Monday, April 20, 2009

More Gay Marriage States (*yawn*)

A recent court decision in Iowa and legislative action in Vermont over gay marriage have evangelical Christians apoplectic about the moral decay in America. I find myself strangely ambivalent.

These points[1] by Greg Boyd in his recent blog entry Don’t Weep For the Demise of American Christianity mirror my feelings on the matter of gay marriage, at least in the civil sphere:
  • If Evangelicals lose all their political clout, we may be less tempted to lust after political power, which means we may have one less distraction from actually doing what God called us to do — namely, manifesting God’s reign by how we humbly live, love and serve.
  • Kingdom has always thrived — and really, has only thrived — when it was on the margins of society. The Kingdom is, by its very nature, a “contrast society.” If Christians lose all their power and position in society and become marginalized, this can’t help but be good for the Kingdom. If Christians become persecuted, it likely will be even better. We’d be turning back the clock from the disaster of Constantinian triumphalist Christianity in the direction of Apostolic, servant Christianity.
  • A major problem Kingdom people have faced on the mission field of America is that the majority of people mistook the civic religion for the real thing. So it is that so many think that being “Christian” is focused on preserving the civic religion (e.g. fighting for prayer before sports events, keeping the ten commandments on government buildings, holding onto a “Christian” definition of marriage within our government, etc.).
On the other end, and I mean far other, "can't even see it from here", end of the spectrum, blogger Myca makes this biting assessment in the post Christianity Is The Problem on the Alas! blog:
In all the discussions about Same Sex Marriage, the rarely-acknowledged elephant in the room is that there is no coherent non-religious opposition.
Although I don't suggest my Christian friends browse the Alas! blog for fear their heads will explode, I can't help but agree with Myca, at least on the civil front, where the battle is being raged.

In reading these two posts from diametrically opposed bloggers, I can't help but see a strange synergy which leads to my strange ambivalence. Of course the Christian objection to gay marriage is religious, as Myca points out - which is exactly why, Greg Boyd would argue, that such objections have no place (or at least, relevance) in what is specifically a civil law debate. Moreover, because Christians are arguing religion in a decidedly, purposely, and constitutionally irreligious arena, they come off as everything from buffoons to bigots. It is no wonder that people not only ignore the argument but despise the arguer.

Add to the mere inappropriateness of religious arguments regarding a law that is blind to religion, the fact that Christians have, at the current time, a very dirty house. It is hard for us to proclaim a morally superior stance when divorce, adultery, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, pornography, pastoral sexual abuse, and a host of other vices that Paul also preached against are running rampant through our churches. Is it no wonder we are ignored?

The Church today looks very much like the church in Corinth that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians.
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you…You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead…Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened...I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler -not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (1 Corinthians 5:1a, 2a, 6-7, 9-13 NASB.)
So, the recent decisions in Iowa and Vermont get a big *yawn* from me (as, frankly, do those in California and other states where traditional marriage has been upheld). Why? Several reasons:
  • It doesn’t affect me. Nothing that has happened in any state changes my definition of godly marriage or my freedom to live within that definition. Not to mention the fact that I am not gay. So it really has nothing to do with me personally.
  • It won't affect gay relationships. "Marriage" is just a word in the civil realm. I still am mystified at the hyperbolic reactions of those on both sides of the issue over a simple word. Never-the-less, whether or not a state defines gay relationships as marriages will do nothing to either prevent or encourage gay relationships. So, all of our wailing and nashing of teeth is to no effect.
  • It doesn’t affect the church. Nothing in these decisions will compel churches to change their definition of marriage or force them to marry gay couples if it violates their religious expression. In fact, the Iowa Supreme Court made that abundantly clear: “A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution. The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past.” Varnum v Brein, No. 07-1499, at *66, (Supreme Court of Iowa April 3, 2009).
  • It doesn’t affect the biblical definition of marriage. Just because a state or group of people want to call something marriage doesn’t mean we have to accept that definition from a biblical perspective. All the civil semantics in the world do not alter the word of God.
  • It gives Christians opportunity to fulfill our purpose. As Boyd points out in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, the purpose of the church is not to impose religious law on the nations, but instead, to bring Christ’s love to them (also see my post Jesus vs. the Constitution). Let the law be what it will be – it should matter not to those who follow Christ Jesus as long as it does not prevent us from following Him. And if it does, as Boyd points out, then we may wake from our cultural acceptance slumber and actually enjoy some of the persecution that best illustrates our citizenship in a "nation" "not of this world".
We have been so busy trying to right the world in the name of Christ that we have forgotten that Jesus never called us to right the world. Our only mandate is to show what is right – something we have been quite incompetent at, I am sad to say. Rather than drown ourselves in the folly of human law making, we should get back to being “little Christs”. Jesus, as our model, never made it his mission to change the Roman government, a government far more both oppressive and permissive than the one we currently find ourselves in. His mission, commuted to us in this age, was to show others a way that was better than the laws of nations. The irony is, the worse the laws get, the more we can and should stand out as the alternative. Not all will follow us, but that doesn’t change our mandate or our perspective.

1. These certainly do not constitute all of the points Greg makes in the post, but rather were the ones that struck me as having the most significance to the gay marriage hysteria in the church. One should read Greg's post for the full depth of analysis on the health and standing of the Church in America.

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