This post is part two of a four part series on the issue of gay marriage prompted by the upcoming vote here in North Carolina on a constitutional amendment intending to define marriage as between a man and a woman. For my introductory post go here. Tomorrow I will post a case against gay marriage. Later this week I will post about my convictions on this matter. Oh…my lawyer asked me to direct your attention to my disclaimer.
A couple of notes…
In this post I will make an explicitly Christian case for allowing (or at least not objecting to) the state recognizing gay marriages and/or civil unions. Note that this is only a version of the Christian case, I am not claiming that it is the only case and by writing it I am not claiming that this is my conviction. It is simply my attempt to think through the issue using my own presuppositions as a reformed evangelical Christian.
Here we go…
There are several justifications a reformed evangelical Christian person could point to in order to support (or at least not object to) the state’s recognition of gay marriage–I have chosen to limit myself to three.
- The distinction between the church and the civil authorities.
Sphere sovereignty – the principle of sphere sovereignty (developed by Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper) holds that each sector of society has its own particular and peculiar duties and responsibilities, and each sector is has its own integrity apart from the others. Each sector (the family, business, the church, government) ought to limit its role to the part of creation it is responsible for.
One way to apply this principle to the case in point, granted not the only way and perhaps a corruption of the principle’s original intent, would be to argue that often (not always) marriage has two actors (it co-mingles the church and the state) in a single act.
Church and state should be differentiated in the act of marriage such that the government could (as it does already) recognize a marriage independent of sanction by the church (as in when a marriage is conducted by a judge). Separating church and state involvement makes broadening the definition of marriage much more sensible, if not palatable.
Why? Because the separation of the two authorities exposes a definitional problem. Increasingly society answers the question “what is marriage?” in a way that is distinct from procreation (perhaps the single greatest argument to bar same sex marriage). Where marriage is defined as a way to give tangible expression to love and love is defined in first person terms (i.e., what fulfills me) the state (the electorate) has little reason to object to the broadening of marriage.
In fact, the broadening of marriage may even be seen as a good in that it provides legal protections for more people and creates greater social stability. Not to mention, any argument to limit marriage would need to appeal to arguments not explicitly Christian in nature (since the government is not the church and ought not to rely upon theological rationale for its policy decisions). Using the definition of marriage found above it is difficult to find a non-Christian argument against allowing same sex unions/marriage–perhaps not impossible, but probably not terribly compelling to society at large.
Spirituality of the church. This is a peculiarly Presbyterian and American (especially Southern) way of understanding the relationship of the church to civil society (in some ways it is similar to the concept of sphere sovereignty). This view emphasizes the differentiation between the roles and responsibilities of the church and state.
The church is concerned with matters “spiritual” and the state is concerned with matters “secular” and “civil.” The church shouldn’t wander into secular and civil matters even as the government ought to restrain itself from intervening in matters of theology or spirituality.
Insofar as one sees marriage as something that the church does and that the state does, those holding consistently (rather than selectively) to the spirituality of the church would hold strong views about the theological integrity of gay marriage (or lack thereof), but would likely conclude that the state ought to be free to regulate and expand (if it wishes) marriage beyond its traditional form.
Note: the doctrine of the spirituality of the church had, I understand, a great deal to do with the Southern church’s reticence to become involved in the Civil Rights movement. Rights, so it would seem, are a secular and civil matter which could lead Christians to be as politically uninvolved in this issue they are perceived to have been in the Civil Rights movement.
- The principle of hospitality.
Throughout the Old Testament we see a principle of hospitality to the alien and the outsider as a prevalent theme. Some Christians might draw a parallel between Gentiles in ancient Hebrew society and those whose sexual identity is other than heterosexual. Such a person may not believe that homosexual relationships are good, right, or ideal, but at the same time wish to be generous in extending to someone in a class of people often treated poorly by parts of our society the right to express their love through the legal act of marriage.
- The principle of accommodation.
Why do we recognize divorce? Is it not because we recognize that our world is not a utopia (we’re east of Eden). Divorce, in the Biblical witness, is an accommodation on the part of God to the hard-heartedness of humanity. Might we consider same sex marriage as a similar accommodation? We might think that same sex attraction and homosexuality are not good or right, but as a practical matter we often make provision for the less than ideal. Is same sex marriage part of this category?
At least in the case that I’ve outlined here, the Christian case for gay marriage rests heavily on drawing a distinction between the purpose of the church and the purpose of the state. To reiterate, I have tried to limit my case to exclusively Christian beliefs or ideas and not appealed to sources like the U.S. Constitution, etc.
These are my thoughts…what are yours?