A weary traveler is looking for shelter on a dark stormy night. Off in the distance, he can see lights coming from a city. Since it is the only place of refuge the traveler can see he sets off towards that city to see if he can find shelter there. As he comes to a clearing where he can see the city more clearly he stops to study it and consider his options.
He can see signs of life and the comforts he longs for in the city. This seems like the refuge he is looking for, yet he has heard such strange and conflicting things about this city from other travelers. Should he enter the city hoping for a warm welcome or stay where he is taking his chances alone in the darkness of the storm? Sound familiar? If we’re honest, we have all had times in life when we have felt some of the same things this traveler is feeling. Life is full of difficult choices. Choosing to do what is right isn’t always easy or popular. Sometimes making those difficult decisions takes us on a journey away from the safety of the familiar and into the stormy darkness. It takes a lot of courage to enter an unknown city or situation asking for refuge when we are not sure of the welcome we will receive.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus uses the image of a city to describe the church. He says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (ESV). Since we are the city on the hill, we need to decide what kind of a welcome we will offer travelers seeking refuge from us. In many ways, we already do an excellent job of offering the hope and grace of Christ himself to our communities. The issue of gay marriage seems to be so emotionally charged that our ability to minister to others who seek truth and refuge from us might be hindered. What do the weary travelers see when they look at the church? Do they see a warm, inviting place to talk about truth and the deceptiveness of sexual sin, or do they see our confusion and fear?
In anticipation of writing this article on gay marriage, I conducted a number of impromptu interviews with people impacted by this issue. Just mentioning the issue brought about a variety of impassioned responses. I was able to talk with several pastors who are dealing with their congregation’s concerns and questions. I spoke with parents and family members of men and women who are struggling with the issues of homosexuality, some of whom are already married to someone of the same sex. I also interviewed a number of believers who shared their concern about how God expects them to respond to the gay community in light of the current political debate.
While everyone I talked to had an opinion about gay marriage, few people agreed on what defines gay marriage. It seems that gay marriage means different things to different people. Gay marriage also means different things in different states across the country. All of the people I spoke with agreed that homosexuality is contrary to God’s plan for mankind. Their other thoughts on gay marriage seemed to fall into three general categories: (1) Some responses reflected a concern that the gay community is trying to force acceptance of their beliefs and lifestyle on the rest of our society. (2) Other people feel that the sanctity of marriage is threatened by the labeling of homosexual unions as marriage. (3) Lastly, a group of people believe that the gay community is justified in seeking some forms of social change, but most of these people were not sure exactly what should change or in what ways.
Is it any wonder with so much confusion over the issues involved in gay marriage that it has become a divisive issue? While these issues are cause for great concern, we do not have to let them be. We can use them as a starting point to gaining a deeper understanding of these issues, the gay community, and one another. This might allow us as a community of believers to become a more welcoming refuge for men and women struggling with these issues.
Acceptance of gay unions
Everyone wants to be accepted; God has built this desire into us. Men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction have this same desire in them. It is only after much pain and heartache that a man or a woman will come to the conclusion that they are gay. These men and women have found acceptance in the gay community that feels like light in their darkness. They have found a relationship with one specific person that they want to make into a life commitment. Now they would like everyone else to accept their lifestyle and share their joy.
As believers, we do need to accept men and women who struggle with homosexuality. We need to accept them as men and women as precious because they have been made in the image and likeness of God. We can admit that, like us, they are sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Homosexuality is not a worse sin than any other. Yet, we are never supposed to be silent in the face of sin. Our response to the gay community should be open and welcoming, full of grace and truth.
This type of acceptance might be harder for some believers than for others because acceptance of these unions was by far the biggest concern that others shared me. The gay community is not going to stop pursuing their agenda just because resolutions to legalize gay marriage were defeated in 11 states in the presidential election of 2004. The gay community is fighting for freedom that they believe is in their best interest. To be a more effective light in the world, we need to establish ourselves as a refuge that is ready and waiting to accept men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction without condoning homosexuality.
Civil rights and taxes
Listening to gay rights activists, it would seem that gay marriage is all about attaining the same legal and tax standings as heterosexual couples. The issue of gay marriage raises some interesting questions about our system of taxation and civil rights. Should people be taxed at a higher rate or denied certain benefits because they do not marry a member of the opposite sex?
Being married, I never gave thought to the benefits I have because of that choice. The rights to medical insurance; sick, parental, and bereavement leave; and death benefits are among the rights that the gay community is seeking. If I did not have these rights, I would feel a significant loss of safety and freedom. The US General Accounting office reports that there are 1,049 benefits the US government provides to married couples. The most important benefits listed were the entitlement to receive social security benefits, pensions, tax breaks, and visitation rights in hospitals or prisons.
Taxation is a political issue of importance to everyone. It is also an important spiritual issue. We are all called by God to pay our share of taxes. In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees were looking to trap Jesus with his words. They tried to put Jesus in a double bind by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Whether Jesus answered yes or no, the Pharisees knew that he would alienate some of the people. But Jesus avoided the trap, silencing his opponents, by going straight to the heart of the matter. In verse 21 Jesus simply says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” As believers, we should follow the example of Jesus by seeking to walk wisely on this issue of taxation. In one short sentence, Jesus separated the tax issue from the spiritual issue. His directives to us as believers are clear: We should be willingly pay what is due to the earthly nation
This means that we should want to establish a system of taxation that is in the best interest of all of our citizens, regardless of their lifestyle choices. Our country was founded on the premise of no taxation without representation.The current cultural norm for taxation is a working husband and a stay-at home wife. This norm reflects the lifestyle circumstances of less than 10% of American households. It would seem that a more equitable tax system that better reflects our culture might be in order. After carefully considering this issue one can conclude that this tax issue is not a heterosexual versus gay issue at all. This is a married versus single taxpayer issue. There is no Biblical prescriptive to support giving married people tax incentives and benefits that are withheld from single people.This practice may not be appropriate any longer.
How might addressing the taxation issue help the church minister to the gay community? First, it will allow us to avoid the trap that has been set for us over taxes. Jesus was careful to avoid the tax-trap question. Are we? Secondly, it will allow the real heart issues to come to the surface in the gay marriage debate. If the tax question is removed from the debate, then the deeper issues can be seen and addressed.
The Defense of Marriage Act amended the constitution of the United States and went into effect on September 21, 1996. This amendment legally defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Although this amendment might face a legal challenge in the future, for now marriage is defined as a one man and one-woman union. Many people feel that the gay community’s desire to call their unions “marriage” threatens the sanctity of marriage. While there is no way to accurately gauge the validity of these concerns, there are two factors that will continue to add to the confusion of the gay marriage debate. These factors are domestic partnership and the infallibility of God’s Word.
The term gay marriage is often used in reference to domestic partnership. Laws protecting and defining the rights of individuals under domestic partnership are already in effect in 12 states. In most of these states, any homosexual or heterosexual couple over the age of 65 who do not want to be married can receive legal status through domestic partnership. Older people often make this choice over marriage because of the financial consequences a new marriage will have on their standard of living. This does threaten the sanctity of marriage. Older generations are choosing not to marry because of the financial consequences that entering a new marriage will cause them. As models on relationships for successive generations, elders who choose domestic partnership definitely threaten the sanctity of traditional marriage.
No matter what the courts decide, how a congressional vote is cast, or what the gay community would like to demand of us, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot condone gay marriage. The church cannot condone gay marriage because we do not have the power to so. This is the spiritual issue at the heart of the gay marriage debate. The gay community wants to feel at peace with God without making peace with God. The Word of God has clearly declared that marriage is a covenant relationship between three parties: the man, the woman, and God (Genesis 2:24). Each party enters into the covenant relationship by his or her own choice. God will not enter into a marriage covenant with a homosexual couple. We cannot change the Word of God. He has been clear that homosexuality is wrong. God is against gay marriage, and there is nothing the church can do to change that.
The issue of gay marriage will be an ongoing challenge for the church. Developing a full understanding of the underlying issues will be critical to being able to address the subject. This will be important in offering the world a godly and biblically accurate understanding of God’s Word as it pertains to gay marriage. Hopefully, this deeper understanding will lead our congregations to become places of open dialogue where people can wrestle with what it means to love those who struggle with sexual sin in practical terms, like how to accept the sinner and not the sin.
In order to be places of refuge, our churches need to become places of safety. We will need to offer a safe place to disclose our struggles. We will also need safe places to wonder aloud about the questions of civil rights and the inequality that the gay marriage debate has raised. We are called to actively wrestle with what kind of men and women God wants us to be on behalf of others who want to live apart from him. This is an invitation to share in the sufferings of Christ by giving of ourselves for people who might never respond to the Gospel. It might also be an invitation to become part of the social change process.
As the darkness continues to overtake our culture, we will need to have a clear voice of truth to speak. We will need to establish our light to be able to impart the truth to successive generations. We have been entrusted with the truth of God’s own Word. As his ambassadors, we have been commissioned to speak for him, sharing his grace and mercy to a lost and weary generation.