Last week saw the gay marriage debate in America reach a fever-pitch. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that at the center of this controversy was Chick-fil-A, one of the nation’s most popular chicken restaurants, and one with a history of making corporate policy consistent with its founder’s Evangelical views. The LGBT community and those in favor of gay marriage rights have banded together to boycott the company’s “Jesus chicken.” I’ll spare you the details because they are all but unavoidable on the internet and cable news channels and aren’t really my focus, anyway.
My focus is a particular biblical argument that I keep hearing in favor of gay marriage – and as yet, I haven’t seen many, if any, Christians engage it publicly. This is frankly pretty surprising to me. The appeal of the argument to those that use it, ostensibly, is that they are supposedly fighting scriptural fire with scriptural fire. However, the argument isn’t all that good and is fairly easy to refute.
When an Evangelical is asked why gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed, almost without fail they go straight to Leviticus 18, noting that Scripture identifies homosexuality as an abomination. Unfortunately, it seems that the bulk of Evangelicals aren’t able to argue much further than this. Not from Scripture, anyway. This is doubly unfortunate because not only does the faulty argument gain ground in the public square of opinion by default, but Christians who should know better are allowed to continue in their ignorance. Churches have failed their members and the lost communities around them when they fail to instruct their people on how to thoughtfully and faithfully engage their world.
So what’s the argument? Basically, it goes something like this: Christians say homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says it’s wrong. The Bible also says some other things are wrong. Christians don’t heed those prohibitions. Why should anyone heed the Bible’s implicit prohibition against gay marriage? This same, basic argument shows up time and again. One notable example is the clearly satirical website godhatesshrimp.com. The website opens with the following:
Shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, mussels, all these are an abomination before the Lord, just as gays are an abomination. Why stop at protesting gay marriage? Bring all of God’s law unto the heathens and the sodomites. We call upon all Christians to join the crusade against Long John Silver’s and Red Lobster. Yea, even Popeye’s shall be cleansed.
The site justifies this call to arms on the basis of Leviticus 11:9-12 and Deuteronomy 14:9-10. These aren’t the only biblical passages that people have used for this argument, either. During college, one of my professors had our class debate the gay marriage issue. One young lady in my class noted that since Leviticus banned homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13) as well as sexual intercourse during menstruation (Leviticus 18:19), and since plenty of people have sex during a woman’s menstrual period, we should simply disregard Leviticus as outdated. Though she cites a different biblical passage, the logic of her argument is obviously the same as the one above. The argument, whichever form it takes, depends on painting the biblically committed Christian as inconsistent and/or hypocritical. And that is precisely where it fails.
During the height of the Chick-fil-A controversy, I stumbled across this opinion piece on The Daily Caller. Mark Judge, the conservative author, bemoans the fact that political conservatives often get labeled as bigots and hate-mongers while simply trying to make a reasoned case against gay marriage. I’ll let you judge the overall merits of his article for yourself. That’s not my concern here. Overall intention of Judge’s article aside, what primarily grabbed my attention as I read was his claim that,
When gay activists go after Christians and a place like Chick-fil-A, which supports traditional marriage, they make an argument that strikes right at the heart of the Bible.
His support for this claim came in the form of what he estimated was a logical and reasoned refutation using Scripture – a recent Huffington Post article by Noah Michelson. The relevant portion of Michelson’s article said this:
For some reason this country still thinks that it’s OK to treat [homosexuals] like we are, at best, just not quite as worthy to have all the rights afforded straight or cis-gendered people or, at worst, just plain evil. Many of these statements are bolstered by religious arguments using the Bible as ammunition, but, as it’s been pointed out time and again, the Bible demands we do or don’t do a lot of things that we no longer do or don’t do (like that we should own slaves and we shouldn’t eat popcorn shrimp), and Jesus himself never uttered a single word about being queer (and if he wanted us all to be “traditionally married” so badly, you’d think the guy himself would have gotten married).
Judge seemed to agree, by and large, with Michelson’s rationale:
But in an important sense Michelson is right — there are contradictions and weird commands in the Bible, and some of them have to do with marriage and slavery. Gay marriage advocates often point this out, and they are right to do so. As a Catholic Christian, I believe that God is a God of reason. We should be forced to use logical arguments to defend our positions.
Given my conviction that this argument is both biblically and logically flawed, I felt compelled to respond to Judge’s article in the comments section:
I’m sure I’ll catch some flak for this, but here goes:
You stated in your article that supporters of homosexual marriage rights are right to argue logically from Scripture that gay marriage should be allowed. You cited the article from Michelson as an example of how this can and ought to be reasonably done. I have heard these arguments and arguments like them before and it strikes me as odd that you would hold these examples up as a standard for what passes as “reasoned” arguments. Frankly, they are far from it, and fairly easily debunked by someone with a modicum of Biblical literacy and ability to think critically. That we should accept and endorse gay marriage because there are many Scriptural mandates that we do not now heed, as Christians or as a society at large, is flawed – both biblically and logically – for two primary reasons.
First, the argument assumes that Scriptural commands, simply by virtue of them being Scriptural commands, do not have any authority for life and practice. It assumes that humanity has the prerogative to pick and choose which to obey based on social norms. This, obviously, is more of a biblical and convictional issue than a logical one. I, a conservative protestant, believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. This is not something I can argue you into belief in, so I will leave it at that. If someone in favor of gay marriage rights wants to make a reasoned refutation to someone quoting Scripture to him/her, all he/she needs to say is “I choose not to abide by the commands of Scripture. I live in a country that allows me to practice my religious beliefs freely, and you can’t stop me from rejecting biblical mandates as authoritative for my life.” I may not agree with their attitude or choice or its temporal or eternal consequences for them and their partner, but they do have both the biblical and legal freedom to make it (whether it is socially beneficial and whether it is incumbent upon government to subsequently grant them a marriage license are different issues entirely). That is a reasoned case to refute someone who bases their case on the Scriptures. Misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting Scripture as Michelson and others have done, is not.
Second, Michelson’s argument is based on a flawed premise that shows a clear lack of understanding of the very Scriptures that he attempts to argue from. His flawed premise is this: “If, choosing to live under the authority of Scripture, we do not follow some of the specific commands of Scripture, we need not follow any of them.”
According to Scripture, Old Testament law was given to ancient theocratic Israel by God as a covenant sign of their worship of him. The Old Testament law can be faithfully divided into three distinct sub-sets: judicial laws, ceremonial laws and moral laws. Judicial laws are those laws which give legal implications, punishments, and retributions for various offenses (i.e. “If your Ox gores your neighbor, you shall recompense his family in X way and Y punishment will befall you under Z circumstances.”). Ceremonial laws are laws that dictate how Israel is to ceremonially worship Yahweh and how and under what circumstances they are kept from it and the manner in which they are to be cleansed in preparation for it. Michelson’s example of “popcorn shrimp” falls into this category – Jews were forbidden from eating shellfish because the keeping of their dietary laws was a form of ceremonial cleanness. Moral laws are those laws which show what actions are and are not a moral reflection of the character of Yahweh (i.e. “Do not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman – it is an abomination,” “Do not murder,” “Do not oppress the orphan”). The 10 Commandments (with, perhaps, the exception of the commandment for observation of the Sabbath as a day of rest) fall into this category. What is interesting about this category of laws is that all of the laws in this category are additionally ratified in the New Testament. Read the New Testament and you will find prohibitions against lying, stealing, gluttony, greed, adultery, and yes, homosexuality. You will not, however, find a prohibition against eating popcorn shrimp.
The theological reason for this is pretty profound. Where once, under the Old Covenant, laws were given for sinful men to obey in order to be holy, set apart, and perfect, now, under the New Covenant of Christ’s blood, we are made to be perfect by faith in him. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Because he lived the law in perfection, that perfect obedience is credited to our account through faith. As a result, Old Testament laws for ceremonial cleanness, for instance, are no longer binding on believers. Read Acts chapter 10 where God commands Peter, a Jew, to eat what would have been ceremonially unclean food, because in Christ that requirement of the law had been fulfilled.
Moral laws have not been so reversed in the New Testament, and so, are not subject to the same dismissal by those who choose to live in Christ, under the authority of Scriptures. Jesus was more than a verbal teacher, so we should not take his silence on a subject to mean that he disagreed with Old Testament laws or thought them silly or unimportant. He did not. Instead, he lived all of them perfectly, and that includes his living as a heterosexual (if single) man. According to the New Testament, many first-century Christians were redeemed from the spiritual consequences of homosexuality and subsequently enabled to live rightly (that is, in submission to the Scripture’s moral laws) in Christ, by the Spirit. Because of how he lived his life, and because of the New Testament commands to refrain from homosexuality, Christians can indeed rightly identify homosexuality as sinful, refraining from it, loving those who sinfully engage in it, and all the while indulging in some delicious popcorn shrimp.
So the next time you hear this argument in one of its various forms, refute it. Refute it confidently, but refute it graciously. Refute it humbly. Refute it lovingly. And then, and most importantly, get to the gospel! Because the LGBT community doesn’t need your logical biblical arguments to reassure them of your intelligence. They need your logical arguments to introduce them to the God who loves them as they are, but who bled and died so that they wouldn’t be doomed to remain that way.
UPDATE: In my response to Judge’s article, I deliberately did not argue against the fact that Jesus was silent on the issue of homosexuality. Instead, for sake of brevity, I chose instead to argue generally that, “Jesus was more than a verbal teacher, so we should not take his silence on a subject [that is, ANY subject] to mean that he disagreed with Old Testament laws or thought them silly or unimportant. He did not. Instead, he lived all of them perfectly, and that includes his living as a heterosexual (if single) man.” However, the case actually can be made from Scripture that Jesus did indeed speak to this issue quite clearly. For an excellent rebuttal of this argument, see SEBTS President Danny Akin’s recent article on the subject.