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I have never made the issues of homosexuality and gay marriage a primary focus of my work. Justice for the poor and combining evangelism and social action have been central issues in my writing. But the issue of gay marriage has become so prominent, so critical, that I can’t be silent.
Within the last few years numerous states have legalized same-sex marriage. The widespread victory of legalized gay marriage was declared to be inevitable.
Why do I think biblical, Spirit-filled Christians should engage this issue with renewed wisdom and energy?
First, if any state is to survive, it requires an ongoing supply of babies who grow up to be good citizens. Even with modern technology, you need a “mother” (even if she is only a surrogate) and a “father” (even if he is just an anonymous sperm donor) to produce a baby. And every civilization has known what contemporary sociologists now demonstrate: Children grow best into wholesome adults when they live with their biological mother and father. In the past and still today, marriage law is a crucial way the state can promote and encourage the sound nurturing of the next generation of citizens.
Second, right or wrong, law is a moral teacher. Most people assume if something is legal it is moral. Furthermore, if the state adopts gay marriage, public schools will inevitably teach children that gay marriage is as good as marriage understood as the union of husband and wife.
Most legal scholars on both sides of the debate agree that lawfully sanctioned gay marriage will result in a huge confrontation between “gay rights” and religious freedom. Religious institutions of many kinds will find that their freedom to practice and even say what they believe about sexuality and marriage will be increasingly challenged and restricted.
Our Tarnished Credibility
Tragically, however, because of our own mistakes and sin, evangelicals and charismatics have almost no credibility on this topic. Over the last several decades we’ve been largely correct on the fundamental issue of God’s design for sexuality—and disastrously wrong in the ways we’ve dealt with homosexuality. If Satan had designed a plan to undermine our credibility on the issue of homosexuality, I doubt he could’ve done any better than what we’ve practiced.
We have tolerated genuine hatred of gays in our midst, failed to adequately condemn gay bashing, neglected to act in gentle love with people among us struggling with their sexual identity and used the gay community as a foil to raise funds for political campaigns—all while failing to persuade our own evangelical community to keep their marriage vows. Worst of all, we’ve failed to deal honestly with the major threat to marriage and the family: namely, heterosexual adultery and divorce.
Many more charismatics and evangelicals oppose gay marriage than condemn divorce as sinful. But it’s obvious that the primary factor undermining marriage and family today is the 95 percent of the population that is heterosexual. Vast numbers of us are not keeping our marriage vows!
The Barna Group’s data shows that evangelicals and charismatics divorce at the same rate as the rest of the population. Many of our leaders have failed to take a clear stand against cheap divorce because they and their people were getting divorced just like everyone else. And then we’ve had the gall to use the tiny gay community—anywhere between 2 to 5 percent of the population—as a whipping boy whom we labeled as the great threat to marriage.
Ed Dobson got it right. Pastor of the largest evangelical church in Grand Rapids, Mich., he sensed a call to serve those with AIDS and began visiting a local AIDS center run by the gay community. Dobson’s Calvary Church was soon engaged with the gay community so much that a local gay and lesbian newsletter ran an editorial that, while explicitly noting the church believed their gay sexual activity was sinful, thanked Calvary for inviting gays and lesbians to their church services. The gay community knew that Dobson and his church loved them because they gently ministered to those dying of AIDS.
Think of the impact evangelicals could’ve had in the last three decades if more of us had followed Dobson’s example.
What Is ‘Marriage’?
Many, of course, argue that legalizing gay marriage is no problem. They question how granting a state marriage license to that tiny percent of the population that is gay hurts the 95 percent of the community that is heterosexual.
Furthermore, they ask: How can we deny the rights and privileges of marriage to gay folk without violating the principle of equality? Finally, as gay activist and Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan notes, the understanding of marriage has changed: “From being a means to bringing up children, it has become primarily a way in which two adults affirm their emotional commitment to one another.”
But is emotional commitment between two adults what the state should care about in marriage? Is that all marriage is? My basic question is this: What legitimately should a neutral state understand marriage to be? I think the central answer is clear.
The state rightly must seek to promote in its marriage law the best setting to nurture the next generation of wholesome citizens. This is why every civilization has historically understood marriage to be the union of a man and a woman.
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