Five responses for Christians who think support of same-sex marriage is damaging

I found an article on the Gospel Coalition yesterday that was written for someone like me – a Christian who is affirming same-sex marriage based on the Bible. I thought the author, Kevin DeYoung, asked some good questions that others might have, and it is worth a brief response. So here goes, starting with a long excerpt from the introduction of the original post:

So you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.

As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.

Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.

A Brief Response

Please read the original article for the full text of Kevin's questions. I'll only restate the basic premises here, as I understand them, with a brief response. So, here are the five questions:

  1. On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?
  2. Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?
  3. Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?
  4. What will you say about anal intercourse?
  5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?

Excellent questions. I will briefly summarize the original argument and then my response to each.

1. On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?

Kevin brings up several thoughts about our modern model of monogamy, pointing out that there is nothing specifically against polygamy in the Bible, and there are references to pairs of men and women who have children. He asks why affirming Christians would accept same-sex marriage yet continue to say it's a different question than marriage between close relations (like mother and son) or polygamy.

It's true that polygamy is not directly addressed as a negative in the Bible. The only references I'm aware of are a warning about many wives drawing the king away from God in the Tanakh, and Paul's preference for bishops/overseers in the church to have only one wife. So, why do we generally see a problem with polygamy today? Well, life changes. In the first world today, we don't experience massive infant mortality rates, deaths of mothers giving birth, or women completely reliant on men to provide for them. That social structure worked well in previous centuries, and is less needed now. We understand that generally a marriage between only two partners is a better committed relationship, and now that we have the freedom from economic pressures toward multiple partners, we should embrace that for all.

I don't really understand the push to explain why we wouldn't also accept marriage between close family members. For one, the interpretation of the Bible that explains Leviticus 18:22 as describing idol worship practices has no effect on the passages in Leviticus 18:6-18 about close family marriages. Civilizations for millenia have understood the genetic problems that arise with children from closely related parents. Surely it's not too hard to point out the empirical evidence both inside and outside the Bible to continue recommending against such marriages?

Finally, our criteria for judging a healthy marriage should have some basis in God-inspired principles of good relationships. If a polygamous marriage ends in strong, loving relationships and great kids, maybe it's not a scary thing either? Personally I think we're mostly better off with monogamy and we can make solid arguments outside of Bible rules (which don't exist anyway) for that case.

2. Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?

The author suggests somehow that supporters of same-sex marriage will not have the same level of ethics on divorce, abstinence before marriage or adultery as their equivalents on other side. He cites one study that suggests same-sex marriages are not able to be monogamous.

Given the abysmal record of conservative churches in the last few decades on divorce, adultery and premarital sex, it seems very strange that an appeal to the same policies of "church discipline" are promoted. I think we may all need to ask some tough questions about these topics for sure, and wonder why conservative denominations who preach on subordination of the wife are facing larger than average rates of divorce.

Here's my question in return: if we Christians are concerned about premarital sex and adultery, why aren't we excited about inviting more people into marriage? Why aren't we encouraging gay youth to find role models of great marriages, instead of constantly telling them that same-sex marriages are even more perverted than having sex outside of marriage? What kind of message are we sending?

We have been telling gay men and women for decades that they cannot get married, and that the only relational/sexual life they can have as fully gay people is one of promiscuity and hundreds of partners. And then somehow we have the audacity to act surprised when we can find many examples of this in our society. Especially a society that through the advocacy of the conservative church doesn't even allow gay marriages in most places!

Does this logic really make sense?

3. Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?

Without citing any studies or evidence, the author implies through a series of questions that there will be a great lack in the lives of children who grow up without two differently-gendered parents.

It's important to make sure we bring up our children in healthy homes, so these can be good questions to ask. And they have been asked over and over, in studies that show there is no discernible negative outcome for children raised in a same-sex marriage. In fact, these children who are clearly wanted and sought with a great amount of effort (while some in heterosexual marriages are born through less intention), often do a bit better than average.

All the more reason to welcome these married couples into our churches, where as a community we can supply many different role models, both based on gender as well as many other characteristics, for the support of our children.

4. What will you say about anal intercourse?

The author suggests that we should not advocate for gay marriage because of the health risks associated with anal intercourse (he also throws in HIV and "other health concerns" without details).

Without exploring the science behind his claims, what could we say about this? Well, studies show that roughly one third of heterosexual couples also engage in this form of sex, many of them regularly. Also, from what I've read, gay men prefer other forms of sex to this form anyway. And this doesn't apply nearly as much to marriages between lesbians. So it's a little strange to suggest, as the author seems to, that allowing same-sex marriage means encouraging anal intercourse.

I'm not a doctor so I won't comment on the actual health effects of this practice. However, since the author of the original article cited the American Medical Association (AMA) about some health dangers, maybe it will be interesting to know that the AMA along with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) support same-sex marriage.

5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?

The author of the original article makes the claim that "From the Jewish world in the Old and New Testaments to the early church to the Middle Ages to the Reformation and into the 20th century, the church has understood the Bible to teach that engaging in homosexuality activity was among the worst sins a person could commit." Unfortunately for this argument, this is just not true.

The Jewish world before Christ simply assumed that their people did not engage in same-sex activity, and so didn't address it much in commentary. Even if we keep a traditional interpretation of Paul's writings in the New Testament, he really seems much more concerned about adultery, gossip, arguments, and division within the church than any form of same-sex relationships. You can read more about that in my treatment of Romans in particular.

The early church was much more concerned about same-sex activity being a sign of so much lust in a man's life that they sought pleasure in addition to their marriage with a women. It wasn't until the past century or two that we started singling out homosexuality by name as a "worse sin" than others.

What about the larger idea of changing our minds after so much time though? Fortunately for Kevin DeYoung and our readers here, I wrote a little something on this already. For those who want a quick response, I would ask a question in return:

How have Christians been so consistently wrong for so many hundreds of years in Biblical interpretation about science (heliocentrism – 1400 years, age of the earth – still debated), race (anti-abolitionism – 450 years+, antisemitism – 2,000 years) and gender (anti-suffragism – until 1920s, patriarchy – still debated)?

Does God still speak? Can we learn and grow as a spiritual community over time?