Obama, the Bible, and Same Sex Marriage

It is impossible to turn on the news today or go to the internet without being confronted by the news of President Obama’s statement that he supports the right of same-sex couples to get married. While I can certainly appreciate his compassionate heart for people who feel they are unfairly being denied the possibility of a marriage to their same-sex partner, and I can even affirm that I believe the President to be my brother in Christ, I have to disagree with his position on clear biblical grounds.

At the heart of the issue is this, who determines what a marriage is and who can get married and who cannot? In the last 200 years or so, governments have played an increasingly large role in that decision and the religious community has played a smaller and smaller role. But for the entire period of human history prior, that was not the case. Prior to that time, certainly in western civilization, it has been the church, and I mean that in the broadest terms, that has defined marriage and informed the government on what is and is not a marriage. Clearly the tables have been turned. Now instead of the faith communities informing society and the government on what is and is not marriage, it is western philosophical, post-enlightenment philosophy that shapes the our understanding of marriage. We have gone from marriage being a sacred union between man and woman, to being a contractually based relationship between two people who want certain benefits of accorded such couples by the government and society. That is founded on faith in philosophy not faith in God.

But where does the church get its understanding of marriage? On what basis does it take a stand. Let me be clear about one thing. This is not a blog dealing primarily with homosexuality. That is only secondarily the issue here. What I am talking about is marriage and its roots. In the Christian community we look to the Bible as our revealed source of God’s truth. That is a given. You can debate the wisdom of that all you want but the fact is, the Bible is what Christians hold to as their depository of God’s will and wisdom. I say that as strongly as I do, so that it becomes clear, if you want to affirm same-sex marriage you are doing so with full knowledge that the Bible teaches otherwise. That may not matter to you, but it matters to millions of Christians in America and a billion world-wide. First let’s be clear on what the Bible does not say. The Bible does not say “same-sex marriages are sinful”. You won’t find those words. Why? Because rather than take a negative approach full of “thou shalt nots”, the Bible takes a positive approach and holds up the ideal that we are to strive for. The positive teaching of the Bible on marriage is that it is designed by God to be between a man and a woman. That teaching is so clear and so taken for granted that there were no same-sex marriages and thus no need to say anything against them. That doesn’t mean there was no homosexual behavior. There was. But same-sex marriage was unheard of so there was no need to speak against it. Rather the Bible says what marriage is, why it is and who is eligible for marriage.

To understand what the Bible teaches, we have to start with Genesis 2 and the account of the creation of man and woman.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Genesis 2:18-24

It doesn’t matter whether you think this actually happened as a literal event or that it is somehow a myth handed down to make a point. For Christians, and incidentally, Jews AND Muslims, this is something revealed to us by God to teach us about our origins, purpose, and destiny. As it speaks about marriage it is crystal clear that God made it to be a union between a man and a woman and that it has spiritual significance. They are somehow joined together as one. They are not just two people signing a contract detailing how they will share property rights or designating who can visit them in the hospital or any other such important issues. Those are the issues of the contractual understanding of marriage in the post-enlightenment west. The Bible is saying there is more, there is a binding together of man and woman in marriage that is instituted and blessed by God.

Some will say that the Genesis passage is Old Testament and therefore culturally irrelevant. For that reason it also needs to be recognized that Jesus affirmed this teaching in the clearest possible ways.  In Matthew 19 he repeats and expands on the teaching from Genesis 2 as a way of affirming the sanctity of marriage and the exclusive nature of the relationship between a man and a woman. Jesus does not deal with this as a cultural issue but rather as an issue of theological truth that is founded in the very character of God. When Paul writes to the Corinthians he also affirms that there is a spiritual component to the physical relationship that is supposed to be reserved for husband and wife. A biblical understanding of marriage must include the recognition that it is more than two people agreeing to live together and be partners in some domestic limited partnership. There is a third-party involved. The Bible says that God joins together a man and woman in marriage. That is why it is primarily a spiritual and not a civil matter.

In making any decisions about our view of marriage we must, or at least confessing Christians must, look to what the Bible says about marriage and seek to understand it and implement it as best we can. Some people may come to a different interpretation of what the BIble teaches. I understand that and can work with that. At least from there we can discuss the meaning of the passage and its application based on mutually agreed methods of literary interpretation. What we cannot do is simply ignore what the Bible says because we are trying to be compassionate, modern, or even fair.

What are the concerns in all this? Some who support same-sex marriage might simply say, “why don’t you just live your way and let them live their way?” That sounds so nice and reasonable and fair. But here is the problem. Because government now has the primary role in determining who can get married and what a legitimate marriage is, they also have the power to determine who can perform such marriages and who cannot. Given the nature of government to spread its power and authority rather than limit it, as an evangelical pastor I have a legitimate concern that the day may soon come when the government says, in order to have the authority to perform any wedding, I must be willing to perform all weddings, same-sex or not. You think that is far-fetched? Think the government would never do such a thing? Look at recent history. Religious hospitals are being faced with regulations requiring them to perform medical procedures they find to be immoral. Religious schools and other institutions are being faced with the possibility of being required to provide insurance coverage for those same procedures. Clearly the government has shown a willingness to ignore the conscience of people of faith and require them to do things that violate their religious beliefs. How ironic is that, when one of the foundational principles of our culture today is to respect the beliefs of others and not force anyone to adhere to your beliefs. It seems that only flows one way.

Let me make one final point. I place the blame for where we are, squarely on the shoulders of Christians and the Church, though probably not for the reasons you may think. It is not because we have failed to oppose such culture shifts vehemently enough with protests and indignation. Rather, it is because we have failed to teach and uphold the positive Biblical ideals on marriage, sex, and human relationships. Far too much of our teaching and preaching is moralistic do’s and dont’s without any solid foundation based on the character of God. Such moralism quickly gives way to what is expedient, easiest, or “most reasonable”. In other cases our teaching too closely represents the latest self-help steps to a better marriage or relationship. It is teaching, full of practical tips, void of Biblical power. We need to get back to a Biblical understand of the purpose of marriage, the oneness between man, woman, and God that is the glue that holds the marriage together. We need to be captured by the holy mystery of man and woman becoming one, and that being more than sexual intimacy but a binding of soul on soul that is for the benefit of society and the glory of God. Let’s live out the glory of a Biblical marriage that makes it so attractive and compelling that people would yearn for that ideal and accept no substitute for the blessings God has for them.

 

Provocative Bible Verses: Honoring Obama Even When You Completely Disagree

This morning I was confronted with one of those Bible passages with which we like to do one of two things. It is a passage that we either try to ignore altogether or explain it away so that we become convinced that it could never apply to our situation. The passage deals with giving honor to leaders, even bad leaders, even if you vehemently disagree with what they are doing. The words come from the Apostle Peter in 1st Peter 2:13, 14 and 17. “13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good…17 Honor everyone. Love the Brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor” Peter goes on to talk about also honoring your boss as well as being willing to suffer for doing good. Those are not easy things to put into practice.

Now before I go any further let me make it clear, in the last election I voted for the other guy so this is not coming from an apologist for the current administration. Rather, I am trying to look at this from the standpoint of making Christian witness a priority over political ideology. What I have seen in recent months, in terms of political rancor and vitriol is not new, at least not in my eyes. One advantage of being a child of the sixties is I have seen demonstrations against the government that make the G-20 demonstrators look like a Sunday school class out for an ice cream social. So I am not concerned about the general population getting all angry and nasty in politics. That is nothing new no matter what the media says. What does concern me is the level ridicule, bitterness, and anger bordering on hatred that is being poured out by many claiming to follow Christ. Instead of attacking the issues that we disagree over, many are falling into the time honored tradition of attacking the person expressing the ideas.

I always find it humbling to the extreme that the first century Christians continued to honor the Emperor with the exception of worshiping him as a god, even as he was having some of them put to death for their faith. Peter makes it clear why this was to be the practice of Christ-followers. 1st Peter 2:21-23 says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His footsteps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” That is the kind of life that we as Christ-followers are to demonstrate to the world around us.

But what is the purpose in it? Peter also makes that clear. We are to live this way, honoring those in authority even when they make us suffer so that they will glorify God. “Keep your conduct honorable among the gentiles so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1st peter 2:12 This is why I say I am more concerned with our Christian witness than I am with political ideology. Peter says that the ultimate goal is NOT for us to shape the government. Certainly we are to be involved in the process but if we get the public policy we want and do not live in such a way that leads people to people glorify God, then we have failed. It would be better to have lost the policy debate and have won people to Jesus than to have won the debate and lost our witness and our souls.

This is why Peter says that we are to honor others. We are to treat them with respect and dignity, even serving them while we disagree with their policy or their methods. We debate the issues. We don’t attack the person. We should be involved in the public debate in order to demonstrate what a Christ-follower is really like, not just what we think, but how we love and honor others. So disagree all you want with President Obama, with your governor, mayor, town dog catcher. If you are in another country the same applies to you. Disagree with policy but honor the office and the person in it. It may mean that you will suffer for disagreeing, because we should never be surprised when unbelievers don’t play by our rules. But that is never an excuse for us to do anything differently from how Jesus did it.

Why God Had Obama Win

“for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” Romans 13:1

If Romans 13:1 is right, then Barack Obama won the election because God established it to be that way. If that is true then there are many Christians today who did not want Obama to win, who must be asking themselves what is going on and why God let this happen. There are two basic reasons why God has someone in authority as it relates to His people, the Church. One reason is to give us a time of peace and blessing and freedom to do what He has called us to. Think of David and the golden age of Israel. But another reason God puts a governmental leader in place is to teach His people a lesson regarding their failure to fulfill the mission He has given them. Think of the Babylonian rulers conquering Israel. It is the second of these two reasons that I want to focus on as why God had Obama win.

First, Obama has offered people hope. From his book, “The Audacity of Hope”, to his constant message of a better future, he has spoken of hope. I am convinced that the hope he offers is incomplete at best and counterfeit at worst. It is a hope built on wishful thinking and not built on the assurance of a relationship with Christ. True biblical hope is founded on the character of God and the salvation we have in Christ. The fact that people have so embraced the nebulous hope that the president elect offers is an indictment on Christians. We have not lived with Provocative Hope. We have not demonstrated a biblical hope that reaches out and grabs people. People who do not know Jesus need hope. They know they need hope, they want that hope, and they will take it where they can find it. Maybe God is saying to the Church, “You have not lived in the hope of the Gospel and now people are clinging to what little hope they can find”. When Christians live in fear, proclaim doom at every turn, and seem anxious and angry, then we have failed to show the hope we have in Christ. So our first lesson must be that we have failed to live a provocative hope.

Second, Obama offers to have the government alleviate the economic suffering that so many are facing. There is a promise of better financial times for the poor and the middle class. It is a promise that the government would step in and make sure that people who have more, will share with people who have less. It is a message with great appeal to people who are nervous about their finances or who are currently in crisis. Again this is an indictment on the church. If the Body of Christ had been taking care of the poor and people in crisis in the way that Acts 2 demonstrates then people would not be looking to the government to meet their needs. The failure of Christians to live out the generosity of Jesus means that people are turning to the government to force what the Body of Christ should have been doing willingly.

Third, many Christians are understandably concerned about what an Obama presidency will mean for moral issues like abortion. The problem is, we have been relying on political power, in the hands of the president, to appoint the right judges to interpret laws in a way that forces certain moral behavior. Clearly the government is supposed to pass laws that promote moral behavior. But that is the last resort as far as Christians should be concerned. The problem is, we have abdicated our responsibility to make disciples who honor and follow Jesus. That is change we can believe in. It is a change in the hearts and souls of people that will result in moral change from the heart. We can never put our confidence for change in the hands of the secular government. The command that we have been given to make disciples is how real change will come about. Our failure to do that in reliance on the Holy Spirit is what has led to trusting in earthly powers for heavenly results.

So why did God have Obama win? One very real possibility is that there is a lesson to the church. That lesson is that we must be about the task of living out a provocative faith that is filled with hope in Christ, cares for those in need, and makes disciples who obey all the He has commanded. If we had been doing that all along, the world and even the White House, would be very different places today.

Obama/McCain and the Biblical Response

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1

I received an email recently. In fact I received it several times from several different people. Yea, it was one of those emails that has been forwarded about 3 zillion times. The basic message of the email was that the coming election was the most dangerous election in American history and that all Christians needed to unite and make sure that Obama does not win the election, otherwise America is doomed and all sorts of apocalyptic things are going to happen. Oddly enough I heard the same thing from people about Bill Clinton before he was elected and we seemed to have survived his eight years in office without any apocalyptic meltdown.

Okay, so here is the deal. If we really believe what the Bible says then on a very real level it shouldn’t concern us one way or another if it is McCain or Obama in the White House. Now that does not mean that we should have no opinion and not be involved in the process. Of course we should. Every Christian should vote and speak their mind. But come the morning after the election, whoever is in the White House is there because that is the way God wanted it to be. What could be more clear than Romans 13:1. And remember, Paul wrote those words to people who lived in the shadow of the Colosseum. The people who were in authority over them were dangerous in the extreme and had the power of life and death with no appeal possible. Yet Paul said that those in authority were placed there by God. Jesus said the same thing to Pontius Pilate before Pilate ordered His execution.

What needs to be remembered is that our first century brothers and sisters were able to turn the Roman world upside down, in part because they were the best possible citizens. They kept the laws, respected authority, and served when others would not. As a result, even people within Caesars own household came to faith in Christ.

The bottom line for the Christian is this. It does not ultimately matter who is in the White House, it matters who is on the throne of the universe. And that would be Jesus. Whoever gets into the White House will get there because Jesus let him in. I can live with that.