Jesus and the same-sex marriage debate

September 22, 2014

NOTE: Andrew Walker will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.

Whatever one feels about organized religion or Christianity writ large, Jesus remains a highly favored cultural icon of compassion, charity, and love. Even most atheists and avowed non-Christians will acknowledge that Jesus is someone worth admiring and imitating.

Because of his enduring attraction, Jesus is continually summoned to support causes, regardless of how rooted those causes are in the words and deeds of Jesus himself. So there’s “Take Back America for God” Jesus; pro-universal healthcare Jesus; free market Jesus.  With the ascendancy of same-sex marriage, a recent and popular incarnation is the pro-same-sex marriage Jesus. Proponents of same-sex marriage have wisely attached their cause to the Son of God.

Some, like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, are working from within progressive evangelical circles to change Christians’ views towards same-sex marriage. Even the far-left Human Rights Campaign, no ally of evangelicals, has launched an initiative aimed at making inroads within the Christian community, where support for same-sex marriage is still low.

Jesus is a useful endorser for activists who need opinion from all sectors of society to shift in their favor in order to secure a lasting cultural consensus—one where marriage is no longer based on the complementarity of the sexes oriented towards children, but instead on the emotional intensity of consenting adults.

To undo the norms of marriage as the union of a man and woman, marriage revisionists need Jesus on their side. They must recast the narrative of biblical Christianity, one that begins with a solitary man and woman comprehensively uniting to each other (Gen. 2:24) and culminates with Christ preparing a wedding feast for his Bride, the Church (Rev. 19-7-9). The attempt to redefine Christianity, particularly its sexual ethics, are well under way with Dan Savage’s NALT Project, as in, Not All Christians are Like That.

I don’t mean to impugn the motives of those Christians who desire to wield Jesus in the cause célèbre of same-sex marriage. Individuals like Bell are right to protest against dogmatic rigidity if such rigidity is wielded ungracefully and deemed unworkable in our conversations with our gay or lesbian neighbors. “Homosexuality” isn’t just an issue; it’s a subset of people who’ve felt alienated from the embrace of a church or from fellow Christians who’ve lacked the proper sensitivity when discussing this highly personal issue.

The problem, however, is that the presentation given by the likes of Bell and other Christians looking for a way to bend the Christian narrative toward same-sex marriage, is its revisionist arc. It’s a telling of the Christian story that chafes against “traditional” teachings but also against repentance.

Revisionists detest, decry, and dispute the so-called “clobber passages” of Scripture that speak of homosexual acts as categorically sinful and immoral behavior. It’s these passages, found in the Old Testament and New Testament that make revisionists prioritize the words of gentle Jesus over the words of pugilist Paul. Using any means possible to justify their position, revisionists advance exegetically implausible interpretations.

Perhaps the most common argument issues from silence: Jesus never mentions homosexuality or same-sex marriage; therefore, he must be for it. But this argument from silence presents another set of troubling conclusions. Namely, that whatever Jesus didn’t specifically address, he must endorse.

If we accept this contorted logic, Jesus must also support human trafficking because he never spoke out against it. Failing to withstand even a modicum of scrutiny, we know such an argument is absurd and even harmful, but that doesn’t stop individuals wishing to re-cast Jesus into a same-sex marriage activist from suspending logic and proceeding with bad arguments.

The irony is that Jesus’ silence on gay marriage is against a backdrop that assumes and celebrates the picture of marriage as a major storyline of Scripture—a storyline that leads to Christ.

Marriage doesn’t just make an appearance in Scripture and Christian theology. Marriage is central to making sense of the gospel. The Scriptures speak of marriage as an embodied mystery that somehow manifests the gospel of Christ (Eph. 5:31-32). Neither is marriage’s purpose unimportant to our ability in forming bonds that cultivate civil society. Marriage is its own good, and that’s why one of Jesus’ only statements on marriage speaks to its universal nature.

Consider one such passage in Matthew 19. In verses 4-6, Jesus determines the content, duration, and purpose of marriage. In this episode, Jesus responds to a question about divorce by asking “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.”

In this one passage, Jesus affirms the norms of marriage. By stating that it is man and woman who enter a marriage, Jesus affirms the content and complementarity of the sexes in marriage.

By insisting only one man and one woman enter a marriage, not one man and two women, Jesus affirms the exclusivity of marriage where two marital partners are to be sexually bound and exclusive to one another.

When Jesus insists that marriage is for life, he affirms the duration of marriage, which is permanent.

Finally, by echoing the “one flesh” union of Genesis 2, Jesus is putting the purpose of marriage on full display: That men and women would unite comprehensively together in marriage through a physical, spiritual, and emotional bond that is oriented to and fulfilled by the creation and rearing of children.

Complementarity; exclusivity; permanency; orientation towards children—these are the norms of marriage that see a man and woman come together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. Each norm comes from Jesus himself and confirms the timeless principle that if marriage is to be based on principle, it must conform to the demands of sound logic. If you remove the complementarity of the sexes in marriage, the entire structure that gives marriage its shape collapses with it. If marriage is no longer based on the complementarity of the sexes, what principle limits marriage to two? Why not three? These are questions that marriage revisionists refuse to answer.

If Christians are to support same-sex marriage, they should do so by way ofintellectual honesty and acknowledge their abandonment of biblical authority, for there is no reasonable way to deduce from Scripture an exegetical case for same-sex marriage.

Jesus never spoke about the political controversies that ail and plague modern America. What Jesus does do, however, is invoke a view of the Kingdom of God that is at once both inclusive, but also holy.

But the radical inclusiveness that makes Jesus so attractive to prodigals like you and me is the same Jesus who calls for radical holiness—so much so that he suggests plucking out your eyes and cutting off your hand if sexual sin constantly besets you (Matt. 5:27-30). It isn’t that Jesus came to loosen the moral standards set down by Mosaic Law. He elevated them, but also provided in Himself the redeeming power of grace to fulfill them.

A plain reading of Scripture accompanied by two thousand years of church history affirm the teaching of Scripture that upholds the view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, but the Scriptures also speak plainly of another truth: that no sin is wider than Christ’s mercy if one will only repent and believe.

This article was orginally published at The Federalist.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24