three questions

Perhaps in part because of the recent election, the past week produced another round of finger wagging at conservatives who oppose gay marriage.  From the religion columnist of the Grand Rapids Press to Newsweek and Jon Stewart, we were reminded again that we are mean-spirited, afraid, stupid, and hopelessly out of date.

I support the human rights of all people, including (but not especially) homosexuals.  In the interest of advancing the conversation, I will ignore the name-calling and ask three questions which the left must answer if they seek public legitimacy for their views (rather than resort to their current strategy of argumentum ad baculum—i.e., appealing to the big stick).

1. What is our new and improved definition of marriage? If marriage is no longer a covenant between one man and one woman, then what is it?

2. What is the source of this new definition? It doesn’t come from the scriptures or tradition of any world religion.  It doesn’t come from natural law (as most junior high boys could tell you, the possibility of gay penguins does not overturn the basic facts of biology).  Are we grounding our new definition in social convention?  If so, is that a suitable foundation, or have we just taken a giant leap down the slippery slope?  If our definition of marriage is grounded in something as ephemeral as social norms, what happens when these social norms change?

3. While it is wrong to discriminate against homosexuals in most employment opportunities, the majority of our churches and religious organizations are constrained by the Word of God to not hire unrepentant, practicing homosexuals.  Are we committed to provide an exception to these groups?

Last week’s election in Kalamazoo included a referendum that would outlaw “employment, housing and public-accommodation discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification.”  I am assuming the bill passed (is that true, Ray?), but what bothers me is that I didn’t read anything in the Press story about an exception for churches.  If a practicing homosexual pushed the issue and applied to become an associate pastor in Ray’s Kalamazoo church, could Ray be sued or jailed for dismissing the applicant for this reason?

Perhaps this is a moot issue for some reason that I’m not aware of.  I may be missing some key piece of information.  But unless our zeal for the human rights of homosexuals includes an exception clause for churches and parachurch organizations, I can envision a day when our pastors are in jail and our churches and schools are sued into oblivion.

One of the left’s arguments against criminalizing abortion is that we would have to arrest the numerous mothers who had one.  Well, this argument cuts both ways.  Are we prepared to jail thousands of pastors and presidents who refuse to hire practicing homosexuals on religious grounds?

26 Comments

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  1. Yes, Mike the ordinance passed with the strong support of
    evangelical church attendee State Representative Lawrence Wenke and other area pastors. To be fair, Wenke’s own pastor disagrees with him on the issue and has said so publicly.

    Before the vote Wenke paid $3,500 and some conservative votes when he hosted a public forum with area pastors who debate issue of same-sex marriage.

    Even with the pastoral public debate or conversation if you prefer, some (Baptist’s) can’t make up their mind. Louis Felton, one of Kalamazoo’s most predominant Pastor and outspoken minority civil rights leader can’t make up his mind. According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, Pastor J. Louis Felton, said he hasn’t declared any allegiance.

    Felton declared that he voted Yes, for the ordinance AND is a member of the group that opposes the ordinance. Flip-flop anyone?

    “How we believe and interpret Scripture is different from church to church,” Felton said. “I am willing to respect someone with a different theological interpretation. You can love God and the Word of God, but you can’t go out and indiscriminately hurt people. You can do the right thing the wrong way.”

    But has he chosen a side?

    “I have not made an endorsement of anything yet,” Felton told the Kalamazoo Gazette. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks Louie for your help making the issue clear!

    I guess this is nothing new. Since 1994, Grand Rapids has already had the phrase “gender orientation” in its civil rights code. The Grand Rapids code reads, in part:

    “It is hereby declared to be contrary to the public policy of the City of Grand Rapids for any person to deny any other person the enjoyment of his or her civil rights or for any persons to discriminate against any other person in the exercise of his or her civil rights because of race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, marital status, disability or gender orientation.”

    Oh, and Mike this issue hits a lot closer to the GR Beltline. It’s under consideration by your alma mater as well. (Shouldn’t we consider using another phrase instead of alma matter -“nourishing mother” to something more gender neutral?) I quote, “Calvin College professors say they want a campus discussion about academic freedom after being told it is “unacceptable” for them to advocate for homosexual issues and same-sex marriage.”

    Currently the Calvin College board affirms a 2008 statement backing the college’s commitment to the CRC’s tenets on homosexuality: the practice is sinful, but a person’s orientation is not. Some of the faculty does not support this statement.

    Let’s be real clear – This issue here is both marriage and the image of God. The image of God as trinity cannot be reflected in a same sex relationship. What is destroyed when we define marriage from a vacuum is not just the basic building blocks of humanity and society but the very image from which all creation springs. It’s telling the creator that I can do what I want to do.

    I believe we need to take a firm stand with great grace and careful crafted language so as to be clear as possible on this issue. But I’m cynical of Western Christianity and hold to the promise of the perseverance of the gospel. Where was the emptying of the pulpit’s when most recently the ELCA and other denominations went pro-gay? Pastor’s kept their jobs while not supporting the denomination. I guess a pay check is more important. I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do.

    And for the most part, people in the pews are more distracted by their Ski-doo’s than interested in the “should-do’s” of Scripture – you know the part’s we don’t argue over.

    I’d hate to think that I or my children or other brothers and sisters would be persecuted over this issue but some purity in the American church isn’t a bad idea either. Much conversation and even more apathy is so very unbecoming of the Bride of Christ. No one wants to marry a fat, loud, self-centered and dirty bride.

  2. Is the issue “rights” or is the issue usurping power over others to advance one’s ulterior motive with “rights as the excuse to do so? They will not put is jail Mike. They will put us in “the camps”, just like they did in Germany in the late 1930’s and in the former USSR. Yes… I’m playing the “Hitler” card because the same basic world view is at work. The irony is we are brow beaten for not taking the left’s words at face value for aulturism while that same courtesy is denied to us, and on the contrary all sorts of vile and wicked motives are impunged to those who will not bow to the baals of secular materialism in both in its modern form or its post-modern form…

    Conversation: Converation is when you sit quietly and meekly while I tell you all the things wrong with your thinking, world view,and etc. and you admit those things are true and allow yourself to be re-educated along party lines. If you argue with me, you are unwilling to engage in “conversation”. That’s why we have re-education camps to send you to.

  3. PS: For those who missed it, that second paragraph is deliberate satire…

  4. Mike,

    I could agree with you on many of these points, but is this really an issue of defining marriage from the biblical text?

    As followers of Jesus, we are called to be people who are peacemakers. Yet, we continue to go to war in places of the world that hold great financial recources while turning our backs on millions of people who are being killed in Africa.

    So, we will argue over the biblical meaning of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Yet, have we challenged the powers of our nation with our call to be peacemakers?

    We’re double tongued at best. As American Evangelicals, we choose which fights are worthy of fighting.

    If following Jesus is about picking fights over homosexualtiy, we’ve missed more than the biblical definition of marriage. We’ve missed much of the gospel message.

    Either we learn to embody the kingdom of God as some sort of current reality, or… or what? Do we have no passion for Jesus Christ other than protecting our piece of pride that we call heterosexual marriage?

    I often wonder if we are about the things of Jesus Christ at all… honestly, I think your post misses the heart of the gospel and the heart of God.

  5. Randy – What? Are you kidding me? Your logic is insoluble, it doesn’t wash. I find your comments to be arrogant and assuming.

    So what you are saying is we have to choose one OR the other? And because someone didn’t express one aspect of the good news, an aspect that you are passionate about, they somehow miss the heart of God? What a small and miserable and pitiable gospel you have!

    I know a God who is big enough and a Gospel that is wide enough to be both for heterosexual marriage, and peace, and a firm critique of human authority and and many other things that make it the beautiful news all that it is.

    I believe that we are called to whole Gospel, not just part of it. Here’s my confession. I don’t do it all well. In fact, to be transparent, I’m not sure I do much of it very well. That is why we are the church the body. The parts embody the whole. So, I guess I need your critique even if it is arrogant and partial.

    Peace in Africa – YES! Peace in American homes with one (male) husband and one (female) wife committed to each other for life – YES! And YES! to everything we find in Christ!

  6. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (Hardcover)

    http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Aid-Working-Better-Africa/dp/0374139563/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257858818&sr=8-1

    A very good book. Even our good works, when well intended fall short of the fullness of the Gospel that is in Jesus. Not that we should stop trying but this book proves that the fallen world we live in is much more complex than we think.

    Another reason to believe in an even bigger Gospel that has and will triumph.

  7. Mike:

    A few thoughts on this. (1) Did K-zoo (and GR for that matter) really need to pass an ordiance for something that is already part of Federal law and has been upheld by the courts numerous times? Is this simply pandering?

    (2) Religious organizations are exempt from hiring those who are in violation of their stated religious views under Federal law, but those organizations must be chartered as religious organizations, have clearly stated religious views on the matter as part of their charter, and abide by all of the other Federal regulations for religious organizations, which may explain why Rev. Felton has not released a public statement endorsing one side or the other. Such an endorsement would violate Federal law (separation of church and state being what it is these days and all).

    (3) In a secularized society, such as America, why should homosexuals be denied the social and legal benefits of marriage? No matter how you argue the point from Scripture, marriage is, in this country, a legal contract administered by the state – that’s why I had to apply for a marriage license. On what basis can the state define marriage other than by the directives of the society without explicitly endorsing a religious viewpoint?

    (4) – and this one hits home for me – are we not being inconsistent in our application of biblical teachings on marriage by denying the right to marry to homosexuals but not following scriptural mandates on divorce and remarriage? I ask this as someone who is on his second marriage and was appalled at how easy it was to file for divorce and then find a church (several years later) that was willing to perform the second marriage without so much as a perfunctory investigation into the circumstances of my divorce. It seems to me that if we want to define marriage according to Scripture, we ought to do so in light of all of the biblical teachings on marriage, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

  8. Wondering in Byron Center November 10, 2009 — 12:46 pm

    I want to stay anonymous on this, because I don’t think my viewpoint would be very welcome in my church or the other circles I’m a part of. Don’t get me wrong…I love my church, but I don’t want to become the “one who’s ok with gay marriage”. I also would never want to lead someone astray of their own conscience and what they believe is right before God.

    All that said…

    I wonder if we have too closely tied the holy and the secular. To my understanding there are two components of christian married life in the US. The foremost would be our convenant to each other and before God that we have intertwined our lives till death. The secondary (and minor) part is the legal arrangement we have made with the state in that we have entered into a contract where our assets are joined and various legal issues are dealt with as a couple.

    While I would fight from biblical grounds to keep marriages that are not right with scripture from occuring in my church, I don’t see where I have standing in whether or not two people enter into a legal contract.

    I also have difficulty seeing how two men entering into a contract will harm, or even effect, my marriage. I believe we weaken our stance to foolishness when we argue that homosexual relationships will “destroy” marriage. A simple look into our divorce rates, and the frivolity in which people get married today could show that marriage should already be destroyed if it could be.

    I am willing to be instructed in this area. I feel truly out of place within my church, and I wonder if I am missing something that would bring me back from the “dark side”.

    Please help me see where I am off the mark.

  9. Wondering:

    Thank you for your honest and searching response. I appreciate your concern to separate a biblical, church wedding from a secular, state function. I have no problem with that. Obviously, non-Christians should be allowed to marry!

    But here’s the thing. Don’t even secular weddings require a definition and grounding? Doesn’t the state need to know what a marriage is and why and how it came up with that definition? So removing marriage from the sphere of the church doesn’t actually solve anything.

    My point is that it’s not about protecting my heterosexual marriage from gays who want to marry. I don’t feel threatened by their marriage, but I do think that they and our society would be better served if they knew what they were doing before they change the traditional definition of marriage to something else. That just seems obvious to me, and certainly it’s not too much to ask.

  10. This is a very thought-provoking thread.

    Worldview and Morality
    You guys raise some interesting points here, reminding that whether people are aware of it or not, the U.S. Constitution operates within a worldview. I know the document mentions truth, and it arguably makes value judgments about what is “good.” For example, I wonder how many proponents of same-sex marriage would also support consentual polygamy? And then how many would say, “Even if these mutiple husbands agree to be married to the same women, they shouldn’t be, because they don’t know what’s good for them.”

    Social Norms and Polygamy
    Dr. Wittmer, you rightly mention the shaky ground on which we find ourselves when we define marriage by mere social convention. However, I am reminded of the polygmany of the Patriarchs and the kings of Israel. Was/is their polygamy accepted before God because of their social/cultural environment? And what then are the implications for our situation?

    Constraint Under Scripture
    I’m all for Ray’s suggestion that we carefully craft our language in these matters — because I don’t know of a legal framework that would argue for a Christian’s right to NOT hire a homosexual — it seems to be that this would be interpreted, by default, as “discrimination.” Perhaps it would benefit Christians if we worked on defining the bounds of religious constraint.

    A point of fact
    Ray, I could be wrong about this, but I thought the unity of marriage wasn’t about the Trinity but about the unity between Jesus and his church. I could be wrong.

    Also Ray, I may have noticed a logical problem in your argument here: “The image of God as trinity cannot be reflected in a same sex relationship. What is destroyed when we define marriage from a vacuum is not just the basic building blocks of humanity and society but the very image from which all creation springs. It’s telling the creator that I can do what I want to do.” The potential problem here is, are marriages in which sexual intimacy impossible similarly marring the image of God?

    But this may be a moot point, since as I say above, I thought marriage was more about Jesus and the church than the triune image of God.

  11. The second-to-last paragraph should read “marriages in which sexual intimacy is impossible,” and I’m thinking of the disabled such as wounded veterans.

  12. Jonathan: I missed your point about Federal law and religious exemption. That is interesting.

  13. Scriptural arguments are most important, but there is also a strong natural law argument for traditional marriage. Historically speaking, traditional marriage has not been primarily about romantic love or self-fulfillment. If we view marriage as primarily about these things, it is more tempting to think that marriage could be appropriately extended to any arrangement that that is felt to be necessary for these. However, if we view marriage from a natural law perspective and notice that the entire existence of the human race is, by nature, preserved through the unions of individual men and individual women, we should be able to see that there is something naturally unique about this formula. By nature a man and a woman have the privilege of biologically being able to do something unique, wonderful, and necessary that two men or two women are naturally unable to do. At the foundation, traditional marriage is about biologically conceiving children and giving them a stable upbringing. Yes, there are children who cannot be raised by their biological mothers and fathers. But as a whole, it is worth it for society, and especially for children, for the government to encourage stable marriages and families by protecting our nation’s traditional understanding of marriage. When taken seriously, the traditional institution of marriage helps all families to be strong by giving recogniton and accountablity to the mutual commitment of the husband and the wife. Because traditional marriage has a unique role regarding the natural family, it needs to be regarded as something unique.

  14. Adam – Concerning: “Ray, I could be wrong about this, but I thought the unity of marriage wasn’t about the Trinity but about the unity between Jesus and his church. I could be wrong.”

    I think it’s both and more. According to Karl Barth (in Church Dogmatics, III/1, page 184) – Genesis 1:27 may be divided into three parts: (1) “So God created man in his own image,” (2) “In the image of God he created him,” (3) “Male and female he created them.” Thereby, Barth argues that the image of God is a corporate image in marriage, a holy society of God, Man and Woman. This society reflects the relationship of Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    I would say that the image of God is both individual (Gen 5:3) and agree with Barth that there is a corporate /societal image reflected in the marriage of a man and woman.

    So then we have three pictures. One, the image of God in individuals. Second, the image of God in marriage. Jesus and the Church in marriage.

    Polygamy and Homosexuality and other forms of “marriage” ruin the picture of Creator.

  15. concerning natural law ideas: homosexual activity is also natural and known within the animal world; it’s not constrained to humans. in addition, do you know of homosexuals who have ‘chosen’ to be homosexuals.

    it seems that it it almost always our determination that homosexuals chose to be this. have heterosexuals chosen to be heterosexual? i recall liking a girl in first grade; that wasn’t something either my parents nor the biblical text told me to feel.

    if homosexuality ruins the picture of the Creator, so do all sin. all of us have ruined the picture of the Creator and fall short of the glory of God. yet, in spite of our fallen state, the Apostle Paul writes, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” a homosexual is no more or less fallen than anyone else who chooses to follow Christ.

  16. on another thought: we REALLY NEED to get rid of this slippery slope idea. i don’t believe it has any basis within the biblical text. either God’s people are faithful or they are not faithful as they live their lives.

    the biblical text is a story of God with his people, and sometimes they really really mess up, and other times they follow the Spirit to the ends of the earth. the Spirit is always in the midst of the story. God is always somewhere even when seeming absent.

    the biblical story without trust in the Spirit may be a slippery slope to nowhere (an absence of God is hell — so perhaps that’s where a slippery slope gets you), but Yahweh is always present with his people.

    there was no slippery slope for Job nor Abraham nor Joseph or John nor Peter nor Paul… i’ll suggest that a belief of ‘the slippery slope’ declares that we don’t have the hope for God’s continuing story among us…

    if the biblical narrative continues with us; if the Spirit of God lives among us as the biblical text tells us, then we don’t need to worry about the next law that comes along as being something that will make our entire story fall into ruins.

  17. Ray:

    Thank you for the explanation of marriage and Trinity. I see your/Barth’s point.

    How do you think God viewed the polygamy of the patriarchs? And why? This has been on my mind lately. I’ve heard arguments about their polygamy being acceptable because of cultural context, but that seems like a snazzy way of talking about social convention. I’ve also heard arguments about the polygamy being acceptable because it was within a larger framework — a.k.a., it worked towards fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant.

    I don’t really know what to do with all that, because the line of thinking suggests that the morality of sex can change through time and according to God’s purposes. Thoughts?

  18. Leviticus 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

    Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    Romans 1:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
    27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    Is it possible to be any clearer?

  19. Randy,

    Why do you call yourself a follower of Jesus, when you won’t trust His Word?

  20. Yooper.

    Not sure how to answer that other than to say that I stand on faith, hope, and love, a faith in Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, and the belief that the Spirit of the living God resides among his people.

    When believe the Spirit lives among his people, I hold the biblical text differently. It’s not that I hold it with less value; actually, I think I hold it with at least as much esteem as previously. Perhaps it’s like talking highly about a grandparent when they are present rather than absent. Both are real expression of appreciate for their lives; the later simply recognized the current reality of God’s continued presence among all of his people.

    Grace & Peace

  21. Randy,

    But why do you make vague, what He makes clear?

  22. Yoper,

    It’s not about being vague. Living within the biblical story isn’t easy, but it’s the alternative story that Yahweh offers to us. He invites us to be his people. Following is never easy.

    The second command tells us to love our neighbors; so until we have neighbors or friends struggling with this issue of sexual orientation, I’m not so sure we can identify with their hurts and struggles. They are our neighbors. Jesus make is absolutely clear that love for other humans is essential to following Jesus.

    Instead, we bring issues of heterosexual marriage as essential for marriage? As a previous poster noted, we no longer take divorce and re-marriage that seriously. Nor do we really take premarital sexual relations all that seriously when compared to our disdain for homosexual unions.

    In honestly, we’re not honoring the biblical text in the same way with this issue as we are with others… so I think that I’m taking the biblical narrative as serious as Dr. Wittmer. I’d suggest that I hold biblical theology as primary to systematic theology…

  23. True, society does a pathetic job of taking marriage seriously the way it is. That is why homosexual “marriage” is such a bad idea. If we can make marriage mean anything we want, then it has become a meaningless idea.

    If you want to identify with people’s hurts and struggles, how about identifying with all the children and teens whose lives are ripped apart when their parents divorce because marriage doesn’t mean anything any more.

  24. Randy,

    I have a 40 year old niece who “married” her same sex partner 10 years ago. We have visited them in their home, and we have had them in ours – they both know that we love and care for them.

    You have put yourself in a very dangerous position when you claim to be the authority when it comes to the Word of God.

    I gather that you are a stay-at-home dad. Do you have any rules for your children? Do you discipline them? If so, based upon what authority?

  25. Seems to me that some are suiting up for some serious hermeneutical gymnastics by trying to get around passages they don’t like. Maybe we should embrace these passages with the simple faith of a child being told “No. You may not participate or promote that kind of behavior.”

    “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV

    Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

    1 Timothy 1:8-11 ESV

    These passages in addition to all of those that Yooper presented above seems to make things clear…maybe too clear? Twain once said something like “It isn’t the hard to understand parts of the Bible that I struggle with, but the parts that are clear.” Is it that we just don’t like the clarity of what the Bible teaches (homosexual behavior is sinful)?

    When our Father tells us “no”, let’s trust him and take him at his word.

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