Monday, August 4, 2008


My Pastor’s View of Gay Marriage and the Recent California Supreme Court Decision—Part One

This is the first part in a two-part series. It is written by the Rev. Dr. Mark S. Bollwinkel, Senior Pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church in Los Altos, California.

In response to the recent California Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, I offer the following in the hope of encouraging discussion on an important topic of the day. These thoughts do not reflect the policy of Los Altos United Methodist Church or the United Methodist denomination, only my point of view. And they are not the only positions that can be held by faithful people.

In a society that lives with a 50 percent divorce rate and commonly accepts cohabitation of adult children before their marriages and cohabitation between consenting seniors due to financial and tax constraints – all of which the Bible would consider “sinful” – it is ironic that the heterosexual majority condemns committed homosexual relationships in part because “the Bible says it’s a sin.”

Politicians, preachers and talk-show hosts are quick to justify discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk while conveniently ignoring much of what else the Bible says about marriage. For example:
  • Marriage shall not impede a man’s right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Kings 11:3; 2 Chronicles 11:21)
  • A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the woman is not a virgin on the wedding day, she shall be executed. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)
  • Marriage of a believer and a nonbeliever is forbidden. (Genesis 24:3, Numbers 25:1-9, Ezra 9:12, Nehemiah 10:30, 2 Corinthians 6:14)
  • Divorce is forbidden except in the case of adultery. (Deuteronomy 22:19, Matthew 19:1-9, Mark 10:9-12)
  • If a married man dies without children, his brother must marry the widow. If the brother refuses to marry the widow, or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Genesis 38:6-10, Deuteronomy 25:5-10)
  • Any sexual intercourse outside of marriage is considered “fornication,” and those practicing it are not getting into heaven. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Revelation 22:15)
Transposing ancient social norms to the 21st century is not just a matter of semantics. We often quote the Bible to justify our prejudices, picking and choosing verses to justify our points of view.

Many quote Leviticus 20:13, “male homosexual behavior is an abomination,” as culturally relevant for today while dismissing the second half of the very same verse, “and they shall be put to death,” as the quaint relic of an ancient past. Such interpretation is capricious and self-serving.

The challenge of faith is to use the Bible to hear the living word of God (John 1:1-14, 5:39-40), not simply as a gauntlet in a theological debate.

God did not stop speaking when the canon, in the Protestant tradition the 66 books authorized as Holy Scriptures, was formulated in the fourth century CE. If the Bible teaches us anything, it is that the spirit of God is on the move with God’s people throughout history and the changing conditions they face.

For example:
  • The Bible codifies and regulates slavery as an institution. Jesus says nothing directly against the institution, and the apostle Paul supports it outright. Yet in the 18th century Christians inspired by the living word heard a new message from God and sacrificed to begin a movement that ended slavery within 200 years.
  • The Bible relegates women to second-class citizenship at best, the status of property at worst. Yet in the 19th and 20th centuries Christians inspired by the living word heard a new message from God and fought for universal suffrage and equal rights for all genders.
God is speaking a new word for us today regarding those with sexual orientations different from the majority.

Whether the majority likes it or not, gays and lesbians serve in our military, teach our children and preach in our pulpits, often hiding their orientation to do so. Law-abiding, tax-paying and contributing citizens of our country should be afforded equal rights under the law regardless of their sexual orientation.

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