In NC, an amendment is on the ballot that will read to ban same-sex marriage, saying it is a constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
Critics have pointed out that the law has all sorts of unintended consequences, especially as same-sex marriage is already illegal here. Here is a poster image of 10 reasons to vote against it; below the image, I’ll try to engage the question of homosexuality and the Bible in a way that might allow conservatives to see the need to exercise caution here and also vote against the amendment. First, the image:
In debates about homosexuality and the Bible, much attention is often paid to Romans 1, which states:
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.
People, like myself, who support same-sex marriage within the church will often point out a variety of things about the passage (e.g., historical understandings of homosexuality; the rhetorical context where Paul may be quoting his opponents and trying to entice a negative judgement against Gentiles; etc). Another point that is often mentioned is that the word “unnatural” shows up again in Romans, in the context of “unnatural” Gentiles being grafted into Israel (Rom 11:15-35), and thus Paul is reworking and undoing the “condemnation” of Gentiles in Romans 1.
I don’t want to focus the discussion on the merits of these particular readings of Scripture but to pick up Romans 11 and ask what it means for us “unnatural” branches to read Scripture at all? To use Ephesians 2, we Gentiles are told to “remember” that
you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace.
Or, if we want a painful reminder out of Jesus’ own mouth, consider the story when a Gentile woman comes to ask for her daughter to freed from a demon (Matt 15). Jesus ignores her, telling his disciples that he was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel. When the woman approaches Jesus directly, he tells her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The woman, undeterred, shoots back to Jesus that the dogs get the scraps of the table; Jesus is astounded by her faith. But notice that Jesus doesn’t take back what he first said: her faith is that God’s love for Israel is so abundant that the scraps left over are enough, more than enough, for us Gentiles.
All of these passages remind us that it was a miraculous work of Spirit-driven imagination that led these figures to think Gentiles could be included in Israel as Gentiles (another example, Peter in Acts 10). We stand, in Israel, as a scandalous reminder of God’s mysterious and overly abundant, boundary crossing love (Rom 11).
Now, I’m not saying that this proves we should all have open and affirming congregations. I want to set that question aside for the moment and make a more minimal claim: whenever we read Scripture, we need “to remember” that we read this book as outsiders welcomed in. We stand, not as those who have the proper, ideal, model lives but as those–Gentiles–for whom such life was unimaginable. Again, I’m not saying we can never use Scripture to draw a line between those who “are in” and those who are “out” of the Church but that, at the very least, we should all agree that we need to approach these conversations slowly and tentatively. Our very act of reading the Bible is a reminder that those previously deemed unnatural outsiders–ourselves–were brought into the family of God.
So, given that we are Gentiles brought into Israel as unnatural branches, and given that Israel is a people whose salvation never rested on properly formed families but on the committed and faithful love of God (another post, admittedly), take a look back at the list of “10 reasons” to vote against amendment one. Same-sex marriage is already illegal here. Is it worth further solidifying a stance against a group of “outsiders,” given all these negative effects? Even if same-sex marriage is unbiblical, what does it mean for Gentile churches to stake out their identity on a broader social agenda that excludes same-sex couples (and others) from health benefits, domestic violence protection, and the ability to care for their children?
Even if same-sex marriage is unbiblical, opposing Amendment 1 seems to be a clearer echo of the “mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4-6) in our place and time than supporting it, at least to this Gentile.