*Editor’s Note: As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on same-sex marriage this week, the Church & Culture Team felt it timely to take a recent address by Dr. White on the matter and turn it into a four-blog series that will be issued Monday-Thursday of this week. This is part four of that series. To read earlier installments, click here.
Which brings us to gay marriage, which in many ways, we’ve already answered. Not just today, but throughout this series.
According to the Bible, a homosexual union is in direct contradiction to God's original design in creation. So even if you do have a loving, monogamous relationship with someone of the same sex, it's still a violation of God's design for that relationship to be between a man and a woman in the context of marriage.
But some would say that regardless of where you might stand morally, that gay marriage should be endorsed as a fundamental civil right. Even further, that any pledge of love and commitment between two people can only be a positive move, even if you do not support the lifestyle.
But that misses the point. It’s not about civil unions. It’s about marriage. And wanting this legitimized as a definition of marriage.
Which biblically, you just can’t do.
Biblically, marriage isn’t something we make up, or we define. God did it. And it is what it is.
Now, if we as a culture want to reduce the idea of marriage to a civil union, and make them synonymous – which is what we’re essentially doing – then fine.
But as a Christian, I can’t endorse it.
See, here are the two things that can happen and that are happening:
You could lower the definition of marriage to just a civil union or a contract. But biblically we can’t do that – it’s so much more.
Or you can elevate the civil union and say that fulfills God’s vision for marriage.
And we can’t do that either.
Christians are simply being forced to choose another word for the biblical vision. Or certainly give a different definition.
Which has really been the point of this series.
That things have become so watered down that what we need to talk about isn’t marriage, but holy matrimony. The biblical idea of what marriage really is about.
And it is counter-cultural and it is different.
Because it’s a whole lot more than the right to participate in state-defined benefits.
So, do I think Christians should oppose gay-marriage amendments?
I think you should vote your conscience.
But I will say that I will stand firm, to the end, on the biblical definition of what marriage should be in our culture. And even if I’m the last lone voice crying out in the wilderness I will be that voice.
Now, having said all of this, I have two closing pastoral words.
First, I know that some of you are instantly thinking that all this acceptance talk that I started off with just got ripped away from you.
You will say this is not accepting at all. And here’s why: Because to you, the only acceptance that you will accept as acceptance is affirmation.
If you don’t approve, if you don’t affirm, then you don’t accept.
Ok, you are now being as unfair to someone like me as Christians used to be unfair to you.
You rightfully rebelled against those who wanted to single out and criminalize your lifestyle, but now you want to criminalize those who disagree with your lifestyle and say that the only way you can have acceptance and tolerance is if I affirm you.
Well I’m going to push back. Because that is a screwed-up idea of tolerance.
And I’ve talked about this before: there are three kinds of tolerance.
The first is legal tolerance. This has to do with our basic first amendment rights to believe what we want to believe. There is nothing in all of this that goes against that. In fact, the Bible is a great advocate of legal tolerance.
The second is social, or cultural tolerance. This is accepting someone else as who they are regardless of what they believe. Loving them, caring about them, being open to them relationally.
There is nothing in all of this against that, either. If Jesus stood for anything, it was open, loving acceptance of others as people who mattered to God.
The third is intellectual tolerance. This is accepting what someone believes as right regardless of what you believe or think is right. And it’s only in that sense that this would be considered intolerant, because Jesus didn’t believe that everything and everyone was right. The Bible clearly holds to the idea that there is right and wrong, true and false.
Think of it this way:
If someone came up to you and said, “I believe that the best way to improve the performance of your car is to pour sand into the gas tank.”
Now, can I be tolerant of that person – legally, and relationally – without buying into what he says? Of course! I can say, “You know what, I think you have every right to pour sand into your car. It’s your car – and I’m not going to get all worked up to try and stop you legally from doing it. Have at it. And if you do, I’m still gonna come over to your house this weekend so that we can watch the finale of Breaking Bad. This doesn’t impact us socially at all. You’re still my friend.
“But being legally tolerant, and socially tolerant, doesn’t mean I’m going to be intellectually tolerant. I’m still going to tell you that I don’t agree. I’m not going to put sand in my car, and I don’t mind telling you that, much less advising other drivers that I don’t think they should, either.
“And I’ll go further. I will resist you trying to make it so that I affirm sand in the car as an option, or that somehow I get roped into putting sand into mine.”
If that’s the end game here – where it’s not just about acceptance or legality, but the desire to criminalize any denunciation and force others to participate or affirm – well then friends we’re into a whole different territory.
And I’ll say to my gay friends, I hope that you can see that’s where this is heading, and I hope that you’ll join me in denouncing it. So it is one thing to be against homosexuality, and to affirm that the Bible rejects the practice of same-sex lifestyles – which I believe it does. But it is another to be against homosexuals – which I do not embrace.
And I can be accepting of you, loving toward you, and hold to that.
And I hope we all can uphold that together.
Here’s my second pastoral word, to all of us.
This sin is no greater than any other sin. The struggle of gays in being attracted to the same sex is no different than my struggle with anger, or with impatience, or with gluttony.
And when given into it, it is no worse than any other sin.
All sin, at its heart, is rebellion against God.
Now, it’s true that sexual sins are particularly destructive to our lives. But that’s true no matter what the sexual sin is – whether it’s adultery, wrongful divorce, or an addiction to pornography.
All of us are broken sexually.
We all need healing and health, wholeness and redemption.
If you are gay, the ultimate issue is not the gay lifestyle.
My primary issue as your pastor is not your homoerotic lifestyle.
That’s not the starting point.
The first and most important issue is not that you straighten yourself out in this area and then come to Christ. The most important issue is your relationship with Christ. That you come to Christ first, and then see how He applies to your sexuality and sexual choices.
Just like the rest of us are doing.
But we all have the same disease. We’re all being treated for sin-sickness. We’re all in some kind of recovery. So whatever it is you are struggling with, you’re not alone.
And we do not condemn you.
You are no different than any of the rest of us struggling with areas of temptation and desire.
And we’ve all failed in those areas.
But Christ is working on all of us.
Meck is nothing but a colossal collection of moral foul-ups.
Really if you’re new here I have to warn you - you're in some bad company here. We have sins of pride, greed, pornography, self-righteousness, lying, stealing, adultery, insensitivity to others...
But through the power of Christ, there is hope for all of us.
But here’s what else you need to know – we want to expose those areas in our life, not deny them or rationalize them away.
We want to run to what the Bible says, not to find loopholes or ways to justify or denounce what it says. Not in a way that condemns, but in a way that transforms. We want to discover our junk, go to God for forgiveness, and become increasingly changed people.
So our invitation?
Join me – the chief of sinners.
But oh if you only knew what I was like before Christ started to work in my life.
James Emery White
David Gibson, “Faith leaders call for religious protections ahead of gay marriage hearing,” Religion News Service, April 24, 2015, read online.
Adapted from the fourth installment of “Holy Matrimony,” a series at Mecklenburg Community Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. If you would like to listen to this address as originally delivered, as well as the series of which it was a part, click here.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.