Today marks the beginning of a monumental Supreme Court debate about a state and nation’s ability to define the parameters of marriage. With the recent state elections moving in the direction of affirming same-sex marriage as a normative political and social value, many Christians are being pressed into an awkward and unforeseen circumstance: They must come to terms with how to respond to the question – What do you think about gay marriage?
At least three religious-ish sounding responses to the question have made their way into the public eye within the last month. Each offers a possible response to the gay marriage question. In this blog post I want to address each response and offer my answer to the question at hand.
1) The first begins with a cup of coffee. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was recently caught on an NPR audio file lambasting a company shareholder for his opposition to gay marriage (Washington state recently voted to legalize gay marriage). This leaked audio file caused a reaction from conservative groups on facebook calling for a boycott of the coffee company. But notice the internal logic and sequence of the reported events.
The shareholder, Thomas Strobhar, runs a Dayton Ohio based company called the Corporate Morality Action Center, an organization that seeks to challenge corporations on issues like gay marriage, abortion and pornography. Mr. Strobhar apparently purchases shares of a company so that he has a platform to show up and troll CEO’s about ethical issues. In this particular meeting, Mr. Strobhar raised his hand in order to make an unsolicited and unwarranted connection between the affirmation of gay marriage by Starbucks and a recent quarterly dip in numbers. He made the statement in the form of a question to which Schultz responded with gusto.
Not to claim any wisdom of leadership, especially of a Fortune 500 company, but Schultz could have responded in many other ways to Mr. Strobhar’s question. His curt and ungracious response was a misstep for sure. But, Mr. Strobhar was equally guilty of pushing Mr. Schultz’s button with a self-described “maverick” style of aggression.
Strobhar’s position presents option 1 in the response to the gay marriage question. In this position, Christians make it their agenda to confront proponents of Gay marriage in bombastic and argumentative ways.
I don’t tend to recommend this approach for many reasons, most importantly because aggression tends to choke off dialogue. This conversation is complicated and requires nuancing, facts, longitudinal studies, discussions of natural law, and discussions of what the Bible says and doesn’t say. Nuancing generally cannot take place where aggression has become the mode of operating.
2) Option 2 comes from spirituality writer Rob Bell, who stirred up controversy in the past few weeks by aligning his evangelical Christian heritage with a pro-gay marriage position. Bell stated:
I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.
Bell represents a second position on the issue of gay marriage: Christians transform Bible doctrine in a way that accommodates the gay marriage momentum.
This option is not appealing for several obvious reasons. Most pressingly, why hold to the Bible’s teaching at all if it directly conflicts with the culture? If one has to transform the Bible’s plain teaching, then just get rid of the Bible? Why hold on to this Bible tradition in the first place? Isn’t Bell trolling all of us in a different manner than Strobhar? In this case, Bell has nuanced his position without holding to the plain teaching of scripture. In other words, Bell has left the Bible by the wayside and is holding to his own choose your own adventure Christianity — which is not Bible Christianity at all.
3) The third option comes from another famous CEO and involves the best tasting chicken nuggets on the planet. By now you know the story. Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A, made some off-the-cuff remarks to Baptist Press writer K. Allan Blume in response to his position on supporting the Biblical view of marriage. Cathy responded, “Guilty as charged.” Pro-gay writers and bloggers quickly pounced on the phrase and reported it as being, not in response to being pro-Bible marriage, but as a response to being anti-gay marriage. While being evidence A of suspect journalistic integrity, it produced website clicks, college protests, and political grandstanding.
So how did Cathy respond to such negative criticism? By sitting down with gay activist Shale Windemeyer and talking openly about his pro-Bible marriage position. Windemeyer recalled the first phone call:
On Aug. 10, 2012, in the heat of the controversy, I got a surprise call from Dan Cathy. He had gotten my cell phone number from a mutual business contact serving campus groups. I took the call with great caution. He was going to tear me apart, right? Give me a piece of his mind? Turn his lawyers on me?
Never once did Dan or anyone from Chick-fil-A ask for Campus Pride to stop protesting Chick-fil-A. On the contrary, Dan listened intently to our concerns and the real-life accounts from youth about the negative impact that Chick-fil-A was having on campus climate and safety at colleges across the country.
Dan Cathy. Hateful oppressor of gay people? Nope. Evil CEO with an evil agenda? Not quite. Homophobic wealthy white Southerner? Negative. Shane Windemeyer called Dan Cathy “respectful” and “civil.” And with this story, we see that Cathy demonstrates a third option in the Christian response to gay marriage: Christians live in the tension of confidently proclaiming the Bible’s teaching while respectfully and lovingly pursuing relationships with those who identify as gay for the Glory of God.
By now it is obvious that I wholeheartedly affirm the third position on the gay marriage question and I commend it to Christians everywhere. I think it is the way forward, because it has historically been the way that Christians have approached these emerging issues. The Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 4:15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
When it comes to the gay marriage question, I think Christians would be wise to follow Paul’s advice:
- Make growing in the satisfying relationship with Christ your daily goal.
- Know truth and boldly speak truth.
- Make “lovingness” your method and the manner in which you do all things.
Today the Supreme Court will debate the future of the political definition of marriage. I, personally, don’t have much hope for this discussion ending up on the side of the Bible’s definition. There are several God-centered folks who will make some political arguments for the traditional definition of marriage. I am not someone who would be good at speaking into that world. That is not my calling.
All this being said, I am not ultimately saddened by the prospect of the government taking a position that may be contrary to Scripture. My hope rests, not in horses or chariots, but in the Name of the Lord. I will continue to follow Paul’s advice no matter what the government decides. I have been and will continue to love God, lift up Truth, and love people. I hope my gay friends will truly practice the tolerance they talk about by respecting my position.
This post was written by Doug Hankins. Doug is a pastor and theologian at Highland Baptist Church, in Waco, Texas. Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. He followed the Lord to Baylor University through a B.A. and M.Div, and to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for a Ph.D in theological studies. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a nerd book, or researching his next writing project. Doug’s first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.