Friday, July 03, 2015

Those 40 Questions

Well I had a fun afternoon! A good friend of mine sent me a link to a blog that asks 40 questions of Christians who are supportive of marriage equality. She asked me if I might have a chance to answer them. Since I’m currently on a spiritual renewal leave, I had time to fill and so I tackled the list today.

Now, I know that some of you are kind of done talking about all this. If you are, then by all means stop reading right now. That’s completely cool with me. I get it. Plus, this is really, really long so you may get a bit bored by the end. I had to look up “TLDR” but now that I know what it means I use it all the time.

However, I actually found that these questions were really pretty good ways to kind of sharpen my own beliefs. And at the end of the list, I have added ten questions of my own, that I think ought to be answered as well.

And so, for your reading pleasure, I offer my answers to those 40 questions. Here we go:

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?
Since my Junior year of High School.                 

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?
I never really changed my mind. Or to be precise, I never believed gay marriage was not something to be celebrated. I just never thought about it, and then when I did, it was fine.

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?
I wouldn’t. Every example of sexual activity between two persons of the same gender in Scripture is either rape, child abuse, or idolatry. A loving, respectful, grace-filled relationship between two adults of the same gender is never described in the Bible.

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?
I wish I could ask you, before I answer, why you believe this is an important enough question to be #4 on your list. I’ll go ahead and assume that you are referring to Ephesians 5, which many interpret as you do, that a marriage is supposed to “depict” the relationship between Christ and the church. That interpretation is all well and good (though it isn’t the one I make - I have some serious questions about the power dynamic implied), and yet it really has no implication on same-sex marriages, does it? That interpretation is instructive for husbands and wives. It says to them, “Your marriage is supposed to look like Christ and the church.”
Since there was no such thing as marriage between two people of the same gender in Paul’s day, as there is in America today, it hardly makes sense that he would use it as a depiction of Christ and the church, does it?

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?
He quoted Genesis in order to respond to a question about divorce.
In Genesis, the quote is, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” It starts with “therefore” because it is preceded by God taking a rib out of the man in order to create the woman. There are many various interpretations of this passage, including the one you have implied in your question. It won’t surprise you, probably, to learn that I do not interpret this passage as a “Genesis definition of marriage.” I interpret it as a theological statement about the unity of humanity.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?
He was forbidding sexual immorality.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?
Paul is condemning the idolatry of the people, who have forgotten that God ought to be first and foremost in their lives. Instead, they are consumed with passion for each other, worship of the creature rather than the creator, envy, gossip, boastfulness, and so on. Chapter one of Romans sets the stage for the entire book, which is a powerful and vivid letter about sin and salvation. The “degrading,” “unnatural,” and “shameless” acts of passion that are condemned here are not specifically defined (Paul leaves the specifics to our own interpretation), but I for one am glad that Paul condemns them. All people should remember that God is, was, and always will be at the center of our relationships.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?
So, by “keep you out of heaven,” you mean “inherit the kingdom of God,” right? That’s what 1 Corinthians says. And Revelation 21 is a completely different kind of passage than 1 Corinthians 6, so it is really rather peculiar that you group them together like this. We probably mean different things when we are talking about the kingdom of God or “heaven,” I imagine. You probably mean something like “where you go when you die” and I mean something more like “as intimate a relationship with God as is possible.” And so I can unequivocally say that sexual immorality keeps you out of heaven, if we mean it interferes with your relationship with God.
As to what happens when you die, well none of us truly knows that, do we? If we claim to, we are getting really close to saying that we know the mind of God, which I am definitely not wanting to do!

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?
In my study of the Greek text, I understand the 1 Corinthians 6:9 passage (and 1 Timothy 1:10) as referring to adult men who hire young boys for sex. In other words, child abuse. I also understand that not everyone interprets this verse the same way, but that’s mine. And further, it should be noted that it is very difficult to translate the two words in question, arsenokoites and malakos. Their translations have observably evolved over time. In short, no matter what you think these two verses really refer to, you are making an interpretation.

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?
Nothing. Those dudes were smart! Just because I understand and interpret it differently doesn’t mean that anyone “failed to grasp” the meaning. It just means we have different perspectives. In the case of the theologians you mention, our perspectives are different not only by the places where we live(d), but the distance of hundreds of years. So it kind of just makes sense that we would see things differently.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?
Again with the “incorrect” language. Why are you so concerned with “correct” and “incorrect” and “failed to grasp.” It seems to be very important to you that you know who is “right” and “wrong” rather than a simple acknowledgement of mystery and uncertainty. And I’m not entirely sure where this entire question is coming from, in the first place. Why would I explain my understanding differently to someone from Africa, Asia, or South America? I would explain it the same way I would to someone from my hometown.

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?
Most of the time, yes, although your question is poorly worded. Do you mean “as opposed to a single parent” or “as opposed to a same-sex couple.” Regardless, there cannot be a blanket rule that automatically applies to all families. Some of our foster kids have come from a home with both a mother and father, and it would be very difficult to make the case that the presence of a mom and dad automatically made their life better. And some of the most amazing kids I know were raised by a single parent.

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?
There are simply not enough people who feel called to provide foster/adoptive care to even consider that question. Our counties are desperate for foster homes. The lists of kids awaiting adoption are painfully long. We need stable homes in which kids are cared for, fed, clothed, encouraged, loved. These are the priorities, not the gender composition of the responsible adults in the home.

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

18. How would you define marriage?
The loving, grace-filled, mutually respectful covenant relationship between two adults in which they make sacred vows to be life partners for ever, no matter what happens.

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?
Asked and answered.

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

24. If not, why not?
Asked and answered - close family members, age, more than two.

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?
Yes. And yet here I will add that discrimination is not a religious belief. It is discrimination. Unless you are forming a new religion, or distorting an existing one.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?
Yes. And gay Evangelicals, and lesbian Catholics, and every possible combination thereof.

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?
A curious question, with a curious term: “unbiblical divorces.” (Are there “biblical divorces?”) And I’m not sure I agree with the premise that the church doesn’t take divorce seriously.
Still, in response to the substance of the question, I’ll say: the same steps I take to ensure that EVERY marriage is healthy and in accord with Scriptural principles. As a pastor I do pre-marital counseling in which we talk about the issues that so frequently arise in marriages, trying to anticipate issues and equip the couple to deal with them. And when married couples come to me with problems to talk about them, we often discover that the problem isn’t related to the content itself, but rather in the way they are communicating.

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?
I’m sorry, but this question needs a lot more information for me to be able to answer it. I don’t want to assume that I know what you are talking about.

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?
Well, that’s a big question. I’m not responsible for every church’s prophetic action, of course. But I’m assuming that they will continue to do what they are already doing? You stumped me on this one, dude!

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?
To love someone is “to desire and pursue their happiness as sincerely and steadily as your own.” That’s one way that John Wesley defined love, and it is very meaningful to me.

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?
Oh my goodness there are so many! One of the clear overarching themes of all Scripture is the love of God and the loving response of humanity, created in God’s image, and called to care for one another and all of creation in loving acts. Genesis 1. Psalm 103. Micah 6. Matthew 25. John 15. 1 Corinthians 13. 1 John 4. It goes on and on!

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?
Obeying God’s command is liberating. Obedience to God sets us free to love as Christ loves - unconditionally and in abundance. We could never love as Christ loves on our own; God’s grace equips and empowers us to do so.

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?
It isn’t a change for me, however I should say that a lot of things have changed over my 44 years of life with regard to how I understand God. I appreciate what Paul has to say on the matter, when he talks about followers of Jesus maturing in their faith. Or John Wesley’s teaching about sanctification, or growing closer and closer to God, deepening our knowledge and love of Christ as we practice our faith.

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?
You are not defining “evangelical” the same way I do. I suppose you would therefore want to say that one of us is “wrong.” But again, I don’t see it that way; we’re just different. I am an evangelical because I believe with all my heart that an individual’s personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit is vitally important. The particular doctrines you mention are a part of what I know as “fundamentalism,” which is a very different thing than being evangelical.

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?
Well, as a pastor I am not really familiar with a bunch of other churches. But I can say that I rarely “warn” people in my sermons; I guess I don’t really see sermons as vehicles of warning, more as proclamations of the good news. We include prayers of repentance and calls to discipleship in every service, and our Conference is planting churches all the time. But I don’t know your qualifications for the designation of “open and affirming,” so I’m not sure if I’m answering your question directly.

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?
As I said in my answer to question 8 above, chapter one of Romans really sets up the rest of the book. The “such things” are listed by Paul in the verses that precede, and each illuminate the sin of idolatry, or not acknowledging God as the ultimate authority in life. But you really can’t just read chapter one of the book and then stop, can you? There’s a lot more to the story; there are 15 more chapters to the book!

I would ask a few questions of my own, in particular for Christians who oppose marriage equality:

41. If a gay couple moved in next door to you, what would it change about your own marriage? If they had kids, how would it directly impact your parenting style?

42. If your marriage or your parenting would change in reaction to the proximity of a gay couple, to what do you ascribe the power that one couple has over you?

43. What are the practical implications in your life of the Scriptural claim that “in Christ there is … no male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus?”

44. You likely know the story in which Jesus says to an angry crowd, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” How do you live out this Christian teaching in your life?

45. Matthew 7:12 is known as the “Golden Rule.” Why do you suppose these words are so universally known?

46. How is using the Bible against LGBT people different than using the Bible to promote slavery? How is it similar?

47. Should divorcees who do not believe divorce is a sin be allowed to remarry? What Scriptures do you use to support your belief?

48. What Scriptures do you cite to support your belief that people of various races are permitted to marry?

49. How do you hope your grandchildren remember you, especially when they think about your religious beliefs?

50. The numbers on the decline of the church in the world are alarming. What might be done to spread God’s love even wider, so that the church truly can be the body of Christ in all its wonder and glory?

There are a couple of other responses to the 40 questions out there, and I encourage you to check them out. These are mine, and if you made it all the way to this paragraph, big time props.

I don’t know if answering these questions does anyone any good. But it did some good for me. I don’t really think anything new has been offered in the conversation around homosexuality for a number of years. To many people it feels like just going around and around in circles.

But injustice and discrimination is wrong, no matter what. And until there is true justice, we have some things we need to do. And in order to get those things done, we have some things we need to discuss. So asking and answering questions is a necessary means to the end of justice for all of God’s people.