This Proposition, perhaps not surprisingly, had intense backing from Evangelicals, including James Dobson and Rick Warren. The single largest organization behind it may have been the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [*] ). Protests state-wide in California are underway as I write these words.
My progressive Californian brother and I have had some sparky discussions re homosexuality, my "orthodox Christian" position seeming pure bigotry to him. (He's kind of a hero of mine, so I feel not so good re his assessment!) But regarding Proposition 8 being a bad idea, I found myself agreeing with him that it was a bad law.
I hope everyone reads to the end of what follows, because while no one may like my tentative conclusions, I don't want to be misunderstood re what those conclusions are. And even more than usual, I remind all that these thoughts do NOT represent any organization or entity with which I am associated, whether that be Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church, Project 12, or whomever else I have written for, spoken for, bla bla bla. My views are solely my own.
Homosexuality and Scripture
Before fellow Evangelicals freak, let me reiterate: I believe God's Word that marriage as created by God is meant only for one woman and one man. I would submit that not only does Scripture contain verses directly targeting homosexuality as outside God's will (Lev. 20:13; Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:9-11), but also an overwhelming number of verses defining marriage as between one man and one woman. (Professor Linda Belleville wrote a multi-part article on sexuality and Scripture for us sometime ago, and here are parts One, Two, and Three -- the last most directly addressing homosexuality in Scripture. Parts four and five never got posted on line, sorry to say.)
God's marriage model remains that found in Genesis: 2:23, 24 : "Then the man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.' Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh" [NRSV]. This is reiterated in Matthew 19:5-6 and Mark 10:7-8. Paul reiterates the Genesis model twice more, once in a negative context regarding prostitution (1 Cor. 6:16, and the larger passage afterward expands into a discussion of the same heterosexual one man, one woman marriage), and once in a positive and startling context (Eph. 5:31,32).
What of polygamy? someone might ask. Yes, polygamy is abundant in the Old Testament, but never is it suggested that God founded such a practice. Further, it is expressly discouraged in the New Testament (no Elders or Deacons may be married to more than one wife / husband). In the biblical narrative, God tolerates things He doesn't like. A for-instance? The frivolous divorce laws under Moses, where a man could ditch his wife simply by writing a decree of divorce, Jesus negates by saying "It was because your hearts were hard" (Mark 10:5a, NIV) . Then Jesus sets the record straight on divorce, reminding his listeners of the heart of the law.
There are other arguments pro-gay folks attempt to argue from Scripture, including the rather sad (to me) argument that since David's love for Jonathan (my namesake) "surpassed the love of women," that love was sexual in nature. Such interpretation seems to me possible only in our western culture where male love is so circumscribed that love such as David's for Jonathan is automatically assumed to be sexual. Can't men love each other with incredible depth and even passion without it turning sexual? As a man, I hate this traditionalist view of males which (with a sense of irony) I note is being used by pro-gay forces.
But this isn't meant as an in-depth treatise on homsexuality in Scripture. My only point here is that within a Scriptural world view homosexuality appears to me to be excluded. I hasten to add that heterosexuality outside of marriage is also excluded, and that homosexual desires are not in themselves sins, but rather temptations.
FINE, Trott! Get back to Prop 8!!
So with the above beliefs, must I support Prop 8, as well as other present and future laws like it? Shouldn't we Christians attempt legislating marriage in in all fifty states as "one man, one woman" just like Genesis says? Isn't this one time bluechristian should read a little bit redchristian?
I don't think so.
Defining Marriage for ourselves vs. Defining Marriage for our Neighbor
I think we Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and anyone else who holds to the one-man, one-woman definition of marriage on religious grounds are caught in a major difficulty when it comes to making it law. Not just on legal grounds, mind you, though I personally suspect that the "Traditional Marriage" people are about to provoke state courts, federal courts, maybe even the Supreme Court into doing the very thing they fear. But I think there's something ethically wrong here, frankly.
It was James Dobson, speaking negatively about Barack Obama's morals, who helped me begin clarifying for myself what seems wrong with Prop 8:
"What terrifies me is the thought that he [Obama] might be our president. . . might be in the Oval Office . . . might be the leader of the free world . . . might be the Commander in Chief," he said to Sean Hannity back in June of this year. "As I said a minute ago, the man is dangerous, especially in regard to this issue of morality. I can't tell you how strongly I feel about this. He's saying that my morality has to conform to his because we all have to agree or else it's not democratic."
Um.... I have at least three issues with the above.
(1.) Isn't this inverting the truth? That is, aren't WE the ones who are saying that everyone else -- from Hindu to Christian to Agnostic to Atheist -- must accept OUR morality as their morality?
(2.) When James Dobson claims that "my morality has to conform to [Obama's]" it shows mainly that Dobson is misreading the entire basis for the conversation. Who is demanding conformity more, a person who narrows marriage's definition for everyone or a person who widens it? Especially in the context of a secular polycultural democracy, it seems increasingly problematic to attempt legislating one subculture's version of marriage. The legal definition of marriage in America should reflect a wide spectrum of Americans' understanding, not just Christian Americans' understanding.
I don't like mixing up race with homosexuality because they to me appear quite different topics on a number of levels, especially the deepest moral and spiritual levels. But Prop 8 begs for the comparison to interracial marriage, because the way it frames same-sex marriage is highly similar legally to how segregationists framed interracial marriage. Using Dobson's logic, when the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving vs Virginia prohibited state laws against interracial marriage, the state was forcing moral conformity on everyone. In actuality, churches could have and in fact still do (unfortunately!) teach against interracial marriage. That is their right. What isn't their right is to define marriage legally for everyone (as opposed to theologically for their own community).
(3.) Dobson's unspoken assumption here is that America is a Christian nation. No, it is not. It never has been. And as a fervent Christian, I never think it should be (or could be for that matter). It is true that "traditional" values -- sometimes Christian and sometimes not -- are eroding in America and have been for decades. Barack Obama could not have been elected President or even thought of running in the 1950s-early 1960s "Christian America" James Dobson wants to "restore." I grew up in that era, and I do *not* want to go back.
Aren't Dr. Dobson and Rick Warren attempting to enforce Christian belief when it comes to marriage, making that belief a required law rather than human choice? Many Christians want marriage to remain identified with a mono-cultural America, one rooted in Judaeo-Christian principles. Yet for me, who see in that same old paradigm the roots of a dangerous nationalism which I firmly believe could result in an all-out fascist state if not politically defeated, I find myself wondering if we need to rethink this whole "traditional values" thing. It -- once again -- assumes the myth of a once or future Christian America. Never was one. Never will be one. [**]
That is what bothers me about Proposition 8. Because, you see, Christians (along with all supporters of so-called "traditional marriage" [***] ) are assuming they have the right to define marriage not only for themselves but for everyone else as well. God could, of course, define marriage any way he wished simply by causing all same-sex individuals to start yearning heterosexually. But God doesn't use force very often, despite how many of his self-appointed spokespersons suggest he does. In fact, God is the most coy about relationship of any Person. He woos us in thousands of ways, yet never forces us into relationship with him and never requires of us that we force our neighbors to believe as we believe. EVER.
My question -- and despite all the above I remind everyone it is a question I'm answering for myself here, not you -- Do we as Christians really believe that pushing our moral values via legislation furthers the cause of Jesus Christ? I think Dr. Dobson, Rick Warren, and others who think they've won a victory have actually done something which may be immoral, not because it violates God's Word re marriage, but rather because it violates the heart of Love itself. It violates the opportunity each person has to discover God's Way for her or him self.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have little interest in converting my neighbor to heterosexuality, or from homosexuality. What I am interested in is first of all to love my neighbor as myself, second only to loving God with my whole heart and mind and soul. Loving my neighbor is firstly about introducing him or her to Christ -- using words only where necessary. Prayerfully, I see Christian marriage itself as one of the greatest potential weapons of love in causing a non-believer to become attracted to Christ. Very prayerfully, I dare hope that sometimes even my own marriage might cause such attraction to observers of it. If a gay person enters into a relationship with Jesus Christ, wouldn't one assume that she or he might also encounter the words of Scripture? And wouldn't the Holy Spirit within that person aid them in beginning to see, and act on, a realization that homosexuality isn't what their Lord wants of them? The issues are hard to cope with, complex in scope. But I trust God's Grace (Agape love) over the law (of God or men) which biblically is said to lead to death.
As far as Proposition 8, I would have voted against it if it had been an issue here in Illinois. I probably would not vote for defining gay marriage as equivalent to one man and one woman -- I'd be violating my conscience (and God's Word) to do so. But I also would violate my conscience to vote for a Proposition that dictates what love is and is not to my homosexual neighbors. They, like me, make choices regarding love and right and wrong before a Personal, Holy, Just, and Loving God. Admitting some ambiguity in just how that unpacks as far as legislation goes, I believe I do God no service by engaging in "culture wars" wherein my ego rather than God's righteousness seems most reflected.
It does cause me suffering to think my neighbors will enter into relationships which are outside the will of a Loving God. And isn't part of my hesitation, even now, in actually posting these ruminations rooted in wishing I could avoid that suffering? It is incumbent on me to bear witness to God's ideas on marriage, even while I refuse to block the democratic rights of others to legally define marriage their own way. I also acknowledge that my own views on marriage cause my homosexual neighbor to suffer. She feels diminished when she realizes I do not see her relationship with her beloved as healthy or biblical. Yet I love my neighbor -- and I am talking about a real person here, not an abstraction. All I can do is bear witness to what God has done and is still doing in me, in my relationships, in my own broken but healing heterosexuality. And I can simply be silent, affirming her personhood even though unable to affirm all her choices.
It hurts to be a Christian, and the more it hurts the closer I suspect it gets to actually being real Christianity. But of course suffering and loving and failing and starting again can't really be the topics of legislation. The law kills. The Spirit gives life. As an Evangelical, I am indeed a person of the book. But I am also a person of the Living Word, Jesus Christ. If you are a fellow Evangelical who thinks I've terribly erred, pray for me that I would see better. If you are a homosexual and deeply troubled, even hurt, by what I've said here regarding the Scriptures, please forgive my ineptitude and gracelessness and pray for me that I learn better to communicate God's heart, not just my own mind. And if you are an observer, wryly fascinated by my obtuse and overly-verbose attempts to reflect both "Truth" and "Love," pray for me that I might understand far better how it's done.
I welcome feedback on this post... hopefully of a reasoned manner. I do moderate comments due to a few recurrent rascals, but will post almost all comments made unless they're downright hateful and/or astonishingly monofocused on topics which are off-topic. For more (and perhaps more intelligent) postings on this topic, see:
Randall Balmer's Huffington Post article takes Rick Warren to task: "Rick Warren on Prop 8: He Knows Better"
The Evangelical Outpost blog has some good back and forth: "Proposition 8: The Same-Sex Marriage Debate"
* Does anyone else find it odd that the Mormon Church -- founded in part on the doctrine of polygamous marriage -- would be a principal sponsor of Proposition 8?
** (Well, actually it's up to God what happens when all Creation is at last redeemed on that day of His appearing... a New America along with a New [fully redeemed and healed] Earth? Sorry, that's pretty theological for my non-christian readers).
*** "Traditional marriage" is one of the most unfortunate, as well as inaccurate, phrases I know. Marriage is so sexy, so adventurous, so challenging and painful and demanding and life-altering. "Traditional"? That term in addition suggests the usual male-dominant union of powerful husband, submissive wife, a model many of us Evangelical egalitarian / feminist types reject as overtly unbiblical. See http://www.cbeinternational.org for more on egalitarian biblical theology and support. They, by the way, have NOTHING to do with the views expressed here on Proposition 8.