The victory recently granted the gay lobby by the U.S. Supreme Court parallels a particularly disturbing shift in public opinion toward tolerance for the idea of “homosexual marriage.” More than by such political maneuvers, however, the popular consciousness (which also affects Christians) seems to be influenced (often unconsciously) by the crafty use of artistic skill like that displayed in the new and wildly popular pop song by rapper Macklemore and singer-songwriter Mary Lambert, “Same Love.” The song’s lyrics articulate a thought pattern that already deeply pervades society. (I have personally encountered it at universities, churches, pubs, and family gatherings.) This essay seeks to challenge those Christians who may find themselves influenced by this recent tidal wave of societal pressure, to ask themselves this question: Can a Christian in good conscience support governmental approbation of sexual activities traditionally thought to incur divine wrath—even when they take place within the bounds of legally sanctioned same-sex “marriage”?
Some Christians may take the political attitude of then Democrat Party presidential candidate Barrack Obama, at a town hall meeting with Rick Warren (and then Republican candidate, John McCain), when he responded to another hot-button ethical issue (the question of life’s beginning) with the infamous “that is above my pay grade.” Others have evidently already yielded to the temptation to dismiss biblical arguments against homosexuality with the flippant “we paraphrase a book written thirty-five hundred years ago.” And yet many of these same Christians do not want to relinquish the ideal of gospel charity; for example, the concluding verses of “Same Love” are from Paul’s hymn of charity in 1 Cor. 13. Macklemore’s song thus attempts to give a “Christian” voice to the popular civil rights mantra of equality of race, gender, and sexual orientation, as if the last was equivalent to the first two. The thought that is conveyed with such powerful sentiment is precisely that homosexuals too have the right to marry the ones they love.
The numerous logical errors and historical inaccuracies that the rap song contains will be ignored here in order to focus on the heart of the issue, the coherence (or lack thereof) between the ideal of “equal marriage rights” and the morally relevant word of God. Obama, a professed Christian, has joined Macklemore in taking moral positions that directly contradict the clear and explicit teachings of divine revelation. This essay seeks to respond to this cultural pressure by correcting such prevalent and mortal misappropriations of Christian revelation held by so many self-identified “believers.” Hopefully, Christians who have not yet encountered, but are open to, strong reasons for opposing “equal marriage rights” will once more be prepared “to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope that is in them” (1 Peter 3:15).
Christians and Divine Revelation
It is the common understanding of many “Christians” more or less influenced by the gay lobby (like “religious” abortion advocates) that one’s personal religious position on such ethical matters should not be imposed on others—the mortal assumption here is that opposition to immoral behavior is merely a “personal religious opinion.” In contrast, Christian revelation clearly indicates that there is an inviolable moral law inscribed in the very nature of things that is accessible to all men, regardless of their religious persuasion. Such fundamental ethical questions can be answered with rational moral argument without the aid of divine revelation, even if the latter adds clarity and ease to the process.
The Catholic understanding of revelation is not that every word of Scripture was dictated to the human writers (as in fundamentalist Christianity and Islam), but neither is it simply that the Scriptures are “inspiring” books written merely by human beings. The books in our “Bible” were deemed “divinely inspired” by the bishops in the 4th and 5th centuries because they were known to be faithful accounts of the words and deeds of Christ. The apostles and early disciples of Christ, witnesses to the resurrection, are the trusted authorities on Christ’s message of salvation. The Scriptures are a theological record of divine interventions in the ordinary history of events intended to communicate truths necessary for salvation. Man is not the measure of truth; if I truly accept the Christian tradition as divine revelation, then I must conform my mind and heart to the entire message proclaimed, rather than seek to adapt the message to fit my own preferences.
What makes it possible for Christians to be ambivalent toward, let alone supportive of, homosexual relations is the loss of a sense of divine revelation, which clearly endorses what becomes called “natural law” (see Romans 1). A Christian cannot believe that homosexual acts are permissible, unless there is a fundamental misunderstanding of revelation, or more likely, a crisis in faith regarding its existence. If I truly believe in divine revelation, I will seek to understand why the Christian faith designates homosexual acts as immoral, despite the goodness I observe in homosexual friends, rather than attempting to rationalize my own prejudice against what is “thirty-five hundred years [old].” As most of us are mixtures of depravity and greatness, there is no contradiction in condemning a behavior and loving the person who engages in it.
When it comes to ethical issues like homosexuality, Macklemore (and the many he represents) display a reluctance to listen to arguments from Scripture (all-the-while quoting it when convenient), and the reason indicated for this seems to be the belief that many things in Scripture are no longer worthy of belief and inapplicable to today’s world. This assumption is based on an (inherited) fundamentalist approach to the texts, a hermeneutic anyone would judge to be faulty if he or she took the time to critique such methodology (or lack thereof). Anyone attempting to understand a complex text like the Scriptures must examine the rules of interpretation that he or she has already (often unconsciously) opted to utilize.
Equal Rights in Scripture
Here follow two instances of New Testament text that are often badly interpreted and thus lend support to those who favor abandoning the notion that every page of Scripture is inspired by the Spirit. The uncritical often assume that St. Paul supported slavery because he exhorts the virtue of obedience to slaves (e.g., Eph. 6:5). But not only does he acknowledge the equality of slaves and freemen before God (e.g., Col. 3:11) and exhort slaveholders to practice justice (Col. 4:1), he also advocates the freedom and equality of Onesimus, whom he made his “son” (Philemon 10, 16). Rather than condoning the social practice of slavery, Paul adapts the gospel to the concrete historical-cultural context of the time—the apostles were not sent forth to initiate social reforms (even if social justice is a task that develops later in Church history in accord with the movements of the Spirit), but to preach the gospel. Christ’s obedience to the will of the Father is a model for everyone in any circumstance.
Another common misperception of New Testament doctrine is that it maintains an antiquated notion of women as unequal and therefore subordinate to men. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body in particular, made great strides in debunking such an interpretation with his exegesis of mutual subjection in the Pauline literature, grounded in Jesus’ own words on marriage. Not only must Colossians 3:18-19 be viewed through the more complete text of Ephesians 5:21, but I might add that if one considers the predisposition natural to women, which everyone acknowledges (if fear of offending does not inhibit), to be “bossy” from the time they are little, it is appropriate for the submissive dimension of virtue to be emphasized as a counter-weight to such an inclination (which, nevertheless, when tempered certainly serves a good use), and it is likewise fitting to emphasize for men the need to “be not harsh,” as testosterone inspires destruction (again, something with a natural purpose when moderated). Interestingly enough, 1 Corinthians 11:7 says “woman is the glory of man” in the same breath in which it is said to be unfitting for men to cover their heads since they are “the image and glory of God.” Does Paul really mean that women must cover their heads because they are not “the image and glory of God”? Hardly. If man is the glory of God and woman is the glory of man, then is not woman the crowning glory of God’s creation, humanity?
One insight I gained from Dr. Scott Hahn on this topic is that Eve, a foretaste of the Blessed Virgin, is the crown of creation (hence the beauty that radiates from a woman’s hair can distract men from worship) since “what is last in execution is first in intention.” Alluding to the gospel maxim, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” when Paul reminds us that woman was created from man and for man, not vice versa, he adds: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (11-12). None of this is to say that the disciplines promoted even on the pages of Holy Writ are to be preserved as if immutably applicable. Rather, the doctrine that is being conveyed by the Spirit even through a man with his own cultural biases, certainly, can be discerned by those with eyes of faith and the critical acumen that develops out of it.
Finally, homosexuals (e.g., comedian Josh Thomas) will often say that the Bible teaches us to stone them, citing Leviticus 20, neglecting all the other sins that are also listed as deserving of death. They forget that Christians believe the old covenant was imperfect “because of the hardness of [their] hearts” (Mt. 19:8); while the Old Testament permits divorce, for example, Jesus explicitly overrules this law, forbidding divorce (e.g., Mt. 5:31, Mt. 19:7ff). The relationship between old and new testaments (or covenants) is a complex theological question. The implicit reference to Leviticus 20 at the end of Romans 1, in fact, points to the need to interpret the ancient prohibition through the lens of the New Testament understanding of law and sin. One point on that: 1 John 5 says there are sins that are deadly (i.e., “mortal” sins) and others that are not. Hence, the Spirit intends to convey through Paul that homosexual acts are deserving of spiritual death; and there are many other kinds of acts that qualify for the same (see, for example, 1 Cor. 6: 9-11). Even though there are customs even in the New Testament that need not be maintained, there is a great difference between something like the suitability of women wearing veils in church and the intrinsic immorality of homosexual acts. Whoever wishes to accept homosexual relations as licit, to be consistent, must be willing to do the same for murder, adultery, witchcraft, debauchery, drunkenness, and every other condemned behavior (see 1 Tim. 1: 8-11). What sense does it make for a Christian to empty the word of God of any and all relevance to morality today?
Romans 1 is the most pointed text indicating where God stands on homosexual relations because it addresses the reasons for their immorality and for their very existence. St. Paul says that men stop believing in God when they turn away from the evidence of creation itself and end up worshiping something else in His stead. The idolatry prevalent in the Roman Empire (the “deadly sin” of 1 Jn. 5) is the reason he assigns for the existence of gay and lesbian sexual relationships, which he says contradict the natural “use” male has for female and female for male. The message of this passage is neither antiquated nor “thirty-five hundred years [old].” The situation at that time in the Roman Empire is very similar to the situation now in the United States. His argument hinges on the existence of a moral law inscribed into the very structure of the created order. No historical, scientific, or cultural change can affect the time-independent nature of such a philosophical claim.
The Natural Reasons for the Moral Condemnation of Homosexual Acts
Homosexual marriage is an impossibility in the religious or theological sense both because divine revelation excludes it as a possibility and because, as God does not contradict the order He instilled in creation, the sexual expression of romantic love that is integral to marriage as a natural phenomenon is itself immoral when pretended by homosexual partners. The former reason has been elucidated by briefly addressing scriptural interpretation, and thus it remains to argue against the morality of homosexual relations from reason (having been impelled by Romans 1 to do so). Firstly, if the natural purpose of sex is propagation of the species, then homosexual relations contradict the natural purpose of sex, given that homosexual relations are intrinsically incapable of propagating the species. And if homosexual relations contradict the natural purpose of sex, then they impede homosexual persons from fulfilling their own reason for existing because actions that contradict their own natural purpose (or reason for existing in nature) impede the person acting from fulfilling his or her own purpose (or reason for existing).
Secondly, if romantic love occurs in human beings when there is physical and psychical complementariness, then male-female relations are the natural context in which romantic love occurs since man and woman naturally complement one another both physically and psychically. And if the natural expression of romantic love is sex and male-female relations are the natural context in which romantic love occurs, then sex as a natural expression of romantic love occurs naturally in the context of male-female relations. Thirdly, when the sexual act is isolated from its procreative capacity, it is performed for reasons of pleasure alone, and since homosexual relations have no capacity for procreation, homosexual acts are performed for reasons of pleasure alone. And if sexual acts that are incapable of procreation, which includes homosexual acts, are performed for pleasure alone, then homosexual acts are selfish by their very nature since acts that are performed for pleasure alone are by definition selfish. In short, homosexual acts cannot reflect the mutual self-giving that constitutes the essence of romantic love for human beings; no one has the right to do what is harmful either to oneself or to others (and the mass endorsement of such in the name of love is most harmful on society as a whole).
Of course, these arguments do not directly concern the political dimension of the question about whether homosexuals should have access to the same legal benefits (e.g., tax credits) that are afforded heterosexual couples. What I have sought to do instead is address the question of homosexual relations from an ethical standpoint, and particularly one that is based in Christian revelation, because both media propaganda and governmental sanctions have created an atmosphere in which Christians feel compelled to compromise the moral ideals that have informed them to a greater or lesser extent for the sake of accommodating a campaign of “equal marriage rights.” Christians who have experience with homosexuals of apparently decent character are thereby inclined to question the relevance of some scriptural dicta.
Without the foundation of a firm unequivocal faith in divine revelation it is difficult for many to be persuaded that some do not have the right to marry whomever they so desire. The retrieval of the sense of faith in revelation is thus one important way to discover the authentic meaning of marital love that is in accord with the reality of human nature. Of course, this kind of talk is impugned as religious “hate speech” by those who fail to take into account the reasons given for the moral ideals inherent to Christian faith. Christian revelation impels us to invoke both natural and supernatural reasons for maintaining the integrity of marriage against all immoral capitulation to “progress,” however tempting.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is rapper Macklemore (a.k.a. Ben Haggerty).