I have a question about something that was brought up at Judy Shepard’s recent presentation on her son Matthew’s death. Her son was gay and was killed by two other young men out of hate for homosexuals. Judy is a Christian, and with a son whose sexual orientation is by the Bible’s definition a sin, this woman is caught between love for her son and the truth of the Bible. At one point in her presentation a question was voiced over how she felt about this contradiction. Her answer confused me. She said, “the New Testament gives us permission to move away from the teachings of the Old Testament.” She believes that Jesus’ call to love our neighbor regardless of their sins makes homosexuality OK. What are your thoughts on this? I’m a bit confused on how to feel about homosexuality and how to love these people without accepting their way of life as one approved by God.
Thanks for any insight on this issue,
Dr. Karin Heller
Your message raises a question on the way we very often come to a conclusion on biblical texts. Is it my personal experience that determines how we should interpret texts? Or does a right interpretation of a biblical text depend on interaction between the author of the text, its reader and the larger Christian community? Martin Luther went with the first option. Only personal experience counts. This choice led to the Reformation and a splitting up of Christians in thousands of different denominations. The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches continue to stick to principles of biblical interpretation represented by the second option.
It’s not my goal to displease the lady whose son died in such horrible circumstances. But the harshest words on homosexuality can be found in the New Testament (Romans 1:26-27). Yes, according to God’s law and Jesus’ new commandment (John 15:12), we are called to love one another as Jesus loved us. Now, what does “to love” mean? It does not mean to disregard sin, any sins, including homosexual acts. Homosexuality is a human condition just as heterosexuality is. Both, homosexuals and heterosexuals, have a sinful nature; both can sin. To love people is not to accept whatever they do or hold. To love as Jesus loved is to show homosexuals and heterosexuals a path to life where all are offered healing from sin, including homosexual acts and sexual sins related to heterosexuality. This lady just wants homosexuality to be OK! Does she want she and for her son to be totally healed from whatever sin? That’s the ultimate question.
Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years. Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.
Some religious groups are hoping to stall the bill, including the state’s four Catholic bishops who are urging parishioners to contact their legislatures and “defend the current definition of marriage.” Other faith groups, like the United Church of Christ, are applauding the bill, proving that homosexuality remains a divisive issue among religious adherents.
We asked some of our panelists what they thought.
Should Washington legalize same-sex marriage?
No. I believe marriage should continue to be defined as it traditionally has been, as between one man and one woman. Not because tradition in and of itself is holy, but because this particular tradition has valid and essential societal, religious and biological justifications. This definition denies some people something that they want very much and I take no pleasure in that, but I do not believe in changing valid, fundamental tenets that benefit society as a whole in order to relieve the pain of one segment of society and grant them their hearts’ desire, as universal and understandable as that desire may be. Many people are denied the opportunities they want most in life; homosexuality is not the only reason some people are not able to marry. Infertility, disability, disease, injury and poverty are a few of the reasons many people don’t get what they want most.
I don’t want to take away anyone’s civil rights or opportunities to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and hope that individuals will take legal steps to insure their personal preferences are fulfilled — that they can own property with the partner of their choice, leave their money to whomever they please, have end-of-life decisions made by whomever they trust, etc.
I am not a debater, philosopher or expert in any related area (“clearly,” someone is thinking right now.) It won’t be hard for someone to point out my weaknesses of expression and take exception to my rationale and argue against it. But this is what I believe.
The question is complex, calling forth a political, theological and deeply personal reflection. The question also touches on a divisive issue. Those who oppose same-sex unions tend to oppose same-sex relationships in general. Any response on the subject can lead to labeling and cutting off one another (e.g., left, right, center, liberal, conservative, moderate, fundamentalist, etc.) based on what a person believes and says. There’s a thought-provoking and comprehensive chapter called Concerning Homosexuality in “Who We Are: Our Dignity as Human,” by Paul K. Jewett with Marguerite Shuster. I point readers to it. With that said, it seems the crucial issue before us hinges on the word and institution and definition of “marriage.” I would like to change the question: Is there a way to legalize same-sex relationships without redefining traditional heterosexual marriage? It will take more time and creative thinking to establish something new for same-sex couples. Until then, I see only a deepening rift.
Buddhists do not believe in the concept of “sin” the way it exists in Western culture and in the Judeo-Christian mind. In Buddhism, actions are not inherently good or evil; rather it is that emotions and intentions are either positive or negative. Negative intentions beget suffering and positive intentions lessen suffering. Love is a positive emotion and the actions of love are positive actions. Buddhism has no specific restrictions that govern the activities of its practitioners. Buddhists have individual freedoms to make their own decisions regarding life choices. A practitioner of Buddhism should focus on the intentions and emotions behind their choices. Relationships, sex and even marriage can stem from both negative and positive intentions. That being said, I believe same-sex marriage should be legalized in Washington. I don’t believe individuals should be denied the opportunity to make decisions that could potentially bring them happiness. Marriage is an expression of love two individuals make for themselves and each other. Who a person chooses to love is irrelevant from a Buddhist perspective. I hope people of other faiths and cultures can see and respect the perspectives of homosexual couples and be willing to extend to them the same rights and freedoms that heterosexual couples enjoy.
Same-sex marriages should be legal in Washington, as well as in the rest of the country. The primary outcry against such legislation tends to be religious in nature, and since we’re discussing this topic on a website that deals with matters of religion, I’ll assume we’re trying to find out what various religions have to say about it. It frankly doesn’t matter, however, as the simple answer is that any religiously—based argument against same-sex marriage in this country violates our constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state. If heterosexual couples can enter into civil unions (and every marriage, even those performed by the church, are civil unions), then homosexual couples should be granted the same basic civil rights. We’re talking about the laws that govern the state, not the rules that govern the church. The legislation wouldn’t, and indeed couldn’t, force churches to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, or even to acknowledge such marriages as valid in the eyes of God. That’s something the churches need to work out for themselves. If the religious really want to attempt to restrict the right of same-sex couples to marry, they’re going to need to come up with something better than, “because God said so.” Which actually he didn’t. But that’s a discussion for another time.
As a Untied States citizen exercising my freedom to vote according to my conscience, I would vote…no.
But the question is presented in a manner that asks if we think Washington ‘should’ legalize same-sex marriage. As soon as we enter the realm of ‘should’ it becomes a very different discussion.
For most people determining what one ‘should or shouldn’t do’ becomes a discussion of the legislation’s legality based on the constitutionality of the law as well as a discussion of the ethical and religious aspects of the law. The challenge of differentiating between these two spheres in American culture is at the root of so much of the debate, dissent and confusion on this subject.
I think religious America has to come to terms with the reality that the two have been wed together in ways that have been culturally accepted and even desired by the majority but have not been true to the intent of the constitution in outworking specific matters of separation between church and state.
The growing secularization of the country as viewed by many religious people is, for some people, simply the rebalancing of our country’s application of constitutional law.
What kind of America all this produces is deeply problematic to those who orient their public and private lives from a Judea-Christian worldview. For others this is seen as an expansion of civil liberties, blossoming of greater equality and justice and an end to the dominant conservative religious framework in place in many of our American institutions.
I see the divide between secular and sacred increasing and producing accompanying means and measures to express and celebrate whichever worldview one holds. Some will welcome this change, other’s will not.
Marriage is an institution with both legal and spiritual ramifications and it is also one of the very few places, perhaps the only place, left in society in which ordained ministers function as officers of the state in certifying that a valid and legal marriage has occurred. That creates confusion around the question of legalizing same-sex marriage because it is both a theological and a legal issue. As we all know opinions vary about the theological dimensions of this question and the bible gets quoted rather liberally on both sides of the issue. My personal opinion, and this opinion does not necessarily represent the views of the management, is that the bible is completely silent on the modern question of two people falling in love and wanting to spend the rest of their lives together who happen to be of the same sex. The assumption of all the writers of scripture was in complete accord with the standard thinking of the day: all men like women, and all women like men, and therefore to engage in sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex is to go against your own nature. Every biblical text cited on this question makes this assumption, an assumption we now know is simply not true. Sexual orientation is not so simple as we once thought and our theological thinking needs to evolve on this issue, as it has evolved on other questions. Men really can fall in love with men, and women with women. People of the same sex really do devote themselves to each other for “as long as both shall live.” More than that, common sense, and universal experience, tells us that marriage is mostly not about sex and to focus the question of marriage around sex distorts both the institution and that particular form of intimacy. At the theological level therefore I am in favor of same-sex marriage. However, I believe it would be a serious violation of the freedom of religion to compel any church, or its ministers, to solemnize such unions. There are people, indeed whole denominations, who stand in serious disagreement with my thoughts on this and on no account should the state structure any resolution of this question in a manner that creates ambiguity about the freedom of a minister to refuse to act as an officer of the state. A religious official has a freedom that a justice of the peace does not have, the freedom to refuse for any or no reason, to officiate at a wedding. That freedom must be preserved.
On the legal and social side of the issue the question, in my opinion, is more straightforward. The state has no business telling two competent people of legal age who love each other and intend to spend the rest of their lives together, that they may not get married and thus enjoy the host of legal benefits that accrue to marriage. It is a question of civil rights and of equal protection under the law. Indeed, just as the state has a positive interest in protecting opposite sex marriage, so too does the state have a positive interest in protecting same sex marriage. I truly hope that this question can be resolved state by state, rather than by judicial decree, as was the case with Roe v. Wade.
One my biggest fears in coming out was that I wouldn’t be welcome to the home I’d known with my parents, sisters and their families, even at Christmas or other “high holy days.” Imagine my surprise in reading through the various biblical texts at one point, recognizing that perhaps Mary and Joseph shared that same fear, albeit for different reasons!
In further conversation with friends who are the “A” in LGBTQA (“a” is for allies), I was reminded that there are many reasons so many in our world worry about being welcome at home or anyplace else we might wish to be … with loved ones; ALL our loved ones.
No one shouts to the people in my rural hometown that I’m on my way “home.” No one sounds the bells and summons the stars to shine on the roads I traverse from point to point (unless that’s what we mean by singing “don we now our gay apparel”). And each time I go “home” I fret less and recognize that “home” is any number of places, always with someone who loves me as I am.
How do any of us find a place of welcome with family or friends or those we claim as our intentional family? What about going “home” to the pews of our childhood or youth where we once gathered for pageants that tried to make sense of a runaway teen and her fiancé who were left giving birth to their firstborn in a barn out in the middle of nowhere? How many of us feel like runaways out in the middle of nowhere, sometimes gazing at stars and other times blinking into the darkness hoping for a star?
I say we find welcome “home” without apology. True, I’ve been blessed with a grace in my birth family that I know others crave. Oh, there are questions, and it isn’t that they’re too polite to ask or to want to know more about this “coming out” process that seems never-ending in one fashion or another. But they are the very people who taught me from childhood to now even to become who it is God created me to be—in God’s own image—and without apology. Somehow my immediate and extended family felt there would be deep personal grief if any one of us were slighted or given the impression that we were not welcome. There were days when my own discomfort in becoming me perhaps stifled my presence, and then only because I didn’t know how to articulate for myself how I knew that I was still a beloved child of God, created in the image of the Holy One.
Without apology and in spite of differences of opinion held by people in the community and even the church, we as a family unit often wander to our home church’s Christmas Eve service, grateful for the occasion to be together and laughing, finding strength and courage, hope AND peace, in being together in spite of differing views or perspectives on so many things. Even in my middle adult years as a fully out and ordained clergy, there is something deeply hopeful in standing next to my parents who recognize that the welcome to which they invited us as children didn’t come with conditions, affirming that we would always be welcome home and to their house of worship because that’s how they experience God, welcoming any and all who will come. It is my honor and privilege to this year serve a congregation in another rural community (Dayton) where others who have been held at arm’s length get to hear—some for the first time—welcome “home” for Christmas!