Christians should support the legalization of gay marriage

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Check out the counterpoint to this article by Connor Sterchi or the introduction to the series by John Kloosterman.

As Christians who love the church and are concerned about its well-being, we would like to address the topic of the legalization of gay marriage within our country. While we cannot do justice to all of the specific points and debates present in this topic, we still hope that what we raise here can contribute to the overall discussion.

It is our opinion that Christians should support the legalization of gay marriage within our country. Even if Christians were to believe that homosexuality was a distortion of what God intended human sexuality to be, we cannot expect everyone in a pluralistic society to have the same view of sexuality and marriage. Nor should we expect the legal law to encompass all of the Christian moral law. This does not commit us to a laissez-faire anything-goes relativism concerning all ethical issues. Yes, there are times when Christians have to take a stand against societal ills even where consensus cannot be found — but gay people are not such societal ills.

Even if Christians understand the ideal marriage to be between a man and a woman, they cannot expect people outside of the church to understand or desire Christian marriage. For too long, some Christians have tried to hold a monopoly on sexual morality within our entire society. It is our opinion that this is a waste of time. The church already has enough problems of its own without trying to simultaneously impose its view of marriage on everyone else. “The early church grew and witnessed powerfully to the Gospel by being a majority in the Roman senate and upholding the traditional view of sexuality in its culture” — reads no church history book ever. Instead of using most of its energy to stop gay people from getting married, the church today could use its energy more productively by trying to stop things like drone strikes and violence against women.

But what about gay marriage within the church? It is our conviction that there is a significant difference between marriage as it is conceived in broader society and Christian marriage as it is rooted within the church. And it is also our conviction that many Christian arguments that are “pro-marriage” and “pro-marriage equality” lose sight of this. That is because marriage within the body of Christ is — first and foremost — not a “right,” nor is it an institution of stability for Western society, but a sacrament. However, many arguments from natural law and biology assume that Christians can understand what marriage is apart from knowing who Christ is. Additionally, biblical literalism — a fixation on what one particular verse says or does not say — is insufficient to provide an account of marriage and sexuality. What we need is a theological imagination that draws from the entire biblical narrative and the tradition in creative ways that overcome our current impasses on gender and sexuality.

Christian marriage is a sacrament. It points beyond itself to Christ. It is not primarily a “right,” or something that is due to us. It is a gift and a means of grace for the church and the world. Therefore, Christian marriage cannot merely be “romantic” or “contractual.” It is not grounded solely in the feelings or interests of the two individuals involved. God’s faithfulness to his people models and creates a covenant rather than a utilitarian “contract” in marriage.  When two people come together, it is meant to be good news for all of us. Within the church, marriage and sexuality are not  “private” affairs, as if consent and the absence of harm are all that we need to worry about. Rather, marriage is a gift that is given to reflect Christ and for the edification of his bride as she witnesses to creation.

Neither is marriage primarily a 2,000+ year institution that provides stability to Western society through the nuclear family. Jesus radically expanded and redefined the disciples’ notion of family beyond the nuclear family and bloodlines. In deciding to follow Jesus, we are united to a new set of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters … indeed, a very strange and “non-traditional” family. Marriage was never mostly about self-enclosed families being productive and stable forces for the nation and market. And, for most of the Christian tradition, marriage was not seen as necessary. Individuals can flourish and be whole outside of marriage (certain parts of scripture suggest that singleness is to be preferred). But individuals are not meant to feel alone. In the body of Christ, individuals and couples are always situated within the new and larger family that they’ve been adopted into.

We think that the burden of proof might not lie with the LGBT community but actually with many heterosexual Christians and their marriages. Given their divorce rates, and how often their marriages seem more worldly than sacramental, heterosexual Christians need to reevaluate how “godly” their marriages are. Even though we firmly believe that Christians should support the legalization of gay marriage within our country, we still think that the church needs to cooperatively wrestle with broader questions about the purpose of marriage and sexuality within communion with Christ. Perhaps in wrestling with these questions, we will no longer see our gay and transgender brothers and sisters as threats. Instead, we will see them as providing an opportunity for all of us to reimagine our marriages, our sexuality and our bodies more faithfully in light of our discipleship to Jesus Christ.