Unpacking the “Whys” of the Church’s Same-Sex Marriage Conversation

“Do you support same-sex marriage for LGBTQ+ Christians or not?”

With a question so divisive in the church today, it can be hard to know how to answer.  “What will they think if I say “yes”?  What will they think if I say “no”?  What assumptions have already been made about me?  What assumptions have I already made about the person asking?”

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For some, all that matters is whether I answer “yes” or “no.”  But with that simple answer, how much have they actually learned about me?

We often behave as if there are only two types of people – group “yes” and group “no” – and that each group is homogeneous, uniform and unified.  In reality, we often have very different reasons for believing the things we believe, even though some of us might come to the same conclusions.  As a “yes”-answerer, my perspective on God and spirituality might actually be more similar to some of the people who answer “no” than it is to some of the people who happen to also answer “yes.”

In order to illustrate this, I’ve listed 23 different reasons why Christians might answer “yes” and 23 reasons why Christians might answer “no”.  This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it does cover some of the main things I’ve heard in conversations between Christians.

Perhaps you haven’t yet made up your mind on this topic, or you’re caught in the middle, and that’s fine.  But for those of you who belong to either “group yes” or “group no,” as you’re reading the lists below, I challenge you to ask yourself these questions…

Looking at YOUR group’s list:

  1. Which reason best represents your main motivation for believing what you do?

  2. Which other reasons do you also nod along with and agree with?

  3. Which reasons do you disagree with, or find unconvincing, even though they have led other people to the same conclusion as yours?

  4. Which reasons are often unfairly or disparagingly generalized as being applicable to your whole group?

Looking at the OTHER group’s list:

  1. Which of their reasons do you immediately want to argue with or push back against?

  2. Which of their reasons do you understand and empathize with, even if they don’t convince you?

  3. Which of their reasons are often unfairly or disparagingly generalized as being applicable to their whole group?

GROUP “YES” I support same-sex marriage…

… because biblical ethics don’t really apply today.

… because all that matters in this world, and in our faith, is love.

… because I believe God created us equal, and everyone should have the right to marry whomever they want to marry.

… because I want to be modern and progressive, not homophobic and bigoted.

… because conservative Christians are the ones who reject it, and I’m not conservative.

… because I think there were admirable same-sex couples in the Bible (e.g. David & Jonathan, the centurion & his servant).

… because it doesn’t hurt anyone.

… because homosexuality is rarely mentioned in the Bible, and we should focus our energy on more important issues.

… because none of us consistently follow all the biblical laws anymore (eating shrimp, divorce, etc.).

… because an authority I trust (e.g. my pastor, my favorite theologian) supports it.

… because church tradition has been wrong before (astronomy, patriarchy, slavery), so why trust it on this issue?

… because I think we should prioritize the voices of those who are marginalized and rejected.

… because I see broader themes and trajectories of kinship, inclusion and justice in Scripture.

… because our God is not gendered, and I believe our intimate relationships “image” or reflect the Trinitarian relationship.

… because I believe we are no longer under the Law, instead, we are guided by the Spirit.

… because I’d rather err on the side of showing too much grace, inclusion and love.

… because Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, and I base my ethical decisions mainly on Jesus’ teaching.

… because there was no concept of sexual orientation at the time the Bible was written.

… because God said “it’s not good for man to be alone,” and I don’t think he’d require lifelong celibacy of all same-sex attracted people.

… because I think biblical authors disapproved of exploitative, idolatrous, lustful same-sex sex, but NOT consensual, committed same-sex sex.

… because I think the biblical authors disapproved of all forms of same-sex sex, but they based their disapproval on ideas of patriarchy, purity, and procreation that are no longer accepted today.

… because I can’t see any valid moral reasoning to explain why it should be considered sinful or evil.

… because, like Peter with Cornelius in the book of Acts, I’ve seen the God’s Spirit work and produce fruit in Christians who have married people of the same sex.

GROUP “NO” I don’t support same-sex marriage…

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… because I find the idea of same-sex sex disgusting.

… because same-sex sex is dangerous and unhealthy, and we shouldn’t promote it.

… because supporting it would re-define and undermine the core meaning of marriage.

… because I think we’re called to take a courageous stand on this issue in a culture that is losing its moral footing and becoming more anti-Christian.

… because I think marriage and sex are intended for procreation.

… because liberal Christians are the ones accepting same-sex marriage, and I’m not liberal.

… because to support it would be to open the door to incest, bestiality, and polygamy.

… because same-sex couples are glorifying sin and calling it good, and I don’t support that.

… because it goes against the evident God-ordained natural order of things.

… because an authority I trust (e.g. my pastor, my favorite theologians, the Pope) is against it.

… because for me, to support same-sex marriage would be to reject the authority of Scripture.

… because I think the Bible should judge and correct me, instead of me judging and correcting the Bible.

… because we are all called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and submit our sexual desires to God.

… because we shouldn’t give up on Christ’s ability to transform people’s attractions.

… because there is unanimous disapproval of same-sex sex in the Bible – male-female marriage is the only biblically-approved context for sex.

… because I’m worried that same-sex couples will be excluded from the kingdom for their unrepentant sin, and it would be unloving of me to approve of this, or to fail to warn them.

… because same-sex marriage can’t spiritually symbolize what marriage was meant to symbolize: Christ and the church.

… because I believe God designed men and women to complement one another in ways that two people of the same sex cannot.

… because although Old Testament ritual/purity laws may be culture-bound, laws about sexuality are part of Old Testament moral law, which should continue to guide Christians today.

… because Jesus clearly knew and followed Levitical prohibitions and reaffirmed marriage between one man and one woman as ordained at creation.

… because Paul knew about long-term same-sex relationships between adults, as reflected in ancient Greek and Roman writings, and he didn’t specify that these would be exceptions to the rule.

… because I’d rather err on the side of the simplest and most straightforward reading of Scripture.

… because who am I to argue with over 2000 years of Christian tradition on this topic?

If you haven’t already done so, take a moment to answer the questions I asked above the lists.

What these lists suggest to me is that the “yes”/”no” question isn’t nearly as important as the “why” question.  If we stop at “yes” or “no,” it’s too easy for us to make unhelpful assumptions and talk past each other.  Not everyone in Group “yes” arrived there because they completely rejected the authority of the Bible.  Not everyone in Group “no” believes in a “slippery slope,” or the necessity of following natural law.

photo credit: Question Mark via photopin (license)

Even people who come to the same conclusion might have different theological starting points, and different priorities in biblical interpretation.  They might put a different level of emphasis on Scripture, tradition or experience.  Unpacking the “why’s” behind people’s beliefs and convictions gives us the opportunity to transcend defensiveness and disagreement, and actually have the kind of dialogue that promotes respect, understanding, and grace between us.

So as we continue this conversation in the church, along with many other conversations related to gender and sexuality, let’s ask good questions and listen well. As Wendy has pointed out in her writing this year, talking about LGBTQ+ realities might take us down rabbit trails about law, grace, sin, self-denial, transformation, patriarchy, and the larger purpose for sex and marriage… which is great!  Let this conversation become an excuse for unpacking all kinds of meaningful theological concepts.

How did reading these lists affect you?  Can you think of any reasons I missed?  Do you have stories of times when you made assumptions about other people’s reasons, or when they did about yours? Feel free to comment below.

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