Probably the Shortest Working Argument for Evangelical Same-sex Marriage

Summary

This is a short and simple argument for Evangelical Same-sex Marriage, which links to a longer essay. It argues that God sees these unions as true marriages rather than as either an institutionalisation of immorality or as 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 question.

(2,400 words)

Contents

The Standard Evangelical Position

For a brief statement of the majority Evangelical view of homosexuality, I will use the following comments by Ben Witherington, one of the best Evangelical commentators on Paul in particular, and the author of at least six books that I can see from my desk at this moment.

What he says is this (and I've highlighted the two key lines, and pointed out anything I would change):

This article is for Evangelicals who, like me, agree with most of what Witherington says here. But I'm writing in order to say that our kind of Evangelicals should also support same-sex marriages. And not just civil marriages, but Evangelical marriages in Evangelical churches; and not begrudgingly, but in confidence that God sees these as truly Christian marriages; and not by half-measures, but with clearly understood equality in every aspect of membership and leadership. And I'm saying that we should do so for perfectly Evangelical reasons, which is to say, for perfectly biblical reasons.

Most readers, from gay atheists to straight Evangelicals, will be quite confident that this conclusion is impossible, and possibly immoral and incomprehensible as well -- certainly for anybody who agrees with the usual Evangelical reading of scripture, and the reasons that it gives. Those reasons are in fact the key issue. I haven't seen anyone make a thorough and convincing argument of this kind, so I accept that the burden of proof here lies squarely with me. If you read this paper, and then the longer one with much more detail, and you still disagree, then I would like to hear your reasons.

Why does this seem impossible? It's mainly because of two mutually reinforcing ideas. One is that same-sex marriage must really mean sex-outside-of-marriage, since it couldn't possibly be marriage in God's eyes. The other is that it couldn't possibly be marriage in God's eyes because homosexual intercourse is a sin in Christian scripture. So same-sex marriage, thought of as an Evangelical response to orientation, isn't even a question.

However, something strange happens when we do read scripture with orientation in mind, and ask what exactly is the moral problem with same-sex marriage for same-sex oriented people. (I'll discuss "orientation" shortly.) What we find is that Witherington's outline, and Evangelical interpretation overall, is basically correct. But only basically. While it's perfect 98% of the time, there is a final 2%, the case of same-sex orientation, that we get almost completely backwards.

The points I've asterisked (*) must be unpacked in much more detail. But if this general understanding is correct, then both major Evangelical reasons for opposing same-sex marriage including in churches are simply inapplicable to the most important case before us, and neither one can be used to support the other. Rather, it follows that gay and lesbian people, and Evangelicals especially, should simply marry -- and do so as Christian disciples. Evangelicals believe that heterosexual marriage resolves the many moral problems that arise from heterosexual desire and intercourse. In this view, same-sex marriage does the same.

What I will say here in reply to Witherington's synopsis could be directed at greater length to Robert Gagnon, Michael Brown, or Wesley Hill -- it applies to, and I would say disentangles and enlightens, every foundationally Evangelical position. It extends and, I think, completes the different approaches taken by Matthew Vines or David Gushee. Most recent authors have taken reasonable account of the practical day-to-day problems that same-sex oriented Evangelicals face in churches. This should be seen as the basic starting-point of all sides, and I will presuppose it in what follows. For my own summary of those issues, and some discussion questions on this subject, see:

Orientation plus Marriage

In scripture same-sex intercourse is always wrong, marriage is always heterosexual, and orientation is nowhere in sight. This led Evangelicals to deny orientation for many years, at best supposing that a bit of counseling would sort things out, and finally to settle on saying that orientation just doesn't change anything in moral terms. Same-sex marriage, as a question, is precluded by the moral issues with same-sex intercourse and the biblical impossibility of same-sex marriages. These appear to be the indisputable foundations of any sensible discussion. I will argue that in the case of orientation and marriage together, neither of these starting points are sound, that in fact they are wrong in obvious ways, and wrong on precisely Evangelical grounds. This, I suggest, is because we've been asking the wrong questions.

The right question is what to make of same-sex orientation and same-sex marriage, considered together, and considered specifically for Evangelicals. That is the basic pastoral question when at least 1 in 60 people grow up same-sex oriented in every church. And it is the basic missional question when that ratio reflects 100,000,000 people in your world, and when some of them are same-sex married members of your own local communities.

When we ask the proper question, this is what we find:

I have outlined this argument very briefly, and have necessarily omitted an enormous amount of detail. Each of the claims made above is covered more completely in the article linked below, and I invite critique or correction on any point that is believed to be inaccurate.

How impossible is this?

It is difficult to overstate just how impossible this argument is supposed to be, or quite how heavily Evangelicals are betting that no argument of this kind could be valid. Yet it follows directly from asking the single most obvious question before us: whether and how same-sex marriages match the biblical condemnations. Taking the biblical condemnations seriously enough to dig into their reasons and apply them to our situation, shows us why they have proven so difficult to use in normal public moral debate. They don't in fact apply to or condemn the case we must primarily address. Yet we have been convinced that they must. In poker terms, we've gone all-in, convinced our hand cannot be beaten. That's when the biggest losses happen.

About this document

"Probably the Shortest Working Argument for Evangelical Same-sex Marriage" <http://180.org.au/probably-the-shortest-working-argument-for-evangelical-same-sex-marriage_20150210.html>. Copyright ©2015 Nigel Chapman, <nigel@chapman.id.au>. Published 10 February 2015. Licensed CC BY-SA <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/au/>.

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