Opinion: Formed by culture?

What moves us toward same-sex marriage — the Spirit and Word, or society?

Feb 2, 2015 by

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All of us want any movement toward same-sex marriage to be shaped by the Spirit and the Word and not only by what we see and hear in the culture around us. Yet this is hard. We instinctively move toward stances held by people to whom we compare ourselves in our social groups, wanting to be “insiders.” We need to continually ask ourselves: How much does the Spirit and Scripture, and how much does society, lead movement in the church toward same-sex marriage?

According to the 2014 Relationships in America survey (of 15,738 people, ages 18 to 60), believers who call the church to bless same-sex partnerships line up very close to the population average in their opinions on sexual morality. For instance, in the U.S. as a whole, 31.4 percent agreed that “viewing pornography is OK”; among churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage that percentage was 33.4 — versus 4.6 percent among churchgoing Christians who oppose same-sex marriage. Also in the survey, 35 percent in the U.S. as a whole agreed that “no-strings-attached sex is OK”; agreement among believers who support same-sex marriage was 33 percent, again very close to the population average — versus 5.1 percent among believers who oppose same-sex marriage.

Statistics are notoriously easy to misread. But at the very least this survey gives pause. Many progressive believers are joining the cultural mainstream in accepting unbiblical views on sexuality. The same dynamics that lead them in the areas of porn and hook-up sex may be present as they choose their stance on same-sex marriage too.

We need to ask: What underlies the basic arguments that people in Mennonite Church USA make for blessing same-sex partnerships? Do these assertions rest on views from society or from the Spirit and the Word?

Consider an argument that builds from a sense of justice. Progressive believers tell us that “requiring all homosexuals to be celibate is a burden too heavy to bear” (Listening Committee report, Charlotte 2005 MC USA delegate assembly). The church can esteem and admire the self-denial and discipline of a gay man who chooses celibacy of his own volition; but “is it right for the church to demand that all of our LGBT brothers and sisters choose celibacy?” (Rachel Held Evans, March 2013 blog).

Where does the intuition that we are entitled to sexual fulfillment come from? Is it something we learn from Scripture? Or do we take this stance because, as good children of our culture, we believe sex is necessary for human flourishing, that we have the right to enjoy pleasure and avoid any hard road? Would we take this stance if we are thinking of Jesus and his many followers through the centuries who bear witness that “lives of freedom, joy and service are possible without sexual relations” (Richard B. Hays, Sojourners, July 1991)?

Voices around us predispose us to shrink from such thoughts. But the Spirit and the Word tell us of joys much higher than popular culture knows. Let’s not allow the spirit of our age to overshadow the spirit of Jesus.

Harold N. Miller is pastor of Trissels Mennonite Church, Broadway, Va.

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