On July 3, Matthew Vines posted an article titled “40 questions for Christians who oppose marriage equality.” A friend brought the article to my attention, and I wrote out my answers to the 40 questions mostly as an exercise for myself. Some of the questions were really good, thought-provoking discussion starters. Some exposed really weird presuppositions about history, marriage, and Christianity. A few questions struck me as purely rhetorical traps, but it might be that I misunderstood. All in all, I think the article bears discussing. So let’s. Here are my answers. What are yours?
- Do you accept that sexual orientation is not a choice?
I doubt it’s that simple. We are sinners by nature and by choice; why wouldn’t both enter into it? I suspect that for most of us, our choices, especially our early choices, have something to do with it, as do our native proclivities and our early experiences. At the moment, it is politically convenient to present sexual orientation as fixed at birth and totally immutable, something one discovers rather than something one develops. (It is, in other words, the last stand of essentialism.) Ten minutes after the political necessity passes, I expect we’ll be up to our necks in carefully footnoted research about how sexual orientation is far more nuanced, complex and dynamic than we previously suspected.
- Do you accept that sexual orientation is highly resistant to attempts to change it?
If you mean ham-handed attempts to “decide not to be gay” and that sort of thing, then yeah, I do. Many of any given person’s desires are highly resistant to that sort of will-driven change — a “beach bum” can’t just decide not to like the beach and love the desert instead, either.That said, I have known people who experienced themselves as having one sexual orientation, then later experienced themselves as having a different sexual orientation. Since I’ve seen it go straight->gay and gay->straight, again, the situation does seem to be a bit more complicated. And “gay for the stay” is a thing among prisoners for a reason.
- How many meaningful relationships with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people do you have?
Of course I don’t know. I’m 40 years old; I remember a time when almost nobody was ‘out’ in mainstream America. I had a friend in high school that was gay — he didn’t know I knew, and I didn’t bring it up to him out of respect for his decision to keep it private. I have (or have had) good friendships with several LGBT folk, along with a fairly large number of acquaintances. But here I have a question in response: So what? What are the implications for the conversation if someone says “Well, I’ve never had any,” or conversely, their number is bigger than yours?
- How many openly LGBT people would say you are one of their closest friends?
You’d have to ask them.
- How much time have you spent in one-on-one conversation with LGBT Christians about their faith and sexuality?
A little. Not a ton, but not many seem to want to have that conversation with me — there’s a self-selection factor in play here.
- Do you accept that heterosexual marriage is not a realistic option for most gay people?
I’m not sure that I do. It appears to have been the default option for nearly all of humanity for nearly all of human history. Obviously it can be done, and usually was. I guess we’d have to talk about what you mean by “realistic option.”
- Do you accept that lifelong celibacy is the only valid option for most gay people if all same-sex relationships are sinful?
Lifelong celibacy is the only valid option for anybody who doesn’t get married. It was good enough for Jesus — what’s wrong with it?
- How many gay brothers and sisters in Christ have you walked with on the path of mandatory celibacy, and for how long?
A couple, and for a while. I have the same follow-up question here as in #3. So what? From your perspective, what are the implications for the discussion if I say “None,” or if my number is bigger than yours?
- What is your answer for gay Christians who struggled for years to live out a celibacy mandate but were driven to suicidal despair in the process?
The same as for straight Christians who struggled for years to live out a celibacy mandate but were driven to suicidal despair in the process, or for any Christian who struggled with anything whatever and was driven to suicidal despair in the process. In a nutshell, to walk with them and help them to walk with God and hear His voice, so as to pursue their God-given destinies rather than letting their whole lives be about what they can’t do. I can hear the peanut gallery muttering something about cliches and platitudes, and I have two things to say: first, you may have had someone throw those words at you before, someone who didn’t know you, didn’t walk with you, someone who didn’t themselves live out the realities to which those words refer. Someone who was using “cast your cares on Jesus” as a screen to keep you away, because they were afraid of your hurts and your despair. Regardless of your personal history with them, those statements are not platitudes. They are living truths, and if God puts you in my life, I will live them with you, neck-deep in your mess (and you in mine), doing whatever it takes to help. Second, I know this approach is real because I have lived it out myself. Suicidal despair and I are old enemies.
- Has mandatory celibacy produced good fruit in the lives of most gay Christians you know?
Most gay Christians I know haven’t tried it. A great number of the unmarried straight Christians I know haven’t tried it either. This is a serious problem in the church, and our inability to address the issues surrounding gay “marriage” is just a symptom of a much deeper problem: evangelicals have as much trouble as the general culture does with sexual ethics. As a group, we hate biblical sexual ethics generally, and fall woefully short of even trying to live up to them. Having deified orgasm, we are now prepared to believe that there are many roads up the mountain, and it doesn’t really matter which one you take, as long as it gets you there.
- How many married same-sex couples do you know?
One…but they just split up. Same follow-up question as #3.
- Do you believe that same-sex couples’ relationships can show the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
I am sure that at times it can. Sin in one area does not stop God from producing fruit in our lives — for which all thanksgiving. It does not follow that the sin is not sin, or that God approves of it, or that we ought to turn a blind eye to it, or refuse to call it by its right name.
- Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support same-sex marriage in the church?
There’s some kind of weird presupposition behind these “Is it possible to be a Christian and ____” questions. It’s possible to be a Christian and deny Jesus (cf. Peter). It’s possible to be a Christian and commit murder (as some of the addressees of the epistle of James had done). It’s possible to be a Christian and an adulterer (as had some of the Corinthians). It’s possible to be a Christian and so abuse the poor at the Lord’s Table that God actually kills you over it (the Corinthians again — they were a mess!) In the same vein, it’s surely possible to be a Christian and a practicing homosexual — or simply approving of Christian homosexuals. Sure. God receives all who come to Him into His family. He doesn’t require that you clean up first — just come. And once you’re part of the family, you’re part of the family forever. If we are faithless, He remains faithful. But it certainly is possible to be faithless. It’s possible to be a Christian and sin in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. Happens all the time, and praise God, He is kind to us. He came to seek and save the lost. So all that said, is supporting same-sex marriage the act of a discerning and faithful Christian? No. it’s rather plainly not. Does it define you out of the family? Of course not. God is a better father than that.
- Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support slavery?
Many were. Including Moses and Paul, depending on what you mean by “support slavery.”
- If not, do you believe that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards were not actually Christians because they supported slavery?
- Do you think supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?
Yes, and how! They’re not even in the same league. Supporting same-sex marriage is supporting four-sided triangles. You are declaring a thing to be which is simply not so — and doing so in order to dignify a serious sin. Slavery doesn’t fall into the same category. So yes, it’s a much more serious problem.
- Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s passages about slavery before you felt comfortable believing that slavery is wrong?
Lots, which is why I would say that slavery is not necessarily wrong. It was not a sin for Abraham to own slaves, nor for Israel to own slaves, nor for Paul — under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — to return Onesimus to Philemon and encourage slaves to obey their masters and masters to treat their slaves well. If you believe that slavery is categorically wrong, well…did you read any of these passages? Would you accuse God of wrong?
- Does it cause you any concern that Christians throughout most of church history would have disagreed with you?
Moi? No, they wouldn’t. Does it bother you that they would find your position unconscionable?
- Did you know that, for most of church history, Christians believed that the Bible taught the earth stood still at the center of the universe?
Some Christians said so, because they made the mistake of rooting their cosmology in pagan balloon juice and prettying it up with a few verses. It’s a pretty serious mistake to make, but it happens. As I said above, it doesn’t automatically define you out fo the faith, for which all thanksgiving.
- Does it cause you any concern that you disagree with their interpretation of the Bible?
Nope. Does it cause you any concern that you are repeating their methodological mistake with the current vintage of pagan balloon juice?
- Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s verses on the topic before you felt comfortable believing that the earth revolves around the sun?
I did, actually. I was quite the apologetics geek in my teenage years, before I learned how to love people instead of clubbing them.
- Do you know of any Christian writers before the 20th century who acknowledged that gay people must be celibate for life due to the church’s rejection of same-sex relationships?
What a very tactical framing of the question. No, prior to the 20th century’s particular madness, this framing of the issue was unthinkable. All the single folk were told the same thing regardless of sexual orientation: marry the spouse your family picks for you, and be fruitful. The relevant passages were fifth commandment and the creation mandate. Counterquestion: do you know of Christian writers before the 20th century who encouraged sexual activity outside of marriage? And even if you had dozens of examples, do you think they matter, stacked up against the plain teaching of Scripture?
- If not, might it be fair to say that mandating celibacy for gay Christians is not a traditional position?
This is just dumb. Traditionally, Mom and Dad picked a spouse for their kids, who had precious little choice in the matter anyway. Do you prefer that position? And the traditional position is to remain celibate unless and until you marry a person of the opposite sex — and you know it.
- Do you believe that the Bible explicitly teaches that all gay Christians must be single and celibate for life?
Nope. It says no such thing. A gay man is free to marry a woman and bear children — as regularly happened. A lesbian is similarly free to marry a man and raise children together. The Bible says, “Children, obey your parents,” which for most of history meant marrying who they said. But perhaps you’ve heard of “necessary consequence?”
- If not, do you feel comfortable affirming something that is not explicitly affirmed in the Bible?
Well, given what I said above, this little trap doesn’t apply to me — but just to be talking about it, yes, I do. The trinity, for example. Again, perhaps you’ve heard of “necessary consequence?”
- Do you believe that the moral distinction between lust and love matters for LGBT people’s romantic relationships?
Of course, although it’s more a spectrum than a hard distinction. I’m not sure 0% lust is really attainable. But just because you care about the whole person to some extent doesn’t mean your actions are in their best interests. You can damage a person with good intentions, and same-sex relationships do.
- Do you think that loving same-sex relationships should be assessed in the same way as the same-sex behavior Paul explicitly describes as lustful in Romans 1?
Paul seems to be saying that lust drives the descent into same-sex relationships, and he makes no qualifications in his denunciation of same-sex relationships. But come now, be serious. The exegesis here is in no way complicated. Paul’s denunciations of same-sex sexual relationships are as straightforward as they could be.
- Do you believe that Paul’s use of the terms “shameful” and “unnatural” in Romans 1:26-27 means that all same-sex relationships are sinful?
- Would you say the same about Paul’s description of long hair in men as “shameful” and against “nature” in 1 Corinthians 11:14, or would you say he was describing cultural norms of his time?
I would say the same, actually. I see you rolling your eyes, but I’m serious, and so should you be. There are pretty hefty exegetical reasons to take it that way, and the reason we overwhelmingly try to beg off on some “cultural norm” explanation is not because the exegesis points that way — it rather plainly doesn’t — but because we don’t want to believe it. Sounds familiar….
- Do you believe that the capacity for procreation is essential to marriage?
It is central to marriage in a center-of-the-bell-curve kind of way — and God explicitly commanded it, so it’s out of bounds for a Christian marriage to be hostile to procreation. That said, procreation does not define marriage: Adam and Eve had a marriage before there were children. The marriage must be valid in order for the activity that leads to procreation to be lawful.
- If so, what does that mean for infertile heterosexual couples?
It means it really hurts to be me some days. Other days I don’t think about it as much. Apparently today’s going to be one of the former — thanks for that. (If you’re feeling bad for bringing up a topic that is personally quite painful for me, don’t. My feelings are real, but they are not, in fact, the point, and you don’t have to let them dictate the course of the discussion.) Now, you see what I did there — dodge the issue and make it about my feelings? Let’s just make that off-limits for everybody, because it’s not helpful to the discussion. So to actually answer the question, for infertile couples it means that God opens and closes the womb as He wills, and we trust Him to know best, even though we don’t understand.
- How much time have you spent engaging with the writings of LGBT-affirming Christians like Justin Lee, James Brownson, and Rachel Murr?
I haven’t. I don’t read the patents for perpetual-motion machines, either, and for the same reason.
- What relationship recognition rights short of marriage do you support for same-sex couples?
If by “relationship recognition rights” you ean, do I pretend they’re really not together, then of course not. I If you mean some version of “marriage lite” like civil unions, I don’t. It isn’t my job to condemn or to fix people, but neither is it my job to nurture their sins. It is my job to love them. On a good day, I do my best. On a bad day, I do poorly, like everyone else.
- What are you doing to advocate for those rights?
- Do you know who Tyler Clementi, Leelah Alcorn, and Blake Brockington are, and did your church offer any kind of prayer for them when their deaths made national news?
My church doesn’t offer up prayers for the dead, but that’s not really the point you’re making. No, I had to google them. So I want to ask that follow-up question again: So what? Is attention to the popular news now a requirement for reading the Bible properly?
- Do you know that LGBT youth whose families reject them are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youth whose families support them?
Define “reject” and “support” please. I smell a false dichotomy.
- Have you vocally objected when church leaders and other Christians have compared same-sex relationships to things like bestiality, incest, and pedophilia?
No, and for good reason. You listed four perversions in the same sentence. Why would I object?
- How certain are you that God’s will for all gay Christians is lifelong celibacy?
I’m not. See above re. marriage. That said, God’s will for all unmarried Christians is celibacy, and again, by “marriage,” I mean the real kind.
- What do you think the result would be if we told all straight teenagers in the church that if they ever dated someone they liked, held someone’s hand, kissed someone, or got married, they would be rebelling against God?
I think we would be lying to them about what God said, and as with all such lies, the results would be disastrous.
- Are you willing to be in fellowship with Christians who disagree with you on this topic?
Again, define your terms. Have-a-beer-together fellowship? Sure. I do. Make-common-cause-on-sexual-issues fellowship? Not a chance — how would that even work? Welcome them to the Table? Of course — that’s where we all meet Jesus; why would I try to keep them away?