I cannot for the life of me figure out the problem with gay marriage.
That I’m framing the question as a “problem” is a product of my upbringing, my theological formation for well over thirty years. But I can really only begin here. If I persist in asking what seem to you questions that seem oddly posed or desperately accounting for socially antiquated concerns it is because I still believe there is some truth to be retained in my tradition.
Or because I am simply socially incapable of abandoning it.
Or because I have so succumbed to the sunk cost fallacy I am simply trying to recoup value from the last three decades.
It’s difficult to tell. Probably a bit of all three.
What is so frustrating and conversely what may be most worth retaining about the Evangelical tradition is the way in which an ancient text retains its constant presence, that it is read as if it is always first century Rome or ancient Egypt, or the middle of the Bronze Age. This alternates wildly between feature and bug for me.
In a FB conversation in the wake of SCOTUS’s refusal in Obergefell to uphold discrimination against same sex couples seeking legal marriage, I asked what it was specifically about a same sex relationship that was a problem. I’m unable to articulate one. But I asked because I concede I might be missing something. Others might be able to fill in my gaps. I’ve been thinking about it on and off for several years. I’ve not done serious research on the topic though I’m familiar with the broad-brush arguments and the details here and there. But I genuinely wanted to know. Unable to come up with any myself, having exhausted all explanations, I thought I’d crowdsource a coherent response.
But ultimately the answer was, as it has been and continues to be: “Because God said so.”
I suspected this was the only real answer left. All the other ancillary empirical, sociological arguments have slowly fallen away—that it is a “choice,” that gay parents are insufficient parents betraying some inherent flaw in the relationship, that specific homosexual acts are uniquely gross or pointless—have all lost their force for many both publicly and privately.
I do understand that if you think the “government” is doing something wrong, that you’d be upset about it. I was confused, however, by the sheer ferocity with which people responded to the ruling.
Compared to the previous week in which nine people killed (in a church no less!) by a white supremacist the outpouring on FB was nuclear. People who had been all but silent about the former event were practically volcanic in the wake of the ruling.
Of course I understand that for many in the modern evangelical church the tragedy that befell Charleston was bad but frankly the greater danger was that people would be distracted by–as one pastor’s quote passed around on timelines put it: “sociology” and not “theology.” And really when what you’re selling is ultimate escape from bad things, the more bad things are perceived to be happening, the better for business. Tragedy, in the modern apologetic regime, is not so much a crisis as an opportunity.
But SCOTUS’s ruling on gay marriage was as one of my friends put it: hitting a national “self-destruct button.” The beginning of the end for the “greatest nation on earth.” So the question was why? People actually died in Charleston. No one will die as a direct result of the SCOTUS ruling. No one.
What was it about this and not that?
The answer, it would seem, is in Genesis.
Marriage, I was told, gets “defined” in Genesis as a man leaving his father and mother and being “cleaved” to his wife. A woman. ONE woman. (That it was “before the fall” heads off any nonsense about Solomon’s many wives and concubines, I suppose.) The problem was “re-defining it.” Which is all well and good. But I was expecting everyone to understand that you should still be able to say something about what that “redefinition” ruins or destroys or . . . something.
Thanks to people being “out” and increased sexual education nation- and world-wide AIDS and STDs are no longer an inevitable “penalty” for “perversion.” So it’s not clear what the problem is necessarily. This particular problem is further compounded by the fact that what was being argued for in Obergefell was precisely the validation of those committed, monogamous relationships which would counteract the spread of any “penalty” whether we knew what caused it or not. Thusly the old apologetic arguments of my youth have slowly faded.
The perception that there is a unique national or political implication for this decision (recall the “self-destruct button”) is even more intriguing. For the average person there is probably only the vaguest of connections between a nation “turning away from God’s law” and incurring his wrath in some way. Though why THIS would be the boiling point and not (to beat a dead horse) the rampant racial violence visible and invisible that undergirds our past and current political/economic structure is genuinely beyond me. There may be genuine concerns about the relationship of a Federal government to State, but whatever claim to superiority States had in these matters got wiped out in 1865, in my opinion. So that people insist on making this argument, seems to me more than mildly embarrassing. And there’s nothing in Jewish or Christian scripture about how God feels about representative republicanism or democracy broadly conceived. Certainly not enough to warrant the ferocity.
So I pushed on these points and the conversation ended without an explanation but rather a pivot to notions of “testimony” or naked (!) commitment to the “Word of God.” Asking for an explanation is evidence of . . . well I’m not sure. Lack of faith? It’s still not clear. I shouldn’t “need” more than the declaration that “God said so” to just go with it and get upset like everyone else?
And this is where we come to what I want to call “the logic of the fruit.”
Recalling that the key feature/bug of Evangelicalism is that it maintains a common “presence” to every and all scripture, it is always and everywhere Genesis 3.
Because Evangelicals tend to read the Genesis account with a relentless literalism, the conversation with the snake is real. Its contents always and everywhere, immediately relevant. You’ll recall that God says don’t eat from this one tree (“of the knowledge of Good and Evil”) or you will “surely die.” There’s no explanation as to WHY, only the consequence. It’s the devil that proffers an explanation (“God knows . . . your eyes will be opened and you will be like God”). That seems to make sense to ol’ Adam and Eve and of course the fruit is “pleasing to the eye” so they disobey and eat and the rest is history.
I am beginning to suspect that this is the core analogy for evangelicals when encountering any moral or ethical question. There is no question of “explanation” but only “what did God say.” If you can come up with an explanation, cool beans. But if not, no problem. It isn’t the point.
That “what God says” is in every single case obscured to one degree or another behind divergent traditions and an untranslated text whose meaning has been copiously engaged by interpreters who, all along have offered, um, explanations as to why they are interpreting this way and not that seems lost on everyone.
That God does not provide the explanation for the rule I suspect is—intentionally or not—taken to be the point. It is precisely the “arationality”—I hesitate to say “irrationality”—of it that is the point. You’re just supposed to believe. That’s the core test of human existence for the protestant evangelical: Can you just believe?
There are relatively sophisticated variations of this: “faith seeking understanding” found in Augustine, Anslem, Kierkegaard, Barth and others. All take some kind of initial step of faith and seek the explanation only after the fact, an explication of the inner rationality of the faith if there is any to be had.
Catholics, when it comes to sexuality and marriage, are overall much more consistent on the matter with the defining nature of procreation for marriage and its sacramental quality, though once again these explanations don’t hold together when tested with what actually happens in the world. But both these approaches are slightly different in that there is still an inner rationality to them. They aren’t just a content-less object of faith.
My FB conversation ended with one person defending the acontextual citation of (a particular interpretation of) scriptural texts as a necessary act of “testimony.” The content, the substance, the “explanation” was that to be who they were, required that they do this thing, whether it makes any sense to anyone else or not. Another implied that I was deficient for needing “more” explanation than the (again particular interpretation they were offering of the) “Word of God.”
My questions, I understand, are mapped on the Genesis story as the snake’s question “Did God really say . . .?” (Though I must insist that the question is really “WHY did God say . . .?” which is different.) Homosexual desire also maps quite well over the story for people whose faith seeks no understanding because it is precisely desire which is the problem with the fruit, that it is desired period. The desire contra the “Word of God” is the problem. So it all works out. That there is no real explanation for the prohibition is only slightly troubling and if anything can become the actual site of the “test.” It’s actually a useful feature because then the desire for the fruit can be mapped on literally any desire in any situation and viola! it’s always relevant.
But then life easily devolves into a sadistic and sociopathic obstacle course where you work to believe things with no explanation.
A lot has been said about the controlling nature of “desire” for making decisions. A lot of people poo-pooing “feelings.” Again, at issue in Obergefell was not desires generally or even homosexual desire in particular but a desire to commit. I have a rant here about analogy-making, but I’ll save it for another time.
Regardless, what truly bothers me is the way this content-less belief ultimately serves as a group marker and that it does so on the backs of the marginalized: We know who we are as the ones who “define marriage” in this way and not that.
One couldn’t help thinking that there was a bit of a primal thrill among the American evangelical church after the SCOTUS decision. It enabled everyone to unleash their inner Martin Luther: “HERE I STAND! I CAN DO NO OTHER!”
God, it must have felt good.
Hard to do that in response to a mass shooting.
But it is done on the backs of a marginalized group’s desire. And it is always someone else’s desire that defines. I know the fever swamps have made it seem like The Gays have been this violent, militant juggernaut trampling all that is good and holy in the world. They don’t give any indication that they see the kids kicked out of homes, the (often church sanctioned) abuse of queer and trans persons, the deep psychological burden borne by anyone with any kind of non-normative sexual desire.
And the worst, most pernicious variation on this theme is the attempt to, ahem, redefine love. The hurt feelings for being called a “bigot” for “just believing what God says.” Sure, gay people have suffered immensely (regardless of what their sex life is or is not like). Sure, you can still be stoned to death in Uganda for being gay (at least we’re not THAT bad, amIright?!). But really I’M the one who’s hurt, who’s being discriminated against. And the worst part is I LOVE you! I know that “love” often FEELS like it should be something that at least does no harm—in fact has been defined for, uh, millennia that way. But sometimes love involves doing painful things, like removing cancer—what? No I can’t really explain how monogomous gay commitment is like cancer, just trust me, it is. And so when you think about it, when I oppose the monogamous, caring commitment of two gay people I’M the one who’s really loving. That’s Christian love. It tells you that you are a sinner without concrete explanation, but is like, you know, “winsome” about it.
Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this song. Yes, of course slavery seems like a grave evil. But there are some verses and really in an effort to be faithful to my text I have to support your subjugation.
Ultimately the suffering of the marginalized serves as orthodoxy’s spiritual currency. It builds up the piety of the faithful.
And so while I’m bewildered by my friends’ feelings, it is the effect of those feelings I find deeply troubling. There may still be an explanation regarding the problem with gay marriage. I’m open to learning about it. But as for the assertion of arationality as the mark of piety, particularly it’s tool as a mode of intellectual attack and control, increasingly I feel like Bourne at the end of Ultimatum: