Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Marriage Equity: My Journey II

Deer Pants by paynehollow
Deer Pants, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

34. Not wanting to be shabby in my Bible study, I wanted to look at the whole text, to take this passage in CONTEXT of what was being said around it. Who were these "THEY" being spoken of in Romans 1?

35. In looking at the beginning of the passage, I see the introduction...

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of peopleÉ

...Which wicked people? I asked...

...who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them....

Those who SUPPRESS the truth, those for whom God's ways have been made plain to them. Okay. What else?

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

...Oh yeah, I remember my conservative Baptist preachers pointing this out when I was a youth/young man: This passage is speaking to those who were idol worshippers, adherents in the region to pagan religions. When I noticed that, I suddenly recalled something. I flipped back to Lev 18 to look a bit more deeply at that context...

36. Lev 18 begins...

The LORD said to Moses, ÒSpeak to the Israelites and say to them: ÔI am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.

...Ah, right. This, too, I recalled from my conservative preachers growing up: ONE of the reasons why Israel was to obey the Holiness Code laws was to differentiate them from the people living in the lands all around them. These Egyptians and Canaanites held to pagan practices - sometimes horrifying practices: Sacrificing their children to their gods, holding ritualistic orgies to make the ground more fertile and appease their gods, forcing people - even boys and girls, into serving as temple prostitutes for these pagan rituals.

That sounded very familiar to what Paul was speaking of here.

37. I looked it up and saw that Paul was speaking specifically to the Roman practice of worshiping to pagan gods, much like the OT was speaking of Canaanite and other pagan worship practices. Interesting, in all three of the places where homosexuality is condemned (and to be fair, at this point, I had to say, "at least SOME FORM, if not all forms, of gay behavior is condemned..."), it is in the context of pagan rituals being condemned.

But did that make a difference? I mean, if pagan rituals included bestiality or murder, we wouldn't consider them okay today.

38. Looking back at the Holiness Code, at the beginning of each of those chapters, there's usually some sort of introduction.

Lev 17:

This is what the Lord commands of Israel...

and then there are laws (clearly for Israel) mostly about blood sacrifices.

Lev 18: This is what the Lord commands Israel - don't engage in practices like the pagans do...

and then there are rules mostly about sexual practices (including some commands that are obviously not universal, like banning sex during menstruation) and repeated allusions to the pagan worship practices of the other nations.

Lev 19: This is what the Lord commands Israel...

and then there are an assortment of rules, many of which are obviously not universal, some which DO sound universally moral, and no distinction for us to say, THIS one is and THAT one isn't universal.

Lev 20: Say to the Israelites...

and then a listing of punishments to accompany some rules, again with mentions of the pagan practices by local nations. In this case, we clearly don't hold to at least most of the commanded punishments, which mostly involve killing people or "cutting people off."

And so on.

In ALL of these passages, the commands are directed specifically to Israel. In many of the commands, we can all see that CLEARLY these are not universally moral rules. No one thinks it is sinful to cut the hair on the side of your head, for instance.

39. All of that to say that happening upon the Romans 1 context led me back to the HC context and I came to the conclusion that while the morals listed there, including what appears to be a ban against gay behavior, COULD POSSIBLY be universal in nature, there is NO WAY TO say with any biblical assuredness that they are.

On what basis could I say that ANY prohibitions listed in the OT were universal in nature?

I can see no justification for a definitive answer, short of having that behavior also clearly condemned in the NT (especially by Jesus), not from the text itself. Add to that, the possibility that the "men laying with men" was speaking specifically in reference to pagan rituals, which seemed at least possible to me at this point, if not very likely, and I just could not find "beyond a reasonable doubt" OT support AGAINST any and all gay behavior. It just isn't clearly there. POSSIBLY there? Yes. Definitively? No.

40. Still, I was holding to one passage, Romans 1, that seemed fairly clearly opposed to at least SOME gay behavior, maybe all gay behavior. But the context thing was bothering me here. In both Leviticus and Romans, there is the references to the pagan rituals which I had learned growing up included various temple prostitution and sex rituals. Was Paul condemning any and all gay behavior or just gay behavior in the context mentioned? How could I decide definitively and beyond all reasonable doubt? I returned to the text...

41. It was at this point that these lines caught my eye...

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.

Women exchanged their NATURAL relations for UNnatural ones. As did the men.

Coming from a very heterosexual background, I understood this perfectly. If I were to give up my natural desires for women, and pursued instead, UNnatural desires for me, well, that appears to be condemned here. But then it occurred to me: For a GAY guy, "natural relations," natural desires, would be for another guy. IF this ISN'T speaking specifically to some of the pagan rituals (as it became harder to argue against that, given the text) but ALL gay behavior, this would APPEAR then, to me, to actually SUPPORT gay behavior!

If the sin were abandoning NATURAL inclinations/desires/wants, then trying to get a gay guy/gal to be straight or a straight guy/gal to be gay, THAT would be what's condemned here, not "gay behavior," but abandoning "natural" behaviorÉ

Surely that can't be right? I thought to myself.

42. So, all of that to say that I just no longer found the biblical case as compellingly strong as I had always thought. Sure, it was POSSIBLE that all gay behavior was being condemned, but I just don't think you can say so reasonably from the text with 100% certainty. I realized, at the least, that such a position just wasn't biblically or logically provable.

43. Still, at all of that, it's not an endorsement of SOME gay behavior, it's just not a blanket condemnation of all gay behavior, either. What now? Obviously, there is no support for something like marriage for all in the Bible, is there? At this point, it seemed to me that the most I could say would be that an issue like marriage equity ("gay marriage") is a topic on which the Bible is silent. One simply can not say that the Bible offers a provable, definitive position either against of for marriage equity.

It's an issue like driving cars or recycling: It's just not covered explicitly in the Bible.

44. Of course, this was a staggering place to reach for someone who was SO SURE that the Bible was unequivocal in its opposition to all gay behavior. I still wasn't sure if I supported marriage equity, but I just could no longer say with any biblical certainty that it was certainly wrong. I can't tell you how wild that is to be SO VERY CERTAIN for some 30+ years of one's life of a position, only to find that support for that position is not certainly there.

Not only that, but I was forced to realize that much of my certainty was built upon a certain amount of cultural blindness to what was and wasn't actually said in the Bible. I thought there were MANY passages clearly condemning all gay behavior. I had to admit that this was not the case, even though I was certain of it. I guess I thought that Jesus had certainly opposed it (I don't recall now for sure what I thought Jesus had to say about homosexuality), but that was not the case, not in the least. I had to admit that all the times that the word "homosexuality" was used (all one or two times), it was a mistranslation.

I had to admit it really came down to three passages (with some POSSIBILITIES for other passages, but not with any certainty). I had to admit that two of those passages were in the OT rules and that we have no biblically provable way of saying with certainty which of those morals are universal in nature and which weren't. I had to admit that left me with ONE passage that had any (what I thought was) certainty and finally, I had to admit that even there, it just wasn't certain. It HINTED at what I had always been taught and believed, but once I began to let down my cultural blinders and look a bit more objectively, I saw much room for doubt.

Wow, that was stunning.

45. But, if it is a topic on which the Bible is practically silent, do I have any positive reasons for supporting marriage equity, or was I just stuck at agreeing that we could not say for certain?

46. Let me say that, although I was certainly opposed to marriage equity, I never found the verses about marriage that are often cited as a very compelling case against gay marriage. "Let the Bible's condemnation against homosexuality stand for itself, but saying, 'Jesus said let a man marry a woman...' is not a biblically or logically compelling argument," that would have been something I might have said.

That is, just because Jesus affirmed staying faithful in a man/woman marriage (in the context of a question about divorce and shirking marriage obligations) is not to say that Jesus was defining marriage, saying "This and only this is marriage." That is just lazy logic/exegesis/eisegesis. If I had heard someone saying that Jesus was DEFINING marriage in his comments here, I'd have said you just can't make a biblical case for that. And this was before I ever began this life-changing Bible study and while I was still opposed to any and all gay behavior.

47. The thing is, even before this study, I had realized that the Bible was not so clear on marriage as many of my fellow conservatives made out: The Bible didn't condemn polygamy. The Bible has many examples of various sexual practices. The Bible didn't say anything about the treatment of women as chattel to be "given away" in marriage. Marriage in the Bible is not marriage as we know it today and we have to admit that in order to be true to the Bible. In other words, it's not fair or sound logical biblical exegesis to speak of a modern behavior and find some similar (but different) behavior in the Bible and conflate the two.

48. And yet, none of this gets me to a biblical support for marriage equity for all people. And looking at what all the Bible DID say about marriage didn't help a whole lot, either, at least insofar as it didn't contribute anything much to the "Is marriage a good thing for all people, gay or straight?" question.

No, at this point, I was just stuck at, "I think that marriage equity/gay marriage is just one of those topics that isn't discussed in the Bible - which is not to say that it is good or bad, just that it isn't covered. It MIGHT be alluded to, but in good faith, I don't think we can say it is definitively."

49. On topics that aren't covered in the Bible, I'm entirely fine with another method of determining our moral values: Using our God-given reasoning. Is using our fallible reasoning a perfect way of determining moral values? No, not really. No more than using our reasoning to understand the Bible's teachings is a perfect way of determining our moral values. But is it a good and rational way to do the best we can?

I say, what option do we have?

50. On this front, some of our more traditional friends will say, "What option?! We have the Bible!!" And their thinking is that the Bible is "obvious" on many fronts and that one and only one moral conclusion can be reached on all the "big sins." For my part, I tend to think the Bible's ethical teachings ARE obvious. However, seeing as how so many of us good Bible loving Christians can't agree on what is and isn't obvious, I think it's obvious that our fallible reasoning (either logical reasoning or biblical reasoning) IS fallible and we don't always come to the same conclusions.

The point is: EVEN WHEN we are reading the Bible to understand God's ways and even when a value seems "obvious" to us, not all of us agree.

51. At any rate, using my God-given reasoning, I could see that those who wish to be married for the reasons of being faithful to a spouse, of raising family, of love for a spouse, to honor and respect and cherish a spouse... those who wish to be married in a mutually loving, committed relationship, where is there room for saying this is a bad thing? Just from a logical point of view, if people are sexual creatures and if licentious sexual acting out and roaming around can be bad (a point most of us can agree upon) and there is a more wholesome, committed, faithful alternative such as marriage, it is very hard to argue from a purely logical point of view that this is a bad thing.

What is bad in that behavior? I can think of nothing and I have heard no one offer anything.

52. As I was considering that logical angle, I was reminded of many passages in the Bible along the lines of, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things..." and Jesus' teaching about doing good on the Sabbath, reminding us that Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for Sabbath.

That teaching, in particular, stuck with me.

53. As I went through this whole study with myself, one of the things that happened was that I moved away from the notion of the Bible as a book of rules - a mere list of things to do and things not to do - to viewing it as a book of TRUTHS. (Not that I ever would have reduced the Bible down to a mere rule book, but I leaned more that way when I was younger than I do now).

Given that, I have repeatedly noticed how this is one way that people got in trouble in the Bible: When they reduce God's ways down to a mere list of dos and don'ts. When people do that, as the Pharisees often did, you can too easily get into trouble because, as Jesus noted, the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.

The teachings and morals offered in the Bible are nearly always offered for the sake of humanity. To help us, to keep us from trouble, to keep us from making our lives a hellish existence.

By making the OT teachings a list of rules, the Pharisees were able to criticize GOD (Jesus) for merely eating, because they "violated" a rule they had come to understand as simply "don't work on the Sabbath." In so doing, they allowed the RULE to take precedence over Human needs. Jesus corrected their misunderstanding, telling us all to remember that the Sabbath (rules) were made for our sake, not US for rules' sake.

54. So, looking at the teachings and truths that things that are good, helpful, kind, respectful, committed, faithful, caring... that these things ARE good and are ALWAYS good, I found a reason to support marriage equity. And it was pretty obvious at this point: This desire to be committed and loving and faithful in a spousal relationship IS a self-evident moral good!

55. Again, wow! For someone like me - wholly opposed to any and all homosexual behavior (because I thought the Bible taught against it and I had checked that off as one of those "rules" that you just don't violate, in any and all circumstances) who had no intention to change his mind, to be convinced BY PRAYERFUL BIBLE STUDY of a wholly opposite opinion, that is just amazing and something I could not have imagined in a million years doing.

And yet, here I am, holding the opinion that marriage IS indeed a good thing for folk able and prepared to commit to it, and that does not matter if they are gay folk or straight folk.

And there you have it. My journey from opposition to any and all gay behavior, to support of marriage equity for all, all through prayer and Bible study and reflection.

Of course, this is a greatly simplified representation of my journey. It actually occurred over months of study and meditation and reflection and prayer. And I may be misremembering some of my thought processes: I'm of an age that I don't remember every little detail like I used to (and I never remembered every little detail all that well). But in general, this is how it happened.

Now, my reasoning may not convince many out there to change their position. If I could have passed these thoughts on to 20 year old Dan, it almost certainly wouldn't have changed HIS position, either. That is not the purpose of my posting this. I'm just recounting my journey to say that this is how it happened, and that it IS possible through prayerful consideration and Bible study alone to reach my conclusions.

You may disagree with those conclusions, but you can't say that I have not reached them the way I did, because, well, that would just conflict with the facts of the situation. And I'm not alone. Others have made this journey along similar paths.

Disagree if you must with our conclusions, but don't say that we have not honestly reached them.

As Martin Luther is reported to have said: "Here I stand, I can do no other."

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