…and here are some good arguments in favor of it. (I thought the title for this half should be less coy.) If you missed part one, it is the previous post on this blog, linked here. If you think there is a good argument against marriage equality, leave a comment below. If we missed a good argument in favor of marriage equality (from a Protestant Christian perspective), leave a comment below and we’ll take a look and possibly add it. The more the gay-er. Oops I mean merrier. To clarify, things like the “Book of Order” language come from a denominationally specific discussion happening in the PC(USA) right now. We’re deciding whether to amend our rules.
TL;DR: See title of this post.
Arguments in Favor of LGBTQ Rights and Equality, Including in Marriage
Because in discussing marriage we are also discussing a civil contract under state law, we should bear in mind that not only theological or scriptural arguments must be brought to bear, but secular arguments as well.
The change to the Book of Order would merely be stating the fact of the matter in, as of this writing, 37 US states
It is simply the case that marriage is a covenant between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, in a growing majority of US states. Because civil marriage and religious marriage are conflated in our society, this has an impact on churches as well. So to modify the Book of Order to read that marriage is a covenant between two people is factually correct in the majority of states, and that number of states seems to be increasing over time. As with every society, we define marriage collectively, and the proposed chance to the Book of Order would only reflect the definition in a majority of US states.
Children raised by same-sex parents are at least as healthy as children raised by opposite-sex parents
As noted and argued above, and as demonstrated by scientific studies, children flourish in a home where there is love, support, healthy boundaries, and opportunities to grow, whether the parents in that home are two men or two women or a man and a woman. If part of the purpose of a marriage is to raise healthy children, same-sex marriages do at least as well as opposite-sex marriages. If part of the motivation in opposing same-sex marriage is to protect children, that effort is misguided.
Sexual orientation is not transmitted interpersonally or socially
Sexual orientation seems to be the result of multiple factors, including immediate environment, with a strong genetic element that precludes it being a choice. There is no rational justification for concern that if the PC(USA) or any church allows same-sex marriages to occur, that this would erode other marriages or encourage any particular sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is not contagious, and will not become contagious.
Civil rights exist precisely for people who, through no fault of their own, are discriminated against
If, as the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests, sexual orientation is not a choice, and if, again as overwhelmingly evident, sexual orientation does not cause harm in and of itself, then equality for LGBTQ persons can rightly be described as a civil right. If sexual orientation was a choice, then it might not fall in that category, and if some particular sexual orientation threatened harm to society, there might be an interest in discrimination. But absent both of these things, sexual orientation falls under the same category as gender, ethnicity, handedness, and level of physical ability, among other things – the category of things on the basis of which it is wrong to discriminate.
The definition of marriage is not up to the PC(USA)
Many argue, erroneously, that those in favor of marriage equality are going to “change the definition of marriage”, as if that had not happened many times in our history already. As discussed above, our current version of marriage, of two equals choosing to marry because they love one another, at an average age of 28 no less, irrespective of whether they plan on having children or what their extended families think, would be novel and possibly even frightening to the authors of the Bible, and to most Christians in the world until a few decades ago. We must remember that “Biblical” marriage, “traditional” marriage for most of human history, was an arranged marriage between the extended families of two teenagers, and would be entirely alien to our society today. Additionally, as discussed above, we reject many forms of “traditional” marriage that the authors of the Bible accepted without a second thought. We have already long since demonstrated that the definition of marriage is fluid, and what some call “traditional marriage” today is only a few decades old. This is a good thing, and we have all benefitted from the changing definition of marriage.
LGBTQ persons already serve at every level of the church
It is likely that there has never been a church without some LGBTQ participants. With non-straight sexual orientations ranging from 3% to 10% of the population depending on whom you ask, and with variety in sexual orientation being a natural and not culture-bound phenomenon, LGBTQ persons have always been part of the church. They have always been gifted by the Holy Spirit for ministry, and continue to be called whether we acknowledge it or not. In the wake of the General Assembly’s passage of amendment 10-A, the way has once again been cleared for LGBTQ Christians to be openly ordained as deacons, ruling elders and teaching elders. Our current situation, then, is that we can have an ordained pastor who is part of a same-sex couple, wanting to perform a same-sex wedding, approved by a session with ruling elders who might be in same-sex relationships, in a state where same-sex marriages are legal, and this pastor and session would be prevented from doing so by the Book of Order. LGBTQ persons have served at every level of the church from the very beginning, and are openly doing so now as ordained persons – we should allow pastors to perform same-sex weddings.
We should not call unclean what God calls clean
“What I have called clean, let no one call unclean.” In chapter 10 of the Acts of the Apostles, God encourages Peter to break the Law of Moses regarding purity – God directly tells Peter to commit the ‘abominations’ discussed above. Peter’s vision of unclean animals, given by God for him to eat, is about the continuing expansion and inclusion of God’s call, begun in the OT with the many calls to hospitality and love of neighbor as well as aliens in the land. Even if we pretended that the OT condemned consensual, adult same-sex love (which it does not mention, much less condemn), that love would be right there on the table-cloth with the shellfish, certain fowl, and other [toeva] abominations. This is not Peter’s innovation, nor his revisionism, nor his denial of God’s authority, any more than it is for those who support LGBTQ rights and inclusion now. It is merely the continuation of God’s ever-expanding call, breaking down barriers wherever the Spirit is found. Let us not call unclean what God, by calling LGTBQ persons to ordained ministry and the covenant of marriage, has called clean.
We are made a community of equals in Christ
Neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. (Gal 3:28) Neither how we are born, nor how we are politically or socially organized, nor how we are economically related to each other, is to have any impact on our status as children of God in Christ. All children of God should be welcomed. We extrapolate this powerful good news in many ways already – beyond ‘Jew and Gentile’ to other races and nations; beyond ‘slave or free’ to other economic systems and injustices. The community of equals in Christ extends to LGBTQ persons as well. If there is no longer male nor female in Christ, no longer those social distinctions, then ‘same-sex marriage’ is simply marriage.
Jesus is silent on homosexuality, and nowhere in the Bible are loving monogamous LGBTQ relationships dealt with at all
Though Paul uses a Greek word often translated as some kind of same-sex relations (though that is far from the only translation), Jesus does not talk about homosexuality at all in the Gospels. An argument from absence isn’t necessarily very compelling, but it is worth mentioning that for decades we have energetically argued over something that the authors of the Gospels did not feel was worth mentioning – if Jesus said anything on the matter, no one felt it was important enough to recall and pass along. Paul, the first to write about Jesus whose manuscripts we have, encouraged people not to marry at all because he expected the imminent return of Jesus in his lifetime. He did not speak of committed LGBTQ relationships any more than the Hebrew scriptures did, as discussed above. The concept of sexual orientation is just over 100 years old. When Paul does speak about sexuality, it is in the context of adultery, pederasty, idolatry, temple prostitution, and a culture quite different from our own.
No congregation’s session, nor pastor, will ever be forced to perform a same-sex wedding if they choose not to
As it stands today, any pastor can decline to perform any wedding, and any session can decline to have any wedding performed in their church. The small proposed change in the Book of Order will have no effect on this fact. Congregations and pastors might choose not to perform weddings of people who were previously married, or weddings between atheists, or same-sex weddings. The only difference would be that congregations and pastors who do choose to perform same-sex weddings would not be prevented from doing so. The proposed change to the Book of Order makes this protection explicit, in fact, for any who do not wish to perform same-sex weddings.
The church is currently lending tacit support to mocking, bullying, torment and exclusion suffered by LGBTQ persons
LGBTQ persons are being mocked, bullied, tormented, and discriminated against at this very moment, possibly jailed or even executed overseas. Some have taken their own lives as a direct result of this hateful treatment, and this discrimination has a proven negative impact on their health and wellbeing. Every second we fail to stand up and declare unequivocally that God loves LGBTQ persons, and that they are welcome, is a second we enable bigotry and tacitly support bullies. Even when we deny same-sex weddings, or when we denied LGBTQ ordination, for what we feel are the right reasons, the example we set for the world is that certain people are not deserving of certain privileges and rights through no fault of their own, but simply because of who they are. It is time to begin undoing the harm that official church policies of exclusion have done.
Allowing same-sex marriages to be performed, when approved by a church’s session and deemed appropriate by a teaching elder, is the middle way. It is the way forward as a denomination in unity, freedom of conscience, and compromise. It is the option that best expresses the mutual forbearance to which we are called.
As it stands now, sessions and pastors who otherwise would feel comfortable allowing and performing same-sex marriages, in states where these marriages are legal, are restrained from doing so, except for an allowance provided by the Authoritative Interpretation passed by the most recent General Assembly. When we vote in favor of changing the Book of Order to reflect what is already the case both ecclesiastically and legally, we are allowing freedom of conscience and the right to interpret scripture through the Holy Spirit for both ‘sides’ of this issue, as well as for those between. Those opposed to same-sex marriage can and likely will remain opposed to it, and can and likely will freely choose not to perform or allow same-sex marriages in their churches. Those agreeable to same-sex marriage will likely remain agreeable to it, but they will now also be able to act out of their conscience, and interpretation of scripture, equally for the first time.
In a situation where believers disagree in good faith, according to their conscience and reading of scripture, where decades of debate has not made much progress toward producing a consensus, it seems most reasonable, most just, most collegial, and best to allow freedom of conscience for sessions and pastors in the matter of marriage.