Friday, August 3, 2012

Why almost every gay marriage argument (on either side) is flawed

My post on Monday (arguing against both boycotts and anti-boycotts) clearly hit a nerve: it is now the most-shared and most-visited post in the history of this blog, with thousands of first-time visitors reading it. Thanks to all who found it interesting!

All of this discussion has me thinking about gay marriage - but not really about the debate itself. Don't misunderstand: it is an important debate to have, one which deals with civil rights and therefore should be undertaken with care and intelligence. In addition, all sides can agree that the debate should be more civil and respectful than it currently is. That is not my frustration today.

My frustration today is in listening to the Christians--on both sides of the debate--use arguments which are based upon non-Christian philosophies. Specifically, the majority of the arguments I have heard are based upon Greco-Roman philosophies rather than Christian philosophy.

What do I mean? Let's look at a few of the common arguments I have heard during the gay marriage debate, all from Christians.

"Homosexuality is natural - people are just born that way. It's how God made them, so we need to support their right to marry."

"Homosexuality is unnatural - it is not the way we are designed. God designed us male and female, and that is how the parts fit together and the biology works. So homosexuality is a perversion of nature and should not be allowed."

These two arguments are flip sides of the same coin. While they argue opposing viewpoints, they are both based upon an underlying Greek philosophy called Cynicism. Cynicism is the belief that morality is based upon how natural something is - how "in tune" with the natural state of things we are. If homosexuality is natural it is morally good; if unnatural it is morally bad.

"Homosexuality is sinful, but we need to keep our mouths shut on that. If we speak out about what we believe, then we will make them offended and drive them away from Jesus."

This one is REALLY common among Christians because it is so seductively close to the true Christian approach (which we shall discuss later). It is right that we should be respectful and kind to those who disagree with us...which far too many Christians fail to achieve. But the approach above is wrong about WHY we should be kind and respectful. This argument comes not from Christianity but Stoicism. Stoicism is the Greek philosophy which seeks out harmony, peace, and lack of passion as the highest moral virtues. Speaking a belief which causes discomfort, disharmony, or emotional responses in others is morally wrong to the Stoic. This leads to a tendency of some Christians to equate love or kindness with a lack of conflict, which are not at all the same things. Conflict can be loving or unloving, kind or unkind. Trying to assure love and kindness by avoidance of conflict is a Stoic approach rather than a Christian one.

"As long as they aren't hurting anybody, who cares? I say, it's fine. The bad that we cause by keeping them separate is worse than any bad caused by them being together."

This one is Epicureanism on its surface--the belief that whatever brings the greatest possible pleasure and minimizes pain is the morally right approach. One extreme branch of Epicureanism is Hedonism, which seeks pleasure at all costs; but proper Epicureanism is as stated above: if the good outweighs the bad, then this is what we should do. So the argument goes that gay marriage is better than the pain of not-gay-marriage, and therefore is acceptable.

"Gay marriage is against God's law so it is not a Biblical marriage. The traditional Biblical view of marriage is what this country needs to be defending."

This one has a whiff of Pharisetical judgmentalism to go along with its Eccentricism. Eccentricism is the belief that you need not have a coherent overarching philosophy but can pick and choose what sounds right from other philosophies. The concept of the status quo being a "Biblical" view of marriage is laughable. The view of marriage which the Jews and Christians held during the Roman Empire is far more restrictive than modern American marriage: they required both couples to be virgins (or widowed); they required both couples to be Christians; they denied the ability to divorce; they refused to marry divorcees; they generally suggested not marrying at all if possible, and only to use marriage as a necessity for those who were spiritually weak; they only accepted church marriages not state marriages; and yes, they denied the right of homosexuals to marry. If we actually want to support "traditional" or "Biblical" marriage, then we need to outlaw divorce except in the case of infidelity, crack down on premarital sex (probably by lowering the allowable marriage age), ensure we aren't seeing any interfaith marriages, refuse to participate in or accept "shotgun" marriages, refuse to marry divorcees to each other, and refuse to recognize the validity of justice-of-the-peace marriages. It is intellectually dishonest to treat homosexuals different from heterosexual fornicators or those who remarry after divorce, for all of these are violations of the "traditional marriage" of Christianity.

The Christian Philosophy

So I've told you what Christian philosophy does NOT do. It does not equate "natural" acts with moral goodness or "unnatural" acts with moral badness (Cynicism). It does not seek peace at all costs, equating lack of conflict with being Christlike (Stoicism). It does not justify an action based upon whether it brings pleasure or minimizes pain (Epicureanism). It does not pick and choose which parts of marriage to consider traditional and draw a "line in the sand" at arbitrary places in the Law (Phariseticism/Eccentricism).

So what DOES Christian philosophy teach?

Christian philosophy says that we were made in God's image and all men and women have an inherent dignity as a result. All are equally loved and treasured in God's heart. We were all exiled to this world after the Fall, and every one of us sins significantly and daily, on account of our depraved natures. We are incapable of making things right with God, based upon any action; we are hopeless. Jesus left heaven, became the God-Man, and died to forgive us our sins. If we believe in Him, we remain sinners but are justified before Him anyway (simul justus et peccator). He loves us in our sin, and despite our sin. Over time, He will help us defeat some sins, but we will retain our sinful nature until death. The Good News is that one day these fleshly temptations to break God's Law will be destroyed, and we will be given unfallen bodies and live together forever with Him.

What does this mean when you interact with those who are living in a lifestyle which you believe to be sinful?

* You do not judge them - that is, you never see yourself as having the moral superiority to denounce their lifestyle. You avoid judging them because (as Jesus showed in Matt 7 and Paul showed in Romans 7) you too are a sinner and they are no worse than you are. Both of you are spirits made in the image of the Holy God, whom God loved enough to die for, and both are trapped in fleshly sin and surrounded by daily temptations. What is there to judge? You are no different than them.

* You show them love, kindness, loyalty, and friendship. Every friend you have is engaging in a secret sin which they would be embarrassed for you to know about. They lust and masturbate. Or they drink too much or do drugs. Or they cheat at work. Or they yell at their kids. Or they hate their spouse. Or they are angry and bitter in life. We are all broken sinners. If you struggle to be friends with someone who is gay, the problem is largely yours, not theirs. How can you be best friends with the guy who shacked up with his girlfriend, but cannot be friends with the gay guy who did the same thing? Do you think your friend with the secret porn addiction is sinning less than the lesbian in your workplace? Nope. You should have no trouble being friends with any of them, if you are Christian. If you look down on and try to distance yourself from gays, but are not doing that to heterosexual sinners, then you are acting like a Pharisee, not a Christian.

* You do not keep your faith hidden for fear of offending them or in an attempt to reach harmony. The best way I can describe this is by example. A good friend of mine at work lived with his girlfriend for several years before getting married. I don't preach at him or call him a sinner, nor did I do so before he was married. Generally, the topic of sex didn't come up in our friendship. When it has come up and was germane to the conversation, I've mentioned that my wife and I waited on sex until we were married, for religious reasons. I did not judge him for shacking up, but neither did I encourage it by asking how his sex life was. When a religious topic comes up I talk about it openly. He is a non-Christian and very liberal, while I am Christian and independent with a strong conservative leaning. And yet we manage to be friendly. I can say what I believe and he can say what he believes. We can have friendly and healthy conflict, and actually be CLOSER friends for it, not more distant. If you treat them as friends and love them as a child of God, then it is easy to disagree in a friendly way, which actually gives you a chance of impacting their lives in a positive way.

* You give up the common and ridiculous notion among Christians that being gay is something to be "cured" or "fixed". We do not treat other sins this way! Christianity is not about the "fixing" of sin, but the redemption from sin. God is not likely to take away the temptation for homosexuality, any more than He takes away a straight man's desire to sleep with the hot woman he sees on the street. Sanctification in Christ is not the curing of temptation, but the ability to understand, cope with, and resist temptations. And even then, we never get free from sin. We will be sinners until God takes us home. Many Christians say this with their mouths, but their attitude toward homosexuals or others shows that what they really believe is that salvation "fixes" you of your sins. This is a hopelessly non-Christian approach. The Greeks believed that once you were morally righteous you would stay that way; we don't. We have to sacrifice our flesh daily, and if you think sin is something which can be fixed, go read Romans 7 and see how the great Paul was unable to avoid the desires of his flesh, despite his holiness.

* Put in a nutshell, the practical result of Christianity is to say, "I am a sinner who was shown sacrificial and wholly undeserved love by Jesus. As a result, I am going to show sacrificial love which is wholly undeserved to those around me."

I can't recall seeing the Christians on either side of this debate showing much of that in these debates.


  1. Amazing piece. You have just described a very good friend of mine, who I always hesitate to describe as a "conservative Christian" because of the baggage that term carries -- and yet she's a devout Christian who attends a free evangelical church. I have never met a conservative Christian quite like her. I read your words and said, "That's her." Just as important, I read your words and appreciated the enlightening lesson. I plan to print this blog entry so I can read it again and again, as well as pass it on to my children, and hope they in turn pass it on to theirs. It's that wonderful. Thank you.

    1. Jen, thank you and so glad it was helpful. That means a lot for me to hear.

  2. *Standing Ovation*

    If only more non-believers could see the Christians with this attitude/philosophy...

    As a Christian with family and fellow co-workers who are gay, it's sometimes uncomfortable for me sitting in church discussion groups when the subject of homosexuality and gay marriage comes up. This piece gives me some peace about reconciling my faith with those who I love and care about!

  3. Spot on. It seems like the core of the issue where many Christians go wrong with this topic is not letting the gospel be part of the discussion. Most of the Christians that I talk to fall into the "it is unnatural" line of thinking. Whether people want to consider homosexuality natural or unnatural isn't all that important. It is sinful, and we are sinners, but we're each a sinner in our own way. So our message to the world is "X lifestyle/sin is condemned by God," which by itself is not good news. The message never "X lifestyle/sin is condemned by God, but we have a scandalously merciful savior" the way you pointed out. Instead, we're more concerned about free speech than loving people enough to bring the gospel to them, and wonder why people look at us like we're a noisy gong.

  4. In light of the recent resurgence of this topic, I was like, "I wonder if good Mr. Belote has anything on the subject." So glad you didn't disappoint.

    I will be sharing this with some folks, so hope you don't mind.

    Oh good, didn't think you would! Ha!