Presidential Hermeneutics on Same-sex Marriage

For the first time in the history of our republic, a sitting US president has announced support for same-sex marriage. President Obama said in an ABC News interview that his views have changed—they have “evolved.” He has moved from support of civil unions to support of homosexual marriage.

One wonders how much they have “evolved” since in 1996 during a race for the Illinois state senate he also expressed support for same-sex marriage and then later backed off of that position.   Under his watch the Justice Department stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act (defining marriage as between a man and a woman).  The fact is, this president has worked hard to undermine the institution of marriage as traditionally understood in—not just American history, or Western history, or world history, but as understood in the Bible and historic Christianity.

When citing reasons for his “evolution,” the president mentioned several things.  He said he thought civil unions would be sufficient, but realized they do not satisfy the wishes of his gay and lesbian friends and colleagues.  He also said that this is basically a “fairness” issue.  He then added that much of the debate is generational, that younger people think gay marriage is okay.

But to top it all off there was this bit of Christian commentary.  He said that when he thinks about his faith, “the thing at root (is) not just Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, but the golden rule, treat others the way you want to be treated.”

It is always nice to hear a president take into consideration Christ’s teaching, but one wonders what happened to the rest of Scripture and the rest of Christ’s teaching in his thinking.  Like many others in the emerging progressive American culture, he promotes the values of freedom and fairness at the expense of any appeal to tradition or outside authoritative sources (as social conservatives do).

What consideration did he give to the clear teaching of Scripture on this subject?  I’m not just talking about those passages in Romans 1, in Levitical law, and in Genesis 19 on Sodom.   What does he do with the fact that the Old Testament begins by defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman in Genesis 2? What about the fact that the Old Testament ends by referring to marriage as a union between a man and a woman in Malachi 2.  And while there are aberrations to this pattern due to human sinfulness and our proclivity to ignore God’s good design, what about the fact that at the center of the Old Testament, such as in Proverbs 5 & 6, the Old Testament affirms this design again?

And what does he do with the fact that the New Testament affirms marriage as the union between a man and a woman?  Jesus reaffirms this design of marriage at the beginning of the New Testament in Matthew 19.  In the middle of the New Testament this same pattern is reaffirmed (i.e. in Ephesians 5, the marriage of a man and a woman become a central metaphor for Christ and his church).   And in the end of the New Testament it is reaffirmed again as the bride (the church) is reunited with her husband (Christ the bridegroom) at the heavenly marriage feast in Revelation 21.

In other words, in spite of the tortured attempts to reinterpret Romans 1 or Genesis 19, or to say as some do that “Jesus did not talk about this issue he only talked about love,” a careful look at both the Old an the New Testament shows that the Bible IS clear on this issue.

According to this president’s hermeneutic, Mr. Obama is picking and choosing the parts of the Bible he wants to believe (Christ sacrificing himself for others, the golden rule, etc.) while jettisoning the parts that he does not like or chooses to ignore.

To be fair, he is not the only president to have a selective hermeneutic.  One thinks of the Jeffersonian New Testament where the third president cut out of the Bible all those passages he did not like—the ones not fitting with an Enlightenment point of view (i.e. on miracles and the supernatural, the resurrection), and kept those passages on Jesus’ ethical teaching.

But here is the problem with a “pick and choose” approach to the Bible.   Why choose to accept or remove these parts and not others?  Who is to decide what is acceptable or not?  In this case, the president is going with the slim majority of Americans who say gay marriage is right, and homosexual practice is to be affirmed.

Historic Christianity has affirmed that we are not at liberty to pick and choose the parts we like or dislike.  Not only that, our creator, who graciously gave us his Word, has the right to design and define the borders of human sexuality.  He knows that when we ignore his design, human beings and societies do not flourish.  He knows that radical experiments re-ordering human relationships will ultimately bring untold misery and sorrow.

I have no doubt that the president’s announcement of his “new” views on gay marriage will make an already intense election season even more intense.  So be it.  He has made the political calculation that this will energize his base.

Will it?  I write this from North Carolina, a state Obama carried in 2008!  But on Tuesday, this state’s voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

In spite of the many states that have such amendments now, polls show that younger Americans favor it by a clear majority.  So I have no illusions about where this is all going in the foreseeable future.  It appears that gay marriage will be broadly accepted in our culture.

As this happens, faithful churches must be very clear about God’s design for marriage.   We must do so knowing that the message of Holy Scripture is radically different from the society around us.  As all kinds of people show up in our churches, we must show love AND speak truth in a way that honors all of God’s Word.   This will not be easy.  But if we care about people we must do both.

As much as I disagree with this president’s method of interpreting the Bible, I am still commanded to pray for him and his advisors—and I will. Yet at the same time, I have the right and privilege to elect wiser leaders for the days ahead.

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