This paper was delivered to Professor Sanders at Fuller Theological Seminary during my 2nd year in seminary. The class was called “Perspectives on Christian Ethics.”
Is our nation homosexual? Homosexuals are pushing very hard to be given the rights to marriage, and evangelicals are speaking out about the issue. But not every evangelical speaker is on the same page. Evangelicals have a right wing, left wing, and center or moderate position just as politicians do between a conservative, liberal, and moderate position. Evangelicals from all positions have made their cases, ranging from only supporting marriage between a male and female to supporting civil unions between two consenting and committed members of the same sex. These arguments have been offered in response to a negative cultural trend in regards to marriage.
What is this cultural trend regarding marriage? Marriage is no longer being defined in a traditional way by many people, especially by advocates of same-sex marriage who also assert that fairness requires a new understanding of marriage, an understanding that is unparalleled with any other human civilization, which is “a moldable union between any coupling of consenting adults, regardless of gender, driven by adult desire rather than an obligation to the next generation.” Furthermore, this understanding is gaining popularity and support from some very influential law groups, such as the American Law Institute. One sociologist, David Popenoe, has interpreted the current trend as a detriment to marriage, since it encourages casual liaisons for adult relationships and fulfillment, so that it will likely eliminate marriage relationships over time. Popenoe concluded that children will be harmed from this scenario, adults will not be any happier in this relationship design, and the social order may in fact collapse. The argument is important, as it affects the well being of people from all ages, races, and genders. Here enters the arguments of the three evangelical positions.
We are going to examine the three evangelical responses to this cultural trend regarding marriage and homosexuality. First, we will examine the evangelical right. The evangelical right is totally against same-sex marriage. Second, we will examine the evangelical left. The evangelical left is totally in support of marriage between males and females, but it is more open to supporting same-sex relationships as far as civil unions are concerned, and sometimes it does support same-sex marriage. Finally, we will examine the evangelical center. The evangelical center is certainly in support of marriage between males and females, and they are concerned with working out a solution for homosexuals who want a defined legal status. To the evangelical right we now turn.
The Three Evangelical Positions on Same-Sex Marriage
The Evangelical Right
The evangelical right holds marriage in extremely high regard. But at the same time, the evangelical right looks down upon homosexuality and is not willing to allow something as sacred to them as marriage to be corrupted by it. The evangelical right recognizes that same-sex marriage is a pressing issue, and it asserts that Christians everywhere should fight against it. Because they view marriage as a sacred covenant that has been designed and endorsed by God while also being recognized and upheld by humans, members of the evangelical right contend that marriage is only supposed to be between one man and one woman. According to their position, it is through this union that God intended for children to be raised and a family developed. They focus on the claims of the Bible and disregard other factors:
The Bible is so clear in its support of marriage there is little need for us to go through an exhaustive definition of biblical marriage versus the types of unions allowed by law today. We will simply point out the Bible’s claim, made overwhelmingly clear from Genesis through Revelation, that marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman who love and respect one another. The scriptures say in Genesis 2:24 that a man is to leave his family and cleave to his wife. This concept is repeated in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7. All the scriptures in the Bible concerning marriage presuppose heterosexual marriage.
With its focus on the biblical concern for marriage as a loving, committed relationship between a male and a female, it has fiercely opposed same-sex marriage and has not given much credence to the idea of civil unions.
The Evangelical Left
The evangelical left supports marriage between a male and a female, but it is more open to the idea of civil unions or even same-sex marriage.  Members of the evangelical left base a lot of their argument on the rights of homosexuals as humans. As humans, the argument goes, homosexuals should have access to basic human rights. This argument is closely linked to the well being of society. The evangelical left contends that the society will be good and healthy when homosexuals are treated as humans and their rights as humans are “honored, respected, and defended.” Members of the evangelical left are concerned with demonstrating justice and compassion on behalf of homosexuals, hoping that by being both pro-family and pro-homosexual human and civil rights, some progress can be made for the benefit of society.
The evangelical left bases its argument on some important concerns. For example, homosexuals that are not given basic civil rights through a state-recognized and sponsored civil union would not be permitted to be at his or her loved one’s deathbed at a hospital that has “family restrictions” or to have a voice in the medical treatment of that loved one. Also, for example, the possessions of a deceased homosexual would not go to his or her partner, but instead they would go to the family, even if the family had rejected him or her a long time ago and the partner had been committed to him or her for the last twenty years. By not allowing homosexuals to enter into state-recognized civil unions, they miss out on basic rights and privileges that they should have access to in all fairness. But, the evangelical left asserts, this issue of fairness does not necessarily need to redefine marriage in order to come to a resolution.
Instead of redefining marriage, there are many in the evangelical left who would offer for the government to grant the rights of civil unions. With the protection of homosexual human rights in mind, the evangelical left has committed itself to social justice and compassion by showing homosexuals respect and fighting for their rights. Members in the evangelical left are committed to talking through the issue, and many of them believe that the definition of marriage does not need to be dramatically altered, but instead, the government could grant civil rights to same-sex couples. Some maintain that marriage itself should be left for civil authorities to grant, not the church, so that all couples, whether hetero- or homosexual, would have to apply to the state in order to be given the civil right to be recognized by the state as a committed couple with all of its privileges. If this were the case, then the couples could go to whatever religious institution or church that they desire to seek religious blessing.
The main concern for the evangelical left is for the human rights of homosexuals. Members of the evangelical left affirm marriage between one male and one female, but they are willing to enter into conversation and work through the issue. They recognize that society will not be healthy until the well being of both the family and homosexuals are pursued.
The Evangelical Center
The evangelical center is concerned with God’s intent for marriage and humans as demonstrated in the image of God. The image of God is simply male and female together. This image boldly declares both the equality of the male and female with each other, but also their distinctiveness from each other. Together, they bear the image of God, and when they bring their distinctiveness together they are best able to bring new life into the world and create a family. Male and female were not intended to be alone, but rather, they were intended to be with each other. As a result, members of the evangelical center conclude that “easy” divorce, same-sex marriage or parenting, or reducing marriage to nothing more than casual, self-satisfying relationships are not to be affirmed. But the evangelical center wants to do more than merely saying what the Bible says and judging the world. Instead, it wants to give some substance to what the Bible says by demonstrating how moving away from God’s intentions for marriage and family has adverse affects on humans. It wants to use social sciences to show how cohabitation “is associated with increases in domestic violence for women and children; increased drug use and abuse; lowered relational faithfulness, happiness, and durability; and dramatic increases in divorce once a marriage is entered.” The evangelical center contends that marriage is supposed to unite the male and female as essential counterparts—a connection that society depends upon—but same-sex marriage breaks this understanding, since it makes the male and female unessential to each other. Members of this position find a strong link between good lawmaking and loving one’s neighbors, so that how one seeks to influence the public through the legal system must follow some guidelines, particularly towards the homosexual community.
Many evangelicals have approached the issue without seeking to love the homosexual community. Many members from the evangelical right have tried to argue against same-sex marriage by appealing to nature, law, social convention, unity, marriage as a suffering union, and the well-being of children, but all of their arguments have counterarguments. Evangelicals from the left have proposed civil unions as an alternative to same-sex marriage, thinking that civil unions are not technically of the same status as marriage. Such a compromise would grant homosexual partners humane legal benefits without the religious status attached to the relationship. But members from the evangelical center have hoped for a position that does not yield to same-sex marriage and give up on biblical moral convictions; at the same time, they want to put an end to non-loving activities, such as gay bashing, and beginning to respect homosexual human and civil rights.
Critiquing the Evangelical Positions
Of the three evangelical positions towards same-sex marriage, I find myself in the center. But all three positions have their own problems. The evangelical right does not respect the homosexual community, the evangelical left does not respect biblical morality concerning marriage, and the evangelical center does not respect the religious separation of the church from the state. It seems that the right does well by staying steadfast in its convictions regarding marriage and sexuality. However, the evangelical right should not allow its convictions to trample over the homosexual community. They should respect homosexuals even though they disagree with them. The left does well to seek to dialogue about the issue. They are steadfast in their convictions, but their convictions rest in loving and respecting the homosexual community and not merely to biblical morality. However, their focus on love and respect causes them to lose sight of God’s intent for humans—to be together in male-female pairs—and they go so far as to forsake this intent in order to please the homosexual community. The center does well to demonstrate how biblical morality has scientific backing; they work hard to show why following God’s intent for humans is best for society. However, in the same way as the right, the evangelical center is dangerously close to legislating biblical morality on society. While biblical morality might actually do society some good, it is not necessarily what society wants. The evangelical center is quite balanced, but it should not attempt to act as the conscience of society. The center needs to continue arguing its case, supporting it well with scientific data and explaining the benefits of its beliefs for society over other practices, lest it be guilty of an imperialistic attitude and therefore discarded as a solution to the issue.
It seems to me that out of all three of the evangelical positions towards same-sex marriage, I would be classified as a member of the evangelical center. I do focus on the need to love and respect the homosexual community, but I am not willing to release my conviction regarding God’s intent for humans in marriage. However, my approach is not extreme, which is why I would most certainly not classify myself as evangelical right. Yet, I would not argue on behalf of the homosexual community, saying that they deserve basic human rights, and seek for the state to approve and recognize same-sex marriage. I would take a different approach to the issue.
I would approach same-sex marriage in three parts. First, I would let it be clearly known that I believe God’s intent for humans rests in heterosexual marriage relationships. Second, I would attempt to demonstrate how this setup benefits society more than a same-sex marriage setup. And finally, I would argue for state-sponsored civil rights for both heterosexual and homosexual partners. I would seek state-sponsored civil rights, but not marriage for homosexual partners, because they should be able to have certain things in life, such as the ability to see their partners on their deathbeds. It would not be loving or respectful to deny them this right simply because of a moral conviction that homosexuality and same-sex marriage is wrong. Marriage itself is for this society more of a religious union than it is civil. As such, we cannot force people who do not align themselves with the same religious background to value marriage in the same way we do. Therefore, it makes sense that we could fight to preserve marriage as a state-recognized religious institution as a similar though distinct type of civil union, while at the same time permitting state-recognized civil unions amongst both heterosexual partners and homosexual partners. This way, both the religious institution is preserved and basic civil liberties are granted. In other words, marriage would still be contended as God’s best for society while still respecting the homosexual community, but religions will not be forced to marry anyone they do not want to, and partners can receive their basic human rights in all fairness.
Same-sex marriage is a very heated debate in evangelical circles. While members of the evangelical right tend to adhere to the words of Scripture and seek to keep same-sex marriage from becoming state-sponsored, members of the evangelical left tend to adhere to loving and respecting homosexuals, even at the expense of biblical morality. However, the evangelical center, of which I believe I am a part, seeks to provide a balanced response to the issue. It seeks to keep biblical morality while respecting homosexuals. Instead of simply attempting to keep same-sex marriage from becoming legal by merely arguing that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong as a defense, and instead of wishing to grant basic civil rights to homosexuals without regard for biblical morality, the center maintains that the Bible contains what is best for society, it seeks to defend biblical morality through scientific research and theory, and it respects the homosexual community. The center does not argue primarily from Scripture, nor does it argue primarily from anthropomorphic principles, but instead, it uses Scripture, principles, and science to formulate a response to the issue. Even though it is not perfect, as it struggles to keep from legislating morality upon people who do not want it, the center does provide a way to preserve marriage as an important religious institution while still granting civil liberties for homosexual partners.
Gushee, David. The Future of Faith in American Politics: The public witness of the evangelical center. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2008.
Jackson, Harry, and Perkins, Tony. Personal Faith Public Policy. Lake Mary, Florida: Frontline, 2008.
Minnery, Tom, and Stassen, Glenn. “Family Integrity,” Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Political strategies for the health of the nation. Ronald Sider and Diane Knippers, eds. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2005. 245-64.
Wallis, Jim. God’s Politics: Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it. New York: Harper One, 2005.
 Tom Minnery and Glenn Stanton, “Family Integrity,” Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Political strategies for the health of the nation, Ronald Sider and Diane Knippers, eds. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2005), 246.
 Minnery and Stanton, “Family Integrity,” Toward an Evangelical Public Policy, 246.
 Harry Jackson Jr. and Tony Perkins, Personal Faith Public Policy (Lake Mary, Florida: Frontline, 2008), 142.
 Jackson and Perkins, Personal Faith Public Policy, 177.
 David Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics: The public witness of the evangelical center (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2008), 166.
 Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics, 166.
 Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it (New York: Harper One, 2005), 331.
 Wallis, God’s Politics, 331.
 Minnery and Stanton, “Family Integrity,” Towards an Evangelical Public Policy, 250-51.
 Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics, 169.