Magnolia trees The Danny Sims Blog

Here are my occasional insights, stories, conversations, perspectives, ideas, reflections, theological musings, PLUS observations on Kingdom, spirituality, church, family, and mission with a dash of politics and humor thrown in for good measure.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Gay Marriage: Conversations Among Christians (parts 1 & 2 republished in one post)

The conversations about gay marriage I’ve been involved in tend to break into one of two viewpoints for Christians:
  • Gay marriage is flat out wrong. If you endorse gay marriage you’re gonna go to a really bad place when you die (unless you agree with Rob Bell about the nonexistence of that place, which might mean you agree with Rob Bell about gay marriage too and have already taken the next viewpoint).
  • Gay marriage is OK, largely because our culture now endorses it. Besides, God loves gay people and so should everyone.
I endorse a third viewpoint. I am deeply committed to God’s ideal of marriage, a union between a man and a woman. I also love and affirm gay people. No matter how anyone practices marriage or how the Supreme Court, any state, or the culture at large defines marriage, I answer to a higher authority.

As for what government does, why isn't gay marriage a state’s issue?

The US Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments about gay marriage at the state level and about federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Among other things it prevents married gay Americans from collecting a range of federal benefits that generally are available to married people.

Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law in 1996. He and his wife Hillary, as well as a growing number of politicians from both parties, now favor its overturn. I imagine many friends who support DOMA have not thought much about the irony in their enthusiastic support of a marriage act signed into law by none other than Bill Clinton.

But my focus here is largely on how I believe a Christian ought to approach the conversation. We answer to an authority higher than the state.

Make sure whatever point of view you take, embrace and practice it with grace and love. Consider the beatitudes as you converse. Be a peacemaker and full of mercy. Be poor in your own spirit and rich in God's. Be meek. This is the approach both sides of the gay marriage conversation need because both sides are quick to mischaracterize the other.

Can we have a loving and mature discussion about gay marriage? Let’s find out…

If the state endorses gay marriage, it is not the end of the world. Unless your world stands or falls on what the state or nation does. Then you’re already in trouble, you just don’t know it yet.

Most of the world around you does not share your take on Christian values. You are called to live your life with all you hold dear, no matter what anyone else does. That was God’s exact advice when His people were exiled in modern day Iraq. He told them to pray for the city where they lived. Sure, God reminded His people, “I have plans and purposes for you.” As you wait for God’s plans and purposes, you should live faithfully and prayerfully too. Even in Babylon? Especially in Babylon!

In fact, this may best describe God’s plan and purpose: If you think the world around you is falling apart, live with virtue. Put your faith in God, not what secular laws or culture dictate. You've not been asked to save or condemn anyone. Don't try to be PC, be more JC. Sure JC was honest and real with everyone. But JC was easiest on the outsiders and roughest on the insiders. He was tough on sin, soft on the sinner.

There are times to stand up and be heard. This pastor’s stance about Victoria Secret’s new line of garments targeting young girls is a great example of taking a stand with straightforward talk yet doing so with grace and love. I signed a petition based on how he made his appeal in his letter. If you want to be heard, let grace and mercy be what people hear.

What if the Supreme Court reverses DOMA? What if your state allows gay marriage?

Well, centuries after the Babylonians the Romans became the world power. And at first the Romans subdued the Jews. Then they oppressed the Christians. But along came Constantine who embraced a form of Christianity. The Romans quit persecuting Christians and oppressed only the Jews, then eventually the Muslims. Hooray!

Oops… Sorry.

Just because Constantine ordered the nation to be baptized, that did not make the nation Christ-like.

In the days when the Bible’s New Testament was written some Christians were living on the island nation of Crete. The Cretans were known for deceit and excessive behavior. Yet the advice for the Christians there went like this: “Be subject to rulers and authorities, be obedient, and be ready to do whatever is good. Slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, and always be gentle toward everyone.”

If you speak out against gay marriage or anything, this is how you must do it: No slander, do good, be at peace. From my chair that verse in Titus is the most ignored of all direct commands in scripture. "Slandering no one and being gentle toward everyone" is not how I would characterize conversations I hear and read Christians having about gay people and gay marriage.

As I said, I deeply hold to God’s ideal of marriage, a union between a man and a woman. And how men and women have messed marriage up. From infidelity to polygamy, marriage has all sorts of problems. Those stories are all through the Bible.

If you’re living as an unfaithful partner in a heterosexual marriage, don't to take to the streets or Facebook over the gay marriage issue. Please. Go home and make things right. The world already has too many Christian heterosexuals with logs in their own eyes obsessed over the specks in someone else’s eye.

If you’re into bashing gay people you probably will just quit reading and find another blog… In the event you’re still here, if you’re a Christian who openly maligns homosexuals, I will pray no gay person or gay couple accidentally meets you and mistakes your attitude toward them for that of Jesus. And when you meet Jesus I pray He shows you the grace you are not showing others.

There. I feel a bit better.

So what about gay marriage?

Some will not be fully satisfied knowing what I am for. They will want to know what I am against. However, my experience tells me the statement, "I am against gay marriage" is easily misunderstood to mean, "I am against gay people." I am not against gay people.

I received phone calls, e-mails, and many messages yesterday thanking me for taking the "brave stand" of loving and affirming gay people. Wow. I appreciate the sentiment, I really do. But if saying "I love and affirm gay people" is some kind of brave statement, what in the world is wrong with us?

It just goes to show we need to spend a lot more time with Jesus who loves and affirms all people. The verb tense is big. The love of God is not past action. The love of God is a present action in you. Or at least God wants to be present in you. What Would Jesus Do is too hypothetical for this conversation. I'm asking What Is Jesus Doing in you?

Don't be confused... “Love” does not mean God agrees with all my thoughts and “affirm” does not mean God approves of all my behavior. In spite of what I believe and how I behave God says I can belong.

How serious is God about this? Are you familiar with the cross?

Have you read the stories Jesus told about the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son?  Have you contemplated what those stories mean relative to your view of "finding" people? By the way, ever think about how it is we emphasize the "lost" whereas God emphasizes the "found."

Love and affirmation for every human is just who God is. This is why Jesus says the shepherd leaves the flock to go into the open country to find the lost sheep. And the father waits on the porch, yearning to find the lost son on his way home.

I have known gay and lesbian people who would love to encounter The Good Shepherd. But a flock of indifferent or even hostile sheep stood in their way. Or they'd have loved to come home to be embraced by The Father. But an angry older brother blocked their path.

I'm not arguing with you. I'm just telling you how it is.

The ideas of love and affirmation are at the heart of the good news story of the relationship between Chick-fil-A's president Dan Cathy and national LGBT leader and proponent of gay marriage, Shane Windmeyer. For all the press (good and bad) the "Chik-fil-A/same sex marriage controversy" received last summer, few people know about Cathy and Windemeyer's friendship.

In the event I've been unclear, or you still don't understand what I'm getting at, the Windemeyer and Cathy friendship is an example of what I'm saying in these posts. I'm not talking about politics, I'm talking about relationships. I'm not urging anyone to be concerned with policymaking, I'm urging everyone to be concerned with friend making.

God loves and affirms us in spite of what we think and in spite of how we behave, regardless of our sexual orientation or relationship status. This is life in the fallen world. We are not all God intends or one day will restore us to be.

In other words God loves fallen straight people as much as He loves fallen gay people. And vice versa. This is basically the storyline of The Bible, a story where men and women are in the role of the elderly lady in that old TV commercial. “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

So what are we going to do about gay marriage?

Well, for starters lets concede we’re not going to fully answer that question in any blog, certainly not this one. But why not leave marriage up to states and churches? Civil unions or domestic partnerships (as Pope Francis, among others, has endorsed) seem like such a good solution, to me. Legal agreements to honor survivor benefits or tax benefits would leave the spiritual component of marriage to individuals and God.

Here are some ideas about all kind of related points, questions and thoughts. I believe these reflect the teaching of scriptures as well as God’s character. If some of the points have "too much me" in them, forgive me. This list has some things to do, some things not to do, and many things we should think and pray about. Maybe that’s the most important thing to do.
  • I recognize the difference between the “sin” questions of our sexuality and the “rights” questions of our marriage status. While these are not always easy to answer I believe the principles of God’s kingdom speak to both whereas the laws of the state speak only to one. In all cases, I am a citizen of God’s kingdom first.
  • I have heard people say they don’t want government to force a certain view of marriage on them. If this is your point of view, take care lest you settle for government forcing your view of marriage on others. Government needs to get out of the forcing any definition of marriage on people.
  • If a gay marriage bill passes, just live your life in such a way that straight and gay people alike will see the character of God in you.
  • I love and affirm gay people. I love and affirm polygamists. I love and affirm straight adulterers. I even love and affirm gay bashers, though they test my capacity to be like God in His forbearance.
  • When I was a kid I often heard it said, “Love the sinner, not the sin.” I was naïve enough to really believe that. I still do, not out of naiveté but because I watch how Jesus lives.
  • Christians must go to great lengths to show mercy and love for those who disagree with them. This is hard work. Not many are willing to do the work and it takes consistent intentional effort.
  • Jesus did not say, “Love your neighbor only if he agrees with Me in all things.” And He did not say, “Love your neighbor only if he agrees with you in all things.” And He did not say, “Love your neighbor only if he or she is straight.”
  • I value and admire anyone’s plea to live in a committed relationship with another person.
  • People who believe God has defined marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman should love all people who do not share their view, gay or otherwise. This love will be shown in many ways, including the refusal to fan the flames of hatred or dissension toward gay people.
  • Just as we relate to a person in a straight marriage who is unfaithful to their spouse with a call to change and the offer of forgiveness, so it should be with anyone.
  • The institutional church is going to have to take some brave (I mean really brave) and radical steps to get any traction in this conversation. Most churches talk about loving and affirming people who are different, but most people at most churches are pretty much the same as one another. I don’t say this to suggest I'm proud of my contribution. I was chief spokesperson for two churches for 25 years and I don’t feel I ever spoke as clearly as I am in these posts. I’d love to preach this sermon in a church today.
  • Don’t start a “program for gay people” at your church. Instead, love and affirm the gay people you know. Spend significant time with them. They are not aliens, they will not harm you. You have a need for connection, so do they. Likely a deep need. 
  • Gay people don’t need a friendly program at your church. They need a friend. Like you. I meant "like you need a friend," but you can read it the other way too.
  • I do not believe anyone is lost in sin and without hope because of his or her sexual orientation or practices. I am willing to be amazed by God’s grace.
  • I can live at peace in a state where the government defines marriage in a way different from God’s ideal for marriage, as I understand it. My faith does not depend on what Democrats, Republicans, or my government does or doesn’t do.
  • That previous point is nice in one way, in that we can go forward no matter what the Supreme Court or other branches do or say, or write into law. It is also challenging because that idea, in its purist sense, allows me the freedom to acknowledge gay marriage as a right the state may choose to grant without violating my personal approach to freedom and faith. Some Christians are not going to stand for this. My plea is to behave like a Godly person as you take your stand.
  • I note the hypocrisy in people who say little or nothing about no-fault divorce yet loudly protest gay marriage on the grounds of honoring the sanctity of marriage.
  • I note the hypocrisy in people who say little or nothing about porn, coarse joking, or hints of sexual immorality, yet loudly protest gay marriage on the grounds of honoring sexual purity.
  • I can love and affirm gay people without endorsing homosexuality or gay marriage.
  • If whenever you talk about the gay marriage issue you tend to focus only on politics and legal issues you need to broaden your discussion to include Jesus. 
  • If you're a Christian, read again that last point and ask, "Why did he have to type that?"
  • No matter how the state defines marriage and no matter how anyone practices marriage, I answer to a higher authority.
  • I am deeply committed to God’s ideal of marriage, a union between a man and a woman.
  • I love and affirm gay people.
  • No matter how anyone practices marriage or how the Supreme Court, any state, or the culture at large defines marriage, I answer to a higher authority.
  • Whatever point of view you take about gay marriage, embrace it with grace and love.

Addendum:

A few messaged me to ask, "What do you mean by affirmation?"

One muggy summer day in 1985 I was driving Stanley Shipp across St. Louis. He had me stop the car at a street corner, right off the old original Highway 66, because he saw a man he knew, a man with so many issues he spent most of his time on the streets.

Stanley got out of the car, spoke with the man for a few minutes and gave him a hug. Stanley got back in the car and explained, "That guy hardly ever has anyone talk with him and touch him in a positive way."

I learned Stanley and Marie Shipp had been loving and affirming this man for years. He had dinner in their home. They had discovered he was a Christian. Stanley described him as short on practice but big on belief. Stanley and Marie prayed with this guy and spent meaningful time with him and his family when they could be found. The guy had drug use issues, sexuality issues, prostitution issues, faith issues. Lots of issues.

Yet Stanley stopped the car and hugged him and Marie opened her kitchen to him. I never forgot that lesson. That's what affirmation looks like.

Not everyone in need of affirmation lives on the street. Some are in your office, your home or even your church. To affirm does not mean you agree or endorse. I've been blessed my whole life to have been in relationships with people who love and affirm me in spite of my sin and the stupid things I do. How about you?
  • Jesus touched and said loving things to the kind of people thought of as untouchable and unlovable.
  • God gives everyone a hope for a better future, and even tells people He will come back for them.

How simple is the action of affirmation?
  • To receive a hug or a warm hand shake is an everyday thing for many of us. But not everyone.
  • So many people need to hear you say, "I love and appreciate you. I hope the best for you. I hope and pray we are together in Heaven. I pray for that all the time, I want that and need that."
  • Who needs to hear you say, "I will be your friend and value you, no matter what."
Here's the truth, as I see it: the only interaction many Christians ever have with the gay people, many of whom are Christians by the way, is opposite of affirmation as described above.

We need to change that. What the gay marriage conversation needs is you and your affirmation and love.


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Gay Marriage: Conversations Among Christians by Danny Sims is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.