Answers to 40 Questions

The Gospel Coalition is an evangelical organization that seems to take it upon itself to police the boundaries of the evangelical world.  A gentleman named Kevin DeYoung, clearly distressed that some of his fellow travelers in the evangelical world are happy about the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage, has issued "40 Questions for Christians Now Waiving Rainbow Flags."

While I have a strong suspicion that these questions are not being asked in good faith, I choose to follow the lead of Buzz Dixon and treat them as legitimate inquiries.  Mr. Dixon answers the questions from the perspective of someone who appears to have once been an evangelical; my answers are slightly different.  [Note: NALT founder John Shore addresses the questions in a less charitable, but still appropriate, way.  Matthew Vines's counter-questions are also very much worth reading.]  So, I figured I would answer them from my perspective.

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?  About four years.  My views on this topic has changed primarily as a result of exposure to loving, committed same sex couples.  I have discussed this before here.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?  My theological evolution on the question stems primarily from listening to a talk by Bishop Gene Robinson.  He pointed to John 16:12-13:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."

I have also reflected on Isaiah 43:18-19:

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 

What those passages have allowed me to see is that it is simply not sufficient to say "well, that's the way we have always done things, and so that's they way it is now."  We must always be alert to the possibility that God is doing a new thing in our midst.  We must perceive, and attempt to interpret, the "signs of the times" as the Second Vatican Council teaches.  Once I was able to accept the idea that it was possible for there to be a new way, and new understanding of these questions, I was able to incorporate the self-evident love manifested by LGBT couples into my theological system.  I believe that I, and the increasing number of Christians with similar views, are reading the signs of the times.  I think, as the tagline of the UCC denomination states, "God is still speaking."

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 reject the premise of the question.  I would begin by noting that Christians have, in general, greatly inflated in importance of sexual activity in the Biblical moral scheme.  We should also note that the Bible (especially the Hebrew Scriptures), appears to endorse sexual behavior that we now view as unacceptable.  See, e.g., Abraham and Sarah/Hagar, the women at Shiloh in Judges 21.

More fundamentally, my reading of the Scriptures lead me to the conclusion that God is fundamentally concerned with relationships, and the nature of those relationships, as opposed to a checklist of behaviors.  In that light, the question whether "sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated" cannot be answered in the abstract, but only in reference to the specific circumstances of an actual, concrete relationship.

To say it another way, if a relationship has the characteristics described by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 13:4-7, then such a relationship is a "blessing to be celebrated."  This is far more important than the sort of sexual activity in which a particular couple is engaging.

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?  Presumably your are referring to Ephesians 5:22-32.  In my view, this is a problematic passage as a model for straight marriage, as it implies an inherently hierarchical relationship between men and women, as it puts men in the role of Christ and women in the role of the Church (with men obviously on top).  This is in conflict with Galatians 3:28: "[t]here is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."  If we are one in Christ Jesus, and thus equal in Christ Jesus, it is improper to apply a hierarchy based on any intrinsic, general metric, including gender.  Given this conflict, and given the long and shameful history of Ephesians 5 being used as a justification for the subjugation of women, I think it is unwise to use this passage as the sole standard for measuring marriages or other relationships.

On the other hand, one can recast the Ephesians passage in a way that strips it of its problematic gender essentialism.  As I have argued in my reflection on Rowan Williams's essay "The Body's Grace," I believe all human relationships point to, and reflect, the relationship that God has with God's people (which is everyone God created, which is everyone).  A marriage is a particularly deep version of human relationships, and thus in a special way showcases how we come to understand our status as individuals loved by God through being loved by others.  A relationship that fills its intended role has each member of the couple serving as both a recipient of the experience of being loved and the one doing the loving.  Or, in other words, each member of the couples serves as both "Christ" and "the Church" in a reciprocal fashion.  With this understanding, there is no reason a same sex couple is any less capable of functioning in this way than an opposite sex couple.

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

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?  The passage that you are referring to, Matthew 19:1-12, deals with divorce, not homosexuality.  The Pharisees specifically ask him about the conditions under which divorce is acceptable, and Jesus says, in essence, never.  The point is that the married couple becomes one flesh; the gender of the couple is not the key issue.  It's worth pointing out that Jesus goes on to suggest that people shouldn't get married in the first place, a theme Paul takes up with enthusiasm, which undercuts the elevated notion of the family that seems to be in vogue in Evangelical and conservative Catholic circles.

Anyway, to interpret this passage as a condemnation of homosexuality is to read something into the text that is not there.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?  First off, it is extremely unlikely Jesus ever uttered the word "porneia," as his native language was Aramaic, not Greek.  The Gospels are not deposition transcripts of the words of Jesus.

Is your question "what did Matthew mean when he talked about porneia in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9?" If so, I have no idea, and it seems neither does anyone else--the three different Bible translations I own each translate it differently.  The New Revised Standard translation translates it as "unchastity," which is somewhat question-begging.  New Jerusalem translates it as "an illicit marriage," and the notes suggest that it refers to a marriage forbidden under Levitical law for reasons of consanguinity or familial relationship, i.e. incest.  The New American Bible translates it as "an unlawful marriage," which even more clearly emphasizes the Levitical connection.  I believe the New Jerusalem/New American translations reflect the traditional Catholic interpretation of this passage.

In any event, it has nothing to do with homosexuality.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?  There are at least three layers to Romans 1.  First, it cannot be taken out of its context, which requires consideration of Romans 2.  In Romans 1, Paul provides a laundry list of all the reasons why the Gentiles are terrible and wicked, a list that would be familiar to Torah-observing Jews of Paul's time.  Romans 2 springs Paul's trap "well, guess what; Torah-observating Jews, reliant on the Law, are no better off then the Gentiles are!"  Given the context of Romans 2, it is not clear to me whether Paul is actually endorsing that description of "Gentile life,"  or whether he is just repeating the standard anti-Gentile polemic of his day in order to make a point with his Jewish readers.  In any event, to focus exclusively on the laundry list is to miss the point Paul is trying to make. [Note: James Alison goes into more detail on this point here].

Second, assuming Paul means what he says, the key word in the passage is "exchange."  The notion Paul appears to operate under is that a person who engages in same sex behavior makes a conscious decision to give up or put aside heterosexual relations and roles in favor of homosexual ones.  This is consistent with the Levitical focus on gender roles--a man who takes a receptive or "bottom" role in male homosexual sex is on some level "becoming" a woman, and a woman who takes an active role in lesbian sex is "becoming" a man.  Either way, it is a fully conscious decision to step out of the "proper" role and adopt a new one, and it is a violation of the natural roles of men and women.  In this view, homosexual activity is really a kind of transgenderism.

This is simply a category mistake.  Sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and even preferred sexual "role" are all conceptually distinct things.  Different things that are mostly immutable, so one doesn't set them aside by choice.  Moreover, it once again reflects a gender essentialism that has done enormous damage to women (and men).  See Answer #4.

Third, Paul's argument seems to imply that same sex sexual behavior is a species of, and part of a continuum with, vice.  In other words, same sex sexual behavior is really just a kind of "acting out," and one would expect all sorts of other vice-like behavior from people engaging in same sex activity.  This is, again, not true; LGBT people are no more likely to steal, for example, than straight folks.  Basically, Paul's empirical claim appears to be incorrect.

Bottom line:  I'm not sure Paul means what he says in Romans 1, and if he does, I think he's wrong.

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?  No.  The notion one can determine whether someone is or not going to be "allowed into heaven" is the wrong way to think about salvation, regardless of what one thinks about LGBT sexuality.  See, e.g. Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright.

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?  With regard to 1 Cor. 6:9, the word "arsenokoitai" appears to be a word Paul invented, so I think the best answer is that no one has any idea what Paul had in mind here.  "Malakoi" probably does mean something like "effeminate," in keeping with the Levitical concern for policing strict gender roles.  See Answer #8.  New Jerusalem translates Rev. 21:8 as "the sexually immoral," which of course begs the question.

Given the ambiguity of these passages, and the vast chasm between our understanding of sexuality and that of a 1st Century Jew, I think the best answer to the question is, again, "I don't know and neither does anyone else."

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?  See Answer #2.  Perhaps people were not ready to hear this message in the days of Augustine and Aquinas.  Or perhaps God was attempting to speak to those individuals, and they refused to listen.

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?  There is no such thing as an argument or position that is not "culturally conditioned," whether that of open and affirming congregations, conservative groups in this country, or that of the African, Asian, and South American churches.  As for the rest, see Answer #2.

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?  I have no idea, as I do not know them personally.  I suspect that their previous positions were motivated by political calculation, and their present positions are more in line with their actual views.

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?  No, if by "a mother and a father" you mean a generic man and a generic woman.

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?  There is evidence to support the idea that children, on balance, do better with their mother and their father.  In other words, the biological parents of a child, living and raising the child together, is in the aggregate the best situation for raising that child.  That same study, however, found that children who are no longer with both their biological parents do just as well with same sex couples as with opposite sex couples.  Thus, children are not better off with a generic mother and a generic father as opposed to two generic fathers or generic mothers.

Two important caveats.  First, I am not aware of any study evaluating children raised from birth by lesbian couples in which the child is born via sperm donation, or by male gay couples from birth via surrogacy arrangements (possibly because of the small sample size and possibly because it is a relatively new phenomenon).  I suspect that these children will have outcomes similar to those of opposite sex parents where the family stays intact, but I don't know that for sure.  Second, these studies deal with large populations, and so there are countless counter-examples one could point out.  Certainly we all know of examples of intact opposite sex couples who have raise children in nightmarish environments, notwithstanding the fact that in general that is the best environment for kids.

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?  N/A.

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?  Yes.  See Answer #4.

18. How would you define marriage?  I would say, working off the language of the Book of Common Prayer "a union of a couple in heart, body, and mind; intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation and/or nurture of children."

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?  No.

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?  I struggle with this question.  My initial reaction is "no."  While I find polygamy as practiced in traditional communities to often reflect what I believe to be inappropriate and unjust denigration of women at the expense of the man, it does not seem that this misogyny is inherent to polyamorous relationships (particularly if you include polyandrous [multiple husband] and truly polyamorous relationships into the mix).  Thus, while I think many polygamous relationships are likely exploitative and maladaptive, I don't think we can say they are inherently so.  Moreover, I am troubled by the fact that our current anti-polygamy laws are, as a historical matter, clearly the product of religious bigotry and discrimination directed toward the Mormon church.  This would suggest that our current posture toward these relationships might be a product of bias, in the same way our previous (and for many, current) opposition to same sex marriages was/is in large part a product of animus.

On the other hand, unlike in the context of same sex relationships, I am not aware of any concrete evidence that these relationships are stable and mutually fulfilling, and I know of "anecdata" that suggests they are not.  There are also clear logistical and legal complications with multiple partner marriages that are not present with two partner marriages.  Plus, there is no inborn polyamorous orientation, or at least I am not aware of one.

Thus, I am open to argument and persuasion on both sides.  One thing I have become convinced of is that this is a conceptually distinct question from that of same sex marriage.

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?  I think it is reasonable and appropriate to ban intra-family marriages, as the circumstances under which such a relationship would arise would constitute strong (perhaps conclusive) evidence of exploitation, manipulation, or psychological dysfunctionality.

In the polygamous/polyamorous context, if there was concrete evidence that these relationships were harmful to the participants in the relationship, or to children raised in those relationships (evidence that was non-existent in the same sex marriage context, despite lots of unsupported clams to the contrary), then that would be a basis for banning polygamous and ployamorous marriages.

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?  There is an age requirement for most forms of licensing in this country.  Why would it be different for a marriage license?

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?  No.

24. If not, why not?  I have a "meaningful relationship" with all sorts of people.  Marriage entails taking on certain specific commitments for the welfare of another, as defined by law and custom.  There are other sorts of relationships defined by law and custom (parents and children, brothers and sisters, etc.) for which there is a "meaningful relationship" but where there is not a marriage.  To call those a marriage would be a category error.

Moreover, nothing in your description requires the relationship to be "mutual."  I cannot simply declare myself to me "married" to someone without their reciprocation.  The notion of consent is fundamental to any understanding of marriage, and it is one that is often glossed over in traditional presentations.

People who advocate for same sex marriage do so because they believe that the long-term committed relationships of LGBT people have the same essential characteristics as opposite sex marriages, not so they can turn the word "marriage" into an empty signifier.

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?  That depends on what you mean by "exercise their religious beliefs."  As I have explained before, I agree with Justice Scalia in his decision in Employment Division v. Smith that religious exceptions to facially neutral laws is a problematic notion, and are not mandated by the Constitution.  As a country, we decided in the 1960s (through legislation and in the courts) that it was unacceptable and illegal to engage in commercial discrimination of a protected class.  In the 60s, the protected class was racial minorities, specifically African-Americans.  Now, many jurisdictions are recognizing that LGBT people are a similar protected class.  If it was the case (and it was) that a "Biblically-based" position that segregation was God's will did not exempt one from integration in the 60s, there is no reason that a similar "Biblically-based" position with regard to LGBT folks should exempt one from baking a wedding cake or whatever.

If by "free exercise" you mean the right of religious congregations to refuse to conduct same sex weddings, or even the right to exclude LGBT people outright from their congregations, then the answer is yes.

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?  Subject to Answer #25 with regard to what I view as the proper understanding of "free exercise," insofar as Christians are truly in danger of discrimination as a result of their views on same sex marriage, then yes, that is unacceptable, and I intend to say so.  I will note, though, that I think the concerns of conservative Christians in this area are alarmist, self-serving, politically-driven, and overblown.

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?  Yes.  Once again, however, I will note that I am not aware of any bona fide cases of "shaming and bullying" of vulnerable "Evangelicals and Catholics."  By contrast, there are hundreds of thousands of LGBT teenagers who have been kicked out of their parents' homes.  Many of these parents are Evangelicals or conservative Catholics.  I would also note that, notwithstanding the views of the hierarchy, the majority of American Catholics support same sex marriage.

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?  This question is problematic in several dimensions.  First, I am not an Evangelical, so I really have no insight into, or opinion on, whether or not the evangelical churches have taken "unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously."  Second, it is my experience that phrases such as "Scriptural principles" are often empty signifiers--which principles?  from where in the Bible?

Most importantly, I don't see how I, or anyone else, can "ensure" that any marriages are or will be healthy.  "Encourage" or "support," yes, but "ensure," no.

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?  "Church discipline" is a construct that I am not familiar with (my understanding is that its an "Evangelical thing"), so I am not really in position to comment.  If you mean that people, gay or otherwise, who participate in "open" relationships of whatever type should be kicked out of churches categorically, then my answer is a clear "No."  Even if this relationship structure is considered per se sinful (see below), Pope Francis has noted that the Church is a "field hospital."  You don't kick the wounded out of the hospital for being wounded.

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?  If you mean unilateral sexual activity by one member of the couple outside of marriage (i.e. adultery), then the answer is likely yes, as it is a violation of the bonds of the relationship.  Otherwise, see Answer #3.  I would say that "open relationships" strike me as complex and dangerous to the health and mutuality of the relationship, and likely should be disfavored.  But in general these sorts of abstract hypotheticals are unhelpful outside of a consideration of concrete circumstances.

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?  This question assumes that all of these situations should be treated in exactly the same manner.  With regard to adultery, I am not aware of any religious body, or any other cultural authority for that matter, that take the position that a unilateral violation of marital vows is something good that should be praised.  I see no evidence that "open and affirming" churches fail to recognize the harm and violation of relationship bonds inherent in adultery.

Divorce is a bad thing.  But it is also the case that relationships, including marital relationships, go sour and become toxic for the parties.  I believe that, in general, general social norms encourage couples to "pull the eject handle" on marriages too quickly and cavalierly.  Nevertheless, there are marriages in which staying together will cause more harm than the divorce.  Churches should foster the notion that couples are expected to enter into marriages from the point of view that it will be permanent, while recognizing that this is not always the reality in practice.  Churches should also exercise compassion and discernment around individuals and couples whose marriages have failed.

"Fornication," as with most sexual activity, cannot be discussed absent its relationship context.  It is wise to encourage young people to exercise prudence and restraint when exploring and learning about their sexuality.  Sexuality that is exploitative of others, either physical or emotionally, is unacceptable and inconsistent with the Christian ethic.  At the same time, the standard conservative Christian response to especially young adult sexual behavior is counterproductive and damaging to young people, and should be rejected in favor of a more balanced perspective.  While I have not studied them in depth, it seems to me that programs such as "Our Whole Lives," but out by the UCC and UU denominations are promising.

Insofar as the production of pornography involves physical or emotional exploitation, it is to be condemned.  Beyond that, I am not convinced it is particularly harmful or problematic.

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?  For a Christian, love is ultimately God, as made manifest in Jesus Christ.  Insofar as we act toward another as Jesus acted, we are loving the other.

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?  1 John 4:7-12.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Similarly, John 13:34.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?  God's command is that we love one another as Jesus has loved us.  When we do not approach others in the way Jesus did, even if we slap the label of "love" on our actions, we are not in fact loving, and thus not following God's commands.

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

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?  Very much so.  As a Catholic, I tended to absorb the notion that religion consisted in following the approved playbook passed down from on high; if you just follow the manual, everything will be fine.  The same sex marriage question is one of several questions where I came to see that the manual was not always correct and did not always provide clear and cohesive answers to questions that we face.  These and similar questions have forced me to go ad fontes, if you will, and reexamine the foundations of my faith.  This process has allowed me to see, in a new and more radical way, the "good news" of the Gospel and its relevance to our world.  To borrow Evangelical language, my "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is much stronger and more direct now than it was in the past.

In a more concrete way, my engagement with the same sex marriage question has shown me that much of the infrastructure of traditional Christianity regarding sex is unworkable, and needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.  I also has given me a greater appreciation for the importance of advocating for the equality of women in all roles in the Church.

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?  As I am not an evangelical, I cannot answer this question as presented.  See also Answers #36 and 39.

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?  My only direct experience with open and affirming churches is the Episcopal Church.  While I would not frame the definition of "orthodox Christianity" in the manner it is framed here, my experience is that the Episcopal Church is unquestionably committed to an authentic witness of the message of Jesus Christ.

As for other open and affirming churches, I have no reason to believe they are not providing authentic witness, but I can't speak to them one way or the other.

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?  Yes.  I have found over the course of the last few years that my engagement and exploration of these questions has engendered in me a stronger commitment to the message of Jesus than I previous had.  I see no reason why this trend would not continue.

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?  See Answer #8.  Again, I am not sure he really means what he says in Romans 1, and if he does, he's wrong about in his analysis of same sex behavior.

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