This past year, the Supreme Court made a historic decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. For some Christians, this is a great victory for equality and social justice. For others, this represents evidence of a society moving further away from God’s plan.
When I was growing up, I was taught that being gay was a sin, and I thought that heterosexual marriage was the only acceptable form of marriage. But over the past several years, I have changed my mind on this issue. I have become more outspoken in recent years about my support for gay marriage, and several people have asked me how I reconciled support for gay marriage with my Christian faith. I have done a lot of thinking and reading on this issue over the past several years, and I wanted to write down some of what I learned and thought about during that time.
First, I want to acknowledge that my personal experiences have influenced how I have thought about this issue over the years. For most of my life, I wasn’t touched personally by issues related to homosexuality and gay marriage. Same-sex attraction wasn’t something I personally experienced, and I didn’t have any close friends or family members that identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). So for me growing up, it was a simple issue. I was taught that the Bible said homosexuality was a sin, and marriage should be between a man and a woman, so that’s what I believed. I didn’t have any reason to question that belief.
Three things happened during graduate school that began to shift my thinking on this issue. First, I was studying to become a counseling psychologist. There is a large emphasis in counseling psychology on the importance of valuing diversity and advocating for social justice for all types of people, irrespective of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. As I studied to be a counseling psychologist, I started to develop these values myself. I found it difficult to align the values of social justice with the Christian teaching that denied equal marriage rights to people who identified as LGB.
Second, one of my best friends during my time at graduate school came out as gay. We went to the same church together, and I walked with him through a difficult time in which he struggled with how to deal with his sexuality and his place in the church. This was a friend who was a very committed Christian, and had prayed for years to God to take away his sexual feelings toward other men. This was a friend who had tried to date girls over the years. This was a friend who became depressed, partly due to his inability to ‘change,’ and the fact that he didn’t see any way for him to have an intimate sexual relationship that was pleasing to God.
Third, I started to become frustrated with a version of Christianity that I had embraced for most of my life. This version of Christianity treated every word of the Bible as inerrant, as if God had dictated the words to us. But as I read and studied the Bible in more depth, I found contradictions. I realized that there were certain teachings in the Bible that Christians seemed to hold as ‘inerrant’ whereas other teachings were viewed as ‘obviously cultural.’ Most Christians I engaged with didn’t seem to have a systematic way to explain, for example, why the verses prohibiting homosexuality were interpreted strictly, whereas the verses accepting slavery were obviously discarded. (They seemed split about how to interpret the verses that restricted the roles of women.)
These personal experiences didn’t change my views on homosexuality and gay marriage, but they did motivate me to read and research what different Christians had to say about these issues. Whereas before I didn’t have any reason to think about or question my beliefs, now I did. So I studied. I read different perspectives, both from individuals who supported the traditional Christian sexual ethic and others who held a gay-affirmative stance. I weighed the evidence, prayed to God for guidance, and discussed these issues with others who were also wrestling with these topics and trying to figure it out. And here is what I came to:
- I realized I needed a new way to interpret the Bible. No longer could I treat Scripture as a simple handbook that I could apply out of context to any issue I had a question about in my 21st century life. I needed to look at the cultural context, and think about the intention of the writer. I also realized that I couldn’t take each and every part of Scripture and weigh it equally. I decided that I believed that Jesus was the ultimate revelation of God, and other parts of Scripture had to be interpreted through Jesus and his teachings. For example, in the Old Testament when I read that God commanded Joshua to kill every man, woman, and child in the city of Jericho, I needed to interpret that in light of the teaching of Jesus to love one’s enemies. The teaching of Jesus now takes precedence for me.
- I learned there were different ways to interpret the Scriptural passages that historically have been used to condemn homosexuality and gay marriage. For example, in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes a list of sinful folks who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Men who have sex with men are included in the list. For most people who hold to the traditional Christian sexual ethic, they interpret this as condemning all forms of homosexuality. This certainly is a straightforward interpretation of the passage. But there are other ways to interpret passages like this. For example, when Paul was around, the culture didn’t have a concept of ‘gay marriage’ like we do today. Paul wasn’t seeing folks like my friend, a committed Christian who longed to make a lifelong commitment to his partner. Instead, Paul was seeing a culture that was out of control sexually, and in his view; homosexuality was part of that culture. So perhaps this passage doesn’t apply to a gay marriage relationship, but rather to sexuality that is out of control.
- When deciding how to interpret different passages of Scripture, or passages of Scripture that seem to contradict each other, I decided that I needed to use the underlying values that are consistent in the life and teachings of Jesus and throughout Scripture as my interpretive lens. So let’s take homosexuality and gay marriage as the example. I looked at the underlying Biblical values that seem to apply to the situation. For example, Jesus teaches that the two most important commandments are to love God and love others. Which interpretation is more consistent with a loving stance? Throughout the Bible, God is concerned with fairness and justice, almost always taking the side of the poor and oppressed. Which interpretation is more consistent with fairness and justice? Jesus taught that He came so that we would have life and life abundant. Which interpretation is more consistent with health and life to the full?
For me, I decided that loving people who identify as LGB as they are, and advocating for equal rights in marriage was most consistent with the Biblical values of love, justice, and life abundant. By doing that, I gave myself space to interpret Scripture in a way that is consistent with core Christian values that I believe are important.
Discussion: What is your view on gay marriage? Have you engaged with this topic personally, or have you mostly adopted the position of your family or church?