The following post is for Lana. Lana who is brilliant and always makes me think before I answer. Always.
After a recent facebook share that I posted, "What Does Jesus Think About Homosexuality" (one of the best articles I've read on the subject) , she asked what I thought about gay marriage.
She asked me right on my facebook page in front of God and everybody. My answer is long. Really long. But I felt compelled to write it, and I just couldn't get it any shorter.
I have to admit that I am more than a bit hesitant to express my opinion in such a public way on such a divisive issue, particularly when there are people I love who will be disappointed regardless of where I stand. I also question the wisdom of using such a public forum to voice an opinion because I do not wish to start an on-line debate with anyone. Let me say that again:
I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE AN ON-LINE DEBATE WITH ANYONE.
[MUZ NOTE: Actually, I don’t want to have a debate of any kind with anyone. Sitting curled up on the sofa with someone, having a meaningful conversation over coffee might be a whole ‘nother story, but usually “debating” means that one person tries really hard to crush his or her opponent in defeat, and, in my humble opinion, there are no real winners there. As always, though, I do appreciate your comments.]
However, since this is my facebook page [the format I originally started writing this blog post for], and I can always delete the whole post if things get out of hand, I will also trust that I can voice my opinion, knowing that while some might disagree (actually, I know some will disagree), those very same folks also know that I don’t voice opinion on such a controversial concern without careful thought and consideration. (In other words, I can count on the folks whose opinions matter to me to disagree but love and respect me anyway.) With that said, here goes . . .
I am not opposed to legalized civil unions that protect the rights of those individuals who choose to form a legal partnership.
I’ll be honest (geez, if I ever start writing in any other way, hit the delete key, de-friend me, whatever you need to do, but stop reading whatever it is I put on the screen)—I admit that I’m uncomfortable calling those unions between same-gendered partners marriage. But I also feel fairly sure that that discomfort stems more from my age bracket and church background, and how I, personally, define marriage. However, I don’t think my personal definition or idea of marriage is really the issue before the Supreme Court right now.
To be certain, as a friend of mine once said, “We may be speaking the same words, but we’re using different dictionaries.” With that truth in mind, let’s get some definitions out on the white space so that we can all try to be clear on what we’re talking about here.
When I say marriage, I’m initially, in my heart of hearts, thinking of what I would consider the ideal marriage relationship (and, remember, my ideal, not necessarily yours or anyone else’s): A man and a woman who are each, first and above all or anyone else, madly in love with Papa-God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. (I love that thing I’ve seen on fb that says, “A woman’s heart should be so hidden in God that a man has to seek Him just to find her" [Max Lucado, I believe]). Committed to Him first, they are then completely committed to living the rest of their lives together as He leads, each using his/her unique spiritual gifts to serve and minister to one another and to the people God loves and brings across the path He has prepared ahead of time for them to walk in. (I started to cite Scripture, but, heck, just read the whole book of Philippians for more on that kind of thinking.) There. That’s my ideal definition.
But, then, of course, reality begs that I think about some of the marriages I know intimately—those of close friends and family—and I recognize that even within the Jesus-following community, not all marriages look like my ideal. There’s the husband who chooses pornographic images on his computer or television screen over the intimacy of a deeper relationship with his wife.
There’s the wife who cares much more about possessing the designer labels she craves and living at the “right” address than what the hours her husband is forced to work to pay for those things will do to him and their family life in general.
There’s the husband who continually reassures himself of his manhood with a series of on-the-side relationships with women he tells himself mean nothing to him but a good time and, therefore, have nothing to do with how he feels about his wife.
There’s the wife whose top priority is her career and she advances it at any cost: hours from her family that tell them they will always come in a distance second to work, relationships on the job that are not always above board, unscrupulous deals to get ahead.
There’s the couple who, though they may be crazy about each other, never, together stops to think about how they spend their money, time, or other resources in relation to the Kingdom of God, but are consumed, instead, with living a self-focused lifestyle that shouts to all, Look at us--we’ve made it!
I could go on and on listing other situations equally as image-shattering--and, remember, I’m talking about folks in the church, people. (Again, just keeping it honest here. Dang, my own marriage has had its moments—why do you think my husband is known as St. Michael? I like to say he got his title the old-fashioned way: He earned it!) Bottom line, even those folks who call themselves “Christian” don’t always do marriage the way I think it should be done.
Now, what about our heretofore societal definition of marriage? The dictionary connected to my Word program defines it as “the legal union between a man and a woman for sexual and domestic partnership.” Sounds about right. Of course, since there’s no mention of God, Jesus, or Spirit, it’s, once again, not my definition. But this would certainly work for all of the Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Pagan heterosexual couples I know. (As well as any other religious or non-religious heterosexual pair you can think of.)
Next definition: (from Merriam-Webster’s smart-phone app) “(1) the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage” (emphasis, mine).
Now that covers everybody, doesn’t it? (Who knew Merriam-Webster would be the politician of dictionaries?)
When it comes to government-involvement—the making and enforcing law regarding this area—the phrase contractual relationship must be acknowledged. We cannot avoid the fact that in our society—as, actually, in most societies throughout the world and throughout history—marriage is a contractual obligation that ties both parties involved to certain responsibilities as well protection and privileges. (Our own US government already requires certain government forms to be completed and hoops to be jumped through prior to recognizing a marriage—religious or not. It was so with Mary and Joseph’s betrothal, even. Joseph would have had to formally, through Jewish “court” if you will, break the betrothal because in his Jewish culture, it was a formal, contractual obligation. He would not have been able to just say, “Sorry, babe, this havin’ a baby with someone else just ain’t gonna work for me; I’m outta here—see ya.”)
Again, does the idea of a legally-binding contract enter into my mind when I think about God’s ideal plan for marriage (or my own definition of it, for that matter)? No, it doesn’t. In an ideal marriage, God, Himself, is the binding element—no need for legal action to enforce responsibility or to render protection and privilege.
For the record, though, God knew that even among those who belong to Him, sin remains. Yes, even for those whom He has provided an escape from sin and its penalty, the flesh is weak—there remains much more selfishness than selflessness and, thus, that’s why, sadly, the divorce rate among those who profess to be Christian and those who do not is roughly about the same. As a result, Moses gave law that addressed marriage and divorce and family from a legal, contractual sense. (See the following article from the blog Christian Apologetics if you’re interested in a more in-depth look at how this functioned in ancient society and how we might look at Mosaic law and marriage and family today.)
Am I digressing or rambling at this point? Have I veered off-topic? (Hey, I wondered that myself as I reread the last couple of paragraphs, but stay with me for another minute or two . . . ) No. Not really. What I’m trying to point out, however poorly, is that I think that we, as Jesus lovers, may be comparing the proverbial apples and oranges when we start getting all riled up about what our government is doing in regard to what we all (us, the government, everyone else out there) term marriage.
If I can be so bold as to assume that my definition of marriage is one that most believers share, then, by definition alone, no one can legislate that kind of relationship. That kind of marriage begins with a man and woman’s commitment before God (and usually family and friends), to God, and to each other, and continues each and every day until that husband or wife rests in the arms of Jesus. That marriage only becomes of interest to the government when the remaining spouse goes to probate court and when it’s time to file taxes the next year. (Crass but true.)
The government-sanctioned-and-recognized, legally-binding, contractual agreement of relationship between two people—that marriage—is our concern as believers only when we, ourselves, seek to enter into the protection our US government law provides us as it would any two parties entering into a government-sanctioned-and-recognized, legally-binding, contractual agreement. And we only do that because it makes common sense to do so if we want the person we love, as well as ourselves and any dependents who might result from such a union, to be afforded the protection of rights and assets.
Sound like a lot of legalese? Well, of course it does—because that’s exactly what it is!
Does God even require us as believers to then enter into that kind of marriage if all that legal mumbo-jumbo is not, after all, part of the Christian’s true definition of marriage? I believe He does if for simply no other reason than it’s how the culture in which we live out our lives and our mission recognizes marriage. (In other cultures in which meeting the requirements for a legally-recognized marriage was impossible—such as in the case of slaves in pre-Civil War America—I believe God recognized a marriage commitment when a couple came before Him and their friends and family even though their government refused to even recognize their personhood. It other parts of the world even today, particularly where there is heavy persecution of Jesus followers, the marriage of two believers is recognized without the benefit of the legal protection our own Western culture provides.) Jesus said that we are to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Matt 22:21). Paul implied that so far as it does not go against our faith, we are to adapt to our culture if we are to win those around us to Christ (1 Cor 9:22). Other Scripture tells us that we are to meet the needs of our families in practical care (1 Tim. 5:8). Certainly all of those actions mean fulfilling government-required steps to enter into a marriage that is not only recognized by God but by our government, as well.
Now, having said that (and whew! I think I’m almost done here), someone else’s entering into a government-sanctioned marriage, when defined by our government as a contractually-binding agreement between two people—a contract that is not dependent on and that says nothing about the spiritual condition of either person involved (nor should it, as that is not the US Government’s business) should not have us as Kingdom citizens in the outraged uproar in which we find ourselves.
We do not change the hearts of those whose lifestyles we disagree with through government legislation. (We have a legal version of Thou shalt not kill on the books, but people murder every day because murder is in their hearts.) Nor do we change hearts and lives by denying those people their legal rights. (Even murderers receive trials, appeals, food and shelter, and medical care under our system of government.)
If the Christian community insists that the government use only our definition of marriage (and, again, I’m referring to the definition that I originally gave as mine), then tens of thousands (maybe millions?) of heterosexual folks out there are flat-out not going to qualify for the right to enter into a legally-binding marriage. We’ll have to insist that the government refuse to recognize the unions of all of those Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish (forgive me for overlooking the Jews in my earlier list), et. al, and Pagan couples previously mentioned because they do not meet our Christian definition’s requirements. (Oh, and this also begs the question, do couples who screw up—or where one person in the couple screws up—automatically have their marriages dissolved because at that given moment, they’re not living out the definition? Just food for thought.)
I may be wrong, and I pray (truly, I do) that the Holy Spirit will reveal it to me if I am, but I just don’t think that fighting against the government’s recognition of one group’s rights to enter into a legally-binding, contractual, relational agreement is where He would have me spend my time and resources. In fact, I seem to remember something about His asking me to love my neighbors as I love myself. And if that weren’t instruction enough, he left me a story that forces me to define neighbor as someone I have nothing in common with and whom my culture actually hates and despises and believes to be the scum of the earth. (Dang, there’s that pesky definition thing again.) Now, learning to love like that . . . well, that’s something I do believe I’m being called to invest . . . my entire life in.
And I think I’ll stop right here.
As always, grins and blessings,