While Ireland is busy dealing with the aftermath of the Lisbon debacle (sandbagging our doors, blacking out our windows, stocking up our ammo stores in anticipation of the evil EU invading), a conversation has been going on orchestrated by the most evil group in our society. No, I don’t mean the Travelers. Nor do I mean their less evolved cousins, the Roma gypsies. I mean the GHEYS. It seems that these despicable people who are intent on not hiding their sexual attraction for people of the same gender now want to have their so-called “relationships” acknowledged by civil society in some ritualised form.

Of course, as an evangelical Christian I have to oppose such devilry. Sure, gay people “contribute” to society if by that you mean that play an active role in civic life, give as generously to charitable causes as any other group we can delineate, obey the laws, pay their taxes, create and consume culture and host TellyBingo.

But don’t forget. They are gay. Therefore we can’t let them have “civil union”.

Find me civil union in the Bible and then we’ll talk. Civil union! Pah! That’s just a social construct created to deal with a contextual problem of how to respect people with homosexual orientation in this time and place. Unlike of course homosexuality itself which is not just a social construct of the Victorian era to deal with the contextual problem of how to dispossess people who are drawn to have sex with people of the same gender. No not at all! Every society shares our ideas of gayness! Gayness means floppy wrists and fancy cocktails and a disinterest in professional sports. Always was, always will be.

In case I haven’t been clear enough in my opening paragraphs, I think much of the Christian discussion about homosexuality in the Western world has been offensive, confused and unloving. It seems we talk nonsense or we talk only of irrelevancies. In a week when a (extraordinarily dubious) scientific study purports to show a genetic connection to the brain formation of homosexuals, two openly homosexual Anglican priests married in London and the Irish government discussed legislation for the creation of civil unions, I thought it might be useful to put down some thoughts on homosexuality, marriage and the church.

1. The Biology of Homosexuality
The much touted Swedish study that in the words of one scientist is so conclusive that,

As far as I’m concerned there is no argument any more – if you are gay, you are born gay

is deeply flawed. It had a sample of 90 people. I ain’t no big city neuroscientist but if you want a representative study for the population of the world (and if homosexuality is purely genetic surely we’ll see broadly the same rate of homosexuality across the planet) then you needs more than a hundred pictures of brains. The strength of Dr. Rahman’s conviction speaks more about the political minefield that homosexuality represents in the Western world than anything else. The study fails to show that an actively homosexual person doesn’t have a brain that is shaped partly in response to that person’s activity. It in no way adjudicates between the nature or nurture debate.

So the first point I’d like to raise, as a moderate evangelical Christian is that the genetic or cultural origins of homosexuality is quite besides the point. Personally, I side with the historical perspective that says homosexuality has always been with us but it has never been binary. Humans are sexual beings and can express that sexuality to the opposite gender or the same depending on a number of factors. We’re all a little gay, in other words. I’d be more gay if I had been born rich in ancient Greece or maybe if my dad hadn’t been so open about how much he loved and respected me. I’d be less gay if I had a different set of genetic markers from different parents or if I was raised in a different religious background. Christians should be quick to embrace the most holistic explanation of the truth of all human behaviour, including sexual behaviour, including what we now call homosexuality.

Or put more pointedly, in modern secular democracies there should be no need for homosexuals to prove themselves “genetically inclined” before we want to make space for them to live out their lives free to pursue happiness and all the other myths of our age. As citizens of Ireland or Canada or New Zealand we can’t erect genetic markers to include some people in the social contract. We live by these rules so let’s play by them- homosexuals should be afforded the same rights as heterosexuals (even if that does mean uncomfortable situations down the line such as the legalisation of polygamy).

2. Christianity and homosexuality
So I think that the Karolinska Institute study is irrelevant to any serious scientific, social or theological discussion of this issue but the “marriage” of two ordained priests in a Christian rite in London is not. It is central to how an evangelical Christian can make a loving, authentic and informed response to issues facing us.

Put bluntly, there is no way that two men can be married in a church. Furthermore, two men who are engaged in a romantic relationship cannot be functioning leaders of the church. This is not meant to be homophobic. But the norming norm of Christian practice is the Scriptures and they clearly present a covenant between a man and a woman as the building block of society, what we call marriage. Straight men can be included in the church if they aren’t married. Straight women are welcome to lead in the church if they aren’t married. Gay men can become Christians although they are not married. Gay women can worship God with the community of believers although not married. Marriage is not for everyone. It is not essential. And in a Christian sense it must be a promise between a woman and a man to love each other the way Christ loves the church.

This is not some minor point of law, you see. One of the major metaphors running through the Bible is that the church is the bride of Christ, (although mostly a “whore” of a wife, to use the technical Biblical language). The word covenant I keep using is key here. It is a promise bound contract. It is the way God does business; a contract whereby if the other person fails to deliver, you sacrificially pick up the pieces. Marriage in that sense is lot more than a way for a man and a woman to share the cost of kids, or to unify their joint assets. It is the centre-piece of a way of life. No amount of reinterpretation or critical deconstruction can alter the fact that from the earliest days of Judaism, right up to Jesus’ own words and on out to the apostles and the early church, marriage has always been one man, one woman, one life.

So while Christians should be able to put on their citizen caps and engage with homosexual rights as a phenomenon in the wider world and they should be able to put on their church caps and welcome homosexuals into the fold of the church as individuals, they should not confuse the two. We should acknowledge gay civil union in the wider society. Gay people are welcome in the church. But none of this alters for a second what marriage is.

I am inspired in part by the post last week on Scotteriology where he argued, in the much more fraught North American context, that Christians should support civil unions. He argued that in his context:

  • Christians have a low view of marriage that sees it as a civic contractual obligation
  • While every society legislates in the moral arena (law is applied ethics in some sense), the question must be asked as to whether we should legislate that which we can’t enforce
  • And gay civil union won’t in anyway infringe on the church
  • With these issues in mind, Scot reckons Christians should take our version of covenantal marriage more seriously (even to the extent of referring to it under a new title like gameo or diatheke) and that we should endorse gay civil union to some degree. I am a big fan of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and I pray for him regularly because holding the Anglican church together must be the hardest job in Christendom. But leaders in the Church of England must put a stop to the undermining dilution of Christian marriage. They can’t stop there. Christians have to see marriage in the kind of spine-tinglingly exciting terms that the New Testament sees it. It is a way to enter into, here in this life, the very Life of God, mimicking and foreshadowing in the bound freedom of covenantal love that will be enjoyed one day when the Kingdom truly comes. There is good reason we call that coming day, the consummation.

    I have seen many people married in Christian churches that have no belief in or practice of the Jesus way. As bad as the conduct in London this week was, in my opinion, it is replicated in a very real way, week-in and week-out in Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches around the island when people who don’t even reach Keaster-standard (Christmas and Easter Christians) make a mockery of the covenant of marriage. Who’s fault is that? Well, mine. Church leaders who don’t have the guts to say, “It’s not worth my time, nor yours”.

    So the Christian response to homosexuality within the church is threefold:

  • With total and utter unanimity the church must welcome gay people into its fold to become Christians. Call this the Anti-Phelps doctrine.
  • With complete clarity, homosexuals must be called to the very same standards the New Testament calls every Christian believer- celibacy outside of marriage.
  • Christians must take marriage as a covenant much more seriously. Here I can’t put it better than Scotteriology, who says we have “to live Ephesians 5 and not just tell them to ‘believe’ it’s true”
  • 3. Civil Union
    Homosexual couples should be encouraged to play as full a role in civic life as they can. This is good pragmatics and in line with the Christian conviction that as bearers of the image of God, they should be respected. We cannot legislate Christian ethics for people who are not Christians. To do so would be to create a new law, in the Torah sense. We cannot hold non-Christians to account for failing to live up to our standards. We have no right to force the rest of society to play by our rules. When you consider these two things together- the humble ethical position Christians should hold with regards to non-Christians and the desire to see everyone, especially those far outside the realms of the church prosper to whatever degree is possible, we should welcome civil union.

    It is not a covenant. It is not aping a Christian ritual. It need not lead to parenthood. It does protect people in the case of break-ups. It does encourage people to live monogamously. It does help people when their loved ones are sick or dying. It does include gay people in the body politic. There is no real drawback, unless you are holding on to the idea that Jesus came to legislate his Kingdom into existence and Christian leaders are his chief bureaucrats, or worse, lobbyists.

    The Irish constitution protects marriage:

    [Article 41, 3.1]The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.

    Civil union will not mean that homosexuals will be “married”. Even if they were, you would have some job convincing me that Bunreacht na hÉireann thinks of marriage the same way that a catholic church does. It is something that will bring a great amount of joy to thousands of loving couples, it is something that will bring security to their relationships, as fragile as they may be and in that respect, how can we not say, “Go for it!”?

    Your Correspondent, Bi-lingual, bi-lateral… bi-everything.