Evangelicals and Same-sex Marriage
Time to talk about this?
Some Practical Scenarios for Discussion
A few discussion starters for Evangelicals thinking through same-sex issues. It is unlikely that many of the following cases will be represented in any one church, but any of them could be. The discussion questions are aimed at leaders, but may be of more general application. For simplicity I have omitted examples involving direct family connections, and I've focused on cases involving young people; but feel free to adapt the questions to your needs.
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Where to begin?
Here's Probably the Shortest Working Argument...
This is probably the shortest working argument for Evangelical Same-sex Marriage, with a link to a longer article (the Romans article, below). It argues that God sees these unions as true marriages rather than either as institutionalisation of immorality or a redefinition of the biblical ideal of marriage, and that Evangelicals should also. Evangelicals do not generally imagine that this conclusion is in any way possible. We haven't been asking the right questions.
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Kevin DeYoung is the author of "What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?" His recent articles on CrossMap and then The Gospel Coalition pose 45 questions for Christians who think they can support same-sex marriage and still see themselves as consistently Evangelical in their approach to Christian scripture. These questions are reasonably simple from my perspective. My major difference from DeYoung is that I begin from the existence of same-sex orientation, and then consider same-sex marriage biblically in that light.
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After recently replying to Kevin DeYoung in "Forty-five Questions for Evangelicals Supporting Marriage Equality", I naturally thought, What are the questions I would ask the vast majority of Evangelicals opposing it? I'm aiming to ask these from a constructively Evangelical viewpoint, but one which supports marriage equality. The questions themselves will give some indication of why I think that is a valid Evangelical view. Some of these are new, so far as I have seen. Your critiques are invited.
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What's the problem?
Evangelical Churches and Same-sex Orientation
Evangelical Christians and churches have difficulty listening to same-sex attracted people, or see no need to listen to them, and so lack understanding and empathy for their experience. Significant numbers of same-sex attracted people are same-sex oriented, which can be understood as having permanent, involuntary and exclusive same-sex attraction, both sexual and romantic. The number of same-sex oriented people is too large to simply ignore, either in church or society; if we are simply unaware of them, then we are failing in mission, in pastoral care, or in our personal relationships. Generally, same-sex oriented youth do not trust their churches with this information and process their questions alone, online, or elsewhere. Attempts at reparative therapy do not even claim to show that any individual can change, and reported rates of success in reparative therapy are not obviously superior to the natural incidence of bisexuality. As a result, life-long celibacy has typically been a condition of faith for a same-sex oriented Evangelical. Celibacy in this situation is distinguished from other kinds of celibacy by the absence of any future hope of a relationship. This has had predictably poor outcomes for faith and well-being. Evangelicals have been reluctant to acknowledge orientation as a trait possessed by a minority of people, and so have not grasped how naturally their position is equated with discrimination and prejudice. Our commitment to opposing marriage equality has not been advanced through publicly persuasive moral arguments, but rather by appeal to political force and religious principles. This, together with the perception of prejudice, has undermined our credibility in general terms in society. Finally, the Evangelical sense of weariness and wariness about these issues is itself deeply problematic for a necessarily moral and communicative movement.
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What's the solution?
Romans 1 and Evangelical Same-sex Marriage
We Evangelicals, who have the strongest moral objections to same-sex marriage, have had a hard time making these objections sound convincing in public life. What if that was because we were wrong about the subject, on our own terms? This paper presents a biblical argument for understanding same-sex marriages between same-sex oriented Evangelicals as true marriages before God. It does this by asking three basic questions. Q1: Does scripture address orientation, understood as permanent, involuntary and exclusive same-sex attraction? A: No. Paul's statements in Romans 1 show that it does not. A biblical position on this issue must therefore be derived from what it says about same-sex intercourse and heterosexual marriage. Q2: Do the biblical judgements condemn same-sex intercourse as immoral in the case of a same-sex marriage between two same-sex oriented Evangelicals? A: No. There are twelve biblical reasons for condemning same-sex intercourse. Eight obviously don't apply to this case, and the four that appear to apply actually depend on the support of the first eight. While they applied to all the cases they addressed historically, and to analogous cases today, they don't condemn the case that actually matters. Q3: Does God see same-sex marriages as true marriages? A: Yes. Absent any moral condemnation, the positive qualities of these marriages are unopposed: They fulfil the biblical ideal of marriage in every way possible in the permanent absence of heterosexual attraction, and are closer to the biblical ideal than either half-heterosexual marriages or mandatory lifelong celibacy. They therefore fit an existing biblical category of reasonable exceptions to the general and good ideal of marriage, which were still marriages in God's sight. Their recognition by Evangelicals thus requires no "revision" in theology or biblical interpretation; just their application to a previously unconsidered question.
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Updates and additions
- Why "180"?
- Because I'm asking what straight evangelicals should think about same-sex issues. 180° is the angle of a straight line, and a U-turn.
- 13 Sept 2014
- Address to NSW/ACT Baptist State Assembly
What is this?
This website lays out a resolution of Evangelical questions about same-sex attraction, orientation and marriage. These documents are published under the same Creative Commons license as Wikipedia. Feel free to use them as you wish, though I'd welcome any improvements or critiques you have. These may update periodically, and I'll be adding further comments and replies as we go along.
Surry Hills Baptist Church
A Different Conversation
A conference about same-sex issues
and pastoral ministry.