At the risk of offending many of my Christian friends, I would like to offer the following thought experiment on gay marriage.
- First, as a Christian, Billy Ray believes that homosexuality is a sin. He just can’t seem to get around the fact that this is what the Bible teaches. What the Bible teaches about this issue (or any issue for that matter) is important to Billy. While that may seem foreign to some people, for him it is a core belief.
- Second, as an American citizen, Billy Ray supports the right for gay couples to marry. This is not a new position that he has only recently adopted in light of legal developments. Billy Ray has held this view for well over twenty years. While he has had no problem letting people know that he holds homosexuality to be sinful, he has rarely let it be know that he supports these rights for homosexual couples.
Is Billy Ray confused? Do his views indicate a lack of reflection and internal consistency? Has he gone liberal?
I think not. In fact, it may well be that Billy Ray is on to something. It can be argued that his views are actually more consistent than the views of all those Christians upset that gay marriage has been legalized. This is the point where some of you start to wonder if I’ve gone liberal. For those of you who truly know me, you shouldn’t be surprised at all. You may even be thinking there is more to this discussion than meets the eye. Yes, I am intentionally being controversial. Remember, I told you this would be a thought experiment. It is designed to grab your attention and get your hackles up. I want you to think hard and evaluate your previously held views. Are you being consistent?
Now let’s get our thinking caps on.
Let’s start with some background beliefs that are possibly fueling Billy Ray’s seemingly contradictory views:
- Billy Ray believes in the autonomy of the local church. He is not alone in this belief, as most churches of a “baptistic” nature hold this view. It’s the belief that each individual church has the right to decide what they believe about the Bible, and how they will function as a Church body. Long before the Supreme Court made the decision to legalize same sex marriage, and long before DOMA was a twinkle in representative Bob Barr’s eye, churches all across America were marrying same sex couples. They were exercising their religious autonomy. These marriages were not recognized by the government (and the vast majority of employers), but they were still being performed. Christians were not lobbying for these churches to be shut down. Even in the cases where a particular church was part of an ecclesiastical organization that didn’t recognize gay marriage (or the autonomy of the local church), there were still pastors performing these ceremonies. If it was your church and you disagreed with the practice, you simply left. If it wasn’t your church and you disagreed with the practice, you simply never had to attend. Billy Ray may think the Church down the street is wrong when it comes to the belief that gay marriage is ordained by God, but he believes they still have the right to hold that belief. He simply chooses not to attend. Likewise, Billy Ray is adamant that churches that refuse to perform same sex marriages (like the one he attends) should not be penalized for their beliefs. Personally, Billy Ray could never see himself as a member of a church that performs gay marriages or that believes homosexuality is not a sin. This is not because he hates homosexuals. It is because he is constrained to adhere to what the Bible teaches.
Billy Ray believes that the Church is the true authority when it comes to marriage. If the government decided tomorrow to no longer recognize any marriages conducted in churches that refuse to perform gay marriages (and retroactively enforced it), Billy Ray wouldn’t be worried. He believes that no decision the government makes about marriage could render his own marriage null and void. The government doesn’t have that kind of authority. Marriage is ordained by God. It wasn’t the marriage license filed after his wedding that guaranteed the union Billy Ray established with his wife, it was the vows he and Lucy Mae spoke while standing at the alter. Billy Ray does understand that such a policy might effect certain benefits afforded only to married couples. While these developments would upset him, it wouldn’t take away from the fact that he is still married in the eyes of God. God is the only authority that matters when it comes to marriage. In fact, Billy Ray has long believed that government needs to get out of the marriage business all together. Despite the fact that Tony Campola has recently changed his views on homosexuality, he still said it best: I propose that the government should get out of the business of marrying people and, instead, only give legal status to civil unions. The government should do this for both gay couples and straight couples and, leave marriage in the hands of the Church and other religious entities. Amen! For this reason, Billy Ray was never in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Billy Ray believes in the founding principles of this country. He believes that discrimination, regardless of who it’s against, is wrong. He also believes that everyone should be free to live life as they choose, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. As a good student of American history, Billy Ray is well aware that his baptist ancestors fled Europe for this very reason. They believed in the autonomy of the local church and didn’t want any government or ecclesiastical authority telling them what they could and couldn’t do. Billy Ray has often used the following example: I disagree with atheists. I think they are severely misguided. It saddens me when they become militant in their attacks against Christians. I do not support any legislation that would criminalize atheism or prevent them from espousing their views. I am against workplace discrimination of atheists. The sole exception to this would be if a person’s beliefs about God were essential to a particular job. For example, a Christian school should not be penalized for refusing to hire an atheist as a teacher. Why should my views about homosexuals be any different? Just because I think they are wrong, does not mean they should be discriminated against.
Once you understand the convictions that lie behind his views, Billy Ray suddenly seems very consistent. In fact, his views make a great deal of sense.
But let me muddy the waters a bit more before concluding this thought experiment.
We have established that Billy Ray is not against gay marriage, but he is still very concerned about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize it. In fact, he thinks it could very well be a bad thing. Have I completely confused you? Now he’s being inconsistent, right? Not really. Remember, Billy Ray doesn’t believe the government should have the authority to define or enforce marriage. That’s the role of the church. The reason for Billy Ray’s dismay? He is very worried that the government will use its authority to penalize churches that refuse to perform gay marriages.
Unfortunately, when Christians turned to the government to define and defend marriage, they ceded their authority to elected officials. They gave government the power to set the rules and enforce them. That was a bad decision. Christians should have been the biggest opponents of DOMA. Oh, it seemed right to support it back when traditional values reigned supreme. The hammer of governmental power was being wielded on behalf of the Christian. Fast forward twenty years and values have now changed. The majority of Americans support gay marriage. Guess who’s still holding the hammer? Only now, the hammer is coming down on Christians. Bad choices always come back to haunt you.
Now the challenging part of this thought experiment. Do you think Billy Ray is right? It’s one thing to begrudgingly acknowledge that he’s being consistent. It’s quite another thing to accept what he believes as true. Do his views represent what all Christians ought to believe?
I find myself agreeing with Billy Ray.
I believe that the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. If we are going to call ourselves Christian, then we have to stand firm on this belief. We cannot compromise. However, just because we believe homosexuality is a sin, it doesn’t give us the right to treat homosexuals differently than any other people in this world. We are all sinners. God’s love extends to us all. And as Christians, we are called to take his love to others. That includes homosexuals.
The bottom line is that we have been fighting the wrong battle when it comes to homosexuality. We were trying to outlaw gay marriage by telling our elected officials to support traditional marriage. The battle we should have been fighting was for our constitutional right to believe what the Bible teaches regarding homosexuality. We needed to protect each church’s ability to decide whom it marries and whom it doesn’t.
Marriage wasn’t established by government, it was established by God. It should be defined by churches, not by government. And, each church has the right to define it as they see fit. They answer to God, not man. Frankly, we should be far more disturbed by houses of worship performing gay marriages than the Government recognizing them. I am not upset that the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage, but I am concerned about the impact that it will have on Christians who hold to the traditional view of marriage, believe that homosexuality is a sin, and refuse to perform gay marriages. Will it effect the tax exempt status of churches and Christian schools? It will. Of that you can be sure. Bad choices always come back to haunt you. If you need biblical confirmation of that, go back and read the story about Israel’s insistence that God give them a king. If I remember correctly, God warned then it was a bad idea. How did that turn out for Israel?
Let me end with a post I made to Facebook shortly after the Supreme Court’s recent decision on gay marriage. I think it says it best:
To all my Christian brothers and sisters who are still upset about the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Please do not jump on the bandwagon to try and find some way to have this decision overturned. That is not the answer. We should not be turning to the government to define or defend the Biblical idea of marriage. We made that mistake before, let’s not make it again. This is solely the province of individual churches, not the state. We should instead be pushing for legislation that protects our religious freedom to define marriage as we see fit (in accordance with Scripture). Yes, I see the irony in such an approach. We are asking the gay community to extend to us a courtesy that was never extended to them. I will not apologize for my views on marriage and homosexuality, for I am bound by what the Scripture teaches. However, I will apologize for the way that many Christians have engaged the homosexual community in the past. We are called to be servants of all, to love all, to bring the light of Christ to all, regardless of their beliefs or practices. I am not sure we have done a very good job of that. Please support candidates who are advocating for the protection of our religious freedom and who are not resorting to vitriolic attacks against the proponents of gay marriage.
Whether you agree with me or not, this approach is our best option. The fight is on! But before we turn to the government for help, let’s turn to God in prayer.
“And seeing the multitudes he felt compassion for them, for they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.”
What do you see when you look at other people? What do you see when you look at your best friend? The man or woman of your dreams? The teacher who always seemed to go the extra mile to make sure you passed Algebra 2? What do you see when you look at the drug addict? The homosexual? The atheist? The adulterer? The guy who just cut you off in traffic and angrily flipped you the middle finger? Often what we see when we look at someone depends upon what we know of them personally, or how we feel about them. We form judgments. We react with either repulsion or acceptance based upon how we perceive them as moral beings. Once upon a time you may have looked up to Jared Fogle and admired the determination he displayed in losing over 200 pounds. You saw him as a role model for obese children. Now you only see him as a child predator. The natural response is disgust. Is it wrong to feel that way? We should be repulsed by the sexual abuse of children. We ought to hate adultery and the devastating effects it has on families. We should avoid the casual company of immoral people who would influence us to join them in their bad behavior. It would be wrong to hire Jared Fogle as your sixteen year old daughter’s private tutor. There is something deep inside of us that hates sin, even though we, ourselves are personally plagued by it. It is part of being made in the image of God. Even though we are fallen, the moral law within still speaks to us. It judges us. And thus, we are prone to judge others.
The problem is that most people don’t openly display their moral flaws. Instead they put on a moral front; displaying the admirable qualities, hiding the ones they know others will find unacceptable. In other words, all of us are very good at hiding the sins with which we struggle. If you suddenly had the power of omniscience and could know everything there is to know about the people that surround you, and the people that you come into contact with on a daily basis, how would it change your perception of them? Not only would you see all their good qualities, but you would also see every flaw. You would know every sin that they have committed, and every sin that they have yet to commit. Every secret thought would be on display. In short, you would see everything . . . The good, the bad and the ugly. And believe me, there would be a whole lot of ugly. How would you see them? More than likely, it would change the way you react to and interact with them. Would the affections you have for someone suddenly morph into hatred if you discovered that they secretly wished you ill will? That two-faced #%$&! Would you think twice about hugging your dear uncle if you knew that he was viewing child porn on his computer each night? Creepy, right? Would you shake the hand of the smiling stranger who you suddenly knew was involved in human trafficking? Slapping cuffs on their wrists would be more fitting. Thank God we do not have the power of omniscience! If we did, we would find it impossible to form any kind of loving relationships with others.
Of course, there was one person who had this ability. Jesus was God incarnate. He had the ability to see anything and everything. He often demonstrated this ability when he encountered people in the New Testament. The woman at the well is a perfect example. The verse above is from Matthew 9. The latter half of the chapter reflects back upon Jesus’ interactions with the many groups he encountered as he was going about teaching and healing. It tells us in verse 36 that each time he encountered a different crowd, he had compassion on them – every single one of them. He could see every secret sin in their lives; the verse above even hints at that. He saw their sin-plagued condition. They were distressed and downcast, much like fallen sheep who are in need of someone to help them get back up. The ESV uses the words “harassed and helpless.” The idea is that he saw every one of them as being in bondage to sin, and suffering the consequences. He saw it all.
Matthew is very clear in telling us how Jesus reacted upon seeing the multitudes in this way: he felt compassion. He understood their condition and wanted to do something about it. In the very next verse he issues a call for God to raise up laborers who will go out into the crowds and continue his work. We should react the same way our Savior reacted. The God of the universe, the one who sees all, and who hates sin, reacted far differently than what one might expect. Instead of revulsion, we get compassion, and the compulsion to reach out and help the afflicted. He was gripped with a love that would eventually send him to the cross to redeem his creation and free them from the power of sin. Contrast this to how we humans react upon seeing the sinful multitudes. The God of the universe who sees far more sin than any of us, and hates it far more deeply, reacted with compassion. Not hate. Not judgment. Not rejection. He went to them. He healed them. And he asks us to do the same.
Returning to my questions above, what do you see when you look at the multitudes? What do you feel when you see a group of people protesting in favor of gay marriage and equal rights for homosexuals and transgenders? If it is anything less than compassion and love, and the compulsion to minister to their needs, then you need to ask Jesus to soften your hardened heart. But keep this in mind: Jesus felt compassion because he saw their sinful condition. He didn’t overlook it or deny it. It was the very thing that drove his compassion. The call to go out into the harvest is not to simply be among the people, taking up their cause. Our task is not to try and convince people that they really aren’t distressed and downcast, harassed and helpless. It is not a call to show solidarity for our fellow man. How shallow is that? It is a call to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and to heal “every disease and affliction,” as verse 35 clearly indicates. This is what Jesus did. It is what he is calling his laborers to do as well. Anything less than freeing people from the sin that harasses them, is not showing love and compassion.