David Philip Norris recently wrote an op-ed piece in MinnPost (“Determined opposition to same-sex marriage shows indifference to human hardship”) in which he claimed that those who oppose same-sex marriage for faith-based reasons are “indifferent to human hardship.” While his commentary was eloquent, it was also a now-familiar emotional appeal that misused Scripture and subtly painted those who oppose his viewpoint as imperialist tyrants.
I would like to offer a different view of the situation. The argument over same-sex marriage does not start in the political realm but in the philosophical. Many of the proponents of same-sex marriage with whom I speak assume that we agree on who we are on a basic level and therefore the way we should plot our political course forward. That’s where they’re wrong. Many Christians still hold to the truth of Scripture, often called inerrancy, and believe that God created humanity in his image (Genesis 1:27). These Christians reject the theory of macro evolution as an explanation of human origins. We see the role of image-bearing, generally called imago Dei, to be what defines us. We also believe Jesus, as Messiah, to be the only human in history to correctly fulfill that role and that we are to follow his example with the help of the Holy Spirit. Most would admit we don’t often live that perfectly, but that is our goal.
The reason humans have not fulfilled the role of imago Dei on their own is because of human sin, beginning with a literal Adam and Eve and continuing through the generations. Because we believe in the truth of Scripture, we also believe its condemnation of all human sin, including homosexuality. Adherence to Scripture, for us, trumps any emotional appeal to what is condemned. We see homosexuality as a departure from the way God created and commanded humans to live. God created man male and female and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:21-24). Therefore homosexuality is rebellion against his character and will.
Does this lead to emotional indifference among Christians? In some it may, but it certainly should not. Scripture portrays homosexuality as only one of many brands of rejection of God. What Norris sees as indifference may only be a defensive reaction that many Christians have assumed when dealing with those who have often abusively disagreed with them. There has been, unfortunately, abuse from both sides.
Commands for Christians within the community
Norris insinuated that these Christians are not living up to the Scriptures and used a couple of scriptural phrases written by the apostle Paul. Yet these phrases were misused because, in their context, they are meant only for life within the believing Christian community. These are not commands for Christians necessarily to offer directly to outsiders. His quotation of Christ is somewhat misused as well. Jesus was asked by an expert in the Hebrew Law, “what is the greatest commandment?” To which he replied, “The first is this, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength’ and the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” In his response, Jesus summed up the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures in two tenets – a loving relationship with God and a resulting loving relationship with other people. The latter is based on the former. Therefore our love for the rest of humanity, and it should be great, is predicated upon and shaped by our love for and obedience to God. We cannot separate them.
So our view of human dignity and human rights must be developed by our adherence to Scripture — not by kinship in an evolved species. Humanity apart from God reflects as much dignity as a severely broken mirror reflects the image of the one who holds it. There are only glimpses in the shards. The problem with Norris’ view is that he implicitly equates love with acceptance of lifestyle. We can accept people as fellow broken image-bearers, and we can love them in spite of sin – everybody sins – but we cannot accept sinful behavior by calling good what God has called sinful. My love for other people, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is the same, but it would be disingenuous to attempt to overlook sin, whatever the form it takes. I would respond similarly toward those who were trying to ensconce laws in order to protect cohabitants.
This brings us to rights under the law. Same-sex marriage is considered by some to be the great civil-rights cause of our day and the direct descendant of the 1960s’ racial struggle for equality. Yet the philosophical roots of the two movements are very different. The struggle for racial equality started long before the 1960s with the Abolitionist movement. Abolitionists were largely Christians who based not only freedom for but also equality of all people on the notion that all were created in the image of God. Theirs was an appeal to not only Scripture but also to the faith of the Founding Fathers built into the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Same-sex marriage cause has a secularist bent
This life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not talking about doing whatever one pleases because it is predicated on an understanding of Scripture, but it is referring to the government-supported ability to be free from slavery, have rights to make a living, and make one’s lot better. The same-sex marriage cause, on the other hand, has a secularist bent. Rather than appeal to the image of God, it has appealed, in numerous articles, to evolution. The argument is that since all are the result of evolution, and there has been no God to speak, no one group has the right to dictate to another group what is right.
Fairness, in this view, is the acceptance of anything that anyone wants to do. Laws can and will be changed to accept that which was recently unacceptable. Same-sex-marriage proponents are not carrying with them the heart of the 1960s struggle for equality. This is something more akin to Marxism.
Both proponents of same-sex marriage and opponents are put in a difficult position to make and enforce policy. For proponents, the laws on the books were created from a generally Christian-informed perspective, before the overall rise of evolutionary theory or of culturally accepted homosexuality. Most of our states’ and nation’s laws are from this perspective. There is much to attempt to overturn. For opponents, we have to realize that our nation was also founded with the perspective of freedom of, and even from, religion. Because we are all citizens of the United States, we must make some room for those who believe differently, even if we vehemently disagree. This is ground to tread lightly for both sides. We need to acknowledge our great disagreement in philosophy and principle, but we also need to communicate.
A moral issue involving underlying beliefs
When it comes down to voting on the constitutional amendment this November, which proposes a constitutional ban on performing and recognizing same-sex marriages within the state of Minnesota, everyone must vote according to their conscience, but please recognize that many Christians do not see this as an issue of “fairness.” Most people like to be fair and heck, we’re Minnesotans; we love to root for the perceived underdog. Instead, we see this as a moral issue in which Minnesotans are deciding to codify laws based on underlying beliefs.
Do we believe that God has spoken? Do we believe that our laws should be based on his revealed will for humanity? Should we create laws that uphold God’s Law, or laws that protect and encourage sin? Will we finally push God out of our understanding of the basic pillar of the family just as we have attempted to do in our courthouses, our community assemblies, and our schools? If we reduce this to emotional sentiment about fairness, which is what Norris has done, we will fail to recognize ourselves as image-bearers and accept that we are here for no greater purpose than to fulfill our own desires.
Steven Douglas, of Edina, is a pastor.