Gays In The Church Part 3: The Slippery Slope

I have some more thoughts on this subject and will continue to post them, but I was checking out Tony Jones blog today and he has posted a video response to the “slippery slope” argument against accepting same-sex, monogamous relationships. His clip reminded me of an old post of mine on the same subject that I thought would be worth re-posting today. Here it is:

My friend Dan Kimball recently asked a question on his blog that I thought was pretty interesting:

“If someone is voting for and believes in defining marriage beyond one man and one woman, then why wouldn’t they also believe in the allowance of polygamous marriages provided those wanting to get married also love each other and are committed to each other?”

First let me say that I think the world of Dan and consider him an extremely wise voice in the greater Christian community. I’ve had to chance to hang out with on a few occasions and I have a great respect for the man. Additionally, I don’t want to assume Dan’s position on SSM as it relates to Prop 8 or civil rights. I’m just addressing this question and not Dan’s overall position, whatever that may be…..and I’ll leave that up to him to communicate.

So with that said, and before I try to answer Dan’s questions, I want to point out that I think the question leaves some pretty big stones unturned. First, our society as a whole (Christians included) has already accepted that marriage today is not the same as marriage was when the bible was written. For example, we’ve already discarded polygamy as a valid form of marriage, which was not prohibited, across the board, for all members of the church in the NT. Another example would be that divorce has become commonplace and increasingly accepted, even within the Christian community. So if one is to say that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman, forever, they have come to that conclusion while relying largely on their own rationale derived from experience and cultural understanding, not from a strict adherence to what the scriptures say on these various matters. If this isn’t the case, then why aren’t proponents of this view doing all they can to legislate an end to the entire concept of divorce, along with banning same-sex marriage. If one shares the view of “one man, one woman” but doesn’t fight to eliminate any kind of marital practice that deviates from that formula, then “definitions” obviously don’t matter a whole lot… least when it comes to heterosexual, post-biblical marriage practices. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it’s as simple as gay sexual relations being perceived as inherently “naughtier” than heterosexuals who commits adultery by entering into multiple marriages (or the more snappier name, “polygamy in intervals”). If definitions were that important, that battle would have been fought a long time ago.

Another issue this question doesn’t consider is the way in which consensus forms our understandings of what constitutes valid marriage practices. Polygamy as an issue has been around a very long time. We’ve come to the place we are today because of a consensus that has been built over thousands of years. As the status of women in the world has risen, the practice of polygamy has plummeted. There has been a pretty overwhelming sense that polygamy is not a healthy marital practice and that consensus has maintained itself for hundreds of years, proving to be very sturdy. On the other hand, it seems that the consensus on same-sex marriage is in serious trouble, and I don’t think it’s shakiness is any kind of fluke. Even within the different generations of Christians today, we can find pretty significant differences on the various perspectives with the younger generations being more affirming than their elders.

So to answer Dan’s question, in my opinion, it’s very reasonable to deny the validity of polygamy while affirming the validity of SSM. Polygamy, as it stands in the mainstream culture of marriage, is already dead and buried and it’s not coming back. You can put together the most effective and convincing argument for polygamy and spend billions of dollars promoting your argument and it wouldn’t change a damn thing. It’s been rejected because whatever argument you come up with can’t breakthrough the negative, demeaning experiences of human beings that polygamy has left in its wake. On the other hand, SSM isn’t facing the same stiff opposition. Yeah, it confronts the dogma and certainty of many, but those certainties are sinking in the face of experience and empathy for our gay brothers and sisters who want to be accepted and have their relationships honored like everyone elses. The success of the opponents to SSM won’t hinge on whether they can convince you it’s inherently wrong. Their success will come from the ability to show that the overwhelming majority of experiences of those involved in or touched by SSM have proven to be hurtful and devaluing.

(Update: It seems that Dan’s post that I referenced has been taken down. Sorry for the dead link.)

4 thoughts on “Gays In The Church Part 3: The Slippery Slope

  1. Hey again Zach!

    Just read this – and for clarification, our church never mentioned Prop 8, nor did I talk about it or publicly support it. I also see a distinction of biblically defined “marriage” and the rights for someone to get married as sanctioned by the state if they want to. I was interviewed in our local newspaper during the Prop * time period and said something to the sort of that as a church we believe God gave people minds to think and we do not get at all into propositions or voting. Or else where to do even stop with what ? What about propositions about the environment, schools etc. So our church did not get involved in the whole Prop 8 discussion as other churches did.

    With that old blog post from around a year ago you quoted me from, I think it was. I took it down a long time ago because the comments were getting weird on it and not helpful to the question I raised. But I still wouldn’t put polygamy out there too far as not being a reality one day. In your own state of Arizona in last year’s election the Libertarian candidate stated in his issues that he wanted to see polygamy legal. In various parts of the world, polygamy is legal. In the Bible we saw examples of polygamy. The whole Mormon world has the shadow of polygamy as a reality in it, and the theme of the HBO show “Big Love” is all about polygamy. Hugh Hefner sets up a polygamous girlfriend world for himself. What if Hugh one day said he wanted to marry his 2 girlfriends in a lifelong committment?

    But whether it is a forthcoming reality in the USA in a serious way or not – I’d be interested in why you would deny rights to a polygamous couple (what word do you use for a polygamous group?) who were consenting adults, and were in a serious committed polygamous relationship wanting to be married for life together and commit their realtionship in marriage to one another? (I am not saying I agree with that, which I don’t), but theoretically why stop the expansion of the term marriage to only two people – where in history and in other places in the world polygamous marriage is already a reality. And in your own state there are at least some who want to see that happen as one of their issues they stand for politically?

    More thoughts! Always enjoy thinking with you.

    Green Day 4ever,


  2. Dan, thanks for the comment. Always good to have you drop by. A short answer to your question would be that I wouldn’t try to deny the rights of the kind of polygamous relationship you’ve outlined. You’re right in that there are folks who want it legalized and in a sense, they are already pseudo-legal as long as all the parties involved are adults. Unless there are polygamous arrangements that are suspected to involve minors, the prohibition of plural marriage isn’t really pursued by those enforcing the law.

    If plural marriage was legalized, I suspect it would be the result of a shift in the consensus of our society. The one irony in this case is that polygamy is biblically on the up and up as long as one isn’t a leader in the church. I don’t think this would happen as a result of the same-sex issue. The idea that marriage is being redefined away by a singular definition of marriage just isn’t true. We’ve taken upon ourselves to redefine the way we view marriage, the treatment of women, etc. To put it more simply, we’ve already begun with the redefinition of marriage and it’s continuing to change based on what humans perceive as appropriate ways to be in love. If folks who are opposed to same-sex marriage want to wage a convincing argument, they must show that monogamous, same-sex relationships and families are inherently unhealthy for our society. That is the only way you’ll be convincing. Unfortunately for the conservatives on this issue, I don’t think that’s an argument they are going to win.

  3. Great discussions you have going on-thanks for the patient discourse, the quality of your commenters speaks well for you (including Dan Kimball).

    One thing that might exist in a bit of the “heady” side of discussions of marriage is whether we can dig into marriage from the top down, or from itself on out. Top-down would mean defining marriage as “between a man and woman only,” “between a man and women,” “between two persons who are committed for life to one another,” etc. It simply means drawing it out, then the people in marriage live within those lines, or they do not, and the marriage is ruptured, if not ended.

    The other thought is to examine marriage and see what it is when it is not entirely pre-defined, but instead given name by what happens within it (i’m thinking of David Dark’s comment that community is not a description but a verdict). Perhaps we could examine marriage in that way, and see what comes forth.

    Of course, the second way has a couple of inherent problems, in that there is probably a combo of expectation (top-down definition) of what marriage is when one commits to one (I am married, n.b.). Also, this sort of examination could fall prey to “reader-response” style subjectivism.

    Yet the consideration holds at least something to us, wherever anyone falls in the debate. Looking at marriage in my own locale, there is rampant divorce, domestic abuse, and even bizarre sexual hurt happening even to my friends, and I live and participate in a pretty culturally conservative Christian environment, though I might not fit as cleanly in it. Defined, inside-out by these terms, marriage is FUBAR in this case.

    Yet the issue still lies with many folks, as with myself, who honestly find little (but present) and vague Biblical admonition against homosexual relationships (perhaps the Biblical witness is against homoerotic pederasty in many cases), and who honestly ache for the witness of Jesus being used to enact discrimination, yet struggle to still find Scriptures trustworthy.

    I think this is still the slipperier slope, and grows little from trying to dig inside out in definitions of Biblical/Christ-bearing marriage, save from pulling out hypocrisy in ourselves and others.

    sorry for the long post-this is holy pub discussion material, not comment page scraps…

  4. I think I left a comment on the blog post you wrote a year ago. If I remember correctly, I brought up the discussion that polygamist relationships have a victim. To me the whole gay-marriage argument (from a Christian perspective) comes down to sin. What is sin and why does God want us not to sin?

    I believe, very simply put, that all sin hurts us and/or someone else and therefore keeps us away from God. That’s why lust is a sin because ultimately it hurts ourselves. And that’s why murder is a sin because it hurts someone else. In both of those examples, sin keeps us from being close to God.

    That’s why I don’t believe a loving, homosexual relationship is sin. It (in and of itself) doesn’t hurt either person. Conversely, because polygamy has a victim, I do believe its sin.

    Obviously I’m still thinking through all this and appreciate the candid and patient (great why to describe it Dustin) discussion you, Dan, and others are facilitating.

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