As I have been observing the current controversy over same-sex marriage, I have surveyed that, as is the case in so many hot topic issues like this one, debate and discussion from opposing sides can be frustrating and often, fruitless. Why is that? Well, when it is Christians debating with non-Christians, the answer is fairly obvious; they see the issue from fundamentally opposed world views with fundamentally different presuppositions. It is hard for a pro-life person and a pro-choice person to get anywhere in agreeing about whether or not abortion is moral because they cannot agree on more fundamental questions: Is the fetus a human life? Is human life sanctified by God? Is there a God? Debate is futile because they are essentially talking about different things, speaking different languages.
I would say the difficulty is the same in the issue of same-sex marriage. The reason it seems we will never be able to agree is because we cannot agree on the more fundamental questions: What is the definition of marriage? Who has the authority to define marriage? So, I would say that in arguing about same-sex marriage, we are arguing about the wrong thing. We are putting the cart before the horse. Christians and non-Christians shouldn’t be conversing about same sex-marriage, but first, about God.
But what about dialogue between Christians and other Christians? I have observed there is not unity on the issue of same-sex marriage here either. Many Christians I know are supporting “marriage equality.” How is it that two people who both believe in God can draw such different conclusions? I would say that the answer is the same. It is because they have different conclusions about the more fundamental questions. Before Christians can dialogue on the question of same-sex marriage, they must dialogue on these questions: What is True about God and Marriage? And how do we know what is true about God and Marriage? I will outline the possible answers to these larger questions in the hopes of shedding light on the more specific questions. I will deal with the latter question first as its conclusion will have implications for the conclusion of the former and then subsequently, the issue of same-sex marriage.
I. How do we know Truth?
In answering this question as a Christian theist, there are really two possible answers. We either let God tell us what is true or we decide what is true. What we think about the Bible will determine which option we choose.
1) The Bible is the spoken, authoritative word of God.
On this understanding, we see the Bible as the spoken, authoritative word of God in which God tells us what is true. God, as revealed in the Holy Bible, is the authority and we are not.
2) The Bible is not the spoken, authoritative word of God.
The other option is that we don’t see the Bible as the spoken, authoritative word of God, but a book of general, helpful guidelines that we can pick and choose from. We are our own authority.
II. What is Truth?
Now, that we’ve addressed the two possible options of how we know the truth, we can examine where each of them takes us. Either God defines Truth or we do.
1) Truth is reality as perceived by God.
If we assume the first position, that is, we take the Bible to be the spoken, authoritative word of God, then it has profound implications for the answer to this question. The Biblical answer is that truth is reality as perceived by God. God, who is the infinite, omniscient Creator, perceives reality timelessly and perfectly. On the other hand, as sinful creatures, we perceive reality through shades of depravity and the trappings of our finitude. God as Creator has the final word over us, the created. Therefore, in response to this authority, we submit ourselves to Him and conform our lives and opinions to Truth as revealed in His word.
2) Truth is reality as perceived by me.
If we assume the second position, that the Bible is not the authoritative word of God, but merely a book of suggestions or options for us to choose from, then we get to decide what is true. We can pick and choose which parts suit our fancy. Instead of conforming our opinions to His word, we conform His word to our opinions. We, the created, dare to dictate to God, the Creator, making Him to serve our purposes. We make God in our image.
III. What is true about Marriage?
Now that we have examined the two possible ways of viewing Truth and scripture, we can see where they lead us in terms of issues like gay marriage.
1) God is the authority on Marriage which He defines as a sacred union between a man and a woman, intended to represent the love of Christ for His Church.
Now, we merely follow the logic where it leads. As already shown, if the Bible is the spoken, authoritative word of God, then what is true about God and every reality under the sun is what God reveals in His word. We conform our lives to His authority. Therefore, our definition of marriage is God’s definition of marriage.
Marriage then, is a sacred institution between husbands and wives (Genesis 2:18-25, Ephesians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:18-4:1), men and women, designed by God to be a representation of Christ and His Church. Homosexuality is a sin (1 Corinthians 6:9), no worse than others, but a sin nonetheless. Therefore, same-sex marriage is outside of God’s design for marriage and a degradation of its holiness.
2) Marriage is whatever we want it to be for whoever wants it. God loves everyone and wants them to be happy and free to marry who they want.
Again, we merely follow the logic where it leads. If the Bible is not authoritative, if we don’t allow God to tell us what is true about Himself and reality, then we make God in our own image. We decide what is true about God, Marriage, and all of life. We like the part of the Bible about God being loving and accepting so we keep that. We don’t particularly like the parts about Him being holy, telling us what is sinful, explicitly not accepting certain things so we get ride of those.
It’s quite easy then, to accept same-sex marriage because the God of our making is loving and accepting. He has no sharp edges, no negative concepts like sin, judgment, or wrath, nothing to offend our tolerant sensibilities. He’s a lot like a teddy bear. He doesn’t speak with any kind of real authority, but we give Him a squeeze to reaffirm our own subjective convictions.
IV. Redefining Marriage or Redefining God?
I fall into the first camp. I believe that the Bible is God’s spoken, authoritative Word which reveals to me what is true about God, Marriage and all of life. Therefore, my convictions about Marriage are not based on what I think Marriage is or should be. They are based on what God tells me Marriage is. I submit to the authority of God as God. I do not submit God to my authority.
So then, I would have to ask Christians who support same-sex marriage if they are merely redefining Marriage or redefining God? Is the god they speak of really the God of the Bible or the god of their own making? If we do not base our understanding of God and all of life on the Bible, what do we base it on?
Ultimately, convictions formed apart from the authority of Scripture are nothing but subjective. They have no real weight or substance but are solidly and firmly founded on thin air. I would urge people to be cautious in tossing out “truths” about God that do not align with who God has said He is, but who we think God should be. We should carefully and critically consider on what basis our convictions about God and Marriage are formed. If we all attended first to these more fundamental questions, I think we would all understand our own positions and the positions of others much better and, at the very least, we might be able to have more real and fruitful discussion of issues such as same-sex marriage.