This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Reasons we support same-sex marriage — or not

1. Our nation recognizes two men or two women committing themselves in marriage. We who follow Jesus often resist the norms of society around us. Nonetheless, our surrounding culture impacts us: we instinctively move toward stances held by people to whom we compare ourselves.

2. Both the church and our culture see companionship and intimacy as the heart of marriage — and procreation as optional. Marriage has become less of a contract to protect children and more of an arrangement to celebrate and channel romantic feelings. So it seems deeply unfair to say that the nice gay couple down the street should not be married — unless there is some other essential factor in marriage.

3. Indeed, justice calls us to grant gays the right to marriage; denying them that right feels akin to racism or denying civil rights. Yet the fact that persons should be given the right to do something does not mean that it is the right thing to do — giving persons the right to follow Buddha does not mean that we think they should follow Buddha. Also, same-sex marriage is a matter of chosen behavior: we cannot change the color of our skin, but same-sex attracted persons can choose celibacy.

4. Yet we instinctively feel the unfairness of denying someone the physical closeness they are somehow built to desire. Celibacy seems a burden too hard to ask a same-sex attracted person to bear. Or do we see celibacy as a burden because, as children of our culture, we assume that sex is necessary for human flourishing and that we have the right to enjoy pleasure and avoid any hard road? The life of Jesus and countless men and women through the centuries show that one does not need access to sex to be a full human being. Our faith challenges and frustrates our natural impulses again and again; if we avoid all things that bring suffering and death, we can also miss new life from above.

5. We can point to gay and lesbian couples who show human flourishing in many ways, including faithful self-giving love. Surely only a prejudicial, ill-willed person would not affirm such relationships! However, a community decides whether a category of behavior is good, not by looking at whether some examples of it are good, but by observing the overall pattern. It may be a long time before we are certain about this pattern — whether there are intrinsic factors in male-male and female-female marriage that affect human flourishing. A huge amount of data needs to be observed over multiple generations. Plus, any negative inferences on gay marriage will be very slow in surfacing — researchers hesitate to give stats against the choices of LGBTQ persons — even if there are “general patterns of lack in same-sex partnerships.”

6. Christ-followers read and try to apply Scripture to life. As we do, we note ambiguity in the words in the biblical sin lists that refer to same-sex relations; we cannot be totally certain that they refer to the loving, mutual relationships found in today’s same-sex marriages. Indeed, Scripture — and all writing except what our lawyers draw up — has ambiguity. But most often it is clear enough. Though scholars can — and do! — raise questions about the words in Romans 1 and 1 Cor. 6, they never inject more than minor uncertainty into whether these words apply to all same-sex sex. The historic understanding of these particular texts remains the strongest and most natural reading. For instance, in the sin list in 1 Cor. 6 Paul uses a compound word (formed of the words for male and coitus found in his Greek version of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13) that was so rare that it could not have, through use, developed a meaning beyond male-male sex in general. And in Romans 1 the language of mutual desire (“for one another”) suggests that Paul had in mind something consensual, and the mention of female-female relations shows that he was not limiting his thoughts to exploitive forms like pederasty.

7. Many of us have seen the Spirit of God minister in beautiful ways through men and women who are in same-sex partnerships. But when the Spirit fills someone it does not mean that everything in their life is thereby holy. God in grace meets all of us sinners where we are and comes into any area of life that we open to the Spirit.

8. We want to be people marked by grace rather than ones who judge others for their sexual habits and choices. May it be so! And, hand in hand with showing patient love and mercy, may we teach God’s design for our lives and encourage movement toward that divine intent. For if Scripture does view all same-sex sex as wrong, we expect that one day we will see why the Spirit of God in compassion would steer persons away from this form of sexuality.

* This post was edited Feb. 4 to reflect changes the author made on his blog in section 3 about skin color.

Harold N. Miller is pastor of Trissels Mennonite Church, Broadway, Va. He blogs at Interacting With Jesus, where this post first appeared.

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