Is Gay Marriage a Moral Issue or a Civil Liberties Issue? - Pt. 1

Part 1 in a 4 part series.

The battle for the family is heating up with one of the most important issues that could cause a huge tipping point in culture-the redefining of marriage by the Supreme Court.

Can marriage be defined only as a legal relationship between one man and one woman, or can it exist between two consenting adults of the same gender? In 2008, California voters defeated a proposed amendment that would redefine marriage. However, the battle will not stop at the state level. Gay activists want the US government to redefine marriage. Currently nine states recognize same-sex marriage and the majority of the population now favor recognition of gay marriage.

Is it a moral issue or a civil rights issue?

There are two very different vantage points from which to view this issue that will determine a conclusion. Is it a moral issue or a civil rights issue? The gay community would like this issue to be defined as a civil rights issue comparable to blacks and the civil rights movement. God heard their cry for equal rights because they were discriminated against for the color of their skin. You can only make this argument by totally removing the moral component.

It's not a sin to be a black person or live as a black person according to the Bible. However, the Bible is very explicit about homosexuality as being a sin. So the idea of comparing this to a civil liberties issue is not comparing apples to apples. If you remove the moral issue and you operate totally as a secular society then perhaps you can argue this issue purely on a civil basis, which is where our nation has evolved to. However, it's a slippery slope, because then you must recognize civil liberties of polygamists, pedophiles, and any other form of aberrant behavior among people who want equal access and want to be treated equally without moral consideration.

Should we legalize sodomy or sexual abuse of a child? Why would we not think of such a thought? It's because we believe we are dealing with a moral issue. What if a parent and a child are consenting? Just because immoral behavior takes place by two consenting people does not make it ok.

What is the basis from which we derive our moral compass?

For 200 years America's moral compass has been rooted in the Bible. The New England Primer was a tool to teach first graders. It was first introduced in 1690 and taught for 200 years in America, until 1900. The Alphabet was taught with Bible verses that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Lessons had questions about the Bible and the Ten Commandments.

The leadership in our nation and the growing liberalism of our population is a sign of a nation that has lost its moral compass. Amazingly, 94% of all the quotes of the Founders who wrote our founding documents had their origin in the Bible, which shows the importance of God's word in their lives and of this nation's founding. So, the moral compass was the Bible for two hundred years but it is no longer. We are now a secular society with some Bible verses and God-talk sprinkled on our currency and government buildings.

When the Defense of Marriage Act was signed in 1996, only 25% of the American public supported same-sex marriage; support has increased gradually ever since. California's Proposition 8, passed 52%-48% by voters after a controversial campaign in 2008, has been declared unconstitutional by two federal courts but remains in litigation; polling in 2012 shows 59% of California voters approve of same-sex marriage. National polls show supporters of gay marriage first achieved a majority in 2010.

Mainline Protestants have shifted their views too. In 2003, 42 percent were in favor of gay marriage and 45 percent were opposed. Now, it's 52 percent in favor and 36 percent against. Black Protestants are edging in that direction, but are still opposed in significant numbers, with 35 percent in favor and 52 percent against, up from 25 percent in favor and 65 percent against in 2003. The polls make it clear that younger evangelicals support gay marriage in larger numbers than their elders, but the exact number of supporters is still uncertain.

Public opinion on same sex marriage and unions in the United States thus reveals a great deal of change in a short period of time and significant regional disparity. While New England, the Pacific Coast and northern Middle Atlantic states may support full-fledged marriage, comparisons of polling from a decade past to today reveal significant growth in support for same sex marriages and civil unions in those regions. Meanwhile polling from other regions show that while support for same sex marriages or civil unions have increased across the country, the growth of support is not uniform, with a significantly lower level of support occurring in the Deep South compared to the rest of the country. Given the wide diversity of opinions within the U.S., many supporters of same sex unions believe that the most accurate way to discuss support for same sex unions in the United States is on a state-by-state or region-to-region basis.

Tim Keller, a nationally recognized pastor in New York City explained that "you can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal." This is the argument that some religious conservatives are already beginning to make, and looks likely to be the position that most evangelicals end up settling on. Articles on changing attitudes among GOP youth illustrate the move toward separating government-sanctioned marriage and church-sanctioned marriage.

My experience at Harvard with the gay community

In the spring of 2011 I was part of a group of ten speakers at a conference at Harvard University. Within two weeks of the announcement of our conference the gay community came against us in full force. They did not want Christians on the campus. Their reason was that they believed we would bring bigotry and hate to their campus. Our conference was on the topic of social transformation and had nothing to do with the gay agenda. I personally was slandered across the internet trying. They tried to connect me to some legislation in Uganda that involved anti-gay legislation. They did this because I had visited Uganda and the pastor that hosted me had been involved in the legislation. So they concluded that I was supportive of that legislation. I was not.

At the conclusion of our conference we invited several of the gay activists to meet with us and tell us why they were so against us. We calmly listened to their accusations which had no basis of truth. I explained my position about the Uganda legislation. The man who spread lies about me said," I wrongfully judged you. Would you like me to publish a retraction in the Harvard paper?"" Yes, that that would be great. Thank you, I said."

During our two day conference one of the Harvard professors attended all of our meetings. At the conclusion of our time we all shook hands and we were very respectful to one another. We didn't agree on certain issues, but we respected the right to have an opinion. These activists experienced a different type of Christian. One that was willing to dialogue about the issues. The gay community concluded that we were not like the rest of the Christian community that was close minded and judgmental. We still held our beliefs about what the Bible says about being gay, but we could have a healthy discussion about it and love them as people made in the image of God deserving respect.

At the conclusion of our time the professor that moderated our discussion turned to the gay activists and said, "Gentlemen, I have just gone through the entire conference and never heard one negative comment about gays. I found nothing offensive about anything they said all weekend. We would welcome this group anytime on the Harvard campus."

I find that the gay community, as well as the Christian community, holds certain biases against one another that's based on past behaviors of each with extreme judgmental altitudes. I believe many gays truthfully believe their lifestyle is a lifestyle they were born with by God. And, I believe they must justify their behavior in order to explain their behavior in a way that they can accept themselves as well as gain acceptance from others. To classify their behavior as sinful is very different than classifying it as the way I was made.

Jesus hung out with sinners, even homosexuals

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many gays and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples (Matthew 9:9, 10). No, that is not what the scripture said. It was tax collectors Jesus hung out with. Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you (Matthew 21:31).

Let's face it, Jesus got a lot angrier at Pharisees than He did at those living a sinful lifestyle. When Jesus saved the prostitute from being stoned He didn't discount her sin, He just told her to "go and sin no more." My guess is that if Jesus were living today He would befriend gays to let them experience His love personally in hopes they might embrace God's love instead of Satan's counterfeit love. The Christian community has failed to embrace Jesus' model for helping and loving those who, in many cases, don't think they need Christ or a different lifestyle. We all believed that before we embraced Christ. Unfortunately, when we embrace a life of sin, no matter what sin it is, we fall into deception. Moral compromise always leads to deceit.

The gay community has adopted the position, " You will accept us whether you want to or not!" The gay community seeks acceptance from the straight community, the politicians, and God. The problem is they want endorsement of a lifestyle versus acceptance of them as people deserving mutual respect. There is a big difference between these two concepts. Christianity cannot, nor should it, condone sin in whatever form it is expressed. However, no sin is worse than another in the eyes of God. God hates pride, religion, pornography, divorce, and homosexuality. But He never hates individuals. He does hate sin. There is no hierarchy on sin as some in the Christian community seem to express by their extreme condemnation of gay people. The church is failing to demonstrate love partly because we think loving a gay person is an endorsement of their lifestyle. Somehow Jesus was able to separate a person's sin and their value as an individual in how He related to them. This is something we in the church struggle to do.

In the next column we will describe how we got to this place in our nation.

Os Hillman is the author of the 9 to 5 Window and Faith and Work: What every pastor and church leader should know.

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