Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Non-Religious Case Against Same-Sex Marriage

It’s not going to surprise any regular readers of this site that I think homosexual relationships are sinful. It might surprise you that I don’t think they should be illegal.

I think the government should stay out of our lives as much as possible and those sins that only do serious harm to those who are willing participants – e.g., bedroom behavior – shouldn’t be legislated against.

I agreed with Justice Thomas on Lawrence v. Texas that Texas’ sodomy law was “uncommonly silly” (but constitutional).

But I think same-sex marriage (SSM) should be illegal. Is that a glaring contradiction? I don’t think so.

A Religious Case
The Bible is pretty darn clear that homosexual behavior is wrong. It takes some pretty amazing feats of eisegesis to determine anything else. But not everything that is wrong needs to be illegal. I don’t think lying should be illegal, nor should adultery, and neither should homosexual behavior.

But there is a difference between not making something illegal and smiling on it. Same-sex marriage would be our society blessing this behavior. It’s not saying, “what you do is between you and your maker;” it’s saying, “what you do is perfectly fine.”

The Bible says, “Woe to those who call evil good” (Is 5:20), and I can’t see how SSM could be anything but that. God does not say “woe” lightly; we do not want to become a society who blesses what God calls evil.

A Case of Questionable Data
Of course, we can’t just make a religious case against SSM. We don’t live in a strictly Christian society, so merely appealing to the Bible in not sufficient. We need to argue based on reason and those values we all hold in common.

The most common such case against SSM says making marriage mean anything makes marriage mean nothing – that when just about anything qualifies as marriage, then marriage loses its value as an institution. The result is said to be that heterosexual, child-producing marriages become less common.

A decline in marriage results in a declining birthrate and/or increase in out-of-wedlock births – neither is good for a society.

People point to Europe as an example of this phenomenon, and various European nations do appear to be in various states of this situation.

But I’m not at all sure whether we have an example of causation or merely correlation: Are the declining birth and marriage rates a result of SSM or are all of these products of something else? I’m not sure we can say with much confidence, so I don’t think we’re going to get far with that argument.

A New Case
I recently came across a novel argument against polygamy that is obviously applicable to same-sex marriage too.

There is one important question to ask: What if everyone did it?

If everyone married a person of the same sex, our nation would die. We need reproducing couples for our society to continue. We must have traditional families.

If government cannot allow everyone to do it, it cannot allow anyone to do it. It can’t tell these people they can marry whomever they please, but those people have to marry a member of the opposite sex. Why not? Why because we’ve already declared (if we have SSM) that everyone has a right to marry whomever they please.

“But we limit things all the time.” Yes, but that is given limited resources – e.g., there can only be so many radio stations on the dial – which doesn’t apply here. And, again, we’ve already established that everyone has the right to marry whomever they please.

“But everyone doesn’t want to marry a member of the same sex.” True but irrelevant. The question isn’t whether everyone wants to but what if everyone did. That such a thing would be catastrophic shows that this is a bad thing.

It would be different if we were talking about something that had always existed, but we’re not; we’re talking about something government is essentially creating. It should not create something that is obviously not good for our society.

Everyone can’t marry their own sex. Everyone can’t marry a dolphin. Everyone can’t marry their brother.

Everyone can marry a member of the opposite sex. That is the union government can rightfully, safely put its stamp of approval on.

Your turn: Tell me where you think I’ve made an error in logic.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wrath and Repentance

Reflections on Leviticus

In Leviticus 26, the Lord lays out the rewards for obedience and the punishments to be expected for disobedience. The former section is short and to the point; the latter is longer and complicated, and it reveals something important about God’s wrath.

V14: “If you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands,” then A.
V18: “If after all this you will not listen to me,” then B.
V21: “If you remain hostile to me and refuse to listen to me,” then C.
V23: “If in spite of these things you … continue to be hostile to me,” then D.
V27: “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me,” then E, F, and G.

The pattern this chapter lays out shows that God’s wrath was meant to be restorative. God punished to bring them to repentance. If after A they repented, they were done. If they persisted, then they could move on down the road toward F-G (namely, exile and foreign rule of Israel).

Even at that point, though, if they would repent, God says, “I will remember my covenant” (v42).

We’re not part of the covenant with Israel, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t still do this. Everything that goes wrong in our lives isn’t necessarily because of sin (c.f., John 9:3), but some of it is (c.f., John 5:14, 1Cor 11:30).

If things are going badly for you, God may not be punishing you or trying to call attention to your sin, but a good first step is to stop and carefully examine yourself. Look for any unconfessed sin.

If you find something that needs to be dealt with, do so quickly – while you’re still at “A.” The Lord does not desire to punish people; He would rather they “turn from their ways and live” (Ez 18:23).

If you can’t find anything, or if you repent and nothing changes, perhaps you’re not being punished; God uses pain in our lives for many things (c.f., Rom 5:3, James 1:2-4). But the search for sin in your life is always worthwhile.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Man Called Hope

Obama can save us,” begins the headline of one of the many stories about the hope that people are placing on the soon-to-be-president.

If the adulation given Mr. Obama during the campaign approached the messianic, the current atmosphere carries traces of the Second Coming. I guess he himself started the trend – with the waters receding and the planet beginning to heal and all – but campaign rhetoric has turned into almost literal hosannas.

This is neither fair nor healthy. No man can possibly live up to the hopes being placed on Mr. Obama, and we shouldn’t hold him to it. He is a mere mortal, and he’s going to have his successes and failures, and eventually his fans (there really is no other word) will surely be disappointed.

And that’s the other problem – people putting such hopes on a man will have their hopes dashed. If the economy doesn’t spring back to life overnight, if mortgages don’t suddenly disappear, if our enemies don’t suddenly beat their RPGs into plows, the world will continue to turn, but some people are going to be terribly sad.

We can certainly hope for the best out of the next four years, but we must be realistic, and we should encourage our neighbors to be so as well. The cure for the world’s problems is not the Obama presidency. It is Christ.

Only Christ can change hearts, and that is what it will take to turn many of our enemies into friends. Only the real Second Coming will put an end to disease, war, and pestilence. Only the Day of the Lord will see the end of hate, fear, and pain.

By all means we should pray for the new president and try to work together to improve this nation and this world, but let’s not misplace our hope. The hope to which we have been called is far greater than any man.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Her Needs, My Needs

Some Bible passages are easier to obey than others. Instructions like “do not steal” are short and to the point; it’s generally easy to say what you should and shouldn’t do and to know if you’re obeying it.

Sweeping passages like the Great Commandment, the Golden Rule, the Great Commission, not so much. These ideas reach out and touch every aspect of our lives so much that we are always finding new ways we’re not measuring up.

For married men, Ephesians 5:25 is one of the latter: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

“Husbands, love your wives” is bad enough. That’s a life long endeavor on it’s own. But adding “as Christ loved the church” takes it to a whole new level.

Paul’s calling for a love that’s willing to give it all away. Christ humbled Himself to an immeasurable degree for the church. Christ gave up everything for the church. Christ laid down His life for the church.

And we’re supposed to imitate that.

Not only is it nigh impossible to carry out correctly, it’s hard to even wrap our minds around it.

Trying to make the idea a little more manageable, I’ve adopted a little couplet I try to remind myself of often:
Her needs, my needs;
Her wants, my wants.
The order’s significant. I should work myself to the bone, if necessary, to provide my wife with food and shelter – but not a convertible. However, if she wants Chinese and I want … anything but Chinese, should I not give her that?

Do I do this perfectly? Don’t ask my wife; I don’t want her to bust a gut.

I try, but I’m still a sinner; sometimes I’m selfish, and sometimes I confuse want and need – on both sides of the equation. But this does help me identify what I should do and diagnose problems.

So, gentlemen, hopefully this will help you as it’s helped me because obedience to His command honors our Lord, and, after all, we all have got it better that we deserve.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

True Worship

I’ve always liked Psalm 101. I used to think of it as “the oath,” because its short text promises the Lord the godly behavior He desires and deserves from us.

The first verse, though, long seemed out of place.
“I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will sing praise.

“I will be careful to lead a blameless life—when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart.”
The Psalm then continues with promises of godly behavior and associations.

What does singing have to do with that?

I never did make the connection – I can be pretty dense sometimes. But eventually I heard someone define worship in a way I hadn’t encountered before:
Worship is our response to who God is and what He’s done and promised.
That makes worship a lot more than singing. If that’s true, and I think it is, Psalm 101 makes perfect sense:

We worship God by singing of His love and justice and by living in light of it. We honor God by telling of the things He has done and by walking with a “blameless heart,” having “nothing to do with evil,” and refusing to associate with those with a “perverse heart.”

If we fail to do these other things, what good is singing? Casting Crowns put it well:
Empty hands held high
Such small sacrifice
If not joined with my life
I sing in vain tonight

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How Valuable is Human Life?

Reflections on Leviticus

In Leviticus 24, we find instructions for bread that was always to be before the Lord in the Tabernacle and Temple. Jesus referred to this passage when He brought up how David “entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat” (Luke 6:4) when he and his men were hungry (1Sam 21).

Jesus spoke of this violation of the Law approvingly. Why? People are more important than crossing every T of the Law. “Mercy takes precedence over regulations,” as the Orthodox Study Bible puts it.

But we can’t press that too far. The next thing we see in Lev 24 is a man put to death because he “blasphemed the Name” (v11).

Human life is extremely valuable to God. It is so valuable that the punishment for taking a human life is to lose your own (v17), but it is not the most important thing there is.

God’s glory is primary. God will be respected; He will be regarded as holy (Lev 10:3) or there will be consequences.

We cannot understand God, nor can we “walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) with Him if we do not grasp this truth. It is a fundamental concept, and one that needs to be better understood in our day:

God is the creator of everything. It is by His will we came into being, and it is by His mercy we continue. Everything we have is from Him, and we need to respond accordingly.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The God Who Wasn't There?

I don't know if this will turn into anything, but I saw some ads today for the DVD release of the 2005 movie The God Who Wasn't There. Every spring we tend to see another assault on Christ, His resurrection, or Christianity in general; will this be that event?

No serious scholars doubt that Jesus of Nazareth even existed, but every few years some nut blows the dust off of this one, and this movie is just such an attempt.

Our brave documentarian is Brian Flemming, also known for founding the "Blasphemy Challenge," who, along with such careful, impartial thinkers as Sam Harris and Jesus Seminarian Robert Price, claims that "Jesus Christ never existed," "the early founders of Christianity seem wholly unaware of the idea of a human Jesus," and that "contemporary Christians are largely ignorant of the origins of their religion."

Whether this turns out to be anything or not, just about every year produces something of this kind. It is wise to be continually learning about the evidence for the historicity of Jesus as both man and Christ so that we can be ready to answer those who are convinced or simply concerned about the latest, greatest would-be mythbuster.

You also might be interested in:
The Resurrection: A Story No One Would Make Up