Like a lot of people, since the SCOTUS ruling came down last Thursday, I have read post after post about same-sex marriage. On my Facebook page, I have people on both sides of the issue, but, as a pastor, the majority of my friends are people within the North American church. As I have watched the Church respond to the supreme court ruling, there is one thing that no one in the Church seems to be talking about. The only reason I am writing this blog is because I believe this one thing has been left out of the conversation. The Lord knows that none of us need to read another blog right now.
The one thing I continually see left out of conversations about same sex marriage is the Christian virtue of HUMILITY…
I see lots of posts drawing lines in the sand. I see lots of posts defending our stance with the bible. I see lots of posts using fear mongering to scare the American public about the ramifications of this decision. I don’t see a lot of posts drenched in humility. I think, especially in this conversation, the church could use a little humility.
The first reason we could stand to be humble is that WE HAVE BEEN WRONG BEFORE.
Remember Galileo and Copernicus? The church argued on the authority of the bible that the EARTH WAS FLAT! Let that sink in for a moment. I don’t know any Christians in the North American church today that would argue such a thing. But books were banned, and the word heretic was thrown around because people began believing the earth was round, and revolved around the sun.
And of course, we all know the church’s sordid history with slavery. The bible was used to support slavery for many years. Scriptures were quoted and proof texted. People who talked about racial equality were persecuted because everyone “knew” the bible endorsed slavery. Today, no reasonable theologian would conclude that slavery is endorsed by the bible.
Perhaps we should let history teach us that these issues aren’t always as cut and dried as the church would like to make them. Maybe we should approach such issues with humility, knowing we’ve been wrong before.
The second reason it would seem to me that humility is in order in the discussion of same sex marriage is that EVEN IN SCRIPTURE, THE UNDERSTANDING OF A “BIBLICAL MARRIAGE” SEEMS TO HAVE CHANGED.
I saw another meme that said that the bible is not trail mix, you don’t just get to pick out the parts you like. But if we are honest, we all do a little picking and choosing. This meme is obviously generated to garner a response, but there is some truth in it. We have to be willing to wrestle with the fact that polygamy was an acceptable practice throughout much of the Old Testament. We have to read all of Leviticus if we are going to use the part about homosexuality being a sin. We all understand that there are a lot of places where we pick and choose what we want to adhere to in the book of Leviticus.
And let’s take an even more modern example, divorce. The church, even in the last century, has lightened its stance on divorce and the remarriage of divorced people EVEN THOUGH Jesus himself seems to speak pretty plainly about the issue in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt 5:31-32) We seem to have changed our stance on divorce in spite of Jesus’ words. I don’t know many Christians that would even debate whether a divorced person can remarry without committing adultery.
I believe we should be a little more humble when we talk about the bible’s definition of traditional marriage.
By this point, you may be wondering where I stand on the issue of marriage. First of all, I belong to a denomination (Church of the Nazarene) that believes that marriage is defined as one man and one woman. Our denominational leaders released a statement that you can read here.
When I was ordained, I promised to return my credentials to my church if my beliefs were ever out of harmony with our denominational beliefs. I have not done so.
I believe, and have gone on record at my church as saying, that the best definition of marriage is between one man and one woman. For me, you can throw out the proof texts that everyone uses to say “the bible says” homosexuality is wrong. I’m not really one for proof texting anyway. For me, it comes back to the image of God.
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
For me, the best representation of God isn’t a man, although we have often made God into a man. And for me, the best representation of God isn’t a woman, although we probably haven’t emphasized God’s feminine qualities enough.
For me, the best representation of God is a man and a woman coming together, both the male and female qualities of God, in a monogamous marital union. I believe that is why Jesus says:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
So that is what I believe…
But I also hold onto my belief with humility. I am trying to be willing to enter into conversations with those who believe that same-sex marriage is perfectly compatible with Christianity because I know that the church has been wrong before. For the past year and a half, I have prayed this prayer: “Holy Spirit, don’t let us miss on this issue like we did slavery and the earth being flat. Guide your church.” And I believe the Spirit will.
We Wesleyans have a great mentor in John Wesley. His bust sits on my desk in my office. Wesley was convinced that the bible is NEVER wrong, but that our interpretations of scripture can be. He used other factors like tradition, reason, and experience to help shape his understanding of scripture. Most likely, it is these elements that helped the church see that the earth was indeed round, that slavery is actually an abomination in God’s eyes, and that polygamy may sound great in theory but doesn’t work in practice! (read the stories of Rachel and Leah)
[If you are interesting in a good framework for a Wesleyan approach to these conversations please see Dr. Tim Crutcher’s blog]
I am convinced that, as we approach scripture with humility, God will lead the Church again. It seems to me that in the past week, we have been so busy fighting for our “rights” (which seems antithetical to Jesus on the cross) that we forgot to exhibit the Christian virtue of humility. May God give us the grace to do so in the coming days.
Just a thought,