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A Christian question

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

February 6th, 2012

For many Americans the question of marriage equality circles around what they see as ideal or moral or approved by their Christian faith. It is a question of “what does God want them to do?” And being convinced that homosexuality is a sin, they need go no further to justify their discrimination.

But that approach misses the general theme of Jesus and the early Christian writers. The gospels and epistles don’t discuss what the Roman law should be. The early church didn’t establish agenda to oppress the worship of Diana or to seek dominion over the mountains of entertainment and government. Even their condemnation of unacceptable behavior didn’t extend beyond refusing to fellowship with the offender.

Although one would be hard pressed to see it in the culture or the dogma, Christianity was never supposed to be focused on the flaws of others, real or imagined, or to shape society in a godly manner. Rather it was designed as a personal faith directed inward and evidenced by how it changes the individual, not what he could demand of his neighbor.

The real question that Christians are scripturally directed to ask, the one that would be familiar to the founders of the faith, is “what does God want me to do?” And it is this question that Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) asked herself.

“I have very strong Christian beliefs, and personally I have always said when I accepted the Lord, I became more tolerant of others. I stopped judging people and try to live by the Golden Rule. This is part of my decision. I do not believe it is my role to judge others, regardless of my personal beliefs. It’s not always easy to do that. For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe, to this day.

“But this issue isn’t about just what I believe. It’s about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It’s about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed.

I am certain that Sen. Haugen will be soundly condemned by those who will claim that she “went against her faith and her religion.” But her considerations go to the heart of what Christianity was intended to be and, sadly, so seldom is.

Comments

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Shofixti
February 6th, 2012 | LINK

More of people like this please :D

Hyhybt
February 6th, 2012 | LINK

Thank you for this post.

Unfortunately, all too many answer “what does God want me to do?” with “make everybody behave as if they believed what I do, whether they really do or not.”

revchicoucc
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

While I agree with your analysis, Timothy, that early Christianity (prior to the Constantinian Establishment in 323) did not work to change the laws of the Roman Empire, early Christianity did seek converts from the imperial Roman religion. Christianity was a new religion at the time and had to get followers from the population that either practiced another religion or practiced no religion.

The church-state questions before us now in America with regard to marriage equality are these: Shall the definition of marriage held by religious organizations be established as the definition in civil law? And, shall representatives of religious organizations (clergy) continue to function as agents of the state in solemnizing marriages?

I am a Protestant Christian minister who fully supports marriage equality. Marriage in our nation and time is now primarily a civil institution, not a religious one. It now must be defined on civil principles alone. In our country, those principles include equality under the law.

Further, marriages should be solemnized by the civil authority, then, if they so choose, the couple can seek a ritual blessing from their religious organization. In my church, such a blessing would be available to both opposite gender and same gender couples.

Blake
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Ah, the Golden Rule! Alas, the true democratization of Christianity has meant this is now but one of many competing theologies. Who are you to say which is ‘proper & right’? What gives you that authority, over say, Bishop Long?

I mean that man has a Bentley. Clearly, God loves him more than us Bentleyless sinners… sigh.

iDavid
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

It’s refreshing and temporarily heart warming to see legislators relinquish their ties to the Anti-Christ, even for a fleeting moment of rational thinking for a resulting supportive vote.

scott
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

As with most non Christian discussions of what Christianity is or should be, This one forgets what God wants & focuses on human thought.
A Christian people can & should be obedient to God first.
Pagans have always sought to escape the bonds of decency.
Pagan societies have always decayed at every level.
But…. They have great arguments for why they practice sin.

Snowman
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

It’s been my experience that actual Biblically based Christians are common in liberal areas and churches, not so common among “Conservatives” and Fundamentalists although those are the ones who always claim to be the “Bible based” ones.

In other words, what I was taught that Christianity was 30 years ago is not what it is anymore.

I love these people that claim to be trying to get back to those 1st century roots..with all the changes I’ve seen in my life time who can even tell what those roots were??

Best to just leave religion alone in my opinion. I believe in god, or the gods, or whatever you want to call it but religion is a whole different animal.

Most people just twist it into what they want it to be anyway.

Emily
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

@revchicoucc I absolutely agree that clergy should no longer have “power vested in them” by the state to perform legal marriages. This is a practice that has become antiquated, and one that leads to a lot of confusion about the status of marriage in relation to church and state. As a Christian myself, I think the sacrament of marriage is meaningful enough (perhaps more meaningful) without the officiating cleargyperson being endowed with political power. As Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.” I wouldn’t want to render anything unto Caesar during my marriage ceremony.

Regan DuCasse
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

These are my favorite questions in which to winnow the good Christians, from the bad.
Especially on gay equality issues, since this is the most contested one to date other than abortion.
For good Christians, these questions are easy.
For bad Christians, they hate being asked in the first place, and we know why.
It’s the ones that claim how BRAVE they are all the time, that these are the most fun. Not usually even brave enough to go deeper than the most superficial understanding of their own role in this entire hot mess.

The essential dictum about treating another as they’d be treated. That SHOULD be an easy one for a GOOD Christian. From getting to know someone gay WELL ENOUGH and up front, to easily see that all wants and needs ARE pretty much the same.

Ask anyone where or when the expansion of equal rights, justice and protections EVER hurt an individual, society or country? Anywhere…ever?

We as a country, a human race, are enjoying a life of 21st century education, experience, material and physical comfort EVER known to man. Especially ANCIENT, illiterate and fairly brutal societies. Why should the rest of the world march in step with this human progress, but gay people still be expected to live under 33 BC moral and physical principles that prejudice more education and experience?
What about the religious freedom of those people of faith who accept, and embrace gay people simply as full human beings. There have been clergy fired from their posts for performing ss ceremonies. What about THEIR freedom? Are we talking FREEDOM, or AUTHORITY?

It does sometimes come down to people so willing to let others do their thinking for them, they really are VERY challenged by these questions. And shame on them.

Nobody should be held back by people who can’t keep up.

Blake
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

@Scott. I’m a little put-out by your treatment of history: “Pagan societies have always decayed at every level.” That statement makes no sense:

Was Egypt decaying between the end of the early dynastic period thorough the entirety of the Old Kingdom?

What about Rome under the Pagan Republic through the first Emperor?

What about China under the Tang dynasty? Or Han Dynasty?

What about the Inca? or the Mississippian Native Americans?

It must have been tricky for those societies to achieve new cultural heights while “always decaying at every level”.

Erin
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

I disagree with the people on here saying clergy should no longer be allowed to officiate weddings on behalf of the state. It is very easy to become a wedding officiator. A civilian with any type of career can become one. When a clergy person marries someone in a church, the state is not recognizing that person’s religious ceremony. They recognize that he filled out the proper forums, got all the signatures, asked the correct questions about consent, made sure witnesses were present, and handed in the paperwork to the local clerk. If a truck driver or a stay-at home mom can become a wedding officiator, so should a clergy person. This does not create a mix of church and state. The state already does not concern itself with whatever religious language or symbolic gestures get added to the basic procedure of getting consent from the couple in front of witnesses, and it already disregards any marriage ceremony that did not have a certified wedding officiator, or did not fall within the legal guidelines of who is eligible to marry. Nothing needs to change with the way civil marriage is handled in this country. We just need to remind folks who don’t quite understand that civil marriage and religious marriage are already two different things, and not let them use religion as an excuse to dictate laws.

Erin
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Scott, I’m not 100% sure on this, but pretty sure the author of this piece is Christian, but I guess you’re one of those who thinks only your version of Christianity is actually Christian. The rest of your comment is hogwash. Like Blake said, Pagan societies brought us Democracy and a wealth of Science and philosophy. Rome for example, thrived as a pagan society. It’s fall came after Christianity became the official religion. And as a side note, from someone who is not Christian or of any religion and isn’t biased about its origins: Plenty of the stories in the bible were “borrowed” from Pagan religions. You don’t even much of your own religion came from Pagan religions. Smh.

Priya Lynn
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Scott said “Pagan societies have always decayed at every level.
But…. They have great arguments for why they practice sin.”.

Christian societies have also decayed at every level – it is the nature of all societies to come and go. Christians also readily rationalize their own sins, its human nature and christians aren’t above that.

Erin
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Not to mention Priya, Christian societies have destroyed other societies with unspeakable violence. A lot of people don’t know the full story about Christopher Columbus for example. When he first arrived, he found a very peaceful, welcoming tribe of people who had objects made with gold. He and his men presented the chief and his people with red cloth caps. The chief then gave them a gold crown with gems in it. The chief was thrilled to accept the caps and didn’t seem to value them any less than the gold objects. The Spaniards then pretty much said “Nice to meet you. I’m just going to hop back on my ship, and I’ll be back soon.” They came back and spent the next 200 years enslaving the Taino tribe and forcing them to mine gold on their own land. They also brought them disease. The Taino people are now extinct if I’m not mistaken. The stories on the Continental US are similar. Our modern “Christian” societies were built upon anything but Christian principles.

Priya Lynn
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Yes, its true Erin, the Spanish christians wiped out entire native american societies.

Timothy Kincaid
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

scott,

Perhaps we are reading from a different Bible. Mine doesn’t say that “A Christian people can & should be obedient to God first.” Where do you see that?

Mine says that Christians are known by their love. And that the two commandments on which all of the Law and Profits hang are to love God and love your neighbor.

Priya Lynn
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Scott said “Pagans have always sought to escape the bonds of decency.”.

Thats a rather silly and of course false claim.

The only reason any society ever develops is because there is a bond of decency. There simply never would have been any pagan societies if they always sought to escape the bonds of decency.

Humans in our present state have been around for about 200,000 years. Do you honestly think we’d have survived as a species if no one knew it was wrong to steal or murder until a few thousand years ago? Of course not.

Timothy Kincaid
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Christian societies have also decayed at every level – it is the nature of all societies to come and go. Christians also readily rationalize their own sins, its human nature and christians aren’t above that.

Christians and Pagans have a lot more in common than they do in difference. As do with Hindu, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, monks, Jews, Vestal virgins, Confucians, and people who look blankly at you and say “huh?” when anything involving religion comes up. We’re all human and subject to human nature. (The answer is still out, however, on Scientologists. They may be thetan.)

Timothy Kincaid
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Erin,

Yes. But that is not just the story of Columbus, it’s the story of humans. Christian, pagan, or whatever.

The Powerful Invader story can be seen in almost every local and with almost every culture. “We were here first” has almost never won the argument when presented to people who want or need what you have.

And few who suffer it can claim unfairness too loudly. Often they were simply the descendants of those who displaced or killed the people who were there before them.

Timothy Kincaid
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Humans in our present state have been around for about 200,000 years. Do you honestly think we’d have survived as a species if no one knew it was wrong to steal or murder until a few thousand years ago? Of course not.

Well… yes and no.

Certainly inner-tribe prohibitions on stealing or murdering was probably a matter of self-interest from the leader(s). But stealing and murdering being inherently wrong when applied universally to all humans probably is a fairly recent notion.

Priya Lynn
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

“But stealing and murdering being inherently wrong when applied universally to all humans probably is a fairly recent notion.”.

I very much doubt it. Given that people thought it was wrong in their tribe its highly unlikely that most people didn’t generalize this to all people. Prohibitions on murder and stealing was a matter of self-interest for all people, not just tribal leaders. Cooperation is evolved into people for hundreds of thousands of years and a certain morality is inherent in that.

Erin
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

I won’t disagree with you there, Timothy. The Europeans who took over by force and enslaved the Native people were motivated by greed. They simply used the popular religious beliefs of Europeans at the time to justify their actions. They told everyone they were the civilized and the Native people were the savages who needed to be controlled and indoctrinated into their faith.

Erin
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Greed is a powerful motivator, but it also takes down societies. The Roman Empire became too large and stretched itself too thin. It is hard to keep all of that territory successfully defended generation after generation. The revisionist history about societies crumbling because they rejected Christianity and/or accepted homosexuals is just absolutely, utterly ridiculous on so many levels. I can’t be kind about the stunning amount of ignorance it takes to make statements like that.

Timothy Kincaid
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Priya Lynn,

Perhaps. But it seems to me that history suggests that the social rules didn’t extend beyond the boundaries of the social unit. It wasn’t “stealing” to go into the foreigners land and take his sheep or his land. It wasn’t murder to kill those who tried to stop you.

Loretta
February 7th, 2012 | LINK

Not to ne flip, but if people hate gays so much why do the heterosexual keep producing them?

Priya Lynn
February 8th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, as written history only goes back 6000 years or so, it tells us nothing about the morality of the vast majority of the history of the human race.

I watched an interesting TV program on the emotions in animals. On the part on Chimpanzees and Bonobos (human’s closest relatives) they did some experiements to test to see if they had a sense of fair play. They put two chimps in cages side by side and trained them to do a simple task for a reward, in this case a slice of cucumber. The chimps did the task and ate their cucumber slice happily. Then the researchers mixed it up and gave the chimp in the right cage a strawberry instead, but the one in the left cage the cucumber slice. The chimp in the left cage noticed his companion getting the much more desirable strawberry and threw his cucumber slice back at the researcher demonstrating he had a concept of fairness.

The researchers performed the same experiment with Bonobos with the Bonobo in the left cage also refusing to eat his cucumber slice after seeing his companion in the right cage getting a strawberry. The difference was that the companion in the right cage, noticing the unfairness also refused to eat the strawberry showing not only a sense of fair play, but empathy.

Chimps will share food within their tribe but not with strangers from another tribe who they will sometimes attack and kill. Bonobos on the other hand in encountering a stranger from another tribe will never attack and kill but will in fact share food with the stranger from another tribe. It’s difficult to believe that modern humans throughout our 200,000 year history had a less advanced morality than our closest relatives.

Timothy Kincaid
February 8th, 2012 | LINK

Interesting about the chimps and bonobos. Maybe humans, having higher development, are more subject to persuasion, tradition, greed, and logical analysis all of which can push one closer or further from sharing resources.

And, though I know you aren’t much find of religion, it too plays a role – sometimes negative, sometimes positive.

It’s interesting to note that one of the stories Christians misinterpret to justify bigotry, Sodom, was originally a cautionary tale about inhospitality. Perhaps had Sodom been populated by bonobos rather than chimps, so to speak, gay folk would have less problems.

Priya Lynn
February 8th, 2012 | LINK

“Interesting about the chimps and bonobos. Maybe humans, having higher development, are more subject to persuasion, tradition, greed, and logical analysis all of which can push one closer or further from sharing resources.”.

Could be.

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