Monday, July 6, 2015

Just One Question for Christians Opposed to Marriage Equality

Tony Campolo. Sociologist, Pastor, Author

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:29-31

More than twenty years ago, I was part of a small gathering at Community Baptist Church in Manchester, Connecticut, listening to Tony Campolo talk about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. He was and is a compelling speaker: bold, enthusiastic, insightful, inspiring, and honest. He spoke in conversational tones, but his energy filled the room.

When it was time for questions, someone asked him what he thought about homosexuality.

This was long before there was any serious thought about equal marriage. At that time, most Protestant churches were still grappling with the basic idea of gay and lesbian civil rights.

Campolo paused. He looked directly at the questioner. “Well,” he asked slowly, “What did Jesus say about it?”


And then, with increased energy, he answered his own question. “Jesus didn’t say anything about it.”

“So,” he said, “My question for you is, ‘Why is this so important to you?’”

I have thought about that exchange often over the years. I had already been committed to gay and lesbian civil rights for a long time. In terms of philosophical and theological ethics, it seemed obvious. But twenty something years ago, the biblical piece had not yet become clear to me and I found his response very helpful.

A few weeks ago, when Tony Campolo unsettled many evangelicals by “coming out” in support of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians within the church, I was not surprised. I doubt that it was a great change in his perspective. I think he was just finally admitting to the world (and possibly to himself) what he had believed for a long time.

Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansiing, Michigan published a blog post titled, “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags,” that has been widely shared on social media. Some of the questions might prompt reflection, others are obvious, and some are accusatory, but the overall thrust is to suggest that supporting equal marriage is unbiblical. Many others have answered those questions in a variety of ways, and some of the answering is probably necessary. If only to prove that those of us waving the rainbow flags have also read the Bible.

My first response was to think of all the questions I have for those who think that the advent of equal marriage is the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. I thought of writing something called “400 Questions for Christians Opposed to Equal Marriage.”

But in the end, all of my questions boiled down to the one Tony Campolo asked two decades ago. 


Why is this so important to you?

Why aren’t you more concerned, as Jesus was, about income inequality, about social and economic justice? Why aren’t you more concerned about war?

When the Hebrew prophets pronounced God’s judgment, the issue was justice, not sexuality. If you are looking for signs of the end, why aren’t you looking there?

How can you possibly be so invested in denying rights to people? And how can you believe that is what Jesus would want you to do?


  1. How strange that DeYoung and all his ilk believe that God has no issue with a thousand years of murderous anti-Semitism, the near genocide of Native Americans, 250 years of African slavery followed by 150 years of Jim Crow and society-wide repression of Black advancement, the historic denigration of women... No problem, no issue, no harm, no foul... No scriptural violations there, no betrayal of Jesus...

    But the gracious acceptance of LGBTQ people? The destruction of Biblical Authority! Actions utterly intolerable to the Creator!

  2. This post could just as easily been titled "Just One Question for Christians Opposed to Incest Equality"...for Jesus never spoke against incest.

    In fact there are MANY things Jesus never spoke against, precisely because there was no reason to reinforce what was universally accepted and upheld among his fellow 1st century Jewish listeners. It wasn't until the Gospel moved out toward the Gentile world, which DID condone and celebrate same-sex sexual relationships (as well as many other forms of "porneia") that the issue became one of importance for Christians to speak to.

    And it wasn't until advocates for same-sex sexual relationships started pushing for Churches to embrace such relationships and condone and celebrate them (as opposed to embracing the PEOPLE who are same-sex oriented and loving and celebrating them as bearers of God's sacred image despite the particular temptations and sins they wrestle with), that churches started to see the importance of this particular issue and respond accordingly.

    Campolo and others who pose this question don't seem to grasp this, I'm afraid. Which is a shame.

    1. You are correct that there are many things Jesus didn't talk about. But I don't think many of us would have any trouble explaining why we were against incest. The question for Christians against equal marriage remains: Why? Why is this so important to you? And why this issue, when Jesus and the prophets were clearly so much more concerned about other issues, particularly issues of social and economic justice?

    2. I guess you best ask God why he ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman. Even Tony Campolo doesn't trump God so perhaps the question to be asked is "why is changing a God ordained institution into something that God never ordained it to be so important to you" Bill Trench. Oh and before you think about getting in my face please just let me say that I really don't care about this issue but it seems pretty cut and dry. God never ordained marriage between same sex couples. Now if the state wants to do that that's another question entirely.

    3. Thank you for reading the post and thank you for taking the time to comment. I promise not to “get up in [your] face” in my response. First, it’s important to me because the exclusion of LGBTQ people from full acceptance in our society causes unnecessary pain. Second, on God ordained marriage, there are many biblical accounts of men having more than one wife, and these stories are told without criticism or comment, because it was common practice. The biblical understanding of marriage changes and evolves through the narratives.

    4. I must have missed the bit where God change His mind/definition as to what He ordained as marriage. Sure man redefined marriage to include polygamy but God didn't. A guy I knew was offended when I would not openly accept and include him because of his behaviour of breaking and entering into private homes to steal items to pawn for cash to subsidize his very low apprentice wages, and yes it is a true story. He felt very justified because the home owner probably had insurance and he needed to have rent, food and going out money. All of this is beside the point which is that God never ordained marriage to be anything other than one man and one woman. .Again I guess the question is why is it so important to you to tell God he got it wrong but you will help him out by redefining marriage.

    5. Thank you for your comment. Part of my response is from a blog post I wrote over a year ago.

      With regard to God’s definition of marriage, there is no biblical record of God’s disapproval of polygamy. And what about levirate marriage? Wouldn’t that implicitly include multiple wives?

      The question of whether or not God changes is an interesting one. Process theology (Hartshorne, Cobb and others) asserts that God is always changing. The essence of God is becoming, rather than being.

      In any case, people change. Our understanding changes. We learn and grow. That happens within individuals and across generations.

      When President Obama announced a change of heart with regard to equal marriage, former Arkansas Governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee was skeptical.

      "He said it was because of his Christian convictions," Huckabee observed. "Does he have them or does he not? If one has them, they don't change depending on what the culture does. You don't take an opinion poll to come up with a new point of view."

      The Governor is right that we don’t do Christian ethics by taking an opinion poll. And he’s right that we can’t depend on the culture to define right and wrong. Greed isn’t good, no matter how much the popular culture may affirm it. But that doesn’t mean that our convictions don’t change over time.

      For many years, The Christian Century ran a series called, “How My Mind Has Changed,” and they would ask prominent scholars and theologians to reflect on how their beliefs and convictions had changed over the years. Our faith is supposed to grow. And growth means change.

      As James Russell Lowell wrote in his great abolitionist hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation,”
      New occasions teach new duties,
      Time makes ancient good uncouth;
      They must upward still and onward,
      Who would keep abreast of truth.

      In Governor Huckabee’s home state of Arkansas, there must be tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of Christians who grew up in the time when Governor Faubus was standing against the integration of the schools in Little Rock. As children or young adults, many of them believed in segregation and held that belief as a Christian conviction. But now, as adults, those same people are convinced that segregation and racism are wrong. Thankfully, their convictions have changed.

      Similarly, there may well be millions of Protestant Christians now living who believed as children and young adults that women could not be ordained as pastors. A high percentage of those same people now believe that women can and should be ordained. Many now have female pastors whom they love dearly. Thankfully, their convictions have changed.

      My own views have changed on a number of theological and biblical issues. I read the Bible differently, particularly in terms of its historical context. And my understanding of the atonement has changed dramatically. We say that faith is a journey because it is. We don’t just make endless circles on the same track. We travel. We learn and we grow. And we change.

  3. Why? Because sexual orientation and identity have become this generation's idol. They reject 2,000 years of clear biblical witness and Church doctrine to embrace lifestyles foreign to Christianity of any sort. It's a repeat of Romans 1 in a most shocking way. The fact is, Jesus said a lot about marriage and sexuality even if He didn't use our modern term "homosexual." Paul and other biblical writers did, too. And Paul specifically said that those engaging as active and passive partners in homoerotic encounters will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6). So this is a bottom-line spiritual issue. People's salvation is on the line. Leaving people in the wake of God's wrath and separation from God when they can turn from their sin and live in Christ's mercy is what the kingdom is all about. Yes, so is serving the poor, but the Church is more than just another social service agency. We are tasked with calling people to faith and holiness even as we serve individuals and society and their many structural ills.

    1. Thank you for reading the blog and thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope you will comment again on future posts. I wrote a more extensively on the broader biblical issues in a post on July 2, so you will find a response to most of your comments there. We differ on what Paul meant by “the Kingdom of God,” but again, that’s covered in that earlier post. Sexuality certainly is an idol for our culture, but I don’t think that is more true for gay people than for straight people.

  4. My response to this and such articles is simple, and i'd start by going to the very beginning of the article itself - Mark 12:29-31. Now with this first commandment in mind Jesus also made another crucial point: that if you do love Him, then you should both obey – John 14:23-24, 2 John 1:6; and stand-by His commands - Mark 8:38.
    Jesus also abhorred sin - Matthew 5:29-30, 18:19, Mark 9:47 as well as those who ‘cause’ others to sin – Luke 17:2, Matthew 13:41-42.
    And he desired people to be free from sin - John 5:14 & John 8:11.

    Does Jesus' 2nd commandment mean that out of 'love' we should be encouraging and celebrating sin? The very thing that separates us from knowing and loving God in all His fullness? Out of 'love' do we parent our children in such a way as to tell them to do whatever they want?

    It is precisely *because* I want to take Jesus' commandments so seriously, that I yearn to be able to love people the way Jesus did.
    Lest I am celebrating and encouraging others to sin and live with the consequent barrier between them and a right relationship with God.

    So this article really IS missing the point entirely. It really SHOULD matter to us, *because* we both love God & our brothers and sisters!!
    So the article avoids the proper question which is, does God view sexual behaviour outside of marriage (as He has prescribed it to us) as sin?
    Scripture (including Jesus & Paul) only give one answer: Yes.

    Aren't we also concerned with inequality, war and social justice? Of course we are! I cannot think of any practicing Christian that isn't!

    But, again the article erects a straw-man: no-one is trying to propel a cultural zeitgeist to say that any of things are now right and should be blessed by God!!

    1. Thank you, Robert. Thank you for reading the blog and thank you for a very thoughtful response. I agree with you that we if we love our neighbors we cannot be celebrating and encouraging their sinful behavior. But I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin any more than I believe that heterosexuality is a sin. I wrote about why I am critical of the few biblical passages that seem to condemn homosexuality in a post on July 2.

  5. Campolo paused. He looked directly at the questioner. “Well,” he asked slowly, “What did Jesus say about it?”


    And then, with increased energy, he answered his own question. “Jesus didn’t say anything about it.”

    Wrong. Jesus DID address homosexuality. Read Matthew 19 and Mark 10. The Pharisees have asked Jesus if divorce is permitted. When Jesus responds, He clearly defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

    1. Thank you for reading the blog and thank you for taking the time to comment. As you note, the question is about whether divorce is permitted. Jesus’ response is aimed at protecting the rights of women who were vulnerable to arbitrarily being dismissed from the rights and security of marriage. His point is not to endorse the current cultural definition of marriage, but rather to say that the covenant of marriage should be a life-long commitment.

    2. I can't help but notice that none of Rev. Trench's detractors here want to address the very first comment - how the Biblical purists among us managed to stay so silent over anti-Semitism, slavery and Jim Crow, the oppression of women, the killing of Natives... These folks were all good with all that, historically and mostly still are now...

      I just love their selective allegiance to scripture.

    3. Thank you, Abraham. I always appreciate your comments.