At the recent Australian Labor Party conference held in Sydney a change of party policy was introduced to allow Federal members a “conscience vote” if an amendment to the Marriage Act is brought before Parliament to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex relationships. To be honest, I think the change is inevitable. The wave of change is swelling towards the shore and no amount of standing ankle deep screaming at the ocean to “cease and desist” is going to avoid same-sex marriage being legalised in this country. It’s now a matter of when, not if.
I have to say, I’m not a “doomsday” Christian on this. I don’t think it’s going to cause society to crumble in a heap of moral decay. I don’t think it will tear at the very fabric of society, nor do I think that it will weaken the institution of marriage.
My concern, as a Christian, is how we are choosing to respond. Or should I say, the way that the “loudest” and “most promoted” voices of the Christian church are choosing to respond. I am particularly abhorred by the use and abuse of the Bible in order to support the various positions. Of course, this is not the first time Christians have done this, but for me it highlights the need to interpret the Bible with great care.
Douglas Moo, for me, summaries the church’s historic understanding of homosexuality, and subsequently same-sex marriage.
The Old Testament is clear about the nature of homosexuality: It is a sin. Nowhere does the New Testament disagree; in at least four texts… it endorses the Old Testament viewpoint.
OK then. Moo’s position is clear here. But let’s apply this hermeneutical principal to other Old Testament “sins”. How about farming to the edge of one’s land (Lev 19:9)? The New Testament doesn’t disagree with this prohibition so we should we continue to label this farming practice a sin? How about wearing a garment made of two different materials (Lev 19:19)? Time for all Salvationists to check the labels on their uniforms, I think. Men, have you rounded off the hair on your temples or marred the edges of your beards (Lev 19:27)? How about those who have tattoos (Lev 19:28)? I know plenty of “so-called” Christians adorned with body art. Will we be as “black and white” on these points as Moo is on homosexuality?
Clearly I’m being a little facetious here, but the question remains valid. This is particularly true since the verses most often quoted by those who oppose homosexuality and same-sex marriage “bookend” the chapter that these examples were drawn from – Lev 18:22 and 20:13. My point is this (and I think it’s Paul’s point in Romans too, by the way), if you’re going to apply the Law then you need to apply the whole Law. Don’t just pick and choose the bits that serve your purpose and ignore others because they “no longer apply to today”.
To be upfront, here, I’m not necessarily an advocate of same-sex marriage at this point in time. I’m still wrestling with this, and choosing to do so openly on this blog as I see the benefit of doing this together. The point of this post, though, is to oppose narrow-minded readings of Scripture that seek to defend what is in fact a cultural formation, and not necessarily a Scriptural mandate – that is, marriage itself.
For example, consider this quote from Archbishop Peter Jensen
''This claim for a right to be married could open the way for other forms, such as polygamous marriages or perhaps even marriage between immediate family members,''
Let’s ignore the fact that this statement is really just fear-mongering and not an argument based on any actual facts and deal with it in another fashion. Has Jensen actually heard of David, or Solomon, or Gideon, or Jacob, or Abijah? The list could continue for a very long time. All of these men had multiple wives. How do we explain the expansion of the human race following both creation and the flood, if not with marriages between family members? I’m wondering whether Jensen’s fear of polygamous and incestuous marriages is not because it will signal the downfall of society, but rather because they will have more Biblical examples than his Westernised view of traditional marriage!
Again, I’m not necessarily advocating for same-sex marriage at this point. I’m still wrestling openly with it. What I am advocating for is for Christians of all kinds to interpret Scripture very carefully. Which leads to the question “How should we read Scripture?” In fact, we should really ask the question “How should we interpret Scripture?” since we never just “read” it, nor does the Bible just “say” it. We always interpret it… always.
My simplest answer to this question is found in Matthew 22:34-40. It seems to me that Jesus, here, has given us a hermeneutical key by which to open the Scriptures, something it is clear to me we desperately need in this situation. Like the two lenses of a pair of glasses the two love commandments (“Love God” and “Love your neighbour as yourself”) are the means by which we, as Christians, read and interpret the Scriptures. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, nor will there always be agreement (since we probably can’t agree on what we mean by love). What it does do, however, is to makes Moo’s methodology seem rather pale in comparison. To say “the Old Testament is clear, and the New Testament doesn’t deny it” results in inconsistent interpretations, as has been demonstrated above. A hermeneutic of twofold love opens the door for the Church to say, “actually maybe love looks different today”.
For example, should the Church ban interracial marriages as Ezra did. Moo’s approach (if he’s to be consistent) requires that many churches must stand at their doorways and replicate Ezra’s approach – “All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children” (Ezra 10:44). A hermeneutic of twofold love enables, empowers and indeed expects us to say, “No – today love looks different to this”. Such exclusion is inconsistent with our understanding of Love for God and love for neighbour. As an aside, I’m predicting that we’ll need to consider Ezra a lot more once same-sex marriage is legalised. How will the Church respond when a legally married gay couple seeks to join the fellowship? What of their children? Will we include them or exclude them? Indeed, what response are we making now?
This is exactly why we need to recognise the need for careful, consistent and in particular loving interpretation of Scripture. I hope in this and other ongoing discussions that we can all take care in the way we interpret.