A considered and empathetic opposition to same-sex marriage has nothing to do with phobia or hatred, but that doesn’t stop Christians, conservatives, and anybody else who doesn’t take the fashionable line from being condemned as Neanderthals and bigots. This is a lesson that Canadians have learned from painful experience.
Same-sex marriage became law in Canada in the summer of 2005, making the country the fourth nation to pass such legislation, and the first in the English-speaking world. In the few debates leading up to the decision, it became almost impossible to argue in defense of marriage as a child-centered institution, in defense of the procreative norm of marriage, in defense of the superiority of two-gender parenthood, without being thrown into the waste bin as a hater. What we’ve also discovered in Canada is that it can get even worse than mere abuse, and that once gay marriage becomes law, critics are often silenced by the force of the law.
Although precise figures about gay marriages in Canada are elusive, there are thought to be fewer than 30,000, after an initial surge of around 10,000 as soon as the law was passed. But if large numbers of gay people failed to take advantage of the law, the law certainly took advantage of its critics. Again, definitive figures are almost impossible to state, but it’s estimated that, in less than five years, there have been between 200 and 300 proceedings — in courts, human-rights commissions, and employment boards — against critics and opponents of same-sex marriage. And this estimate doesn’t take into account the casual dismissals that surely have occurred.
In 2011, for example, a well-known television anchor on a major sports show was fired just hours after he tweeted his support for “the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage.” He had merely been defending a hockey player’s agent who was receiving numerous death threats and other abuse for refusing to support a pro-gay-marriagecampaign. The case is still under appeal, in human-rights commissions and, potentially, the courts.
The Roman Catholic bishop of Calgary, Alberta, Fred Henry, was threatened with litigation and charged with a human-rights violation after he wrote a letter to local churches outlining standard Catholic teaching on marriage. He is hardly a reactionary — he used to be known as “Red Fred” because of his support for the labor movement — but the archdiocese eventually had to settle with the complainants to avoid an embarrassing and expensive trial.
In the neighboring province of Saskatchewan, another case illustrates the intolerance that has become so regular since 2005. A number of marriage commissioners (state bureaucrats who administer civil ceremonies) were contacted by a gay man eager to marry his partner under the new legislation. Some officials he telephoned were away from town or already engaged, and the first one to take his call happened to be an evangelical Christian, who explained that he had religious objections to carrying out the ceremony but would find someone who would. He did so, gave the name to the man wanting to get married, and assumed that this would be the end of the story.
But no. Even though the gay couple had had their marriage, they decided to make an official complaint and demand that the commissioner be reprimanded and punished. The provincial government argued that, as a servant of the state, he had a duty to conduct state policy, but that any civilized public entity could accept that such a fundamentally radical change in marriage policy was likely to cause division, and that as long as alternative and reasonable arrangements could be made and nobody was inconvenienced, they would not discipline their employee for declining to marry same-sex couples. Anybody hired after 2004 would have to agree to conduct such marriages, they continued, but to insist on universal approval so soon after the change would lead to a large number of dismissals, often of people who had given decades of public service. This seemed an intelligent and balanced compromise. Yet the provincial courts disagreed, and commissioners with theological objections are now facing the loss of their jobs, with the situation replicated in other provinces and also at the federal level.
So far, churches have been allowed to refuse to consecrate same-sex marriages, but a campaign has begun to remove tax-free status from religious institutions that make this choice. When asked about how this would undermine charitable efforts in behalf of the poor and homeless undertaken by numerous Christian churches, one of the leaders of Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, a Canadian gay-rights advocacy group, replied: “We’ll only take away charitable status from the buildings where the priests live and where the people pray.”
As colossally ignorant and threatening as this sounds, it is also downright disingenuous. Four years ago, a Christian organization in Ontario that works with some of the most marginalized disabled people in the country was taken to court because of its disapproval of an employee who wanted to be part of a same-sex marriage. The government paid the group to do the work because, frankly, nobody else was willing to. As with so many such bodies, it had a set of policies for its employees. While homosexuality was not mentioned, the employment policies did require that employees remain chaste outside of marriage, and marriage was interpreted as the union of a man and a woman. The group was told it had to change its hiring and employment policy or be closed down; as for the disabled people being helped, they were hardly even mentioned.
In small-town British Columbia, a Knights of Columbus chapter rented out its building for a wedding party. They were not aware that the marriage was to be of a lesbiancouple, even though the lesbians were well aware that the hall was a Roman Catholic center — it’s increasingly obvious that Christian people, leaders, and organizations are being targeted, almost certainly to create legal precedents. The managers of the hall apologized to the couple but explained that they could not proceed with the arrangement, and agreed to find an alternative venue and pay for new invitations to be printed. The couple said that this was not good enough, and the hall management was prosecuted. The human-rights commission ruled that the Knights of Columbus should not have turned the couple down, and imposed a small fine on them. The couple have been vague in their subsequent demands, but feel that the fine and reprimand are inadequate.
As I write, two Canadian provinces are considering legislation that would likely prevent educators even in private denominational schools from teaching that they disapprove of same-sex marriage, and a senior government minister in Ontario recently announced that if the Roman Catholic Church did not approve of homosexuality or gay marriage, it “would have to change its teaching.” What has become painfully evident is that many of those who brought same-sex marriage to Canada have no respect for freedom of conscience and no intention of tolerating contrary opinion, whether that opinion is shaped by religious or by secular belief. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has just turned 30 years old, fundamentally changed the direction of the legal system, emphasizing communities more than individuals. This has empowered minority groups with the most appeal to quash individual freedom by exercising their political and judicial influence. The system in the United States is different, more concerned with freedom of speech, and generally more respectful of the individual. But the groups and activists trying to silence their opponents are arguably even more radical and vociferous south of the border and, anyway, legal and political assumptions are capable of change; they certainly changed in Canada.
The Canadian litany of pain, firings, and social and political polarization and extremism is extraordinary and lamentable, and we haven’t even begun to experience the mid- and long-term results of this mammoth social experiment. I seldom say it, but for goodness’ sake learn something from Canada.
— Michael Coren is a Canadian TV host and columnist, and the author, most recently, of Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread about Christianity. This article originally appeared in the June 11, 2012, issue of National Review.
KEVIN DEYOUNG|4:02 PM CT
What the Bible Really Still Says About Homosexuality
On Tuesday afternoon, CNN ran an article on its Belief Blog by Catholic priest (sort of) Daniel Helminiak entitled “My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality.” The article is amazing for including so many bad arguments in so little space. A quick trip through the piece will show you what I mean. Helminiak’s writing will be in bold and then my response will follow.
President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.
We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.
These two paragraphs perfectly depict how many see any Christian opposition to homosexuality or gay marriage. We are undercover (or not!) theocrats trying to impose our personal preferences on the rest of the country. But the charge of legislating our morality is not as simple as it sounds. For starters, the government legislates plenty of morality already—morality about killing, stealing, polluting and a thousand other things we’ve decided are bad for society or just plain wrong. Moreover, the arguments being made in favor of gay marriage are fundamentally about morality. That’s why you hear words like justice, love, and equality. Most gay marriage advocates are making their case based on moral categories, if not religious and biblical.
What’s more, the pro-gay marriage side would like to see the state reject a conjugal view of marriage in favor of a new, heretofore unknown, definition of marriage. And in insisting upon the state’s involvement, they want this new definition to be imposed on all. We may not all have to like gay marriage, but the government will tell us what marriage means whether we like it or not.
In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.
Here we have an example of progressive prejudice, the kind that assumes we have little to learn from the benighted masses who lived long ago. Whether they thought the world was flat has nothing to do with whether ancient people can teach us anything about sexuality. Such a tidbit is thrown in, it seems to me, as a rhetorical cue that these people were as dumb as doorknobs and can’t be trusted. More importantly, Helminiak distances himself from an orthodox understanding of biblical inspiration. Instead of approaching the Scriptures as the word of God, his first step is to position the Bible as a book by ancient people who don’t know all the things we know.
Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.
That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.
The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).
But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.
There is really only one argument in the foregoing paragraphs: the sin of Sodom was about social injustice not about sexual immorality. No doubt, there were many other sins involved, as Helminiak rightly observes. But there is no reason to think homosexualityper se wasn’t also to blame for Sodom’s judgment. For example, Jude 7 states that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” Even the NRSV, translation of choice for the mainline (and the version Helminiak seems to be using), says “pursued unnatural lust.” Clearly, the sins of Sodom lived in infamy not simply because of violent aggression or the lack of hospitality, but because men pursued sex with other men.
The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”
The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should readatypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul’s writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.
Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay “unnatural” hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.
Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable(1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor— for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.
This line of reasoning is also common among revisionists. There is little to say in its favor, however, and Helminiak’s argument—that para physin “carries no ethical condemnation”–is particularly weak.
1) He makes the rudimentary error of forgetting that words have a semantic range of meaning. Just because Paul used “against nature” or “dishonorable” in non-ethical settings (sort of), doesn’t mean those words and phrases cannot carry ethical weight in another context. It’s like suggesting that if FDR once said “this soup is terrible” and later said “what the Nazis are doing is terrible” that he couldn’t possibly mean anything more than “what the Nazis did was kind of strange and not my personal preference.”
2) The context in Romans 1 tells us how to understand para physin. Paul has already explained how the unrighteous suppress the truth about God seen in nature and how they exchange the glory of the immortal God for images of created things. In both cases Paul contends that people believe a lie which prevents them from seeing things as they really are (1:25). Then in the very next verse he singles out homosexuality as “contrary to nature.” He is not thinking merely of things that are unusual, but of acts that violate the divine design and the ways things ought to be. For Paul, the biological complementarity of the male-female union is the obvious order of things. A male-male or female-female sexual pairing violates the anatomical and procreative design inherent in the one flesh union of a man and a woman. That Jewish writers of the period used comparable expressions to describe same-sex intercourse only confirms that this is what Paul meant by the construction.
3) Even more obviously, we know Paul considered same-sex intercourse an ethical violation, and not simply something uncommon, because of what he says in the very next sentence. Helminiak conveniently cuts off Paul’s thought halfway through verse 27. Notice what Paul goes on to say: “Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (NRSV). When you read the whole verse, Helminiak’s “non-ethical” argument becomes implausible. Paul thought homosexuality not just unusual, but wrong, a sinful error deserving of a “due penalty.”
In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: “God gave them up … to impurity.”
But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.
In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.
Helminiak’s argument seems to be: Paul said homosexuality was an impurity; Jesus set people free from the purity requirements of the Jewish law; therefore, homosexuality is not wrong. This reasoning is so specious that it’s hard to know where to begin. Jesus did recalibrate the purity laws, but Mark 7:19 makes clear that the episode in question was about declaring all foods clean. Jesus was not saying for a second that anything previously called “unclean” or “impure” was now no big deal. Helminiak again connects words in a facile manner, suggesting that because Jesus fulfilled certain aspects of the ceremonial code, now anything described with the language of impurity cannot be condemned. Nine times in his epistles Paul references “impurity” and it is always in the context of vice and immorality (Rom. 1:24; 6:19; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:3;4:7). Besides all this, Jesus explicitly lists “sexual immorality” (in the passage Helminiak quotes) as one of the things that defiles a person. The Greek word is porneia which refers to “unlawful sexual intercourse” (BDAG), especially, for the Jew, anything condemned by the Law of Moses.
It is simply not true that Paul, or Jesus for that matter, never considered homosexuality an ethical matter. To cite just one more example: in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 Paul uses a rare Greek word, arsenokoites, which is a compound from two words found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Paul thought the prohibition against homosexuality in the Old Testament was still relevant and the sin was still serious.
As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.
The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.
These are wild assertions without any corroborating evidence. Whatever one thinks of Leviticus 18 and 20 for today, it’s obvious that the Torah considered homosexual activity an abomination. It’s absurd to think that any ancient Israelite would have any celebrated David or Jonathan or Ruth or Naomi or Daniel if they were homosexual. It is the worst kind of special pleading and reader response to conclude against all exegetical, theological, and historical evidence that any of these Old Testament heroes were gay.
Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that the centurion’s servant was his lover. The leading New Testament lexicon (BDAG) gives three definitions of pais: a young person, one’s own offspring, one who is in total obedience to another. If the word somehow means “male lover” in the Gospels, we need evidence greater than Helminiak’s bald assertion.
Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.
Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.
The link between sex and procreation did not have to be articulated by Paul because it was already assumed. God’s design from the beginning had been one man and one woman coming together as one flesh. This design is reaffirmed throughout Scripture, not least of all by Jesus (Matt. 19:4-6) and by Paul (Eph. 5:31). An important aspect of this union is the potential blessing of children. The prophet Malachi made clear that procreation is one of the aims of marriage when he said about a husband and wife, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15).
None of this proves the case against gay marriage as a government injunction (though that case can be made as well). What careful attention to the Bible does show is that the revisionists do not have a Scriptural leg to stand on. From the first chapter of the Bible to the Law of Moses to the New Testament, there is no hint that homosexuality is acceptable behavior for God’s people and every indication that it is a serious sin.
This is why I appreciate the candor of honest pro-gay advocates like Luke Timothy Johnson:
The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.
Of course, I disagree with Johnson’s approach to the authority of Scripture and his liberal deference to experience. But I commend him for acknowledging what should be plain: the Bible really really calls homosexuality a sin. A sin that can be forgiven in Christ like a million other sins, and a sin that can be fought against by the power of the Holy Spirit, but still a sin. That’s what the Bible says. And as the CNN article demonstrates, it takes a lot of contorted creativity to make it say something else.
By “younger Christian,” I don’t necessarily mean those who only recently came to faith; rather, I intend this for those under 40. I do hope, however, that others can benefit from this little note.
I also must state that I am writing to those who are trying to take the Bible seriously, as God’s infallible Word, Special Revelation. Those who are not Christians, or those who claim to be but understand the Bible as deeply flawed will not care to read further.
There are many motives and reasons given for accepting same-sex marriage as normal, good, and holy. Some do so because they see loving relationships formed between men, or between women, and see as much love between them as between heterosexual couples, so who should deny them the right to marry? Some younger people have a deep-seated fear of being labelled a bigot, and with good reason. There are very few today advocating a curb on same-sex marriage, and to do so definitely places oneself on the outside of most modern culture. Older Christians (again, chronological age), nearing the end of life, make foolish stances seemingly out of fear of being found on the wrong side of history.
It is fair to say that there is a vast difference between same-sex couples in committed relationships and the X-rated variety of in-your-face sexfests that are on display at events such as the Toronto Gay Pride parade. I am pretty sure that quite a few same-sex couples are appalled at the depravity on display there.
What pulls at the heartstrings, however, is that for some Christians, the same-sex marriage is an attractive alternative to those tormented by same-sex attraction. Taking the Bible seriously, there has been great effort expended to show that the prohibitions against homosexuality (in the Law and in Paul), and the judgments against it (Sodom and Gomorrah), are against not the kind of behaviour advocated today, but against perversions of it. At this point, those who don’t care what the Bible says will simply choose to ignore it, rather than to seek alternate explanations.
But if you are a reader who does happen to think the Bible is important, and are still convinced that same-sex marriage has God’s stamp of approval, please read on.
Christians who argue for the acceptance, by the church and society, of same-sex marriage, must affirm that God smiles on these relationships, that His judgment is not against such relationships, that it is not a sin to marry a person of the same sex.
With the language of Scripture so set against same-sex marriage (and I’ll deal with specific passages in a later post), the argument cannot be for a “gray” area, somewhere between right and wrong. To argue for same-sex marriage is to affirm its basic goodness, in the same affirmative manner as all marriages.
And this is the problem. If same-sex marriage is normal and good, and if it should be expected that God blesses these unions as He does marriage, why is there not one example of such a union in Scripture? If we are to equate same-sex marriage with marriage as defined up to now, why are there no parallel examples or laws regulating it? Why did Jesus (who, it is falsely claimed, never mentioned homosexuality), not teach on the sanctity of same-sex marriage? Paul mentions and teaches on heterosexual marriage, but never on same-sex marriage.
I think this problem is insurmountable for those who think same-sex marriage must be blessed by God, and therefore by His church.
I do know one argument that will surface right about now, which is,
“Same-sex marriage was rejected by the ancient Israelites and the early church because they had not yet advanced to the place we are now. The Bible is a record of how they understood the world, and how God worked in the world, and they could not have accepted same-sex marriage because of their limited worldview.”
These words may or not reflect your exact thoughts, but I imagine they’re pretty close. The problem with this line of reasoning is that the unique value of Scripture is lost once it is accepted that the worldview, laws, regulations, principles, examples and teachings are merely human inventions. Remember, I am writing this to you who do believe that the Bible is the Word of God, not the musings of men.
Every Christian, if they are serious about Scripture at all, has to make choices; this has been true in all generations, and ours is no exception. We find in Scripture examples of every kind of human relationship, good and evil, and we learn God’s principles about how we must understand each of them. The absence of a relationship (same-sex marriage) can only be explained (to the satisfaction of a Bible believing Christian), by its exclusion from the plan of God for men and women. Marriage can never be same-sex, because it was heterosexual from the beginning.
If the current interpreters (who argue in favour of same-sex marriage) are wrong about it being a sin, then their error is serious. Sin separates us from God, and to accept, bless, and normalise sin is the worst stance a Christian can take. Obeying God’s Word will never make you a happy camper in the world you live in; it will, however, keep you from further offending His holiness.
©Scott Jacobsen, 2012