Thursday, May 10, 2012

Scripture and Generation Y in the Culture Wars

(Author’s note: Just an FYI—I am taking the next two Sundays off to be with my family for Mother’s Day and my younger sister’s college graduation, so there won’t be any new sermons here until May 27, but I’ll still be posting during the week. –E.A.)

A lot has happened in the last 48 hours on the cultural wedge issue of same-sex equality.  North Carolina voters passed Amendment One (their same-sex marriage ban), and President Obama came out in favor of full same-sex equality.

Now, to begin this post, a disclaimer: Some, perhaps many of you, may disagree with what I am about to say on the subject. I want to borrow, then, for a second, from Dan Kimball when he wrote about his own wrestling with the issue of same-sex equality (albeit to a somewhat different conclusion than me) in his excellent book They Like Jesus, But Not the Church:

“I recognize that by stating my position, I seem to be drawing ugly lines in the Christian world when I wish there didn’t have to be an “us versus them” over this issue. I hope you sense my heart in this, and I hope that I demonstrate compassion and understanding to those who hold a different viewpoint than I do. If you knew me, you would know that I’m only trying my best to base my position on the Scriptures. It’s from my best understanding of the Scriptures that I take the position that I do.”

Additionally, truth be told, I have been holding in this particular blog post for a number of weeks, because Washington state has been wrestling with this issue as well while signatures are gathered for a ballot measure to overturn the legalization of same-sex marriage that was passed by our legislature and signed into law by Governor Chris Gregoire earlier this year.

While my own views on same-sex equality are well-formed (ie, not evolving, har har har), I realize that I pastor to a congregation that, while theologically rather moderate, is very politically diverse, from hard-right wing Republicans to Prius-driving Democrats. Part of my calling is to offer no favoritism to anyone in my flock on the basis of political ideology.

Yet politics and religion cannot help but clash. (Don’t blame me. Blame all those ancient empires who claimed that their emperor was a deity.) Trying to thread the needle between being prophetic and being gentle has tested all of my creativity and psychic energy. At the same time, I love and cherish Scripture, and have believed in same-sex equality since I was a teenager.

However, my reasons for that belief have shifted over time. At first, I saw it simply through the prism of equality. But in conversations with fellow Christians who were opposed to same-sex marriage, I realized that, sooner or later, I would need to tackle the Scriptural side of the issue.

Now, I recognize what Levitical law says about same-sex intercourse in the context of two men: “You must not have sexual intercourse with a man as you would with a woman; it is a detestable practice.” (18:22) And,  “If a man has sexual intercourse with a man as he would with a woman, the two of them have done something detestable. They must be executed, their blood is on their own heads.” (20:13) (Both verses are from the Common English Bible translation.)  This is also to say nothing of Paul's own writings on the topic in Romans 1.

I cannot, and will not, dismiss that these verses are in Scripture, which I consider to be the inspired Word of God. However, there are a couple of realities worth noting—

First, this does not mean that the Bible views marriage as between one man and one woman. In fact, Deuteronomy 21:15-17 is all about rules for men with more than one wife, and the Biblical heroes Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon all practiced polygamy. Yes, some parts of the Bible do indeed say that it is (1 Corinthians 7 is a great place to start). But, clearly, parts of the Bible also do not, and to argue that the Bible says marriage is only between one man and one woman necessitates some picking and choosing.   And so, after lots of study and prayer, I have come to the conclusion that I honestly do not believe that the Bible is of a uniform opinion of what marriage is.  I think you could maybe make the argument that the Bible may say what marriage isn't, but not necessarily what marriage is.

Second (and on the topic of picking and choosing) I doubt any of us would say that same-sex intercourse should be a capital crime today, even if we do believe that it is wrong or sinful. If we believe that same-sex relations should not be criminalized (and that ship has clearly sailed with the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision from a few years back), then we have already begun to discount Scripture by ignoring the proscribed punishment for a transgression. More to the point, we have already begun to pick and choose within the very verses that condemn same-sex attraction, and are already choosing to discard the portions of those verses that we find distasteful. I feel like I’ve said it a million times on this blog, but it probably bears repeating…all of us pick and choose when it comes to Scripture. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

This leaves me with the question of, why, then, do we pick and choose these precious few verses from Leviticus and Romans? (I’ll dispense with the Sodom and Gomorrah story right now by simply quoting Ezekiel 16:49-50: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me.” The way I understand this passage is that it is a laundry list of sins, and so if same-sex intercourse is indeed what Ezekiel is referring to here by “abominable things,” then it is simply #6 on God’s list in this passage.)

And I’m genuinely wondering why this is, because, to borrow from Rachel Held Evans, I am a member of a generation that is tired of fighting the culture wars. One of the defining characteristics of my generation (Generation Y) is that we were taught to celebrate diversity from an early age, and so we really do try to practice the mentality of live and let live. We were taught that service is more important—witness the record numbers of young adults going into programs like Teach for America. And so for us, the efforts to ban same-sex marriage rather than, say, to further education or alleviate poverty, does violate our collective ethos.

Please understand that by saying this, I am not trying to say that my generation is right and all others are wrong.  But I can say, based on my own individual and anecdotal experience with my peers in my age group here on the West Coast, that the culture wars do alienate a LOT of people my age from the church, which saddens me greatly.  They see our priorities as being misplaced, and...well, they have a point.

About $3.3 million was spent by both sides combined on North Carolina’s Amendment One, which constitutionally bans same-sex marriage and which was passed by voters on Tuesday. Here are some things that the $3.3 million could have paid for instead:

Full funding of UNICEF’s humanitarian education aid in Ethiopia for all of 2012


30 days of emergency food and shelter from the American Red Cross for 7,857 people (at $350 for 25 victims per day)


Providing 2,374,100 beds in international hospitals with Bibles from the Gideons. That’s over 2.3 MILLION patients being provided with God’s Word. (at $1,112 per 800 beds)

I understand and recognize that this is an issue of tradition and of Scriptural interpretation for a lot of people—perhaps including you—but I have to admit that it really hurts me (and, I think, a lot of people my age) that we are devoting so much of our time, money, and energy on campaigns to keep people from getting married when thousands of children die every day from starvation and malnutrition, or when the governments of nations like China and North Korea deny their people access to God’s Word and routinely persecute Christians.

Approve of same-sex marriage, don’t approve of it…you’ll have Scripture to back up your view either way. But in my heart of hearts, I feel like preventing people from getting married is the gnat being strained out while we swallow many, many camels in the form of human suffering and the absence of God’s Word.

Yours in Christ,


  1. "Amen" and well said Eric. Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Marvin. I deliberated a lot over how to say what I was feeling and thinking, and it is encouraging to have it affirmed!