness, I believe God’s intentions are being realized.
The Relationship between Church and State
The Supreme Court decision reminds us that we should temper our expectations, disabusing us of any hope to create a utopia here on earth. While we will never quit working for “a more perfect Union,” we know that the struggle between God and the Enemy rages in every sphere, especially in the halls of power. -JD Greear
For 17 centuries, since the conversion of Emperor Constantine, Christianity has enjoyed the backing of the state. Many US Christians have been largely unaware of the dangers of such an arrangement. The ideas of “manifest destiny” and “American exceptionalism” are, for many, proofs that God has guided our great country to be that “city on a hill,” a specifically Christian light to all the nations.
The problem with that understanding is that it fails to recognize the most basic fact, which led to the establishment of this county, and that is that our forebears came to this country seeking religious freedom. That liberty specifically provides for persons to choose any religion – or no religion at all – the state being impartial for all.
So, many Christians, inured with the idea that we inhabit a “Christian nation,” have enjoyed the “benefits” of State sanction (implicitly or explicitly), while being blissfully unaware of the dangers involved. Many of those same Christians, however, are now retreating to a kind of “bunker mentality,” claiming to be oppressed and persecuted by a “secular culture” which is threatening to take God out of our nation. Ironically, these Christians seem to forget that the overwhelming majority of our elected officials, local, state, and national, are confessing Christians.
It has always been a secular culture – which is a fact we should celebrate.
Roger Williams, our American, Baptist founder, was exiled specifically for his insistence on “liberty of conscience.” He believed everyone must remain free, without influence of Church or State, to claim his or her own faith. The defenses of “traditional (heterosexual) marriage” are all, specifically, religious in nature – but the citizens of a secular culture should not want, much less expect, our officials to make religious laws.
If our Congress passed any law based on Islamic Sharia Law, for example, the outcry would be deafening. Any honest appraisal will have us see that Pastor Greear’s argument for a State defense of “traditional marriage” is based on his understanding of a “Christian marriage.”
The earliest confession of faith, used in baptismal ceremonies for converts to Christianity was a simple claim, but in a culture oppressed by Rome, it was a dangerously political one. The claim “Jesus is Lord” meant “and Caesar is NOT!” In our current climate it will be well for confessing Christians to have to know what their confession means. Any “Christianity” masked by its State support is a faith ultimately based on allegiance to “Caesar.”
Christians can’t have it both ways. We either want (or, sadly, feel we need), the support of the State – or we will celebrate the freedom of a secular society that allows our faith – and all other faiths – to blossom, as the specifically religious expression it is supposed to be.
Christians will disagree over gay marriage, from our differing biblical and cultural interpretations, but none of us should be confused as to the only sound position our secular government could take on the issue.
Of the people, for the people, by the people.
Our founding fathers recognized the basis of freedoms and rights to be the will of the Creator, not the will of the majority. As Thomas Jefferson said, rights that derive their authority from the mob can be removed by the mob. Only when our rights are seen as “endowed by our Creator” do they become “inalienable.” -JD Greear
With the recent SCOTUS ruling many Christians are decrying the godless invasion of secular, unbiblical values. After all, our Declaration of Independence proclaims freedoms as “endowed by our creator.” These “inalienable rights” are not just “civil rights,” it is argued, they are rights given by God.
Have these same people forgotten that the author of that magnificent document, Thomas Jefferson, thought it one of his God-given, inalienable rights, to own another human being as his personal property!? Thomas Jefferson clearly believed that his right to purchase an African human being, to own and use as his pleasure, was a God-endowed right. It was clear. The Bible said so. And all of those verses, quoted by slave-owning Christians for hundreds of years, are still in the Bible!
It is either grave, inexcusable oversight or the deepest arrogance not to recognize that there is NO “God given right” that is not mediated through human interpretation. Slavery was “God given,” inalienable. Thank God most of us now find that belief a tragic mis-reading of scripture and culture.
The rules and laws of this nation, and every nation, are laws made by human beings. Even as I accept the convictions of those with whom I disagree, I believe we are all doing our best to understand what God “wants” or “intends” for community, and our (varying) religious influences should be a part of our conviction.
But as our past history proves, humans have over and again made terrible, egregious, truly sinful errors when speaking for God, and this fact should caution us to walk with a little less sanctimony and dogmatic certainty about the making of any law that will govern our lives.
The final, inalienable right, of human beings is to know that we are all created in the image of God, a creation, in all of its beautiful diversity, which God pronounces “very good.” When we finally learn to let that right govern our thinking, we will, only then, find the community we so desperately need.
Surely God longs for this, for us.