Sunday, February 25, 2007

Minor Controversies

There has been a minor controversy in some of the local papers about Christianity, homosexuality, and salvation. I promised myself I wouldn't say/write anything about this but it is awfully hard not to. The reason I did not want to say/write anything is that this is an old debate. Anyone who engages in it needs to recognize that, by and large, they are not saying anything new. I appreciate the sincerity with which different people put their arguments forward; the seriousness of heir intent, the faith they express. I'm not about to bring some new insight to this debate and my argument is clear: there is no ground on which the state can enact laws the deny equality to gay and this includes marriage. If gays or lesbians want to marry no society that takes its commitment to equality seriously can stop that. To so do would be rank hypocrisy on a social level. Moreover, I suspect that in 10 or 20 years time no one will really care about this debate. Folks: gay and lesbian marriage will not cause the world to fall apart. Moreover, to use a religious rationale to try to stop gay marriage is to enter the potentially dangerous ground of fashioning the laws of state after a particular religious perspective. We've done this in Canada in the past and the results were not good. Let's not repeat a bad history.

The real point I want to make, however, has little to do with political philosophy. Instead, I want to say something about the opposition of some Christians to gay and lesbian marriage. I'm troubled by this and here is why: I hate to say this but I find the vocal opposition of some Christians to gay and lesbian marriage troubling because it comes very close to singling out gay and lesbian Canadians for special prejudicial treatment. It recycles a discourse of discrimination that I would like to see all Canadians put behind them. What I want to do is address this issue from my own perspective as a Christian. The argument some Christians put forward in opposition to gay and lesbian marriage (and, by extension, equality) is flawed for a number of reasons.

First, those who oppose equality (in the form of marriage) for gay people claim to be Christians. And, as Christians, they are fond of saying that their arguments are based on the word of God and the word of God is eternal and infallible. They imagine that their opponents are people who would modify the word of God by historically contextualizing it, or something of the sort. I'm in this camp and this not the case at all. I think the word of God is true, infallible and eternal. I don't question the word; I question human being ability to understand it. My issue is not with the word, my issue is with the spin some people put on the word. The opponents of gay marriage seem to think that stating that the Bible is the eternally true word of God is some sort of trump card. It ain't: its Christianity 101. It is the beginning point of Christianity spirituality; not its end point.

Second, I dislike the intense selectiveness of people who use the Bible to justify positions against equality for gay people. The Bible has a lot of rules in it. To single out gay and lesbian people for special commentary or to single out the institution of straight marriage as somehow deserving special comment or special protection is to suggest that some rules are more important than others. Some people who argue against gay and lesbian marriage suggest that homosexual relations are sinful. For the sake of argument, let's allow this. Even if we did, however, why would one sin be worse than others? I notice most of those who oppose gay and lesbian marriage fail to mention the Great Commission (Matt 26: 16-20). Those Christians who don't practice the Great Commission are violating one of God's laws -- as directly stated by Jesus -- and so are sinning. Why not focus on this? Yet, virtually no Christian who comments on public issues talks about the Great Commission. Why not; its really cool. Do they feel it unimportant? It is the very fact that some Christians single out gay and lesbian people that causes me pause. Instead of writing editorials about the problems of gay marriage, it seems to me that a better approach would be write editorials about love. Yet ....

Going along with this, it seems to me that singling out gay and lesbian people for special treatment could, in fact, violate the Great Commission. As well: Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are love God and love your neighbour. Failure to follow these commandments is, one would then assume, pretty distasteful in the eyes of God. How does singling out specific people express love? And, let's be clear on this: God does not say "love everybody except gay people." God's love is unconditional; it is the basis of salvation. Do those who campaign against equality for gay and lesbian people think they know more than God? Do they think they should define for Him the nature of His love? I wonder this: how can campaigning against equality for gay and lesbian people illustrate love? How can campaigning against equality for gay and lesbian people encourage them to be part of the Church? Will it not, instead, drive people out? I could be wrong. I don't have an easy answer to this and I don't think we are supposed to. It seems to me, however, that we should focus on that which brings people together in the Church as opposed to that which drives people out and can inspire animosity against definable groups of people.

A few other quick points:

* Jesus never mentions anything about gay and lesbian people. He mentions a lot of other stuff. He talks about a lot of other sins and speaks at length about the forms of behaviour Christians should follow. Do the opponents of gay marriage think this is an oversight? If gay and lesbian marriage is so important to warrant special commentary on their part, do they think that Jesus just forgot to mention it (because, as I said, He mentions a bunch of other stuff).
* I find the claims of opponents of gay marriage to following the word of God ring hollow because they are not talking about following the word of God. They choose to ignore huge sections of word. The opponents of gay marriage often quote the Old Testament, yet I notice they always ignore things like (I'll pick one example) the rules for dealing with a rebellious son (Deut 21: 18-21). Why? This shows incredible inconsistency.
* The civil society argument: gay marriage in no way threatens churches or the practice of Christianity. No church can, therefore, be forced to perform a marriage, really to anyone regardless of orientation. To state otherwise -- to claim that recognizing the legitimacy of gay and lesbian marriage will result is churches being forced to perform these marriages -- is just plain wrong. (Any one parishioner might or might not object to decisions individual churches have made on their own but that is a different matter.)

Let me sum up: there is no reason in civil society other than prejudice to justify the differential treatment of gay and lesbian people. And, prejudice is not a legitimate argument. Christians who single out gay and lesbian people or have been public and vocal in their opposition to gay and lesbian equality work with a dangerous discourse that naturalizes prejudice. Eventually, I strongly suspect, this entire issue will disappear (women's equality caused a lot of heated discourse as well and, yet, today is so normal no one would debate it). Christian arguments that assert the Bible as the word of God are not a trump card. Far from this, they are common sense to Christians. Telling a Christian that the Bible is the word of God is the equivalent of teling someone that they have to breath in order to live. IOW, it tells us nothing we don't already know. Jesus did not focus on homosexual relations as a matter of special concern. Opponents of gay equality are selective in their interpretation of the Bible. And, opponents of gay marriage tend to treat some sins (remember, I accepted this only for the sake of argument) as more important than others in that they single them out for special condemnation when there is no Biblical evidence (the word of God, remember) that this is what God wants us to do. And, they tend to ignore the message of love and the Great Commission and follow a social practice that is divisive and, from what I can tell, a threat to the Great Commission.

For all these reasons, I think there is good reason for Christians to approach this particular issue cautiously. We should avoid extreme statements, avoid divisiveness, remember the Sermon on the Mount, and get on with our work.
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