Agitated is the word that comes to mind when I think of the current debate about Gay Marriage. Agitation is everywhere, and it takes on a particularly volatile form within many church circles.
There is a lot being written right now about gay marriage. The vast majority of that writing is about which side of the issue has the moral high ground. What is not being written about is why this particular issue has induced such an explosive, emotional response.
On one hand, the church is an activist organization. This is true from its beginning: from building hospitals to big-tent revivals, from overthrowing dictators to nailing 95 Theses, from Billy Graham crusades to, well … the Crusades. The church is an organism with an activist's heart desperately looking for the next war to wage.
Is gay marriage simply the issue du jour?
Partly. But I believe the emotional drama indicates it is more than just the most available issue of the day. It is explosive. Why is that so? One important piece of this incongruent agitation is that it takes two emotionally charged issues—homosexuality and the institution of marriage, each volatile in its own right—and …
Let me see if I can paint a picture.
Have you ever heard of a binary chemical weapon? In the movies, a binary chemical weapon is a complicated bomb that houses two separate cylinders, each containing a volatile compound. It is an effective movie plotline because when the compounds mix, the resulting mixture is exponentially more powerful than either compound alone. For the audience, the expectation of these two compounds mixing creates a uniquely anxious experience.
Homosexuality and marriage are, at least for the church, two such volatile compounds. We fear what will happen when the chemicals mix.
Volatile compound #1: Homosexuality
If we rank moral and theological issues on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being highest, homosexuality is valued as a "10 issue" by the church. (Award-winning filmmaker Dan Merchant humorously expressed this fact in this YouTube short.)
But is homosexuality really a "10"? And why has it reached such a charged status recently? Well, I think it's because of how it relates to the Bible and to our church life.
Christians take great pride (as they should) in taking their beliefs and moral priorities from the pages of the Bible. The problem is, as far as the Bible is concerned, homosexuality is valued as a "3 issue," not a "10."
When looking at the moral teachings of Jesus in the gospels, homosexuality receives zero airtime. Zero. Jesus is silent on the issue. Either Jesus never felt it was a great enough priority to discuss, or his followers, who wrote the gospels, never felt it was important enough to quote. Either way, the gospels give it the same priority as Egyptian Interior Decoration: no comment.
Beyond the gospels the Bible is tepid at best as far as prioritizing homosexuality. (I am not talking about interpretation here, only the objective volume of writing.) There are a couple of verses about it in Leviticus. Paul makes brief comments in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy. A handful of verses. Some people add a few other passages as anecdotal or illustrative, but even so, the total actual passages covering the topic represent a minuscule amount of the moral teaching of the Bible.
This total volume is far less than biblical hot-issues like paying taxes, how to treat a slave, or the proper construction of a tabernacle. More significantly, homosexuality is buried in obscurity under the hundreds, if not thousands, of verses dedicated to the indisputable "level 10 issues" of the Bible: prayer, caring for the poor, loving your neighbor, or proclaiming the Kingdom of God.