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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chic-fil-a and Homosexual Marriage

I'm probably a fool for wading into this issue. As a writer, I know putting my views out there can turn off people and make them decide not to buy my books. Yet, today, as the big push to get people to visit a Chic-fil-a restaurant to support the CEO's views on the traditional understanding of marriage, I've seen people on both sides of the fence get things wrong, not really understand the other side, much less their own position as clearly as they should.

That is not surprising, really. We tend to deal with complex issues in black and white terms. Either/or lines drawn in the sand. Most often, we talk past one another. And it doesn't help matters when it becomes the domain of political and media sound bites. People want wrong/right absolutes that are easy to grasp in a few seconds, not serious discussion of complex issues. Each side tends to look for key words and classify you in one camp or the other instead of really understanding where you are coming from, because it is intellectually easier to not have to think through what someone is saying in order to decide how to respond to them. And I know some will do this to me.

Such key words as "traditional family" which the CEO of Chic-fil-a was asked whether he believed in it, was turned into him being anti-gay. While apparently he has donated money to groups who fight for those "traditional family" values and "against gay's rights," in the actual interview which started this ruckus, the issue of homosexuality and what he thought about that never came up. It was all inferred by the media from his agreement that he supported "traditional family values." He didn't intentionally wade into the public discussion, he was responding to an interviewers question.

For whatever reason, which I wouldn't be surprised to learn that politics and reelection distractions have more to do with this coming up at this time, this simple answer to a question that many have answered positively before has become the "last straw" it seems for the homosexual community, and the media and politicians that support those activist and rights. The firestorm it created on both sides of the fence have bubbled up all sorts of statements and views. So, for the next few paragraphs, I'm probably about to alienate folks on both sides of the fence. So hang on, and see where we're at when we end this article.

First off, I'm all for equal rights for everyone, no matter their sexual orientation. A person is a person is a person, all made in God's image, and as our founding papers relate, are equal in God's eyes. God cares as much about what happens to the gay or lesbian person as he does me. No one has the right to discriminate based on a person's sexual orientation in civil rights that we all share in. Freedom of religion should mean the government can't force churches to go against their beliefs, but a person, like the CEO of Chic-fil-a, who doesn't believe in homosexual unions, cannot deny service to one or restrict their access or employment based only on sexual orientation. None of which the CEO is accused of doing.

But there's the rub, isn't it? The homosexual community sees straight people as having the "right" to get married, but not homosexuals. Therefore, they conclude, they are being discriminated against because the government grants a right to some that they withhold from the homosexual couple who love each other. Apparently, there are certain legal rights that a married partner have that a homosexual couple do not. The appearance of "civil unions" attempted to fix that, but some say it doesn't go far enough.

Why is it not enough? After all, the intent of civil union laws is to grant to a homosexual couple the same legal benefits as a married person. One would think if it was merely a matter of civil rights, the crusade should be to get more states to adopt civil unions. I mean, think about it. Does it really matter what it is called? If it accomplishes the same thing, who cares what you call it? And how much easier would it be to do that, than to get the word "marriage" redefined after hundreds and thousands of years to include spouses who are of the same sex?

On the other side of the fence, it appears many Christians are concerned that allowing the legal definition of marriage to be redefined in the states to include same-sex couples will somehow change what marriage really is. But the truth is that legal issues have squat to do with defining what marriage is. All it can do is define what the legal definition of marriage is, and what legal rules, whether for the benefit or restrictions of the marriage, apply to that definition. Giving homosexual couples the same legal rights, whether one calls them civil unions or marriage, doesn't change the reality of what marriage is. No church is required to believe differently about marriage because of state law.

"But, then the state can force us to marry homosexuals." No it can't. One, the Constitution prohibits the state from doing that. If they did, they would be singling out one belief system to persecute in favor of another. Two, if they ignored the Constitution and violated it, as is a possibility, it won't be the first time Christians have stood up to the state for their beliefs and been persecuted for it. The point being, even if the state came in at gun point or fined a church for refusing to marry a homosexual couple, the Church wouldn't have to give in an do it, but could protest. The government can make life a living hell, they can even kill you, but they can't make you believe something you don't want to. Thousands of martyrs down through the past 2000+ years can attest to that.

So the desire of homosexual couples to get "married" and the desire of Christians to prevent the "redefining of marriage" only shows the lack of understanding of what marriage is. It is the lack of that understanding that creates the problems in this discussion. Until we can agree on what marriage is, this divide will continue to grow. Or at least until we can come to an understanding of what each other really believes, can we come to respect each others views.

The secular understanding of marriage amounts to "because we love one another, want to commit ourselves solely to one another, and want to have sex that is accepted by everyone as okay." The common idea is you find someone that you fall madly in love with, you want to be their one and only (or multiple in the case of open marriages) most intimate companion for the rest of your life (or until it is no longer desirable, at least).

It is strange that while the secular heterosexual community tends to move toward ignoring marriage by having sex with whoever and whenever regardless of marital status, that the homosexual community is trying to get it. For most secular people, there is little difference between living together and being married aside from the legal issues. Once you get that piece of paper from the state that says you're married, you continue living as you have in the months before that day. So marriage for the secular person has become nothing more than a legal change of status, because nothing else changes. Not living arrangements, not sex, not emotional attachment. Only legal benefits and restrictions.

Which has led many to decide that marriage is outdated, not worth messing with. For in their understanding of marriage, and rightly so, there isn't anything more marriage adds other than some visitation rights and tax advantages but also not being able to easily exit the relationship should you so decide to do so. If you perceive marriage as mainly a social permission to have sex with each other, and you do that anyway, then the idea of marriage loses its value. Its only value left is a culturally induced idea that two people who love each other enough to have sex, should get married because it shows each other how much they love one another to legally bind them together so it isn't easy to just get up and leave. So it is ironic that as the secular society devalues marriage these days, where living together and premarital sex are the "normal" way of life instead of wrong, that homosexuals would feel it is valuable enough to fight for.

But why do Christians fight against the idea of homosexual marriage? In what way is it "redefining" marriage? Granted, most Christians do a horrible job of explaining their position on it. What it generally boils down to is the Bible is against it, labels homosexual acts as a sin, and therefore, marriage is out of the question (as if they could in some way be considered married under the Christian understanding). Instead of explaining the why, they resort to more soundbites like, "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Such statements may point to a reality, but does little to enlighten anyone. Also, a lot of Christians don't really understand they why of their position. They may be able to quote Bible verses, but they never get beyond that to explain why in the Christian view of marriage, that a homosexual marriage is an impossibility. Not because of rights or equal status before God, but because it is impossible the way God has created us. So let's get to that, because it clarifies everything.

The definitive verses on what marriage is are Jesus' own words: "But from the beginning of the creation, Male and female made he them. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh." (Mar 10:6-8 ASV)

Yes, Jesus states that marriage is between a man and a woman because God made them male and female. But why is this important? Because, as He points out, the main point of marriage is a union between two people. And not just any union, but for the two to become "one flesh."

On the surface, this union would appear to be very abstract and "spiritual." After all, the two people still remain two people. They don't get stuck together like co-joined twins, or merge into one person. How else could they become "one flesh"? And honestly, this is where most Christians get mixed up too. They do tend to see this as some sort of mushy-wushy, wiggly-wobbly abstract concept. They would tend to view the idea of one flesh as metaphorical to describe some spiritual reality. So when it comes to the "why" it won't work for a homosexual couple, they don't have much left to say other than "God said...."

However, there is a very literal fulfillment of the two shall become one. It is called children. The sexual act is designed to create children. Whether it ever does or not isn't the issue. When a man and woman have sex, they share and mix their DNA together, in a literal way, and it has the potential to produce one flesh from the two. It is spiritual, but the spiritual is always founded in the concrete experience. Each person in the act gives of themselves to the other in a way that can create life. That reality unites them as one flesh, whether or not a child is ever realized or can be due to a physical handicap or disease.

This union is what forms the basis of the Christian understanding of marriage. Without it, you simply have no marriage. You cannot unite in that fashion unless the sexual union has that ability and potential. No matter how much you mix sperm or eggs in a homosexual act, you can never create life from that mixture or activity. It has to be a woman and a man together for that to become a real marital union. It is simply the way God designed it. And changing the law to allow for homosexual marriages will not make it a marriage.

At this point, I can hear folks bring up "what about love?" "What about the emotional bond?" Indeed, the martial union should include other types of union than merely physical. It should be an emotional union, a social union, a spiritual union, as well as a physical union. The social union is reflected in living together, getting legally married, having a public wedding either at a church or court house with witnesses. It involves a sharing of resources and time together.

There should also be an emotional union. There should be a self-sacrificing love for one another, rather than a selfish infatuation. There should be the type of love and emotional energy that wants to spend the rest of their life with that person. An emotional intimacy, where both people share their lives and meet each others emotional and romantic "I love you" needs is a key component of a healthy marriage.

That these should be there before a marriage is consummated in the physical union is the sinfulness of premarital sex. It is marrying someone before you've committed yourself to raising the children. In the Christian understanding, there is no such thing as premarital sex, because when you have sex, you are marrying that person, but to do so without having the emotional and social union in place is to treat the uniting of two people into one flesh as trivial and purely for one's own enjoyment. It is an abuse of the meaning behind the sexual act just as much as adultery is once someone has married another. Indeed, unless you do marry the first person you have sex with, subsequent sexual unions with another is tantamount to adultery. So yes, those two aspects should be present in a marriage for it to be the fullness of marriage as God intended it to be.

However, without the sexual union, what you have if only the above is present, is really good friends. Maybe very intimate friends who love each other very much. But without the uniting the two into one flesh activity of sex between a man and a woman, that is all you have. Indeed, even society can call you married legally or socially, but without that union, you are not in reality married, no matter how intimate you may be with each other. Without participating in the activity that potentially creates life from the two, there is no marital union.

What about the spiritual? That is an act of God. And as Jesus said, the fulfillment of the two becoming one flesh is the spiritual union created by God. The go hand-in-hand. That is why after focusing on the union of "flesh," Jesus then says "...what God has joined, let no man put asunder." (Mark 10:9) Therefore, when you have sex with someone, you are not only marrying them physically, but also spiritually.

What about the sacrament of marriage in the Church? This doesn't nullify that. It is a formal and concrete way with witnesses to bestow God's blessing and union of the two people. It is a part of the social union, for sure, and in the Church, at least my group, God's activity in making the two, one. However, the spiritual union isn't finalized and "consummated" until the physical union happens. If the physical does not happen, the spiritual is a union of type, but not the fullness of the marital union as God lays out. But according to Jesus, God unites the two when they become "one flesh." The spiritual union is fulfilled, and if there is no church service, the physical act still unites the two into one both physically and spiritually.

I will admit that there are Church groups who wouldn't want to go as far as I have in that last statement. Either they want to retain the right that the sacrament fully creates a spiritual union, and indeed, is the primary point of union in a marriage, and it cannot be conferred merely by having sex with someone. Catholics would especially have a problem with that, because it would put in question their whole theology of annulments. Hard to say the marriage never really happened if spiritual union can be made active by a couple having sex. And others don't want to admit that sex alone can marry a person. But this is what Jesus stated as the basis for marriage, and when God determines that He joins them together. When the two become one flesh, which happens with the sexual act that can create that one flesh, then God's activity through that sacrament of marriage unites the two into one spiritual flesh as well.

To get a clearer picture of this, keep in mind the culture in which Jesus made these statements. The marriage ceremony in His day consisted of a week-long party that culminated by the couple going into a tent to have sex, at which point they were considered married. It was such a celebration that Jesus attended with His mother when He performed His first miracle, blessing the marriage as it was in that day not only with his presence, but with his miracle of wine. They didn't have to get a certificate from the Romans. They didn't have a marriage service in the synagogue. This was the case until some point in the Byzantine empire, when the state and the Church became involved in granting and blessing marriages. But before that, the only point at which people were declared married was when they had sex. Thus, God united them at that point, because that is the primary purpose of the sexual act: to unite the two into one flesh, and so join them together. What they created on earth was joined by God in heaven.

It should be clear that this type of union can never be achieved by a homosexual couple. They can be very united emotionally, socially, legally, but it is impossible, according to the way God designed marriage, for the sexual consummation to make all the other unions a full marital union. And that's why, even if homosexuals get legal marital status, they can never be married in the full sense of the Christian understanding of marriage. Not because anyone is denying them a right to do so, but because it is biologically and spiritually impossible as God has defined it.

Of course, if you are not a Christian, none of this matters. Marriage isn't a union between two people who could create babies, it's just a union between two people who love each other. An emotional union, and that's about it. Even though best friends and people who are very intimate with each other, minus the sex, are not considered married. If it is all about getting the same legal rights as married couples, I see nothing wrong with that. But I would suggest it is easier to accomplish that with civil unions than trying to redefine what marriage means. Which is what makes me think this is more than about civil rights, otherwise you'd be fighting for that, and not trying to redefine marriage. No, this appears to be more about acceptance of a lifestyle by the population.

But there's the rub. While I would acknowledge that some people are born with a preference for certain things, like hot dogs, ice cream, or sex with the same gender, and that such people who have those preferences shouldn't be discriminated against simply because they have these desires and preferences, the existence of those desires doesn't make the activity okay. Anymore than my desire might be to have sex with a woman other than my wife makes that activity not sinful. Or any other sexual sin prohibited by God in the Scriptures. And because I probably have a propensity to desire crack, doesn't mean it would be a good thing for me to use it. The presence of a desire does not mean it needs to be fulfilled.

So I do not believe those with homosexual propensities are sinful and it is wrong to have those feelings. I do believe it is damaging to fulfill those sexual desires. But doing so, doesn't make you any more of a sinner than I am, or your sin any greater than one I've committed. That will be between you and God, not judged by me. But as St. Paul says, be careful what you approve of. Not everything is beneficial, and He has declared fulfilling those desires to not be beneficial.

This has nothing to do with hate or condemnation or discrimination, but with operating within God's design specs. If you don't believe in God, then at least you may have an understanding why it is impossible for Christians to redefine marriage within our theology to include homosexual unions. It is simply not theologically possible. To do so is to redefine one's theology to ignore the core reason God said He created marriage: to unite the two into one flesh.

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