I began to understand the truth of a major blind spot in Christian culture when I wrote an article about Christianity and gays, and an extremely thoughtful transsexual responded. In our short exchange, I told Clare that I felt that one reason that Christians are so quick to speak loudly about gay marriage is because it celebrates something that the Bible addresses as sin. She gently responded with this scripture:
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Luke 16:18
Immediately I thought of so many wonderful Christian friends who have been divorced, who are remarried and are living their lives for God’s glory, serving Him together and doing great work for the kingdom of God. Yet, there it is, in black and white. We believe scripture. We cling to its truth. And there is no contextual explanation, no cultural nuance of the days in which it was written to wash away the truth. And, this isn’t the only scripture to address divorce and remarriage.
Several weeks later I watched a fascinating discussion about the church and gay marriage hosted at Stanford University. The speakers were gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson and a well-spoken young thinker named Gabe Lyons (founder of Q Ideas). These two men covered many of the complex sexual and moral issues that face the church in today’s culture, and both articulated their positions incredibly well.
About halfway through the debate, this very question arose. I’m paraphrasing, but Bishop Robinson wanted to know why Christians are preaching so loudly against gay relationships but are virtually silent on divorce and remarriage. And, truthfully, there is no grand, simple answer to this question, except that divorce and remarriage has gradually become an accepted practice in American churches. And, if we follow the Bishop’s thought to its logical conclusion, we must acknowledge that many, many divorced Christians remarry in the church before God and their pastor. In fact, many pastors are divorced and remarried.
So, what are we to say when we are faced with this objection to our treatment of gay marriage? How can we defend our position on gay marriage when we have been hypocritical in another area? Does this mean that we should ignore scripture that relates to same sex relationships because we have seemed to do so with divorce and remarriage?
I think the clear answer is no. True, as churches turned seeker sensitive, as divorce became more prevalent in our culture, pastors shied away from the subject of divorce and remarriage because, let’s face it, it’s a difficult teaching. Especially in light of how many of our Christian friends have done it. So, in our churches it became easier not to talk about it than to address the issue.
But, it simply isn’t the proper response to say, Well, we kind of brushed the divorce stuff under the rug, may as well do so for gay marriage, too. It would make things easier. The fact that anyone would even call for that shows a real lack of respect for the authority of scripture. Once we start dismissing the parts of scripture that are difficult to teach and difficult to swallow, there is no stopping point. Before long, we have undermined all of scripture, and then what Truth do any of us have to cling to?
Dismissing scripture is not a problem for those who don’t believe in the Bible’s inerrancy or for those who don’t believe it at all. But, for Bible believing Christians, it cannot be the solution to these issues, regardless of how uncomfortable talking about them can get.
The issues of same sex relationships and divorce and remarriage are examples of the kinds of teachings that make Christianity hard. When Jesus said that following Him is about denying ourselves, He wasn’t joking. He said we were to take up a cross and die to ourselves. Being a Christian is being called to the kind of Truth that you aren’t sure if you can even handle. That you can only live out with the help of God. This is the kind of Truth that Jesus must’ve had in mind when He said, The world will hate you because of Me.
So, here we are, in the midst of a debate where gay marriage proponents are using divorce and remarriage scriptures to bolster their arguments. And, in it all the real irony is that they don’t believe those scriptures any more than they believe the scriptures that prohibit gay sex. Or, in Bishop Robinson’s case, they reimagine what the scripture means so that they may feel justified. So, even while they quote scripture as if it matters, the truth of it really matters little to them. But, the truth of it matters a lot to conservative Christians, so, shocked when we are confronted with their grand divorce and remarriage argument, we say You’re right. And we don’t feel like we have any ground to stand on.
And, that is why Christians will lose the gay marriage debate.
But, if we look at the realities of the two issues, comparing gay marriage to divorce and remarriage is like comparing a bicycle to a bowl of spaghetti. First of all, divorce is not celebrated in churches. No one is launching a campaign to try and get churches to teach something that opposes scripture on the issue of divorce and remarriage. Christians who have been divorced and remarried are likely to acknowledge that mistakes were made, that they wish they had made some different choices. They know that divorce and remarriage is not God’s best for the marriage relationship, even if they are in blissfully happy relationships now. Secondly, Christians in America never set out to undermine the institution of marriage or to redefine it. There was no grand plan to make everyone ok with divorce and remarriage. It’s true that Christianity has been slow to speak on divorce and remarriage in recent years because we don’t want to offend or hurt feelings, but not because we are throwing out the truth of the scripture.
Gay marriage is a whole different bowl of spaghetti because that is exactly what the gay marriage advocates want us to do: throw out the truth of scripture.
So, even though it stops us in our tracks when someone like Bishop Robinson brings up divorce and remarriage, we should not be intimidated. What God says still matters, whether any of us acknowledges it or not. But, we can do a better job of teaching the truth in our churches. Even the really hard stuff. Even the stuff that we have chosen not to talk about for quite awhile. Even the stuff that makes people think all of the things about us that Jesus said they would. And, I pray that through this process, our commitments to our own marriages will grow stronger and our respect for scripture will deepen. Before this debate is said and done, we will be challenged to consider whether the Bible is true and whether it is the ultimate authority for our lives.
I don’t want to tell Bishop Robinson or Clare or anyone else what they should do. But, even more than that, I don’t want to be guilty of only half-believing the word of God. We should stick with the truth of His word, and when gay marriage has become the norm, we should remember that God isn’t surprised and our calling hasn’t changed. We are to trust, to listen, and to obey, speaking truth with humility and kindness. And God can sort out everything else in His way.