Now that we know that Barack Obama will indeed be our next President, it is useful to go back and watch once more what President elect Obama said to Rick Warren at the Civil Forum last summer at Saddleback Church. This particular post will discuss the issue of gay marriage in light of what was said at the Forum. You will find his particular comments about marriage beginning 20 minutes and about 30 seconds into the interview. They are: 1) he defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman; 2)he supports civil unions for gays and lesbians, though he will not personally be advocating or promoting their lifestyle and 3) he is not for a constitutional amendment defining marriage in a particular way because the Constitution did not comment on this matter originally, and it has been left to the States to decide this kind of issue. In his view, it should stay that way.
The vote over Proposition 8 in California is now over but the battle is by no means done. My friend Rev. Jim Garlow in California continues to get lots of hate mail and his church has been picketed vigorously, and yes there have been threats against him of various sorts. This is hardly what one would call proper human behavior.
What should Christians think of that whole matter of Prop. 8? Is it an example of Christians depriving gays and lesbians of their civil rights? Well it can hardly be that since gay or lesbian civil unions are already legal in California, and indeed the partners in such a relationship already have the rights of marital partners in the event of illness and the like.
No, fighting against Proposition 8 was not about gaining the civil right for gays to have a legally sanctioned union, one that allowed one to have the various tax, work, and health benefits of such a relationship. They already had that in California. What it was about was an attempt to redefine marriage, nothing less than that.
When President elect Obama was asked about this matter at Rick Warren’s civil forum some months ago, he said that marriage, according to the Bible is a relationship between a man and a woman, but in his view gays and lesbians should still be able to have civil unions. Of course this is already the law in California so he was not proposing anything new or different to what already existed in California, nor did the passage of Proposition 8 change that state affairs.
What may have changed was the status of those gays and lesbians who were not satisfied with a civil union and wanted to be able to legally claim they were married. Time will tell whether the passage of Prop. 8 will nullify those gay and lesbian marriages which had already been performed and sanctioned. It is interesting that the African American vote in California was overwhelmingly in favor of Prop. 8 (some 70% of African-Americans who voted), and so one would not expect President elect Obama, for whom over 90% of all African Americans voted, to reverse course by executive order on January 21rst when he is in the Oval Office and try and overturn Proposition 8 and similar laws which were passed in Florida and elsewhere. We shall see, but I would not expect such an attempted reversal of things in light of his previous comments about States rights in this matter.
What should Christians think of this matter? Well, in the first place not only is marriage defined in the Bible as an act between a man and a woman, it is said that God initiated such an act in the first place. God brought the man and the woman together (read Gen. 1-2). The result of that marriage was a 'one flesh union', something which, if we understand it and exegete the phrase properly, is not possible for two men or two women to have with each other. Male and female were created in such a way that they, and they alone, can produce a one flesh union. This is not to say that other sorts of sexual activity could not create bonds of intimacy between two persons. This of course is the nature of intimate sharing in sex. The point is that these other sorts of unions are not what the Bible means by a 'one flesh union' (see e.g. Ephes. 5.21ff.).
The result of a proper marriage is not merely that the two become one, but that one of them, the male, becomes a husband and the other the female becomes a wife. It is no more possible for a female to become a husband than it is possible to have a female uncle or a male aunt (I'm am talking here about the issue of identity, not roles that one or another person might be able to play in some fashion).
Biology is indeed pre-determining things in these cases, and even when you have a person who has a sex change operation, such as the so-called pregnant man recently on TV, actually this person is a woman genetically, and in terms of having a womb and the like. She has simply had her breasts removed and taken testosterone to try and remove the evidence and reality that she is a woman.
In any normal set of circumstances gender is not something you choose, it is something you are born with, and what follows from that is certain gender role possibilities come along with that, and certain other ones are ruled out. Of course many people are not satisfied with the way they are born, and think they ought to have choices about such matters. What you mainly have choices about is behavior however, not gender, barring resorting to radical medical actions. It should also be stressed that we are all born fallen creatures as well, so it is not sufficient to argue that "it must be of God as I was born this way". Even if it is true(though I know of no scientific evidence demonstrating this) that some people are born with same sex inclinations, this in itself would not make it 'of God'. Frankly there are too many birth defects with which humans can be born, including the moral one we all have as fallen creatures, and so one could never say with any universal theological validity "since I was born this way, this is how God intended me to be and it must be celebrated as good." This is not by any means always the case.
The question one should ask about the marriage issue is--- should the Biblical definition, and indeed Western cultures definition of marriage for the last thousand plus years be allowed to be overturned by a small minority of American citizens and their friends? Even simply at the level of pure democracy, this is unreasonable in a country where the majority should rule in such civil matters.
A further point should be made. It is not hate to uphold a traditional view or definition of marriage, and our culture and country is not helped by hate-crimes laws that include things like how one defines marriage as hate speech. Discourse on such subjects, though it may well be passionate, should not resort to name-calling, ad hominem arguments, or pure polemics. Equally sincere persons can have diametrically opposed views on this subject, and still be friends.
I have various friends who disagree with my views on this subject, but they are not about to accuse me of hate. They know that this is a matter of Christian conscience for me, and they respect that. This is the way it ought to be in general. This matter should not be dealt with by hate mail, hateful acts, death threats or any other kind of not only unChristian behavior but not even proper human or humane behavior.
Going forward on this volatile issue I would urge conservative Christians who are adamantly opposed to the gay lobby in our country to remember the following: 1) some gays and lesbians are your brothers and sisters in Christ, however confused you may think they are on this ethical matter. Treat them as such; 2) the church should be welcoming to all persons as they are to come to church, just as Jesus was welcoming of all, without condoning anyone's sin or baptizing and calling it non-sin. That is 'we should be welcoming of any sinner but not affirming of any sinful lifestyle or action. Loving the sinner but not their sin may be a hard dichotomy at times but it is what we are called to; 3) Jesus died for us all, whether gay or straight to save us from our sins; 4) the unforgivable sin in the Bible is not some particular sexual sin, but rather apostasy, the willful rejection of Christ in one's life; 5) homophobia and heterophobia are both sins which one should repent of.