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A Theological Case for Marriage Equality

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On June 26, 2015, the United States made marriage equality legal in its Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Many churches still oppose same-sex relationships, let alone same-sex marriages. They base their belief on a handful of verses from the Old and New Testaments.

First, let us reflect on some of the relationships featured in the Bible. Opposite-sex relationships from the Old Testament include Adam and Eve, Abraham and his two wives Sarah and Hagar, Ruth and Boaz, and David and his multiple wives and concubines. In the New Testament we have Peter and his unnamed wife in the gospels as well as Priscilla and Aquila in the Book of Acts. Potential same-sex relationships from the Bible include Jonathan and David from the Old Testament and Jesus and his beloved disciple in the New Testament. A remarkable amount of people from the New Testament are either single or their marital status is never revealed. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha along with most of the disciples and Paul are just some examples of single or ambiguously married people.

The New Testament portrays a union between two loving, committed people as an ideal marriage. When some Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce, he says, “So they [the married couple] are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6). When two people join together in a committed, loving relationship, they form one unit. The vows between the couple are powerful, but Jesus explains that God is the One who performs the magical union of two human hearts. Two people find each other, but God joins them together. This leads us to ask this question: Can a same-sex couple be blessed by God? When a same-sex couple falls in love, did God have a hand in their union? Or can a blessing and union only take place after a marriage, which has been off limits to same sex couples for most of recorded history?

When the Bible was written, an understanding of homosexuality as we know it today did not exist, according to Matthew Vines in God and the Gay Christian. Sexual orientation was not understood. Instead, people assumed everyone was capable of being attracted to men and women. They did not know that some men are wired to only be attracted to other men and some women are wired to only be attracted to other women.

Interestingly, Jesus never talks about same-sex attraction or same-sex couples in any of the gospels. It is Paul in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy who deems certain sexual acts unacceptable, coining the words malakoi and arsenokoitai to characterize them. These words have been difficult to translate because their context and history cannot be fully determined.

arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9

Word / PhrasesTranslationPublication Year
buggerersGeneva Bible1599
abusers of themselves with mankindKing James Version (KJV)1611
abusers of themselves with menAmerican Standard Version (ASV)1901
sexual pervertsRevised Standard Version (RSV)1952, 1971
homosexualsNew American Standard Bible (NASB)1960
men who have sex with menNew International Version (NIV)1978
sodomitesNew Revised Standard Version (NRSV)1989
anyone practicing homosexualityHolman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)1999
men who practice homosexualityEnglish Standard Version (ESV)2001

In the examples in the above table, notice how the oldest translation do not use the word homosexual, using broader phrases instead: buggerers, abusers of themselves with mankind / men, sexual perverts. Newer translations focus more on actions of gay people instead of identity, describing the so-called sin as “anyone practicing homosexuality,” [emphasis added] as opposed to someone being gay. This seems to imply the translators are more aware that gay people do exist—specifically, gay Christians—and are born that way, but still wish for them to remain celibate and alone for their entire lives, which seems cruel and unreasonable.

Historical and cultural context provide more insight into what malakoi and arsenokoitai probably meant: male masters taking advange of their male slaves, men using male temple prostitutes, and men indulging in sex with other men (sometimes with boys) beyond what they already had with women. None of these scenarios include what we know today as gay women and men in loving, committed relationships.

Which leads us back to the question at hand: Does God approve of same-sex marriage? Our Holy One created humankind. Our Holy One created love. Our Holy One blesses relationships between two people who join together in love, who care for one another as much if not more than they care for themselves. Who does same-sex love hurt? No one. Who hurts if same-sex marriage is banned? Millions. (According to an October 2019 USA Today article, roughly 11 million Americans are LGBTQ.)

Furthermore, Jesus relegates marriage to only a brief time on Earth. When in heaven, people will be children of God or like the angels. They will no longer be married. In Luke Chapter 20, verses 34 and 35, Jesus tells some Sadducees, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;  but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Jesus’ cavalier attitude toward marriage indicates his acceptance that while on Earth, humans will fall in love and want to get married. In heaven, however, such a desire will no longer exist. Being with God will be enough.  Therefore, it stands to reason that Jesus would be accepting of the love between a same-sex couple and would not mind if they were married. They are humans just like straight couples.

It is better to err on the side of love than hate when deciding that marriage equality is blessed by God. The so-called clobber verses from the Old and New Testaments are from a time period and culture that did not fully understand LGBTQ people. Just as the Bible concludes without ever condemning slavery and we now all agree that slavery is wrong, the Bible also concludes without ever blessing marriage equality, even though that is the correct stance with the knowledge we have today. God loves the rainbow. God loves all people. God affirms the humanity of LGBTQ people, and our Holy One blesses same-sex unions.

As my pastor Reverend Lori Walke once said, we should use love to interpret scripture, not scripture to interpret love. Even so, I will conclude with one more verse in which the writer of Song of Solomon attempts to explain the power of love:

Many waters cannot quench love,

    neither can floods drown it.

If one offered for love

    all the wealth of one’s house,

    it would be utterly scorned. (8:7)

In this verse, love trumps everything else on Earth. The love between a same-sex couple is just as powerful, mysterious, valid, and consuming as the love between an opposite-sex couple. If a same-sex couple wishes to marry, they should have that right, afforded to them by their government but also blessed by God.

And just for funsies and a bit of blasphemy, here’s a passage of scripture that doesn’t exist but totally should:


The Gospel according to
Chapter 13: 1-6

1As Jesus and his disciples were passing through Galilee, religious leaders brought before them two men, a Galilean and a Samaritan.

2“These men live together as if they were husband and wife,” the leaders said. “Should we ban them from our city as the law requires?”

3Jesus turned to the men and asked, “Do you love God, your neighbors, and one another?”

4“Yes,” the men said.

5“I will perform your wedding ceremony if no one else will,” Jesus said.

6And the religious leaders and disciples were amazed at what they heard.

GGGG: Dangerous Thinking

Since I came out in 2017, I have read a number of books that attempt to reconcile the clobber verses of the Bible (New Testament & Old Testament) with the reality of gay Christians. Some of these books are more successful than others.* One made good points, but didn’t have the nicest of prose.** In attempt to have a dialogue with my father, I even read a book that took an opposite stance.*** This book was written by an evangelical who at least acknowledged the existence of gay people but still clung to the clobber verses. Few solutions, if any, were offered, other than to pray the gay away (which doesn’t work) and embrace a lifetime of singleness. Enter a new book: Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry, published in 2018. (A book I sometimes accidentally called Gay God, Good Girl!) This time, the author is a professed former lesbian who became a Christian and ultimately married a man and had children with him.

I read this book wanting to know if Jackie’s story was any different from some of the others I had already heard. Jackie’s childhood was marked by two men who hurt her: her deadbeat father who abandoned her and a teenage relative who abused her. Consequently, she didn’t trust men. The rest of her childhood and adolescence is somewhat unclear. She mentions having feelings for girls at a young age, and she says she never liked girly things. When her mom asks her if she is gay when she is around 18, Jackie admits she is. She finds a girlfriend who introduces her to marijuana but also love. While Jackie seems to know about the Bible and some of the clobber verses, she apparently did not go to church much and was not a Christian. Late one night, she has a spiritual experience, feeling a mixture of God and guilt, and decides she must break up with her girlfriend and pursue a conservative path of Christianity.

Jackie is honest that her feelings for women did not go away. She still finds them attractive, but she remakes her physical appearance to be more feminine. Once a tomboy who dressed in tight sports bras and baggy jeans, she tries wearing a normal bra and clothes to highlight her curves. Jackie now dubs her feelings for women a temptation. She finds a woman on YouTube from Los Angeles and decides she wants to be discipled by her, and amazingly this stranger agrees! Jackie starts writing and performing poetry about her journey.

It’s in LA that she meets her future husband, Preston. He too is a poet, and their relationship starts as a friendship. Since he is nice to her, she decides she was wrong about men. She finds herself being to drawn to his personality, but she is repulsed by his facial hair and his largeness. She misses hugging women who are more her size. Still, she stays with Preston and tries to make their relationship work, even moving to Chicago to be with him. It’s never quite clear how open Jackie was with him about her lesbian past, and Jackie never seems to realize there is a chance she could simply be bisexual.

Whenever I have heard an evangelical say that gays / lesbians can change their ways and marry someone from the opposite sex, I sigh. I am 100% gay. I can recognize female beauty, and I can be friends with women, but I am not programmed to have romantic feelings for them, no matter how hard I try. So any time an evangelical trots out an example of someone like Jackie or Mike Goeke, I categorize those people as bisexual, not someone who was able to stop being gay.

But based on what Jackie writes, it seems she might actually be a genuine lesbian. She married a man, sure, and she has two children with him, yes, but a ring on the finger does not make someone straight. Sexual orientation is based on the interior, not the exterior. So no matter how much makeup Jackie wears or how many frilly dresses she buys, she cannot change her feelings for women. In chapter 13, Jackie says, “Loving women was an easy thing for me. I didn’t have to work to give them me. They could have it all–my unhidden tears, my untold stories, my freest self” (136). This reminds me of when I first came out. I had tried dating women and put off kissing them as long as possible. When it did happen, I didn’t enjoy it. I recoiled. I wondered why every couple on TV and film seemed to enjoy kissing. But then I started dating men. And when I kissed a man for the first time, a light bulb went off. It felt good and natural and wonderful. Oh! Now I understand kissing, I thought. Jackie experiences pain and frustration in trying to form a relationship with Preston. Her inability to live authentically is a recipe for disaster that other queer Christians might attempt to follow.

Part Three of the book shifts away from Jackie’s story as she attempts (and fails) to provide guidance for LGBTQ Christians. She falls into the same line of thinking of most evangelicals. First of all instead of calling people gay or queer, she says they have same-sex attraction (SSA). This tactic steals the identities of countless people who choose to identify as lesbian or gay. Evangelicals weaponize language when they use the term SSA. It removes a sexual identity that many people proudly claim and replaces it with something that is sterile and sounds like a disease or affliction. In their line of (wrong) thinking, you can’t stop being gay, but you can control or deny your same-sex attraction. At least Jackie also uses the phrase “opposite sex attraction,” something I have joked about before but have never seen in a book.

Second, Jackie thinks the gay can be prayed away. It can’t. Conversion therapy has been shown to be not only ineffective but also damaging. A person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed, and her retelling of the story from the Bible about Jesus giving a blind man his sight does not prove that gays can become straight.

Third, Jackie says that since Jesus endured the cross and all that came with it, gay Christians should endure their feelings and not act on them for their entire lives. This line of thinking is incredible to me. Humans were created for relationship. No one should have to live a life of solitude. Everyone should have a chance at romance. Nevertheless, Jackie writes:

Obedience for those who are [gay] deals in the terrifying because it means to deny the body of what often feels as natural as smiling. . . . It’s a real affection experienced by real people. So when commanded not to act out on these affections, even when they pulse through the body loud enough to make a sound, it takes an unearthly commitment to self-denial.

Gay Girl, Good Good, page 170

I tried this approach until I was 34. I knew I had feelings for guys when I was in high school, maybe even junior high, but I never allowed myself to act on them. I thought they were a phase, that they would go away with time. I just needed to meet the right woman, I reasoned. That never happened. As the years passed, and more and more of my friends got married, I found myself feeling lonelier and lonelier. I told myself I would come out during my Jesus year when I was 33, but I couldn’t find the courage. When I turned 34, I felt hopeless, like I had missed my chance to come out. For years, I had spent my free time by hanging out with friends, playing video games, and watching TV. I spent a lot of evenings and weekends sponsoring student council events. I filled up my life to keep myself from being so lonely, but I finally decided I couldn’t do that anymore. I wanted a chance at love, and I knew if I were to find it, it would be with a man and not a woman. I came out. And my life has been so much better ever since I started living authentically. I wish I could go back in time and come out sooner. I wish I could tell teenage me that I didn’t have to deny my feelings, that they would never go away, to just embrace them and my true self.

So for Jackie to tell gay Christians to deny their feelings is very much in line with evangelical beliefs, but I also know how toxic and wrong such thinking is. Gay Girl, Good God is a memoir grounded in dangerous thinking
and muddled by fragmentary prose, rehashing the same tired evangelical arguments that gays and lesbians must change their sexual orientation in order to find love in this world.

*Gushee, David. Changing Our Mind. © 2017.
*Jennings, Jr., Theodore W. The Man Jesus Loved. Nonfiction. © 2009.
*Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian. © 2014.

**McQueen, Scott. Reasonable Doubt: a Case for LGBT Inclusion in the Institutions of Marriage and Church. © 2018.

***Hubbard, Peter. Love Into Light: the Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church. © 2013.

Response to Marcia, Marcia, Millennials!

I used to subscribe to the Baptist Messenger (BM), the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s weekly newsletter, back when I was a member of a Southern Baptist Church. Even after I left the SBC for the UCC, I continued to get this newsletter, so I could read my dad’s weekly column in his church’s wrap that surrounded the BM. Earlier this year, the BM discontinued the wrap service to all Oklahoma churches, and they also scaled back from weekly issues to biweekly ones. I helped my dad figure out some ways to get his weekly column out to the world since the wrap service was discontinued. It no longer made sense to subscribe to the BM, and my dad assured me he would get me removed from the mailing list. I still keep receiving issues, though, and I can’t help but read the editor’s column, “Sword & Trowel.” Like a moth to a flame, I find myself drawn to a conservative, evangelical man’s opinions about the world, almost certain he will write something I find offensive or misguided.

In the March 21 BM issue, Brian Hobbs shares some facts and opinions about Generation Z in his “Marcia, Marcia, millenials!” column. Hobbs mainly just copied and pasted direct quotes from this Facts & Trends article from September 2017, including this one about Generation Z:

They’re more accepting of sexual fluidity. Gen Z supports gay marriage and transgender rights. For them, such things are part of everyday life. It would be rare for a Z to not have a friend from the LGBT community. “

The implication here is that gay marriage and transgender rights are not part of everyday life for evangelicals who oppose these things. I don’t see the SBC moving to an affirming stance on LBGTQ+ people in my lifetime. What I do see happening is people from the SBC learning more about queer people from media, friends, and family. There are lots of queer characters in television and movies. The popularity of Queer Eye, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Schitt’s Creek cannot be denied. Plenty of evangelicals have family members who are queer, out or closeted, whether those evangelicals are open about it or not. I would argue that Boomers and Gen X and Millennials also have a very high chance of having a friend from the LGBT community. It’s just that that friend might be closeted or in a mixed-orientation marriage.

Hobbs did not have enough room to share the rest of the Facts & Trends quote on Gen Z and sexuality, which goes on to say:

Additionally, a 2016 survey of gender and sexuality by J. Walter Thompson Company, a New York-based marketing firm, found only 48 percent of those 13 to 20 years old described themselves as “completely heterosexual,” compared to 65 percent of those 21 to 34.

In his book, White describes the Gen Z attitude as “an increasing sexual fluidity that refuses either the homosexual or heterosexual label. The idea is that both labels are repressive.”

To me, it seems these people are not sexually fluid, but are rather bisexual or pansexual. I have met bisexual men and women. Our culture doesn’t get a lot depictions in media of bisexual people, but I have read from multiple sources that bisexual people are the biggest group in the queer/LGBTQ+ family. I learned earlier this year on Twitter that even Mr. Rogers confessed to finding both women and men attractive! Just because a person says they aren’t completely straight or gay does not make them “fluid.” It makes them bi. Or pan. (Right?)

At the end of his column, Hobbs reflects on the seven facts about Generation Z he shared. He writes:

“[G]rowing up in a culture that embraces the LGBT worldview, as well as full exposure to pornography, will undermine the biblical sexual ethic and wreck lives. As Christians, though, we know that the world’s sexual ethic makes empty promises, and God’s plan is the only authentic and fulfilling way. “

I correctly predicted that Hobbs would attack LGBT people in yet another column. As a gay Christian, I worry about the hurt caused by writing like this. I worry about the LGBT teenagers and adults who are members of evangelical churches like the SBC.

Let’s unpack what Hobbs wrote. First of all, I would like to know what he means by “the LGBT worldview.” Is this one in which LGBT people are free from bigotry and hate? One in which they are free to love and marry who they choose? One in which they are granted civil rights? Moreover, if there is an LGBT worldview, it seems there might be a straight worldview. What is that like? One in which every person on earth is straight? And only straight people are given civil rights?

Hobbs links LGBT people with pornography in his first sentence. LGBT people do not choose to be LGBT. It is their identity. Pornography has to be chosen to watch. There’s way more straight porn in the world than there is queer porn. Also, what does Hobbs mean by “full exposure to pornography”?

Hobbs also uses the phrase “biblical sexual ethic,” which is problematic because there are plenty of scenarios from the Bible (like David and his concubines and Lot sleeping with his two daughters) that are not one man + one woman.

Hobbs posits this untrue formula: LGBT worldview + pornography = wrecked lives. I’ll tell you what kept me in the closet until I was 34. Crockery like this. The SBC made me feel that I had to keep my gay identity a secret. That I was unworthy to be my true self. I’ve now been out for two years, and I’m still figuring out the dating world. I feel free and happy to be who I am, and I’m glad I have a church home at Mayflower Congregational UCC that is affirming. The SBC did not wreck my life, but it did delay my love life.

Hobbs concludes by saying God’s plan is good and the world’s sexual ethic is bad. Who is Hobbs to speak for God? Who is Hobbs to say what God approves? What exactly is God’s plan exactly for sexuality? I have now read numerous books on this topic, and I am comfortable living as both a Christian and a gay man. I claim them both as my identities.

A Pharisee Takes the Cake Away


As the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, I get my father’s church’s newsletter, which is wrapped around The Baptist Messenger, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s weekly newspaper. My father writes a weekly column for his church called “Rejoice!,” something he has been doing for over thirty years. Dad usually writes a story about his dog and then applies a biblical principle to Freckles. I enjoy Dad’s columns.

As a queer Christian (gay, to be specific), I usually read with dread and sometimes anger the weekly column “Conventional Thinking” in The Baptist Messenger by the editor, Brian Hobbs. Like me, Brian is a man in his thirties, and I used to attend the same church he did. I never talked to him, but I recognized him from his picture in the newspaper. I sat alone in the balcony, and Brian sat with his wife and children. Brian usually writes about a current cultural event like the recent medical marijuana bill or the #MeToo movement in the Southern Baptist Convention.

This week, Brian returned to one of his favorite topics: homosexuals. Southern Baptists are entrenched in their view that homosexuality is a sin. They use a handful of verses from the Bible to condemn a group of people and then move along with their spiritual lives.

But I want to slow down for a second. When I was raised as an evangelical / Southern Baptist, I was taught that the Bible was 100% true, so I could trust anything that is said. Things got complicated as I grew older and realized I was gay. I still viewed myself as a Christian, but I felt I couldn’t exist as a gay man at the same time because the Bible said homosexuality was a sin. However, in 2018, we know and accept some things that the writers of the Bible do not. The sun, not the Earth, is the center of our solar system. The Bible concludes without ever condemning slavery, but we all take it for granted now that slavery is wrong. And people’s sexual orientation cannot be changed. That’s why groups like Exodus International no longer exist. That’s why many states have started to ban ex-gay therapy. Not only does it not work, it can be very harmful. Some Christians have even attempted or committed suicide because of their queer / LGBT orientation.

Which leads me to this question for Brian Hobbs: What should queer people do? Live in celibacy for their entire lives? Praying away the gay doesn’t work. Trying to date someone of the opposite sex doesn’t work. (Although I know of some people who have tried this and ended up in mixed-orientation marriages. Some stay. Some leave.) It seems to me that queer people should be able to pursue a relationship with someone. Otherwise, you are sentencing a person to a lifetime of solitude simply for existing with a sexual orientation that emerged and cannot be changed. It’s easy for a straight man like Brian to celebrate gays not getting to buy a wedding cake, but I would really like to know how he expects actual gay people to navigate the world. Has Mr. Hobbs ever met a gay person? A gay couple? A gay Christian? A gay Christian couple? Would he approve of a celibate gay relationship, those who follow Side B of the gay Christian debate?

In Brian’s article, he praises the Supreme Court for siding with the “devout Christian” cake artist who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. I wonder if the cake artist interviews all of his customers to find out if they have sinned before he bakes them a cake. If someone is remarrying after a divorce, will he still make them a cake? [Matthew 5:32] I have a hunch he only targets same-sex couples. Everyone else is free from his judgment as long as they are an opposite-sex couple. (Does he ask all his customers if they are bisexual? An opposite-sex couple may actually include one or both members having a bisexual orientation, but because they have the appearance of looking straight, that’s probably enough for the cake artist.) This Supreme Court decision makes it seem like discrimination against queer people is okay. “You should tolerate my intolerance,” the baker argues, and America’s Supreme Court said, “Okay.” How disappointing.

It would be one thing if a gay couple sued a church for refusing to marry them. I get that. A church is a religious institution, and they should get to abide by their beliefs. Religious liberty should apply then. But cake? Wedding cake is not religious. A bakery is not religious. Church services are not held in bakeries. Last I checked, Jesus never spoke about the mystical properties of wedding cake. Nothing magical or religious happens when a couple shares or eats their wedding cake. It is flour and sugar and eggs. Wedding cake is not a sacrament. It should not be covered by religious liberty, which in some cases seems more like bigotry.

Brian Hobbs claims that the Masterpiece Cake Shop decision was “right, for [cake artist] Phillips and for all Americans” [emphasis added]. Clearly, this isn’t true. A segment of society exists that is queer that now has the right to marry. Queer people / LGBT people / Homosexuals exist. Treating us like second-class citizens will not make us disappear. Condemning this group of people sounds like something a Pharisee would do, not Jesus. In my heart of hearts, I believe Jesus would make a cake for a same-sex couple. He would attend a same-sex wedding. The Pharisees were caught up in the minutiae of laws. Jesus applied the spirit of the law, and He did so with love.

Brian Hobbs titled his column “Liberty takes the cake.” By doing so, he makes a joke, a pun out of the fact that the religious liberty argument was held up in the Supreme Court and is therefore something to be celebrated, but also quite literally, the cake artist got to take a wedding cake away from a gay couple who just wanted the standard dessert used by thousands of Americans to celebrate a momentous day. That Hobbs would mock this gay couple reveals his view that queer people are less-than, that they are not deserving of kindness, that God is on the side of the cake artist and not the queer couple. Brian Hobbs is a Southern Baptist, and he is also a Pharisee.

A column like Hobbs’s affirms my decision to leave the Southern Baptist church for the United Church of Christ, a progressive and affirming denomination welcoming of all people, including queer ones. If you live in the Oklahoma City area, you should check out Mayflower Congregational UCC, where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

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