AnnieKO'Connor


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40 Questions for Christians Upset with the SCOTUS Decision on Marriage

The Gospel Coalition posted earlier today 40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags. The questions are pointed and worth thinking through; as a Christian who has been a staunch supported of marriage equality for at least four years (sounds like a long time…sounds like not long enough) they are the kinds of questions that I asked myself that led to the beliefs I now hold.

I’m not going to answer the questions here, partly because that would easily take tens of thousands of words, and partly because I don’t owe my answers to the Gospel Coalition or to anyone other than myself and God, who led me to my current beliefs through the leading of the Holy Spirit (via prayer and scripture reading.) YMMV. (Many of my answers can be found elsewhere on this blog, anyway.)

Instead I have 40 questions for Christians decrying the SCOTUS decision. It’s often that we get entrenched in traditions and don’t understand why we continue them, or we miss new information that contradicts the reasons we hold our traditions. These questions are intended to help shed light on the topic from a Christian perspective that explores the reasons behind the traditions we have held, and asks for a Christian response to the new information that we now have.

Since I’m assuming people upset with the SCOTUS decision believe homosexuality is always a sin, even in orientation only, and even when homosexual sex takes place inside a marriage, these questions likewise assume that stance; this is for the sake of the discussion and not a reflection of my own views.

1. What is your definition of homosexuality? Does it refer to sexual activity, or the orientation itself regardless of the person’s sexual activities?

2. If you separate orientation and behavior (the way that the secular and LGBT communities do), do you believe the orientation itself is a sin, or that it is only sin is when a person lusts or has sex outside of marriage?

3. Can you make a positive case from scripture that condemns orientation without reference to activity?

4. If orientation itself is a sin, what hope can you provide to LGBT Christians to repent from this sin when 99.99% of people who have sought conversion therapy have not had success in changing their orientation, even if they were able to change their behavior?

5. How would you make a case from scripture that remarriage when one of the initial spouses is still living is moral?

5. If you cannot, do you believe that remarriage in such cases should be illegal the way you believe same-sex marriage should be illegal? Or should this be dealt with on an individual level within the church?

6. If you believe that remarriage in such cases should be illegal, then do you spend as much time speaking out about its legality as you do speaking out about same-sex marriage?

7. If you do not think it should be illegal, even though you believe it is immoral, why do you believe differently regarding the legality of same-sex marriage? What about your belief that same-sex marriage is immoral makes it worthy of being outlawed, when remarriage does not need to be outlawed?

8. What do you say to churches that will perform marriage ceremonies for remarriages when a former spouse is still living, but who will not perform same-sex marriages? Do you support churches that perform remarriages? Do you attend or run a church that performs remarriages?

9. If you believe the sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 indicate that such activities should be made illegal, do you think instances of adultery should also be illegal? Should lust be illegal? What about idolatry? Should cowardliness be illegal? Should lying, or faithlessness? What is your standard for determining which sins should be illegal, and which sins should not?

9. If you believe marriage must be male and female in order to reflect Christ’s relationship to the church, because the man and woman have specific roles, how is it possible for a man to be the bride of Christ and take on a female role in relationship to Christ? How does it not violate his gender role to become a bride?

10. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, do you hold to all their understandings of homosexuality? For instance, do you believe male-male sexual contact should be made illegal? Should it be punishable by a two year labor sentence that is likely to kill the individuals in question? Do you think LGBT people should be put to death? Do you think they should be subject to chemical castration?

11. If not, what do you understand about that Bible that the church did not understand before? What do you understand about the Bible that our own culture did not understand even within the last 100 years when some of these practices were taking place?

12. If you could travel back in time to when men were sentenced to death for same-sex sexual contact, what would you say to the Christians who made those laws to explain why those people should not be punished? And how does what you say apply to your own beliefs that same-sex marriage should be illegal today?

13. Such punishments (and harsher ones) are still practiced in many places, including Asia and Africa. Examples of these punishments include imprisonment ranging from two years up to life, 74 or 100 lashes of a whip, 17 years’ hard labor, torture, stoning and the death penalty. If you think those laws are inhumane, what arguments would use to explain to Christians in Africa and Asia that such penalties ought to be repealed the way they have been repealed in the Western world, and that your new understanding of these issues is not culturally conditioned?

14. If you fear what will happen in America now that same-sex marriage is legal, can you think of a better word to describe this fear than homophobia, since phobias are fears? Do you believe fear of a thing often leads to hatred?

15. Do you believe that children do better with a mother and a father versus two same-sex parents?

16. If so, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

17. If hypothetical systematic negative affects on children is grounds for outlawing certain parenting situations, are you as fervent in your quest to outlaw single parenting as you are to outlaw same-sex parenting?

18. If you support outlawing same-sex parenting or marriage on the grounds of possible detriment to children, how would you respond to empirical studies ranging over more than 30 years that indicate “children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes?”

19. If there can be found no empirical evidence to support the belief that children fare better with a male and a female parent, then does the state have any grounds on which to promote or privilege arrangements that put a child with a male and a female parent?

20. If there is no longer any male or female in Christ, how can gender be a factor in determining a spouse?

21. If marriage points to Christ’s relationship to the church, how can the lesser union of marriage be subject to stricter standards than the greater union with Christ, to which people may enter regardless of gender?

22. What text from the constitution would you use to support the idea that your religious doctrines are grounds for legislation?

23. If you are worried about infringements on your religious liberties, how do you intend to protect the religious liberties of buddhists who would like to enter a same-sex marriage according to their religious beliefs when there are no prohibitions against such marriages within their religion?

24. Should your LGBT siblings in Christ who disagree with your views on homosexuality based on their understanding of the Bible be able to exercise their beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, coercion, bullying, rejection from the church, and verbal, physical and sexual assault (all of which they currently experience at the hand of those who believe they need to be ‘called out’ on their sin)?

25. If LGBT individuals should not be treated in such negative and harmful ways, what are you doing to stop such behavior?

26. Do you think that the church is a welcome and safe place for LGBT people? Do you think your personal church is such a place? In determining your answer to this question, do you place greater significance on what you personally have witnessed than on the testimonies of countless LGBT individuals who have suffered at the hands of the church and Christians?

27. If you yourself do not participate in such behavior, do you think you still have a responsibility to speak out publicly against bullying, ostracizing or marginalizing LGBT individuals? If so, when are you going to start?

28. If not, why do you feel called to speak out against homosexuality but not against these harmful behaviors?

29. How much time do you devote to speaking out about the one issue, versus speaking out about the other? If there is a discrepancy in how much time you devote to each, how do you explain or justify that discrepancy to yourself? What Bible verses can you point to that support your justification?

30. In the history of the US, LGBT individuals have faced “social ostracism and cultural marginalization” at far greater rates than the church has. If you are worried about these things happening to you due to your minority belief about homosexuality, why are you only willing to defend yourself against those things, but not willing to defend LGBT individuals against those things? Do you have a greater responsibility to prevent your own marginalization, or to speak up on behalf of those who already experience marginalization?

31. Do you think we as Christians are called to speak up on behalf of the oppressed? Or are we called to view their oppression complacently, especially if helping save them from oppression might make the institution of the church less politically powerful?

32. Do you think Jesus would have been OK with Christians ignoring the fact that LGBT people are bullied, assaulted, and killed at higher rates than their straight/cis counterparts, in order to speak out against their new equality before the law?

33. Do you believe the church has had, and continues to have, a negative impact on the lives of LGBT individuals?

34. If so, what are you doing inside the church to remedy this situation? How does your speaking out against the legalization of marriage contribute to this remedy?

35. If not, how do you respond to studies that indicate the church does negatively affect the lives of LGBT individuals? (e.g. “However, unexpectedly, we found that seeking counseling from a religious or spiritual advisor had a harmful impact—it was associated with higher odds of suicide attempt. Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those who sought help from a religious or spiritual advisor were more likely to later attempt suicide.”

36. What is your definition of love? Does it include complicity or idleness in response to the systematic ostracization, marginalization and dehumanization of an entire demographic of people?

37. Does your definition of love include actions, or is it limited only to eliminating any feelings of animus or disgust you may have toward others?

38. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions that they make, without shaming or bullying them?

39. If you believe Christians should love LGBT individuals, how much time have you spent serving and helping LGBT people? If your definition of love includes actions, what actions do you take in order to affect their lives and ensure they are no longer subject to ostracization or marginalization?

40. How would you make a positive case from scripture that the lifting of a restriction that has reinforced marginalization is something that should not be celebrated?


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Who gets to define marriage?

(In response to Preston Yancey’s post, here.) ETA: Preston Yancey edited his post to point out he did not intend to communicate a conflation between legal and religious marriage. 

For most religious people, marriage happens on three levels: legal, religious and metaphysical. Let’s take a look at these three and sort through the implications of the distinctions.

Legal

The simplest distinction here is the legal marriage. People of any religion or race can enter a legal marriage. It requires applying at a courthouse, and signing a contract. The contract of a legal marriage, and the laws surrounding it, establish ownership, next of kin, and tax filing status. These items are all the domain of the state, and thus the state provides this legal marriage contract.

Religious

Most people are familiar with religious marriage. In Christianity, marriage is viewed as sacred; it is an analogy for the relationship between the church and Christ, and for the relationships within the trinity. It is a covenant and, in some denominations, a sacrament. These items are all the domain of the church, and thus the church forms this covenant between two people.

Metaphysical

There is yet a third distinction, that is very much related to the religious marriage. It is however more basic, and more inexorable. Jesus points out the metaphysical relationship between a married couple in the Sermon on the Mount. He says:

“It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

—Mt 5:31-32, ESV

The first part of this quote, Jesus is referencing the religious precedent as well as acknowledging the legal aspect of marriage. He indicates that the religious practice was to dissolve marriage through legal means. He then goes on to state that even if this divorce went through, the couple would still, in reality, be married. The permanency of marriage is inexorable no matter what the state or the religious institution have to say about it. Otherwise, how could marriage to a divorced person be adultery? It could not.

So what?

Preston Yancey states in his blog (and correctly so) that matters of the church are strictly not in the domain of the state. Therefore, he continues, the state should have no right to define marriage, much less redefine it.

The problem here is that legal and religious marriage have been conflated. The state cannot (and should never attempt) to define the sacred covenant of marriage. But ONLY the state can define the terms of the contract determining property rights, next of kin, and tax status. This is reciprocally outside the domain of the church.

And what about metaphysical marriage? There is nothing we can do to change it. Only God could alter the reality of marriage. If the state defines legal marriage to include two men or two women, not only does this not require the church to change its definition (whatever it may be for a given denomination) but it cannot even come close to having any effect on whether or not the legal marriage exists metaphysically.*

*Denominations disagree on the definition of marriage because they disagree about the metaphysics. Philosophically, it is possible that every single church has an incorrect understanding of the metaphysics, and yet the metaphysics are still unaffected. I strongly suspect this may well be the case.


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Gay Marriage

We can’t change the definition of marriage, but…

Some argue that marriage must be open only to one man and one woman because this union is the backbone of society; it creates the opportunity of having and raising children. It is through this form of marriage that society continues through the creation of subsequent generations and their growing up to contribute positively to society.

Because this tradition has long been the backbone of society, many people fear that legalizing same sex marriage will alter this tradition and send negative shockwaves through society.

Legalizing gay marriage, however, will not destroy traditional marriage because traditional marriage as the backbone of society has already been abolished. Because marriage has already shifted from its traditional form, it makes no sense to use its supposed protection as an argument to continue disallowing same-sex marriages.

When you read books like Jane Austen’s, it’s easy to see that marriage played a different role in society then. It certainly has a lot of similarities, but there are some major differences. The women must marry in order to leave their fathers’ houses, they cannot support themselves, and no children in that society are legally recognized unless born in wedlock. Such customs constitute traditional marriage.

…too late, we already did.

Several things that have happened since then have changed this. The industrial revolution created the middle class and opened jobs for a lot of people. Coupled with the women’s rights movement which had some overlap with it, women started entering the workplace, and throughout the 20th C. it became highly respectable for women to work and support themselves and even their families. Thus, many women do not need marriage to have financial support, and this is reflected by the rising ages of first marriages in both men and women. It is not a social necessity.

In the mid-20th century, no fault divorce laws were introduced. This has profoundly affected marriage in society, and has helped shift the purpose of marriage away from social necessity to a temporary option.

On top of all this, the sexual revolution has created an environment in which women who have children out of wedlock are not completely ostracized from society, and the children born out of wedlock are socially and legally recognized quite readily.

But isn’t this change bad?

I’m not saying that all of these things are good; I think many of the consequences of these circumstances are highly problematic: there is an increase in single mothers and teen pregnancies and broken families.

These things have affected the change of marriage from its traditional role in society. The basis of traditional marriage, procreation and child rearing, are no longer the basis of marriage already. Legalizing gay marriage will not change the fact that marriage is now optional and tends to be entered into for romantic reasons. More and more people are choosing not to marry, even when they are in a long term committed relationship, and there has been an increase in married couples choosing not to have children. Today, only 48% of households are married couples (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-05-02/living-alone/54585114/1)

Legalizing gay marriage, from this perspective is a decision that reflects the reality of marriage in society and its actual purpose in this day and age: Romantic commitment and partnership. Procreation and child rearing are optional for marriage, and do not require marriage in order to be carried out.

Single parents, divorced families, childless families and unmarried parents raising their children are all legally protected iterations of the new operating definition of marriage in society. The only form of family outlawed under the new definition is that of gay people, and this simply because they are gay (The biological arguments and possible harm to children growing up outside the home are not here overlooked, but they are limited to gay people. A single mother cannot procreate by herself, but there is no legal bar to her raising children. Studies indicate that children do best in two parent homes, but there is no law against single parents and many of them are working extremely hard to raise their children well, and are succeeding.)

The change has created problems, but legalizing gay marriage can help solve them.

I think one of the greatest problems facing our society today is not the danger of cessation of procreation (there are lots of kids, even more globally) but the need to raise healthy children. Recent studies indicating that two parent families are the best for children and that the gender of those two parents doesn’t seem to make a difference reveal that gay couples can help society by raising healthy children. (Of course, this does not require their being married.)

Personally I am a strong proponent of adoption, for all people, not only for the purpose of compassion to those who are without parents, but also because children growing up in foster care moving endlessly between homes are often never adopted and grow up in very unhealthy environments. The only way to stop this is for the biological parents to reconcile with the children in a healthy manner, or for the children to be adopted. Most are never adopted. When they reach 18 they are kicked out of the state system and often become homeless because they have no family or government support system during those vital transition years when they enter society. Those who enter college and find a way to pay for it often have nowhere to live over summers and breaks. This is a huge problem for our society, and its going unresolved self-perpetuates the problem.

As far as the child-rearing aspect of marriage, gay couples are more likely to adopt simply because they cannot produce their own child. There are, of course, other methods of having children, many of which are highly controversial, but I think those need to be dealt with separately and will continue to be an ethical problem for society to deal with no matter what happens with gay marriage.

And one of those problems is our continued disallowance of marriage equality.

Some argue that the exclusivity of legal marriage does not disparage or disadvantage gay couples, but this is incorrect. Giving “separate but equal” legal status to same-sex couples creates a distinction where none is necessary. Already gay people are growing up feeling ridiculed and belittled; why perpetuate it by excluding them from marriage. Straight people have the legal right to marry simply for love and never have children by choice, and since I believe the contemporary definition and nature of marriage has already shifted to committed romantic partnerships instead of the sole method of procreation and child rearing, it is discriminatory to disallow gay marriage on the basis of marriage’s former function in society.

The easiest way to guarantee all the same legal rights is to give the same legal right to marry: the rest will then follow (insurance, visitation, etc.)

The Guardian has a fascinating look at gay rights in America, which highlights the lack of equality throughout the 50 states (though notedly they did not include civil unions separately from marriage): http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2012/may/08/gay-rights-united-states


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Which Humans are Humans?

I’m about to say something pretty unpopular (among those likely to be reading this): People who vote against marriage equality are human. We should love. They deserve respect, kindness, patience and graciousness.

I’m not saying they deserve it because of how they vote. They don’t. It is not because of any action that such things are deserved.

All humans deserve respect, kindness, patience and graciousness simply for being human. And in the case of everyone I know well, they deserve it in spite of certain things.

Here’s what I really want to say. The reason I support marriage equality is because I support humans. I think it is cruel and dehumanizing when people are disallowed to marry someone they love, when they are told their identity is faulty and evil, when they are told they are lying about their identity, when they are ridiculed and belittled and marginalized and barred from equal civil rights, when people turn a blind eye to the bullying and threats presented against.

So when I feel angry at the people instigating these cruelties, I want to belittle and dehumanize right back. Sometimes it feels good. But I don’t think it is ever right. And more than that, I don’t think it is ever helpful.

I say this because I used to be one of them.

I grew up in the church and in high school became very serious about my beliefs. I wanted to be good, I wanted to obey God and listen to my conscience and uphold the Bible. I argued in my politics classes against marriage equality. I wrote essays on how refusing marriage equality was constitutional. I laughed at jokes about ‘plumbing’ and pitied people who had been “deceived into living a sinful lifestyle”.

But I changed my mind.

It wasn’t because anyone called me a bigot. In fact, no one ever did. Yes, I had disagreements and arguments, but I wasn’t called names, never felt belittled.

When I went to university I wanted to study the Bible more. I took a degree in Theology. I learned a lot. I actually read the Bible. I listened long and hard to what my conscience had to tell me. And I changed my mind. I discovered that humanness matters; humanness is a big deal; humanness is a state of being that deserves respect, kindness, patience and graciousness. It was no longer the sanctity of marriage I felt compelled to uphold, but the sanctity of humans.

When I see things like North Carolina’s overwhelming disapproval of marriage equality, I feel anger, despair, confusion.

And then I remember myself.

Ten years ago I would have cheered. I would have thanked God. If I still believed that way, today I would have gone to twitter to take smug satisfaction from all the angry people calling me a bigot, proud of myself for believing something despite being ridiculed.

This is the person I have to see in the 61% of voters who disallowed marriage equality. It’s harder to hate them when I see my own face looking back. It’s harder to think I can change their minds with anger, with righteousness, with indignation.

And it’s harder to believe there is no hope.

The fight to uphold the sanctity of humans is not over yet.

(I know the vote has caused pain to many people, and the pain and anger need an outlet. I do not mean to say that anyone feeling anger and pain must hold in their feelings or ignore them. I hope and pray that all people distressed by the vote have someone, or even many people, whom they can turn to for comfort and hope. My comments here are regarding the general approach to public discourse.)


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Call Me By Your Name

by André Aciman

I could not put this book down. I started it after work one evening and finished late that night. It cast a spell of tension, longing, desire—all of which were left unresolved for so many pages, with hints every now and then to spur the reader on.

There was a lot of restraint in the telling: a seventeen year old boy falling in love for the first time could have been, well, Twilight without the vampires. But this story was far from an emotional indulgence squeezed generously from a tube of saccharine icing.  Most of the telling is in the frustration and uncertainty of the the young boy: is he mad? does he really want the thing he believes he desires? Is there reciprocation? How can he break the ice with this aloof object of his affection?

There were many ways, however, in which the book was indulgent. Our hero is hyper intellectual, a piano virtuoso. His love interest is likewise intelligent, a grad student working fervently on a thesis about Heraclitus. The uncanniness of the  ready excuse for allusion and heady talk was easy to overlook with a view of enjoying the story, but it often felt as if these devices sufficed to say “their desire for each other is not your typical summer romance.” In fact, their desire was as animal and desperate as other romances, even those including seventeen-year-olds.

If you’re looking for a short, light easy read, full of passion and reservation, this one fits the bill.