I wasn’t at all surprised when President Obama came out in support of gay marriage. Heretofore, he claimed to be “evolving,” but now he has apparently weathered his intermediary stages and has fully evolved on this issue. I find it interesting that he used Darwinian language to define his enlightenment. Yes, I’m fully aware of the semantic flexibility of terms, but I can’t help but make a connection between the evolutionary mindset with its disdain for biblical authority and the willingness of Christian supporters of gay marriage to suppress the clear teaching of scripture.
I’m sure there are some who believe that the teachings of the Bible actually complicate the process of deliberating social issues in our contemporary society. Among them are those who believe that the socio-cultural situation and religious mores of yesteryear are of little relevance to our modern context. As far as they are concerned, advances in the social and medical sciences have provided material for a new moral canon as the biblical instructions are relegated to the genre of entertaining myth and etiological folk tales.
However, I happen to be a part of the defiant school that believes that the teachings of the Bible can actually offer clarity to our daily deliberations. While there are perplexing portions in its pages, the Bible is not a quaint collection of chauvinistic edicts; it is a powerful book that offers indispensable advice for life and living. When read responsibly, it is a book that heightens critical awareness and pushes the reader to utilize other methodologies to assess the truth of the teachings therein. For instance, as it relates to same-sex relationships, the biblical witness encourages the honest inquirer to assess it from a number of different angles. For the remainder of the essay, I will examine the debate from two of these angles before returning to the testimony of the revealed Word of God.
Reproductive Realities and Natural Law
When I address this issue, I often have opponents challenging my assertion that homosexuality is primarily defined by a certain type of sexual behavior. While I am fully aware that there are other factors that contribute to one’s homosexual identity, I am yet to hear a convincing argument that divorces homosexuality from it’s sexual context. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that every homosexual is engaging in sexual intercourse, I’m simply asserting that a homosexual is a person who finds a person of the same gender sexually attractive.
This is no different than the sexual attraction experienced by heterosexual individuals. The term “sexual attraction” does not necessarily mean that sexual intercourse is desired, it merely indicates a subconscious awareness that another person possesses certain qualities that appear to make him or her a suitable romantic partner. Although homosexuality is not exclusively defined by sexual activity, this aspect of the topic is paramount to the discussion on the legitimacy of same gender marriages.
On a purely biological level, sexual intercourse is easy to understand. Nature is crystal clear that its primary purpose is reproduction. Think about it. Male sexual activity progresses to a climax where spermatozoa are released. Spermatozoa have a singular function—the fertilization of ova. Further, the major physiological change that occurs in a man’s body during this activity is designed for optimum penetration so that at the moment of ejaculation the spermatozoa can achieve their intended goal.
Conversely, women are uniquely designed to complement the reproductive process. In the same way that men are the unique depositories for the spermatozoa, they are the receptacles for the ova. It is no coincidence that female sexual desire is heightened during the time of month when the eggs are released. Everything about inter-gender sexual activity points to complementary physical interaction between a man and a woman. The fact is, although homosexual feelings are real and should not be discounted or minimized, the reality of reproduction is enough to reject the theory that homosexuality is a natural alternative to heterosexuality. Nature unequivocally attests that it is unnatural.
Race Realities and Civil Law
Not only are grounds for homosexual marriage rejected by natural law, but there are also inhibitions in the realm of civil law. Many proponents of homosexual marriage believe that Blacks should be automatic allies to their cause since we have had to fight hard for equal treatment under the law. When it comes to equal treatment under law, I firmly believe that in the public sphere, a person should not be denied access to education, employment or any other public activity on the basis of a societal “difference.” However, I am disturbed by the lack of sensitivity exercised by those who appear to suggest that being homosexual is similar to being black.
The fact that a person can be both Black and homosexual at the same time is enough to discredit the comparison. My ethnicity is both predetermined and predictable and manifests itself in physiological observable ways. However, homosexuality is more aligned to the realm of human behavior. It is no secret that some people choose to engage in homosexual activity, but I could never choose to change my ethnicity. The fact of discrimination does not merit an automatic pairing between those being discriminated against.
One of my best and dearest friends disagrees with me on this issue. He bases his solidarity with gays seeking marriage on the basis that there was a time when certain configurations of interracial marriage were against the law. He reasons that those who have been discriminated against should be the first to seek changes in any law that restricts the “freedom” to marry. Try as I may, I fail to see how this comparison is valid. Bans against interethnic marriage were intended to restrict unions between men and women of different ethnicities. It is crystal clear that these laws assumed inter-gender relationships—the principle behind these laws was never about gender.
Undoubtedly, there are some proponents of same-gender marriage who believe that their operating principle is based on the right of a person to enter into a long-term relationship with anyone he or she chooses. This, they purport, is the real civil rights issue. Why should mature people who love each other be denied the right to spend the rest of their life together in a committed amorous relationship? However, here again the door is left open to any number of marriage configurations. Based on this principle, the union could include man-wife-wife; woman-husband-wife; father-daughter, sister-brother, mother-daughter, grandfather-grandson, etc. The truth is, in order for gay-marriage to be accepted, marriage itself must be redefined by society. Further, if restrictions are to remain, solid reasons must be provided for why certain categories of consensual relationships between adults should remain taboo.
Religious Realities and Divine Law
As a Bible believing Christian, my opposition to same-gender marriage is not merely derived from reflecting on natural and civil law, but it is both fortified and informed by the biblical witness. The Bible leaves no room for questioning the type of marriage that conforms to God’s intended order. His creative ideal for inter-gender relations is clearly outlined in the story of the first family in the first three chapters of Genesis where the complementary relationship between man and woman is established (cf. Gen 1:27-28; 2:18-25). So intricate is the institution to creation that it even survives the advent of sin (Gen 3:16). The expectation for inter-gender relationships is assumed in all marriages recorded in the Hebrew Bible, even those that accommodate the cultural practice of polygamy.
The New Testament witness also buttresses the fact that heterosexual marriage transcends cultural preferences. In harmony with the indisputable teaching of the First Testament, Jesus’ teachings on marriage are directed only to male-female partnerships (cf. Mt 5:27-28 & 31-32; Mt. 19:3-10). Paul is also clear that a marriage is a life long union between a man and a woman that not only involves them, but also their biological offspring (cf. Rom 7:1-6; 1 Cor 7:1-16).
Whereas inter-gender sexual relationships are celebrated in scripture, same-gender sexual relationships are viewed as sin in its vilest form. The reprobate nature of this type of sexual activity is dramatically illustrated in the stories of the assault on Lot’s angelic visitors in Sodom and the gory tragedy involving the Levite and his concubine (Gen 19:1-11; Jdgs 19:1-30). Warnings against same-gender sexual relations appear in several places throughout the Torah and transgression carried the severest penalty (Lev 18:22; 20:13).
The New Testament is consistent with the condemnation. Despite the attempts of some desperate biblical scholars to reinvent Greek lexical history and interpret homosexuality as pederasty, the epistles of Paul are very clear in their condemnation of homosexual activity (cf. Romans 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10). In fact, both Paul and John (using a canine metaphor that sounds insensitive to the modern reader) pronounce the exclusion from the eschatological kingdom for those engaged in this behavior—among others (cf. 1 Cor 6; Reve 22:15).
I have no doubt that committed Christians who seek a spiritual reason to support same-gender marriage experience a tormenting level of cognitive dissonance. Deep down, they know that God’s word describes the behavior as abominable, but they so want to be sensitive to the genuine—but abnormal—sexual feelings expressed by an alarmingly increasing number of individuals in these final days of earth’s history. President Obama apparently soothed his discomfort by using the “love” commandment to nullify all other commandments. In similar fashion, Jesse Jackson reasons that if same-gender relations were so reprehensible to God he would have prohibited them in the Ten Commandments. Some well meaning proponents even assert that if the Bible writers were as enlightened as we on scientific matters they would never have written against homosexual behavior. While these proponents are often well intentioned, they strike at the heart of biblical authority and fail to consider the inherent limitations of their arguments. As much as they may want an “out” for their gay friends who wish to get married, they will not be able to find it in Scripture.
As far as I am concerned, the real issue for those Christians who support same-gender marriage does not concern whether the Bible supports it, but whether the Bible should be trusted at all as a moral guide. It’s basically an issue about the limits of biblical authority. In order to evolve to his position, the President had to make a firm decision about the role of the Bible in his decision-making processes. On this issue, he chose to side with “experience” and leaned on his own understanding. Unfortunately, in omitting the God factor, he also missed an opportunity to evaluate the revealed moral law through the lenses of both natural and civil law.
Similarly, I see many Seventh-day Adventists sliding down that same slippery slope. In our post-modern environment the individual’s experience is paramount, and none has the right to cast judgment on another. For many, this is a syncretistic age where each person is empowered to form his/her own canon comprised of excised “feel good” sections from their religious books and politically correct social and scientific theories. In this mindset, there is no objective source of absolute truth. Sadly, this is the very reason why some who read this column will dismiss its contents without fully evaluating the arguments. They have so much vested in their personal canons that they feel compelled to protect the contents at any cost.
Nonetheless, I pray that these words will serve their purpose in both strengthening and building faith in a complex God who restrains his power so we can exercise choice. I pray that my homosexual brothers and sisters will sense the compassion that inspired this column as they continue to trust in “the One who is able to keep us from falling.” I pray that the Holy Spirit will do what only He can do as He guides us all into perfect truth. I pray that those who read will always be mindful that “a tree is known by its fruit.”
Keith Augustus Burton is the Coordinator for the Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations at Oakwood University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4590