Friday, June 20, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 8): Not About Equality

Photo Credit: See-Ming Lee
     The conversation about homosexuality is not about equality.  Not just about equality.  Not simply that.  Equality is not the primary issue at hand.  Not for Christians.

     For Christians, the primary issue at hand is understanding how the Bible guides our lives.  Nothing supersedes that.  We use tradition, reason, and experience to help us understand the Bible, but still the Bible is the primary material for ethics and theology.  As we look at the whole spectrum of the Bible, the parts that speak directly to homosexuality, sexuality, and relationships and the parts that speak to the broader issues of God's movement in the world, what is the confluence of all of those texts? How does the overall story of the Bible speak to the specific issue of homosexuality?  That is the primary question at hand for Christians.
     The larger culture is in a broad push to affirm "gay equality" across all sectors of society.  A notable example is Obama's push for gay partners to have the same rights as straight partners in all areas of federal law.  His twitter feed called his latest effort "another victory for equality."  A great many business and organizations are making similar choices in their own employment policies.
     With this kind of wide-scale change, the questions relating to gay marriage can feel like a no-brainer issue of equal rights for all people.  The no-brainer rating of this issue increases as the age of the opinion-holder decreases, by the way.  But cultural change is not always good.
"Everyone's doing it" doesn't hold much weight logically or theologically.

     Some aspects of the conversation about homosexuality are absolutely issues of equality.  People in the LBGT community should have the same protections as other citizens from discrimination, abuse, and hate.  Christians ought to lead the way in showing love and kindness to all people, especially to those who have been abused, oppressed, and marginalized as many LBGT people have. 
     However, these protections are secular and have limits in the realm of ethical development within religions.  Just as religions are free to define stricter limits for premarital sex than the broader culture, in the same way religions are free to define stricter limits for homosexual sex.  For example, no pastor should ever be required to perform a wedding he thinks is unethical or to baptize someone she thinks does not qualify.  Freedom of religion is still important.
     Furthermore, it is entirely possible to read the Bible with a faithful eye to Jesus' love, grace and inclusion - and still to affirm that marriage can only rightly be expressed between one man and one woman.  (For a good example of this viewpoint, read the essay by Ron B. which is "Side B" in the Gay Christian Network's "Great Debate.")  That is not an issue of equality.  That is an issue of trying to understand what the Bible teaches and how we should live it out.   Issues related to equality may inform how we understand the Bible, but they cannot be the driving force.  The Bible shapes how we understand equality, not the other way around. 

     If you've been following along with this series ("A Better Conversation About Homosexuality"), you might get the impression that I'm being rather one-sided and trying to breakdown the traditional view.  Actually, I've been trying to breakaway all the gunk that has become encrusted around the issue.  I've been trying to strip off all of the layers of misplaced emotion and illogical arguments so that we can actually talk about the core issue. 
     So far, I've had to deconstruct some traditional conservative talking points.  However, it's equally important that we deconstruct some traditional liberal or progressive talking points as well.  
     The Bible makes no promises for an easy life or for easy beliefs.  The Bible runs counter to the dominant culture on a wide range of issues.  There is no necessary demand that the Bible conform or that Christians conform to the wider culture on issues relating to sexuality, including homosexuality. 
Whatever the Church decides about the issue of gay marriage, we can expect that a truly Christian theology of sexuality will be distinctly counter-cultural.

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