Quantcast
Connect with us

Why are some Christians so hung up on same-sex marriage?

Published

on

The Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage drew such a strong reaction from every side that it seemed to reflect that Americans live in a country riven by irreconcilable theological values.

In arguing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy contended that same-sex marriage was in harmony with the highest ideals of religion: love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, family and dignity.

ADVERTISEMENT

To the court’s detractors, however, the ruling turned Bible teachings on their head. “Today the Court is wrong again,” the US Conference of Catholic Bishops stated. “It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.”

Pockets of resistance have kept the issue in the news. Best-known is Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing religious objections. Other clerks have voiced similar objections.

This is not simply another political debate over what policies are best suited for Americans. Instead, it is part of a long-running battle over what God wants of American Christians. As such, compromise will not be possible until the combatants discern the religious underpinnings that motivate and guide their political adversaries.

As an advocate of reconciliation, I have spent years engaged in
interfaith and interethnic work. So I recently set off from my home in New York City, looking for the seeds of a more productive national discourse on same-sex marriage.

With my research team, we visited a dozen Christian churches of different denominations, from Georgia Pentecostals to liberals in New England. I chose churches from a variety of regions, whose members had different levels of wealth and a variety of racial makeups. I cannot name the churches because I promised anonymity to those interviewed.

ADVERTISEMENT

A shared interest in public policy

Prayer ribbons outside a Catholic church.
Mark Makela/REUTERS

As different as the congregations were, they had one thing in common – they all engaged in public policy issues as one aspect of their religious calling, translating the values they hold dear into beliefs about how American society should function.

That religion helps shape the culture of which it is a part should seem cliched. A healthy society will meaningfully address core values if it is to flourish. Researchers like Jonathan Haidt and others who study how cultures evolve, argue that all societies share values such as compassion, fairness, respect for authority and loyalty.

ADVERTISEMENT

In visiting churches, our goal was to test how these values are expressed and translated into public policy. Although we conducted surveys that probed many of these values, for conservatives one question seemed to trump the others – a concern about purity and pollution.

All societies – religious or secular – have an idea about what is pure or sacred, and attempt to protect the pure. This is not just about religion. Cultures may be unique, but they all teach human beings, whether religious or not, to respond to what their society considers sacred. In some places, dogs were considered deities; in others, dirty. To burn the flag can be seen as an ugly defilement – or a sign of a vital democracy.

ADVERTISEMENT

In the Hebrew Bible, certain diseases, menstrual blood and pigs are examples of pollution. Many Christians also turn to the Bible to ground their understanding of the pure and impure. For conservative Christians, sex can be the great defiler and challenge to God.

This may lead one to expect that conservative Christians would exhibit severe homophobia and hatred against those whose sexual practices and beliefs diverged from their own. There certainly is homophobia in America . Yet in my conversations with congregants of every denomination, homophobia wasn’t much in evidence.

Instead, what emerged in our conversations was a central shared belief that we are all sinners, we have no right to distinguish one sin from another, and God wants all of us to repent.

ADVERTISEMENT

As a minister in Georgia said to me, “If I were to shut my doors to my brother for being gay, then what does that say about the church and Jesus’s message?”

In Kentucky, I heard: “We teach that you could be clear in what you teach [about] same-sex marriage, and also teach that those people are beloved of God and should be welcomed.”

So if it is not homophobia, what is at the core of such anger and pain over same-sex marriage?

A clarifying question

Digging deeper into the mindsets of the religious Americans we surveyed, I found a clear distinction in the ways conservative and liberal Christians see the world. This distinction was highlighted by a specific question we asked churchgoers and clergy:

ADVERTISEMENT

Though you may believe in both, which better reflects your views:

  1. The world is primarily a dangerous place filled with the potential for sinful and evil forces.

  2. The world is primarily filled with the potential for goodness, care, and cooperation.

Those who chose the first response, that the world is dangerous with sin and evil, held consistently negative views on everything from same-sex marriage to premarital sex, abortion and condoms for minors.

Those who believed the world is filled with goodness, care and cooperation chose the opposite responses on each of the issues.

ADVERTISEMENT

To the Christian population that sees the world filled with sin and evil, same-sex marriage represents a pollution. It undermines the core of what is sacred and holy. And the sin, the pollution, is not limited to the sinners alone.

As my father-in-law, the noted biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom, explains, evildoers “[b]ring down the righteous with them. Those who perish with the wicked are not entirely blameless, however. They are inadvertent sinners who, by having allowed the wicked to flourish, have also contributed to the pollution of the sanctuary.”

For Christian believers in the United States, such pollution threatens to overwhelm the society of which they are a part and undermine its moral fiber. Same-sex marriage wreaks havoc on the core belief that America can be a fulfillment of biblical prophecy and moral rectitude.

However, this was not the case for the great majority of mainstream Christians we surveyed and interviewed. Their focus was on compassion and fairness, as theologian Katherine Henderson declared:

“As people of faith, we believe that every human being is created in the image of God and has sacred worth. Laws that grant rights and protections to some but not to others, simply because of gender or sexual orientation, are moral outrages.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Our survey showed conservative congregants experienced their opposition to same-sex marriage as a desire to make whole something they see as ruptured that endangers all of us. Mainstream Christians saw same-sex marriage as an expression of divine love and justice. Interviews and focus groups confirmed these two core responses to same-sex marriage extended to the other questions, such as distributing condoms in schools and premarital sex in general.

Hope for the future

A couple weds in Puerto Rico, August 2015.
Alvin Baez/REUTERS

I came away from my recent journey with a much better appreciation for the coherent, theologically based value systems that fuel bitter red state/blue state divisions. Yet, I also saw opportunity for understanding and reconciliation.

Same-sex marriage is here to stay – America does not take away rights and privileges. And while I do not anticipate seeing two men kneeling at their own Catholic church wedding any time soon, there is ample evidence that while purity values are a constant, the object of “contamination” changes over times.

ADVERTISEMENT

As gay and lesbian couples marry, have children, send them to school, attend church, participate in the civic, social and business life of the community, and are out as members of our own families, homosexuality may well cease to trigger the types of negative responses seen today.

As one congregant in Georgia noted, her now multiethnic church once preached segregation. Perhaps, she mused, her grandchildren will view church views on homosexuality with equal disappointment.

The Conversation

David Elcott, Taub Professor of Practice in Public Service and Leadership at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University

ADVERTISEMENT

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

GOP appointees considered disloyal to Trump won’t be spared as president’s new hatchet-man begins purge: report

Published

on

According to a report from the New York Times, longtime government employees who landed their jobs because of their Republican bonafides are now coming to work each day with the threat of dismissal hanging over their heads if it is believed they are are not totally on board with Donald Trump policies.

Following a report that Johnny McEntee, a 29-year-old loyalist just installed to take over the Office of Presidential Personnel, is instructing "departments to search for people not devoted to the president so they can be removed," the Times notes that just because a staffer is a Republican in good standing doesn't mean that won't be booted.

Continue Reading

2020 Election

Here is why these Nevadans are betting on Sanders

Published

on

LAS VEGAS — Any doubts that Nevadans wouldn't show up for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were quickly squashed by the amount of people lined up to get into his Friday night rally in Las Vegas on the eve of the Nevada caucus: an estimated 2,020, according to his campaign. One would have been forgiven for assuming the crowd spilling out the main entrance and down the street had lined up to get into one of the city's hottest shows, not a "Get Out the Vote" event. Despite stereotypes that Sanders only draws support from the young (and mostly white), the crowd was visibly diverse in age, ethnicity and race. And anyone who didn't arrive already wearing the requisite Bernie gear had plenty of opportunities to buy some as they waited to enter the venue.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Roger Stone’s dream of booting judge for sentencing comments brutally crushed by ex-US Attorney: ‘He’s met his match’

Published

on

Appearing on MSNBC on Saturday afternoon, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance crushed any hopes former Donald Trump associate Roger Stone might have that his prison sentence will be voided due to comments made by the presiding judge in his federal trial.

Speaking with host Alex Witt, Vance left no doubt Stone's latest legal gambit will collapse just like his previous attempts to squirm out of his trial did.

"Stone's legal team says that Judge Amy Berman Jackson's assertion that the jurors served with integrity shows bias," host Witt stated. "Do you buy that argument and legally would that be enough to get the judge dismissed from the case?"

Continue Reading
 
 
close-image