The Gospel and Gay Marriage Discussions
Anglican Bishop and theologian, N. T. Wright said this about the gay marriage debate: "The problem at the moment is that we're not having the debate. We are simply having bits and pieces of a shouting match."
I believe that if we are going to have some peace and progress in the gay marriage discussion as Christians, we need to look at marriage in the light of the Gospel.
The apostle John said, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Our discussions on gay marriage tend to be “bits and pieces of a shouting match” because we make these discussions about law instead of the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
What is that “grace and truth”? It’s also called the Gospel.
Here is one of several ways to express the Gospel: The truth is that God the Father has adopted every human being as his loved child. We are all declared prime candidates for adoption because Jesus died to forgive us for all the ways that we have been runaway children – that’s grace!
Christian author Frank Viola calls the Gospel “the Sacred Romance of the Ages”. He says, “Every love story that the minds of men and women construct, every love story that has made its appearance in the pages of history – whether fiction or non – is but a reflection, a pale image, a faint portrait, a scrabbled version of the sacred romance of the ages… God is author and Jesus is the Lover! And, within the hidden story line is the unfolding of the greatest Mystery ever told!”
The connection between the Gospel and adoption or a love story should be easy to understand. Yet there is some research evidence that most Christians have little understanding of the Gospel. The October 2009 issue of Christianity Today cited a 2005 synthesis of extensive interviews with 267 American teenagers. From this subjective study, they concluded that the average American teen believes in a God who wants us to be good and fair and to feel good about ourselves, and that good people go to Heaven when they die. No Jesus – no love story – no Gospel.
With such a poor comprehension of the Gospel we Christians tend to discuss the marriage issues in the context of law instead of the Gospel. When my children were transitioning into adulthood, my understanding of the Gospel was much like that which I cited in the previous paragraph. My sex education “lectures” to my children were simply versions of the abstinence law. And I threw in the fact that Jesus forgives us for our “law breaking”. But with only a superficial nod to Jesus, this advice was more law than Gospel.
Gay marriage discussions must deal with this central issue: “Will extending marriage to same-sex couples clarify the church’s image of ‘the sacred romance of the ages’ or will it cloud that image? We will have to go into these discussions as married or single persons having a personal understanding of the Gospel and having assessed and confessed the clarity of our own image of that “sacred romance”. Each must begin with the assumption that the all participants in the discussion are loved, adopted children of God.
Christians Can Respect Same Sex Couples
I am responding to Kay’s October 23rd column titled “Same sex marriage follows traditions.” I am particularly focusing on her concluding comments: “Too bad, Wisconsin is not as forward thinking as Minnesota. The Dells could capture a share of the same-sex marriage economic boost.”
I think connecting marriage to money will add fuel to the fire of the marriage debate - a debate that is bound to last as long as the abortion debate. Christians who affirm only traditional marriage will be seen by some as an enemy in this debate, but we can be an agent of peace if we practice BIG forward thinking.
Let me begin by telling a bit of my story. Like all children I accepted the faith of my parents. But even after Confirmation I saw God as only a Santa Clause who rewards the good and punishes the bad. So when I encountered a church that seemed to offer a God with better rewards and exclusive rules, I was hooked. God wasn’t that much more real to me, but it seemed that I had better words to explain what God was doing here on earth. And so began thirty years of backward thinking.
Those three decades were worth it. I came out of that long season of my life having a clearer understanding of why God calls some human actions good and some bad. At age fifty I started to understand that the key to understanding right and wrong is in the Gospel. The word Gospel means “Good News”.
The Gospel is presented to us in the Bible. The Bible is a series of writings over a 1500 year period that makes up one Gospel story. Finding the Gospel in the Bible is like going to a Presidential library and reconstructing that President’s story from his presidential papers. Whatever story we are looking for we can find, so it makes sense to look for a Good News story when we read the Bible.
In the Bible story we find specific principles of living of all sorts; most are relevant for today and some are not. Theologian N. T. Wright describes these principles as fences along a roadside that tell when we are out of bounds in our Gospel journey through life. In all the complexities of life we cannot avoid interpreting and adjusting these fences. The fences are helpful for self-evaluation, but when we try to live with other people by fences we tend to compare our placement of fences with others’ fences and the Gospel is soon forgotten.
We live by believing in the Gospel, and it is the Gospel that we look for in the Bible and in our private and public worship. That is vitally important in our relationships. The Holy Spirit will show you how to relate to another human being in a way that is consistent with the Gospel. And this applies to any kind meeting - from a casual “Hello, how are you?” to steamy sex. You can tell the Holy Spirit’s voice because He speaks with a Gospel accent.
What is the Gospel? I will share how I understand the Gospel by this story.
The Father sees the beautiful young girl Humanity off at a distance. He says to his son Jesus, “I passionately want that girl to be part of our family named Church.” I am going to ask Yente Church to help; she has the title of Matchmaker on her business card. I will ask her to propose the marriage.”
Yente Church approached Humanity and said, “Will you marry Jesus?”
With great astonishment Humanity said, “I am ugly. And can you not see the filthy rags I have to wear? How can I possibly be married to Jesus?”
Yente replied, “I have Good News for you. Jesus has made you clean and beautiful. That is how the Father knows you, and Father knows best. Marry Jesus, and Holy Spirit and the Church family will help you live who you really are.”
The joyful wedding took place and Humanity and changed her name to Humanity Church. And as is the custom of all in the Church family, she too put Matchmaker on her business card. In her calling as Matchmaker many said “Yes” to the Good News. Some said, “Tell me more.” Some said “No, I have better news.”
I can’t perform a same-sex marriage ceremony because I can’t tell this story in that setting. But I can acknowledge the love of committed same-sex couples, and respect them, and try to show them the Good News of their real identity.
Look for the Gospel in your prayers, Bible reading, and worship. I cannot see a better peacemaking plan. I believe the Gospel is the most perfect example of forward thinking.
We Can Be Right About Marriage and
Still Be Wrong
Both the religious and non-religious will be struggling with “marriage equality” for at least as long as we have been struggling over the abortion issue. Some churches have made a final decision on same-sex marriage while many are still struggling.
In that struggle we who believe in Jesus must remember that “…the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.” (A quote from a children’s Bible story book.)
I spent three decades in a church that preached a lot “about you and what you should be doing”. And that kind of preaching often produces either guilt or self-righteousness. In those years, some of the self-righteous would think of a way to “do better” and they would look for another church, or even start another church.
For the last twenty years I have been active in churches that mostly base “do’s and don’ts” on “God and what he has done”. I try to preach that way. I try to read the Bible that way. I keep that in mind as I sing songs in church. I try to remember that as I partake of the Lord’s Supper. I try to remember that in every interaction with another person - particularly those interactions that may be contentious.
In our struggling over what constitutes marriage, we must begin by believing what Jesus has done for all at the Cross. From his own words, we know that what Jesus did was “finished”. Sin no longer defines who we are. Our relationships with other people are always guided by the fact we must either introduce or affirm what Jesus has done.
And if we believe that we have come to a decision about what that says about the nature of marriage, then we must still keep the Cross in view, lest we join the self-righteous by focusing on what we have decided to do or not do.
I cannot tell you when a congregation should split, or when you must find another church over the marriage issue (or any other “hot” issue). But I think if that if congregations can avoid self-righteousness, then those courses of action may not be necessary.
Here is an exercise that may help in avoiding self-righteousness. Read the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and translate that parable to read as if Jesus is speaking to you. (Luke 18:9-14) I will close this column with that parable as it applies to me.
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: John and Don went up to the church to pray. John stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even Don, who is in a gay relationship blessed by his so-called church. I have been married for thirty-one years and I have never even so much looked at Playboy. My wife and I did marriage right; we didn’t have sex before our wedding night. But Don stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that Don, rather than John, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
"The problem at the moment is that we are not having the debate. We are just having bits and pieces of a shouting match." - N. T. Wright
Video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpQHGPGejKs