Chick-fil-a isn’t the problem (part 2)

…continued from Part 1

(1) Gay marriage will invite God’s judgment upon the U.S. or destroy the institution of marriage.

This is a statement with which I completely disagree.

At the heart of this issue is the fear that many Christians hold that granting equal rights to gays and lesbians to marry will bring God’s judgement upon the United States. This is rooted in the belief that the “success” of the U.S. is a result our strong Christian heritage or that the institution of marriage is strongest when it is defined by Biblical standards.

My basic starting point for most political positions are, “Do I, as an individual, have the right to use violent force to make or prevent someone from engaging in a certain behavior?” The violent force part of this question is rooted in the basic breakdown of how all laws are enforced. Even a $50 speeding ticket has the threat of violence behind it to enforce it. The individual component of it is rooted in the political theory of what powers democracies should or shouldn’t have and the idea that collective government is merely an extension of the individual’s natural rights. On that premise alone, I am very hesitant to “ban” same-sex marriage, but obviously the issue is more complicated.

I also don’t believe allowing same-sex marriage is going to have any type of catastrophic social impact on the institution of marriage or weaken it in any way. A much more compelling argument can be made that the institution of marriage was irreparably “destroyed” a few hundred years ago when it started to become the choice of the individuals getting married and based on their love feelings for one another. Traditional marriage had very little to do with “love” for its first few thousand years of existence and was mostly an economic, political, and religious arrangement. Read: Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage for some great perspective on this.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that God is going around “judging nations” in the Christian Biblical sense – and if he is, lifting bans on same-sex marriage won’t be the tipping point that causes him to pour out his wrath on the United States. Rather than judge the nation of Israel, God blessed them during times when polygamy was being very openly practiced. According to the Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 definition of marriage which Jesus himself quoted and interpreted, both polygamy and divorce (for reasons other than infidelity) are outside of the strict Biblical definition of marriage (if that is how you interpret the passage, others differ in their interpretation). Divorce for reasons other than fidelity is common in the U.S. and across the globe. In ancient Israel, under the teachings of Rabbi Hillel, divorce was even easier to obtain than it is in the U.S. Is there any clear indication that drifting from the strict constructionist view of Biblical marriage was an automatic trigger for God’s judgement?

I tend to believe that the reason the United States has prospered in the 20th century had more to do with the economic system we adopted, the insane amounts of untapped natural resources we have encountered, and the ease with which we committed genocide and nearly exterminated the native population on this continent without reprisal (a very un-Christ-like thing to do indeed, but it sure seemed to boost our prosperity rather than hamper it). It is counter-intuitive to think that God would bless this nation despite all those clear sins, yet bring down the hammer if we decide to make permissive exceptions about marriage. And as I pointed out before, much more permissive exceptions have been made in the past and there is no correlating judgement.

An aside about Biblical marriage:

I could spend months preparing an entire dissertation on marriage in the Bible. Such a discussion would force me to deal with passages such as the ones Jon Stewart mentioned on the Daily Show as Deuteronomy 25:5 “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her,” or Deuteronomy 22:28-29 “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”

Those are two Biblical definitions of marriage which I am surprised to not see many Christians in the streets protesting about: “Not enough men are marrying their brothers’ widows! Not enough rapists are marrying their victims!” Of course, Christians would respond to this by pointing out that Jesus Christ negated Jewish law. Interestingly enough, they get very picky and choosy about which parts of Jewish law Christ negated. In fact, Jesus summed up the entire law in one commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” in Luke 10:27 and then goes on to explain in the parable of The Good Samaritan that your neighbor is basically the people you consider a detestable sinners and enemies.

He commands Christians to love those people. To me, that clearly means letting them do what they want to do on their own time, treat them with respect and even make sacrifices to help them (without strings attached or demands that they change their ways) and leave the rest in God’s hands. There is an epidemic of Christians and non-Christians alike who are clearly not doing this towards their “Samaritan” neighbors and are in in direct violation of what Jesus called the greatest commandment, and what scholars call the summation of all the books of the law and the prophets. If anything was going to “invite God’s judgement on our nation” and was a clear sign of us “shaking our fist at Him” my guess is that would be the cardinal sin – not being permitting same-sex marriage.

In fact, according to some scholars, Jesus even had an opportunity to address the issue of homosexuality when he encountered a Roman soldier who asked him to heal his same-sex (and underage) partner. I’m sure there can be quite a deal of debate on the interpretation of this passage, but as Jay Michaelson concludes:

If I and dozens of other scholars (some of whom are listed below) are correct, this is a radical act. Jesus is extending his hand not only to the centurion but to his partner, as well. In addition to Jesus’ silence on homosexuality in general (he never mentions same-sex intimacy, not once, despite its prevalence in his social context), it speaks volumes that he did not hesitate to heal a Roman’s likely same-sex lover.

It also sets up a useful distinction for those who may be struggling with same-sex marriage as a religious act, but who nonetheless want their gay and lesbian family members, friends, and community members not to be discriminated against. Jesus is not conducting a same-sex marriage here. Yet he is recognizing a socially accepted same-sex relationship. Likewise, Christians and Jews today who may not be ready to celebrate same-sex weddings in their own churches and synagogues can and should endorse civil marriage equality in the public sphere. In a very different context, this is exactly what Jesus did 2,000 years ago.

Andrew Sullivan blogged last year about many more controversial passages in the Bible that deal with marriage, noting that he was just getting warmed up and could have produced more!

One thing almost all Biblical scholars can agree on is that in the ancient Biblical world women had very few rights and were treated as property and inferior to men. New Testament teachings by Paul, while still considered misogynistic by today’s standards, were actually considered far too progressive for their time and were a point of great contention among Christians and Jews. I tend to think Paul was getting the ball rolling in a certain direction and was pushing the “cultural envelope” as much as he could get away with at the time. Were Paul alive today, I tend to think he would continue to push the envelope even though 2,000 years ago his limitations fell far short of full equality for women.

The point is, a historically accurate and traditionally Biblical practice of marriage commanded that women marry their rapists, men marry their brothers’ widows, women were treated as property with little to no free choices in marriage, and Jesus said little to directly correct or contradict any of those things. Ideas about marriage evolved over time in the Bible and were highly framed by their cultural context, just as ideas about homosexuality in the Bible were framed by their cultural context. It is difficult to make a clear case for today’s accepted standard of Christian marriage and show any real direct Biblical support for it without injecting many of the radically progressive cultural values of the 20th and 21st centuries which were glaringly absent at the time the Bible was written. And I’m only beginning to scratch the surface.

The Old Testament is full of examples of God targeting specific cities or nations for judgement because of their wicked ways. But in all of those cases there was usually a credible prophet giving a very clear and specific message about the when, the why, and often the how. That just doesn’t happen anymore. Every nation on Earth seems to get its fair share of natural disasters and calamitous events. Sure, these sometimes coincide with predictions made by popular Christian apologists, but the fact is bad things happen all the time and everywhere: If you make enough predictions, some of them are bound to come true. Its math, not divine inspiration. If it was really divine, these apologists would have nailed down the how, why, and when pretty solidly and the rest of their predictions would come true as well because, after all, they are true prophets of God, right?

One need look no further than the decline of the prosperity levels in the United States relative to that of other more secular and “sinful” nations which seem to be rising in prosperity (China for example) to dispel the myth that the Christian God has an agenda to constantly punish and reward modern nations based on how closely they follow the Bible’s prescriptions for morality.

The real problem: Ultimately, what I believe is at the heart of this is fear. It could be fear of homosexual behavior in general. It could be a legitimate religious based fear that your prosperity is going to be indirectly impacted and you might suffer collateral damage if gays are allowed to marry (this is kind of a selfish motivation, don’t you think?). It may be the fear that your children will have a harder time adopting the values you want to teach them if they grow up in such a “secular world.” Do a little research about how children adopt their values and how Christian values have thrived in extreme secularism and that fear will quickly disappear.  Recommended reading: Soul Searching & Souls in Transition by Christian Smith.

Fear causes us to turn off the logical centers of our brains and start behaving based on our animal instinct functions. Let me quickly point out the fact that the religious concept of a “sin nature” can be very easily and closely associated with the biological drives of our “base animal instinct” and this should already cause religious folks to take pause and start purging “gut emotions” from their decision making. Sans-religion, you don’t need to work very hard to make a compelling argument that acting purely on our base animal instincts of fear isn’t very healthy for society.

Didn’t a great philosopher once say that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering? Oh yeah, that was George Lucas, and the logic behind that sequence of emotions could be questionable. What isn’t questionable is that throughout human history, some of the most appalling and ‘evil’ things we have done to other humans was motivated by fear and a cocktail of other base emotions. Sometimes these things are glossed over with quasi-logical explanations, but often those are weak and can be easily dismissed upon further scrutiny.

When Christians approach the issue of same-sex marriage, rather than approach it from a fear centered viewpoint of, “Oh, no! God’s going to zap us if we let gays marry,” it would be more productive, in my opinion, to consider the logic behind that idea and conclude (in my opinion) that there is very little. Healthy marriages, healthy families, and healthy Christian pockets of society have thrived in the face of much more secular and counter-Christian cultures throughout the past 2,000 years. The original Christian church thrived in a more rampant and sexually permissive society – and one which eventually directly persecuted Christians and put them to death for entertainment.

Even Jesus Christ spent much of his time with the sinful dredges of his society. Doesn’t that at least lend itself to the argument being a “good Christian” includes purposefully finding the most sinful people in your society and spending your time with them? Why are Christians freaked out about the idea that non-believers might impact their economic well-being or ruin the institution of marriage and family. Only Christians can ruin that for themselves, and their economic well being is already directly impacted in a positive way by many “sinful” and “non-Biblical” practices. One more isn’t going to ruin it.

The economic prosperity of nations should not be the concerns of Christians. Corrosive external cultural values should not concern Christians as much as they tend to. Instead, Christians should be spending most of their time and energy reflecting on how short they fall from keeping the greatest commandment and what they can do to keep it better.

All of this behavior and rhetoric is motivated by selfish fears. Those are at the heart of the judgement, the legalism, and the frantic attempts to politically lobby to define marriage legally as between one man and one woman. These behaviors do not have a Biblical basis and they not have a rational and reasonable basis. It is time that we all, Christians and non-Christians alike, rise above our baser emotions and start allowing ourselves to exercise our gifts of rationality and logical reason.

Matthew 22:36-40 – “Jesus Replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 7:3-5 – Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Coming Next (8/17), another statement with which I completely disagree:

(2) Supporting anti-same-sex marriage groups is effective and must be stopped.

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