Four Appeals to Christians Embracing Gay Marriage

I was not particularly surprised by the Supreme Court’s decision last Friday. Nor do I feel alarmist about it. Some Christians are responding to it in doomsday tones, but to my mind that attitude is at odds with the basic tenor of the gospel. Panic and pessimism are out of order for a worldview anchored in belief in an omnipotent God, irresistible grace, and an eternal heaven.

On the other hand, how a society defines the institution of marriage is important. For me, it is too important to remain silent—particularly because so many Christians I know are joining in to celebrate the Court’s ruling. My Facebook news feed has been lit up over the last several days with two basic types of articles, coming from various different circles of friends that Esther and I have made over the years: some disappointed and basically asking “now what?”; others exultant and proclaiming #lovewins.

To my friends in the church embracing gay marriage, I offer these four “appeals.” I do not expect that those who have studied this issue thoroughly and landed squarely in that camp will necessarily find these appeals new or convincing. But I’m also seeing a lot of Christians, particularly younger millennials, whose openness to gay marriage seems to me more impulsive, emotional, un-careful. Our cultural moment is experiencing an incredible lunge toward more latitudinarian views on sexuality and marriage, and its easy for people to get caught up in it. So I offer these comments to people in that camp in the spirit of saying, as Lloyd says to Harry in the great theological treatise Dumb and Dumber, “do you realize what you’ve done?” (In other words, have you thought this through fully and carefully?)

I recognize that publicly affirming a traditional definition of marriage makes you vulnerable to stigmatization, so I’ve been a bit hesitant to write this. But I also think complete silence is a mistake. And at any rate I’ve never been able to suppress my convictions out of fear of how people will respond. It’s just not who I am. So I offer these thoughts hoping they might be helpful to some, even though they are somewhat ad hoc and do not constitute a comprehensive statement on this whole issue.

(One final thing: If you’re reading this and not connected to the church in any way, just be aware your “listening in” a bit here to conversation among Christians. Probably the best way for us to dialogue directly would be over email or coffee—and I would love to do that.)

1) Traditional views are not always bigoted (and progressive ones sometimes are)

Many younger people seem to intuitively sense that accepting gay marriage is tolerant and compassionate, and opposing it is narrow and mean. That instinct is not incomprehensible. There is indeed a lot of bigotry and homophobia in the world, and there has been a lot of downright meanness directed toward the LGBT community. I grieve and oppose this as much as anyone. It is wrong. Christ has called us to love our neighbor, whatever their sexual identification, and the gospel calls us to be more concerned about our own sin than anyone else’s.

But many prominent voices in our culture regard all opposition to same-sex marriage as bigoted. There is an aggressive, “take-no-prisoners” mindset that—all in the name of open-mindedness and tolerance—sweeps away any space for principled disagreement. There are only two options on the table: the celebration of gay marriage, or “nonsense … absolute stupidity” of the kind that is comparable to denying women or black people the right to vote and can only be met with exasperation and disbelief.

But if we are really seeking to advance the cause of tolerance, shouldn’t we be willing to tolerate persons who hold to the traditional view? If we are really seeking to advance the cause of open-mindedness, shouldn’t we be willing to distinguish between more and less thoughtful expressions of the view we oppose?

Imagine there is a 65-year-old professor at NYU (I’m just making this up for the sake of argument). She is an atheist. She has no particular loyalty to the Judeo-Christian heritage regarding marriage and sexuality. But she happens to read the sociological data for male-female complementarity benefiting children, and, after careful analysis, ends up supporting the traditional view of marriage.

Even supposing this professor is wrong on the issue, would her error be the result of bigotry? My dictionary defines bigotry as: “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.” What if you just happen to think that it’s best for society when children, generally speaking and on balance, have both a mom and a dad? Does this make you a bigot?

If you need to support gay marriage in order to love your gay friend, do you need to support polygamy in order to love your polyamorous friend? If people have a “right” to marry whomever they love, should two 15-year-olds be able to get married? Is opposition to cousin marriage a form of genetic and sexual discrimination? These examples are not scare tactics. They are real issues being debated. But the more basic point is this: we all define marriage in ways that exclude people, and it is not necessarily the result of discrimination or bigotry to do so.

It is possible to hold to a traditional view of marriage without an ounce of prejudice in your heart against anyone. I believe Christ did (Matthew 19:4-6). I believe that is what Christians are called to do. Between the noise and rancor crowding towards us from various angles, this is one option that needs to be calmly considered.

2) History provides some perspective

99.8%+ of human cultures have considered gender diversity to be of the essence of marriage, and even in our culture almost everyone understood marriage this way, until the last 5-10 years, including President Obama. As Chief Justice John Roberts put it, this view of marriage has “formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs.”

So you’ve got this institution called “marriage” that every society recognizes, and it’s universally understood as male-female throughout all religions, cultures, societies, etc., and then the 21st century West comes along, and—in the space of a decade—the baseline values and assumptions change so much that everything flips around.

Suppose such a radical revisionism is justified. Suppose everyone throughout history has simply gotten it wrong, and this narrow little slice of humanity in the first-world at the dawn of the 21st century have alone arrived on the truth.

If such a radical u-turn were required, it should at least be accompanied by a great deal of caution and circumspection. What concerns me is the seeming lack of such caution among many on this issue, and the lack of sensitivity to the danger of cultural elitism. When we are plunging against 99% of human history, when we are setting off of the well-worn pathway of human civilization into an unprecedented direction, how about a little more humility and a little less triumphalism?

Of course, those advocating for gay marriage are calling for humility—but only from the traditionalists! I read one post that basically said, “if you celebrate this decision, I rejoice with you; if you are disappointed, just remember that you might be wrong.” This kind of appeal reeks of an enlightened condescension. Why not remind both sides that they might be wrong—particularly the more historically isolated one?

Advocacy for gay marriage also appeals to courage because it provides a sense of connection to a moral cause. To be sure, many of those embracing gay marriage do so at great cost and with great conviction. But many others are simply jumping on the bandwagon at its crescendo of popularity. That seems to me to require far less courage than holding to the traditional view. And while it may connect you to one cause, it also separates you from a far older and deeper one.

3) Marriage matters

I also hear some Christians basically saying, “what’s the big deal?” Many are personally opposed to gay marriage, but don’t want to engage in the public debate. Many have been turned off by the politicizing of the religious right, and/or the cultural conservatism they’ve seen in their family or church. In general, it seems like younger people—particularly the younger slice of millennials, people 25 and younger—tend to value law, government, and authority much less than previous generations, and relationship, transparency, and self-expression more. So the motivation to oppose gay marriage is very low.

My appeal is to consider that how society defines marriage is very, very important. The philosopher Rousseau said that a nation is only as strong as its mothers. The family unit is the primary nurturing context in which people are shaped in their moral, social, personal, and psychological instincts, and so how the state defines and delimits this entity has profound implications. Jerry-rigging a new definition of the word “marriage” is one of the most significant ways to reshape and redirect the broader culture.

We can discern the importance of marriage from the sociology and anthropology. But for those of us in the body of Christ, marriage has an additional, theological importance. In a Christian worldview, marriage is ultimately not a human invention, but a divine institution. The whole Bible starts and ends with marriage (Genesis 2, Revelation 21), and throughout the Bible marriage is identified as a portrait of God’s love for his people in the gospel (e.g., Ephesians 5:32). Marriage is therefore sacred. It is a little window into the most profound and beautiful mystery at the heart of the universe: the love of God.

The government is going to operate with some kind of moral compass, some kind of vision for human flourishing. So if we believe that God’s design is indeed wise and good, we shouldn’t check out in this debate.

4) The comparison to slavery is slippery

Perhaps the greatest concern to me among my Christian friends supporting last Friday’s decision comes in the area of biblical interpretation, and what Christians have believed about homosexuality for 2000 years. The most common argument I hear goes something like this: “yeah, Christians throughout church history have believed the Bible prohibits homosexual behavior, but then again, most Christians throughout church history also believed the Bible approved of slavery, and they were wrong about that—so how do we know Christians haven’t been wrong about homosexuality, too?”

In more sophisticated discussion this kind of argument is often tied to what is called the redemptive-movement hermeneutic, and involves issues of segregation and gender equality as well as homosexuality. You can delve into some of the discussion, if you are interested, by reading Tim Keller’s review of two recent books affirming same-sex marriage and Matthew Vine’s response.

Now, there are complicated historical and hermeneutical issues involved in this debate, and I don’t aim to offer any kind of final analysis here. I think what concerns me most in the present context is the seeming hastiness with which many Christians are appealing to a comparison of homosexuality and slavery. The problem is that unless we get specific with each text involved, this kind of appeal can function as a way to blunt biblical authority on any issue. You can say about anything, “well, yeah, the Bible prohibits that, but then again, the Bible advocates slavery, so it’s all a wash in the end.” Until we’ve done the careful work of interpreting each particular biblical text in its own context, and then applying it in our own, we really don’t have the right to make this evaluation.

Does the Bible really advocate slavery? When we read verses like Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, I Peter 2:18, we hear the English translation “slave” in light of our own historical context, and typically think of race-based, chattel slavery. But that kind of slavery was always condemned in Scripture—in fact, that Old Testament law commanded the death penalty for anyone who bought or sold another human being (Exodus 21:16).

The Greek word translated “slave” in the Pauline passages mentioned above is the word doulos—a term that Paul uses to describe his own relationship with Christ (e.g, Romans 1:1). It is often translated “bond-servant,” and in the first-century Graeco-Roman world often referred to people with considerable more legal and social status than we usually think of when we hear the term “slave.”

But even that milder form of slavery is more tolerated than affirmed by the Bible. When the gospel comes into any cultural context, we don’t expect total perfection right away. Ethical exhortations in ad hoc documents like epistles will give us more of a picture of day-to-day life as a Christian in a certain context than the Bible’s overall ideal with respect to institutional and structural evil. (Unless we expect the apostles to call for immediate social revolution.)

But in the epistle to Philemon Paul writes to a slave owner about his runaway slave, and in that unique scenario I think we get a clearer sense of how Paul regards the gospel playing out with respect to structural, societal evil. Paul appeals to Philemon (the slave owner) and says that Onesimus (the slave) has become a Christian, and thus is no longer a slave, but instead a brother in Christ—so “receive him as you would receive me” (v. 17). So Paul dissolves the slave/master relationship, and erects in its place a brother/brother relationship, in which the former slave is treated with all the dignity that the apostle himself would be treated. This is what the gospel does: even before the actual institution of slavery is abolished, it unmakes the assumptions and prejudices that make slavery possible.

There is nothing comparable to the book of Philemon (or Exodus 21:16) in the Bible with respect to homosexuality.

Nor are homosexuality and abolitionism equally opposed throughout church history. Vines counters Keller’s critique on this point by arguing that he only focuses on the modern West, and thus “badly misrepresents the church’s history on the issue of slavery.” It’s true that many Christians throughout church history supported slavery, and that is an evil not to be excused. But it’s false that slavery was approved by the church until people like William Wilberforce. Most church fathers like Augustine tolerated slavery only as a result of the fall, and some like Gregory of Nyssa attacked the institution of slavery as contrary to God’s intent for humanity. In the era of medieval Christendom, several nations abolished slavery (continental France in 1315, Sweden in 1335), and several popes in the following centuries, particularly Pope Paul III, condemned both slavery and the slave trade.

So the church’s record on slavery is mixed, while it’s nearly impossible to find advocates of homosexual practice anywhere before the recent past. So I don’t think the comparison between homosexuality and slavery ultimately works here, either. But if you do use this comparison, my appeal is to do the hard exegetical work to justify it.

Conclusion

If you are a Christian open to gay marriage, have you considered that the options between open celebration and reactionary prejudice? Have you thought through the importance of the institution of marriage in society, and the massive historical pedigree standing behind the traditional definition of it? Have you worked your way carefully through the various relevant biblical texts, “examining the Scriptures daily” like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11)?

I recognize that support for gay marriage has garnered so much emotional and social momentum in our culture that appeals like this will not have any impact at all on some people. But I also see a lot people putting up rainbow flags on facebook probably without having carefully thought it through. I offer these appeals in the hope that they will stimulate greater critical reflection concerning the emotions and eccentricities of the present cultural moment.

52 Comments

  1. […] “4 Appeals to Christians Embracing Gay Marriage” Gavin Ortlund presents a smaller list but goes into more detail than DeYoung. An excellent […]

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  2. Debbie Briggs Dalrymple

    Gavin, I was moved by your posting. I pray for this country, government, its’ citizens and for you. I am proud to know you!

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  3. Dave Lauer

    I too applaud everything you say. I am saddened by what is happening in this country. Thanks for unmasking the shallow thinking being done by so many people.

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  4. you say the Bible doesn’t condone slavery. How then do you explain Lev 25:44-45?

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    1. Hi Perry, that is not exactly what I said, but I take your point. I don’t think Leviticus 25:44-45 or other such verses in OT are essentially different from Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, I Peter 2:18, so I would direct you to my treatment of those texts above. Hope this helps.

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      1. Confused

        What context explains away Exodus 21: 20-21? “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” Slavery seems affirmed and tolerated by these verses.

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    2. Anonymous

      The context of Leviticus is God’s Words to the Israelites. They got this authority from purchasing these bondman from neighboring countries in pursuit of the blessings of Jacob, Gen. 27:29. It set up the Gentiles serving Christ and his Church. It, all in all, is different and part of the older covenant with the Israelites. At least, how I understand it.

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      1. Anonymous

        I agree with this. From a broad perspective, the OT law was given to national Israel. It wasn’t intended to be universal law for all of mankind. Greg Koukl does an excellent job explaining this in his “Fast Forward” series. If one were to argue the moral merits of OT law, they would have to do so in the context of Israel only. That law was part of a specific covenant, the old one, which was legally bound to a specific people – Israel.

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    3. Marriage is a fundamental right to all people, gay or straight. That is just my humble opinion. gays are not crazy or sick you know. People are people.

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  5. […] Appeals to Christians Embracing Gay Marriage by Gavin Ortlund (link) Abstract: In this article, Gavin addresses four important issues that Christians will want to […]

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  6. In some sense, I agree with what you write. In another, marriage is a dual construct: one civil and one religious (if you choose to embrace it).

    In the civil aspect, our government, and other institutions, have seen fit to afford marriage privileges; rights,financial benefits, and other enticements. In addition, the cultural roles have changed, with men and women having their roles defined much less rigidly than in the past. This has led to marriage as a redefined partnership. This new partnership now has a place for gays to participate. The modern day marriage is very much akin to homosexual relationships, but for the obvious differences.

    Traditional roles of marriage have already been redefined, gay marriage doesn’t really do that.

    To take it a step further, as a conservative, whatever can make the family unit (regarded as the ideal in our society) more attainable for more people is in our societies best interests. When gays marry and combine earning power, the can buy bigger houses, cars, clothes, vacations etc. they also are more stable regarding health insurance, helping to prevent health related bankruptcy.

    When the government gets involved in marriage, which is has been, the religious arguments need to be heard, but not necessarily heeded. People have heard the arguments, folks just disagree.

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  7. Esther Ziol

    A very thoughtful and studied response, Gavin. I pray many will think more deeply about these issues.

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  8. I’m verging on belonging to the group of people you address in (3). I agree that “how society defines marriage is very, very important” – the problem is I see a lot of Christians acting as if the redefinition of marriage is something that only started with same-sex marriage, when in fact I’d argue it goes back to the widespread acceptance of divorce and extra-marital sex. What society has accepted as “marriage” for the last fifty years or so at least is not what God accepts as marriage. What is currently accepted heterosexual practice damages far more people than same-sex marriage will ever do. Yet Christians seem to have far, far more to say about the latter than the former. Maybe we should openly protest gay marriage – but we shouldn’t be keeping silent on the wider issues either.

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    1. Jim, you have hit the nail on the head.

      “the problem is I see a lot of Christians acting as if the redefinition of marriage is something that only started with same-sex marriage, when in fact I’d argue it goes back to the widespread acceptance of divorce and extra-marital sex. What society has accepted as “marriage” for the last fifty years or so at least is not what God accepts as marriage. What is currently accepted heterosexual practice damages far more people than same-sex marriage will ever do.”

      Yes!!

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    2. Anonymous

      “There is indeed a lot of bigotry and homophobia in the world, and there has been a lot of downright meanness directed toward the LGBT community. I grieve and oppose this as much as anyone. It is wrong. Christ has called us to love our neighbor, whatever their sexual identification, and the gospel calls us to be more concerned about our own sin than anyone else’s.”
      So your premise is that homosexuality is a sin. That loving another human being with your whole heart is sinful. Wow. I’ve studied the biblical verses pertaining to homosexuality, and am no more convinced that it is sinful than I am convinced that menstruating women should be banned from worship.

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  9. Reblogged this on billandsheila09 and commented:
    Excellent article…

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  10. “Some Christians are responding to it in doomsday tones, but to my mind that attitude is at odds with the basic tenor of the gospel. Panic and pessimism are out of order for a worldview anchored in belief in an omnipotent God, irresistible grace, and an eternal heaven.”

    The same could have been said in Israel prior to the Babylonian exile or any of the other punishments God laid on the nation as a result of their sinful rejection of God.

    I also disagree with your claim that some Christians have embraced homosexual marriage. I don’t believe those people are Christians. I believe Paul would call them “so-called Christians”, as he did the man who took his father’s wife. People in the church who support homosexuality are like those who accepted the teachings of the Nicolaitans, and those who held to the teaching of Balaam, and who tolerated “that woman Jezebel.” Jesus’ feelings about such people in the church are crystal clear.

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    1. One can support allowing people to enter into civil contracts with each other and receive government benefits without supporting what those people do in bed. Why do we always wed a person’s desire for financial stability with their sexual orientation? Because the gays have wed the two in their rhetoric? The slogan “Love Wins” can and should apply to two people who love each other enough share a life together. You don’t have to be gay to do that. David and Jonathan would be a good example. We are automatically assuming, read that, judging, that any two people seeking the benefits of a one-stop-shop civil contract we call “marriage” are doing so because of lust, rather than agape love. I think we need to separate the two because we can’t just assume they are gay. It’s not our job to keep people from legal benefits just because they are immoral sinners. If we go down that road we might as well say no obese people should be able to enter into a marriage contract.

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      1. Anonymous

        I haven’t heard of one couple seeking the institutional benefits of marriage (benefits, etc.) that aren’t gay. Is anyone really arguing for gays to be married in order for same-sex non-gays to receive benefits under marriage? I think not. What I do agree with you on is that couples (married, unmarried, gay, straight) should be able to have some of the legal benefits enjoyed by marriage. For example, I don’t think health-care is a fundamental human right, so if you’re partnered with someone in a relationship, gay or not, married or not, you should have the right to choose who gets covered under your plan if your company allows it. I don’t think benefits like that should be exclusive to marriage, rather, should be at the will of the person.

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    2. I agree. I do understand what he is saying regarding the doomsday tones – it is very depressing, but I feel like I have expressed what I believe to a few people and when they reject it – I wipe the dust off my feet and leave them alone. God can handle them and their eternal destination is not my responsibility. I do feel called to pray more fervently – especially for those in my family who are not living a Christian life, although they consider themselves Christians. I do not want to alienate them, but this is too important to ignore.

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  11. I am a Christian who has long believed in the right of same sex couples to marry. I am a lawyer who has worked with same sex couples in the past. I’ve worked with lesbian couples who have had a child through artificial conception. When the child was 7 years old, the biological mother died and there was a custody fight with the non biological mother and the biological mother’s family. Terrible for the child who had know and been raised by his non biological mother for 7 years. Had the couple been able to legally marry, it would have been a non issue.

    I’ve worked with a gay couple who one spouse was incapacitated in the hospital. The spouse was excluded by the parents of the individual in the hospital. They had been in a committed relationship for 8 years.

    And I’ve worked with a gay person who had been with his spouse for 24 years. His spouse decided to “divorce” him. He had stayed at home, cooked meals, and cleaned house while the other worked and made a good income. After splitting up, the one who worked did not give the other any money. We had to sue to get money from the other for his support. The issue would have been clear if marriage had been permitted.

    There are two aspects to marriage. The civil side, which comes with the legal rights and obligations. And the religious side. These are two separate, and distinct things, though they often overlap. Same sex couples who are devoted and choose to do so should be afforded the legal rights under civil law. I am happy their relationships are finally eligible for legal protections.

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    1. Annonymous

      Since you have separated the civil from the moral and religious, consider the following civil possibility. Since you are an attorney, you know about Estate Tax. As a method of gaining the benefit of a civil union by persons that love each other, marriages between unmarried father or mothers with sons and daughters would allow those unions to eliminate generational passing of wealth that would have been taxed through Estate taxes. I realize that the government my consider this “incest” but only the personal actions would meet that definition. Maybe the government would decide that “incest” is OK like they have already given approval of sodomy. Don’t misunderstand these comments. They are just meant to show what a pandoras box has been opened up by dealing with civil unions on the basis that the people love each other. How could these benefits be denied to people who love each other?.

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      1. I don’t know that the government has necessarily given “approval” to sodomy, only allowed sodomites to engage in civil unions. Some say polygamists are next and are already lining up but the state can find harm done to the womenfolk who desire spouses if 10% of the men are married to 50% of the women. That’s just not fair for the single women looking for a mate.

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    2. Nick I hope you don’t mind but I quoted you on my FB wall at https://www.facebook.com/kirby.hopper

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    3. I am wondering how married gay couple will like the heavy marriage penalties in Obamacare.

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    4. Anonymous

      This could have been achieved without redefining marriage. Why change the definition of an institution that the whole of human history has affirmed is gender diversified just to afford relational legal protection to gays? One could simply pass a law for that stating they have a civil union and keep marriage untouched. Win-win for everyone.

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      1. As near as I can tell, that’s just what happened. We now have “civil unions” on a federal level, just like we had at the state level. Gays probably could have had this earlier if they hadn’t insisted on calling it a marriage. I for one don’t really care about the “institution” or how its defined. It doesn’t really change my marriage one bit. Some of us can uphold the institution by way of example, showing the world what it should look like. I think that’s preferable to legislating it. I tell my Christian friends if they don’t agree with the new “definition of marriage” they don’t have to call a gay marriage a marriage. They can call it legal benefits or a civil union. In my mind the only way the holy Christian sacrament of marriage is changed is if the Christians don’t continue to have Christian marriages. We make the marriage, not the laws. So many things have different expressions in different cultures and even within those who profess faith in Christ. Why can’t we allow marriage to be one of them. We already have multiple expression within the church (some allow divorcees to remarry, some don’t, etc.) why not allow some diversity of expression in the larger society? To not do so seems hypocritical.

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  12. in fact, that Old Testament law commanded the death penalty for anyone who bought or sold another human being (Exodus 21:16)

    Except when it didn’t:

    “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

    How is this different from chattal slavery? Slaves can be bought as property and are enslaved for life. And a distinction is made between Israelites and non-Israelites, the implication being that one can rule over non-Israelites ruthlessly.

    The Bible is definitely pro-slavery, and not in the “indentured servant” type of way, either.

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    1. Anonymous

      I think you are taking a paragraph about slavery out of context of the Old Testament, out of context of the ANE, without taking into account the nature slavery/servanthood in the history of the world across all cultures, without considering the distinctions of the kingdom of God in the Old and New Testament, discounting Philemon, to name a few.

      And as for gay marriage, i don’t understand why the self-evident truth that homosexuality is not natural or normal – whether you believe in God, materialistic Darwinism, or alien ‘seeding’ – doesn’t carry much sway. The question is not whether to restrict or punish freedom of assembly, speech, cohabitation, or complete sexual freedom regarding homosexuality, it is whether we should promote and subsidize the behavior by incentivizing it with the benefits of marriage. I’m all for the freedom to practice it (because I want my freedoms too, though most likely they will not be tolerated), but not for the incentivizing of something that is clearly against nature.

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      1. Understood, but the benefits also incentivize something good: dedication and Christian love toward another, both for their sake and the sake of any children they may have.

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  13. Paul, you commented, “People have heard the arguments, folks just disagree.” By folks, I think you mean unelected judges that act as legislatures instead of jurists. The redefinition of marriage did not happen by popular vote for all but a few states. If the definition were changed by the people or their elected officials, the outcome would be more acceptable for the “losing” side.

    Your comment on the loss of distinct gender roles altering the culture’s idea of marriage is insightful.

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  14. Michael

    Well laid out Gavin, for a few “ad-hock” thoughts. I must ask you for some clarity on your Exodus 21 citation regarding kidnapping for slavery. Isn’t the clear reference in Exodus 21:1 of Hebrew slaves, and all that follows then also refers to Hebrew to Hebrew relationship laws? What then of other nations and peoples? Not a trivial point, I think.

    Then there’s the Pauline passages where brotherhood in Christ is appealed to, what then of the non-Christian humanity. Ok, so perhaps Paul –or his successors– were not biting off too much at one time, retaining Roman law, but the appeal was to creed over human rights and human dignity. I also acknowledge that there were levels of slavery in the Roman/Greek culture, and Paul et.al. were upholding Roman law in this case. Don’t we also have a legal system –agree or disagree to it’s efficacy and morality– in the light of Paul’s epistles and some of the gospel statements of Christ (render unto Cesar…God’s kingdom vs. man’s kingdom… etc.) shouldn’t we also abide by it and it’s processes even when we might disagree with it? I appreciate your careful and thoughtful approach to this topic.

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  15. […] Gavin Ortlund recently shared some very helpful thoughts on […]

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  16. Richard

    The best argument I can come up with for Christians who are mindlessly affirming gay marriage is that it’s no different than encouraging a friend to look at porn, advising a married buddy to have an affair, or affirming 14 year olds in having sex. You are encouraging people to commit sexual sin. Scripture says that all forms of sexual sin are destructive in our relationships with self, God, and neighbor. I’ve sinned sexually (like every single human being) and I would be a total hypocrite if I encouraged other people- Christian and non-Christian alike- to do these things that are inherently damaging and that have been very negative in my life. Because I don’t want people to short-change themselves and to miss out in the joy of communion with Christ which sin ALWAYS robs us of, I do not wave a rainbow flag, or say, “Hey friends, go sin sexually. I’m behind you!!!!”

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    1. Richard I think you’ve missed the whole point, and unfortunately this is all too common among Christians, myself included not that long ago. Affirming gay marriage isn’t encouragement to engage in sin, it’s making it easier for two people to share a life together, irregardless of what they do in bed. You are not able to separate their sinful action from their other desires for financial stability, ability to visit in a hospital, not have custody battles when one dies, the one who stays home taking care of kids getting compensation when the one with the career leaves, etc. These are rights and privileges that should be afforded to those making a family, for the betterment of that family and society as a whole.

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  17. Gavin, I ran across this post because of a share on FB from a dear friend who is celebrating her 14th wedding anniversary and both she and her husband are in in-formal Christian ministry. I have been in a state of being so flooded with grief and other feelings since last Friday, partly due to my own experiences and relationships with people as our country has struggled to deal with this issue. I have been rejected on more than one occasion by people who have “come out” as gay, people who believe in homosexual marriage who are within the church, and people who apparently THINK they know what I believe but in reality did not, nor did ever ask me. I hold a degree in clinical psychology. I am not often surprised by the inconsistencies of human nature, and I too was not surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. In the days following up to the ruling, I found myself praying often and entreating the Lord for His mercy on our country. I believe I need to keep doing this. It is an irony to me that we are celebrating Father’s Day and our country’s birthday on the bookends of the last several weeks. For me, your article has put words to things that I have felt in my core, but have been so embarrassingly unable to articulate. Thank you for your respectful, bold, thoughtful, and truthful approach and words. May the Lord continue to guide us in His Love. His Love never fails!

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  18. Janet Boyd

    I am still working on taking the log out of my own eye and working on my blindspots! I think my role is to pray to God and beseach Him to “right” me and our fallen world!

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  19. I just wish Christians would stop claiming to know God’s thoughts on everything. Only God can decide what is divine and permissible, NOT CHRISTIANS. Everyone who reads the Bible interprets it a different way. I love that Christians ignore the parts about loving thy neighbor, let he who is free from sin cast the first stone, and hate the sin not the sinner when it is convenient for their argument. I hear so many Christians saying things like, “It is not for us as humans to understand God’s word…as humans we are incapable of understanding….You just have to have faith that God is looking out for you etc” Well, all Christians should have faith that God will do what He thinks is right. If that means homosexuals are accepted into Heaven or burn in Hell, NOTHING CHRISTIANS DO WILL CHANGE THAT. If a child rapist can accept Christ and get into Heaven despite his sins so can a homosexual.
    IT IS NOT THE PLACE OF A CHRISTIAN TO JUDGE ANYONE.
    You lead your life the way you believe God wants you to and let other’s do the same.
    You are missing the main reason why this movement is so important. It has never been about God, but about civil human rights. Every human should have the same rights to visit loved ones in the hospital or receive insurance benefits when a loved one dies etc. Homosexuals are not asking you to accept it as a holy endeavor, they just want the same rights as the rest of the humans.

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    1. Stacie

      It is a very sad thing when Christians are inconsistent in how they live out scriptural truths. I try to treat all humans in accordance to the expectations God sets forth in His Word (regardless of how they may differ from me). I can only hope that the Christians you refer to will learn how to do the same as their relationship with God deepens, and they mature in their faith. That kind of inconsistency is a sign that either their knowledge/understanding of the Bible is lacking, or they haven’t yet learned to apply what they know in all areas of their life (not that anyone ever reaches perfection in that area). Regardless of the kinds of sins a person has committed, anyone can repent and be saved through faith in Christ. In all things we should strive to speak the truth in love and with grace, showing the heart of Christ in how we treat others.

      I do think it’s important to point out that there are absolute truths in scripture that are black and white, which it would be herecy to interpret differently. Those are the doctrines that a person must have even a basic right understanding of to be saved (God is perfect; we are sinners who are unable to earn forgiveness or entrance to heaven, and are in need of a savior; Jesus came from heaven to die in our place and take the penalty upon himself; he physically rose from the dead; salvation is a free gift to anyone who believes, which we cannot earn through works, but can only accept by faith). There are certainly other doctrines that are not critical to our salvation, which are open for interpretation. Still, all conversations about the doctrines (both the absolutes and the gray areas) should be conducted in a respectful manner.

      I do agree with another post that allowing gay marriage is encouraging sexual sin (sins that are no more or less sinful than a heterosexual’s sexual sins, which I also wouldn’t encourage). It’s tricky, though, because we can’t expect nonbelievers to adhere to our moral standards (it’s hard enough for believers, who have a desire to please our maker as incentive). Then again, where does one draw the line? I certainly wouldn’t say that murder should be legal, since it’s not our place to impose our moral standards on others. I think there are certain morality-related laws that are necessary in any society throughout history, for that society to function and thrive. If we change the definition of marriage and family, how would that not weaken the very foundation of our society? It’s true that because our society has embraced a wide variety of sexual sins, and stopped viewing marriage as a sacred institution, that foundation has already been weakened. This really does open up Pandora’s Box. Already, there’s a request for polygamous marriage, and talk of whether or not to allow human/non-human marriage. The intent for many gay activists is not to include gays in an institution currently only enjoyed by heterosexuals, but to do away with that institution as a whole.

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  20. […] Four Appeals to Christians Embracing Gay Marriage – This was actually sent out by my pastor in our weekly update e-mail. […]

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  21. […] A thoughtful plea to Christians embracing gay marriage can be read here.  […]

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  22. Reblogged this on Sharp, Sweet, Wild and Holy and commented:
    An excellent article for your consideration…

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  23. […] Four Appeals to Christians Embracing Gay Marriage Gavin Ortlund, Solioquium […]

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  24. shanrkle

    I wholeheartedly agree that we should be more concerned with our own sin than anyone else’s. The church no longer holds the traditional view; that’s the problem, and unfortunately the chickens have come home to roost.
    The parroted claim, “marriage is between a man and a woman” needs to be taken a step further. Simply saying that marriage is between a man and a woman, or that “it’s universally understood as male-female”, or that this is what “society recognizes” isn’t enough. Marriage has a purpose which needs to be articulated, repeatedly. What the church is sanctioning should be right in line with that purpose. Until people start articulating what that is, the battles will be lost. The word “marry” comes from a Latin word which means “to impregnate”. This is literally what the churches and civilization have been sanctioning for thousands of years. This is how families grow. This is how a strong family grows into a strong culture; a strong society.
    Jesus wasn’t one to take the wide path, but I also think that the church needs to revisit some of the doctrines and dogmas that it has promoted which are right in line with the well worn path of human history, but not in line with God’s instructions. This is where the church suffers from a serious lack of caution and lack of sensitivity to the danger of plunging against the will of God. The church has had no problem redefining God’s word to fit its agenda. These issues aren’t as important to some as the issue of marriage, but the point is that if the church doesn’t have a problem redefining a gnat, it’s going to get backed into a corner when someone wants to redefine the meaning of a camel.
    The church has been preaching as loud and as long as it can that the law is done away with. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that our good young church goers are going to see something of an inconsistency in your argument when all of a sudden you’re a big promoter of the law, and opposed to redefining words. There’s something inherently illogical to the claim that we are freed from God’s laws, but man’s laws shall be obeyed. God instituted a lot that Christianity has done away with. The church has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
    The problem is that the church isn’t supposed to be leaning on the moral compass of men, but the God given standards and directives of God Himself. The church may be in this political world, but it isn’t of it, and it has no business operating within a Satanic system. We are called out of that Satanic system to be a witness of the Truth to that Satanic system. The problem is that we aren’t called to change tares into wheat, or wolves into sheep.
    It is a given almost from the first pages of the bible that we are all slaves. This is the condition of mankind. The bible doesn’t deny this. The State isn’t doing anything more than allowing gay marriage.

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  25. It is a well written article and I have shared it with some friends.

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  26. We talk so much about Gay Marriages…….what is the Churche’s views on sex out of marriage…Many live with each other (man and woman) without being married…..?

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  27. […] Four Appeals to Christians Embracing Gay Marriage Gavin Ortlund, Solioquium […]

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  28. […] Four Appeals to Christians Embracing Gay Marriage by Gavin Ortlund […]

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  29. […] Four Appeals to Christians Embracing Gay Marriage Gavin Ortlund, Solioquium […]

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