It is a year since I wrote three posts on the subject of homosexuality and preached on the subject at a Sunday evening service. In sermon and posts I reflected on two things- homosexual practice is displeasing to God and homosexual temptation is a personal experience for me.
I have not spoken at Woody Road or written on the blog on the subject since a year ago because I wanted to avoid giving the impression that it was the main thing that the church cared about or, indeed, the main thing that I care about! A year on, though, I want to write three further posts- the first reflecting more on cultural issues and the last two thinking more personally.
In the wider culture over the past year, the legalisation of same sex marriage has spread across the world. There have been massive changes in the US as a result of a Supreme Court judgement. Perhaps more striking was the result of the referendum in Ireland which, despite the conservative background of the country, overwhelmingly backed same sex marriage. Indicative of cultural change were the Guinness adverts during the Rugby World Cup built around a celebration of Gareth Thomas declaring he was gay. I did reflect to myself that I couldn’t have imagined beer being advertised in that way ten years ago.
Those like me who argue that same sex marriage is not pleasing to God need to accept that we have lost the public argument. It won’t do to protest that same sex marriage in the UK was only the work of a political elite- opinion polls recorded that it was the most popular thing that the last Government did. The vast majority of the population disagree with the orthodox Christian position and that percentage will only increase. What is also evident within the last year is that a number of Christians are changing their position. There are contexts where I have arrived assuming that people think the same as me only for that to be challenged within a few minutes.
The reason that we have lost is that, within its own terms, the argument in favour of same sex marriage has strong moral force. It isn’t necessarily a case of rampant immorality. The phrasing used by campaigners- equal marriage- is indicative of the moral element to this. At one level, the campaign is inadvertently functioning within a Christian worldview- the belief that all humans are of equal worth and dignity because we are all made in God’s image. It is why Christians deplore racism and, indeed, homophobic bullying. So you can understand why the case has force and growing numbers of Christians are accepting it.
The problem, though, is the starting point. The cultural narrative since the 1960s has been that the goal of life is to secure personal happiness through freedom to express yourself provided that you don’t harm others. If that is reality then, of course, it is cruel and unfair to deny that to those attracted to the same gender through no choice of their own. There is a case for equality. But Christians, at least, should be wanting to query the starting point. Romans 1 helps us with this. Often we focus in on the verses prohibiting homosexual practice in v.26-27. But, according to Romans 1, approval of homosexual practice is not the cause of humanity’s problem but rather a symptom of it. The underlying problem is that humanity has rejected God- failing to give thanks to and glorify our Creator but worship created things instead. The problem is not homosexuality in itself- the problem is that our society is functioning from completely the wrong starting point.
The reason the Christian argument feels so weak at times is that we just accept the starting point- happiness through personal expression- and then seem cruel by apparently making that off limits to those who are gay. In reality, our narrative is completely different. We believe that this world, and we as human beings, are made by God. We believe that authentic, lasting joy is not found through personal expression but by knowing Him. We believe that He is knowable through His Son Jesus Christ who gives us life in all its fullness. We believe that life is best when we are in line with the order He established at creation- that male and female are not simply the same but complementary. We believe that we are not just made for this world but that there is one to come and that, consequently, human marriage gets its greatest dignity from being a signpost to the relationship between Christ and the church which is to come. We believe that there may be pain in this world from not giving in to all our desires but that our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory. And we believe that this worldview is right because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
It is a completely different and- I would argue- a better narrative. It is far more than simply a disagreement about same sex marriage. There are significant implications for all of this. I do want to pose the question to Christians who are tempted to change their position- is that because you have swallowed our culture’s starting point as to what life in this world is all about? Those of us who hold to an orthodox position need to think carefully about how we address the culture. It seems to me that there is very little point in addressing the same sex marriage question directly: one of the reasons I have always been wary at best of political campaigning on the issue. Because within the starting point of our culture, same sex marriage makes perfect sense and has moral force. But I do want to say to those around me: is there another way of looking at the world? Does the world around us and the life of Jesus speak of One who is greater and wiser than us? Might life be about knowing Him and discovering His way of living? Is that a better definition of reality than the one we have now which has no real philosophical basis for arguments of equality? Does happiness through personal expression really work in the end? And I am wanting to pose those questions not from a soapbox of moral superiority but as one flawed human being inviting another to consider the biggest issues of our existence.