I’ve been wondering about blogging on this topic for a week or more, knowing that many of my friends will have strong views on the topic and that we may disagree. I have to say I’m not writing from a position of certain conviction and that my views on this matter are still in some flux. A good friend of mine sent me a link to the Coalition for Marriage’s petition and I have to say it made me very uncomfortable. I don’t like the way they withhold information about which organisations have joined together to start the campaign. I don’t like the way they mention having lots of evidence to support their case but don’t actually cite or link to any (I frequently criticise my students for this approach). I think the whole web-site over simplifies the issue (and looks rather designed for teletubbies).
Searching more carefully, I find some organisations and individuals involved are those I generally respect or have appreciated in the past. I think the Evangelical Alliance does some good things, and I have some time for some of the campaigns CARE have been involved with. I have appreciated some teaching from listed signatories including Steve Clifford, Lyndon Bowring, Gerald Coates and Roger Forster although this was many years ago when I was at Spring Harvest conferences. One key involved organisation namely the Christian Institute has made a more negative impression on me for their judgemental attitudes and bitter publicity materials which I have actively removed from my church (with the knowledge of my church leader). Other churches involved clearly have very different theological views to me.
I guess I consider myself an evangelical, though not a conservative evangelical. I believe the Bible is the word of God and the primary source for Christians on matters of faith and conduct but I also prioritise the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals today and in revelation to the Church throughout history, including on matters of interpreting scripture. I know there are verses in the Bible which some Christians consider decisive in forbidding any homosexual acts. I know that other Christians feel strongly that these verses have been misinterpreted. I know some people who identify as Christians commit horrific acts against homosexuals and that members of the Church throughout history have frequently acted out of prejudice and fear rather than love.
My own position at the moment will likely be considered too woolly and liberal by some, while being seen as not liberal enough by others. The fact that this isn’t a personal issue for my own sexuality or any close friends of mine (so far as I know) gives me a fair bit of distance from the issue which makes pontificating rather easier. I hope that if a committed gay couple came to my church, they would be welcomed, supported in their relationship and not expected to change their sexual habits any more than a comparable straight couple (i.e. when personally convicted of sin needing repentance). I also hope that if an individual came out as gay in my church, they would be accepted and not expected to change or receive prayer for a change in sexual orientation unless this was something they explicitly requested of their own volition. I’m not persuaded that prayer for a change in sexual orientation is generally beneficial but I believe in an awesome God who can do anything, even if he often does not intervene in the way we ask.
I see sex as something that should only happen within marriage (or a partnership like marriage) so I see casual homosexual or heterosexual sex as equally wrong. I don’t see this or other sexual sin (including adultery) as any worse than other sins humans frequently fall into including greed, hate, envy, quarrelling, deception, malicious behaviour and gossip. I don’t generally challenge people I meet about the sins I think they commit, recognising that I am not in a position to judge. That said, I think some behaviour has more obvious harmful consequences to others and it has been my job to intervene in some cases of harmful sexual behaviour or abuse of children in the past.
Allowing gay marriage seems to be controversial for a number of reasons. There are arguments about the historical understanding of marriage and whether redefining the term to include ‘two people’ rather than ‘one man and one woman’ is changing the definition too much. I think some Christians are unhappy about the fact that allowing gay marriage would legitimise gay sex in a way that they feel is wrong. There are other implications in terms of family life and law but I’m not convinced that any of these are that strong reasons. Marriage has already been redefined so much over the years as attitudes to women have changed. Orfeo on the Ship of Fools forum explained:
Marriage has moved from a man selecting someone to have his babies (therefore he must select a woman) to a partnership between consenting, equal adults.
There’s a lot of interesting debate on the Ship of Fools site including contributions from many more liberal than me. Part of me wonders if my exposure to more liberal ideas online, at work, in my drama and dramatherapy training, in the films and tv I like to watch has made me too accepting on some issues. I do believe that some things are very wrong and make God angry but I would generally prioritise sins of being judgemental, hypocritical, oppressing people and putting burdens on people since these are the things Jesus condemned most clearly. That’s the same Jesus who said nothing about being gay and not that much about being married.
It’s possible that I will feel convicted to change my mind about issues relating to homosexuality in the future. Perhaps I’ll hear a sermon or meet someone whose experiences cause me to reconsider my point of view. But my feeling at the moment is that judging someone for their sexuality is wrong, and that refusing to recognise a partnership between two men or two women before God is discriminatory. I can see that there is a matter of conscience for some Christians and that some churches and denominations will not want to bless/conduct gay marriages but I don’t see this as a reason to prevent other churches from doing so. Since the state has already allowed civil partnerships, it seems that the main group who would want gay marriage are gay couples who want God to be recognised as an important part of their relationship, part of their lives. Saying they can only have a civil union seems to me to say ‘God disapproves of you, your sexuality and your choice to be with a same-sex partner’. But I guess allowing marriage could be seen to say God approves of these things, and that’s a step too far for some people. This could be a long debate.