I want to talk about a clip that’s surfaced both on my social media and in my thesis research. Ideologically labeled, “Christian Pastor Destroys Gay Pastor,” it’s a clip of two pastors debating same-sex marriage shortly after the corresponding Supreme Court ruling. To spare you from watching the exchange, I’ve paraphrased their discussion below. 'J' is Dr. Robert Jeffress arguing against gay marriage, and 'C' is Rev. Neil Cazares-Thompson arguing for it.
C: Should the law not protect people who oppose slavery or support interracial marriage?
J: Race is different from sexual choice. My black friend agrees with me.
C: Being gay is a gift from God, it’s not a choice.
J: All sexual activity is a choice. Maybe not inclination though.
C: Christianity has continued to evolve through tradition and our understanding of scripture.
J: God’s word never evolves or changes.
C: God still reveals himself through living beings.
J: God doesn’t contradict himself. Jesus says a man shall leave for a woman, which has been the pattern for 2,000+ years.
C: Marriage wasn’t about a man and a woman loving each other as much as it was about property and men’s domination of women. We have evolved on marriage.
J: It was God’s created plan. It wasn’t about domination, but about one man and one woman. Who are we to say we know better than God?
C: Should we continue slavery, considering it was okay in the Bible?
J: Slavery was never condoned in the Bible. Those who led the fight against slavery were Christians.
Turning away gay customers is inherently not a good thing, and the manner in which the government interferes is something beyond the complexity of this post. Dr. Jeffress asks a loaded question, assuming at least a few things:
- Catering a wedding means supporting the behavior and beliefs of the couple
- Gay marriage is not compatible with Christianity
- Religious beliefs must explicitly inform business practice
- The government’s intervention in this matter is contrary to the first amendment
All of these should be argued in their own right before asking if bakeries should “have their businesses taken away from them.” I would hope that most Americans do not want to live in a “big brother” society. The way to balance that desire with protecting minority groups from unfair abuse is a matter more complex than this post intends to go.
Race vs. Sexuality
No, race and sexuality are not perfectly analogous. But analogies aren’t drawn between things that are the same, they’re drawn between things that are different but offer important similarities to clarify arguments about one or both. Saying these things are different does not nullify Rev. Cazarez-Thompson's analogy.
Orientation vs. Behavior
Sexual orientation is a construct of our society. Even heterosexuality wasn’t really an accepted concept until the 20th century. Rev. Cazares-Thomas implies as much in a different portion of the interview I’m not going over here (complete debate can be found here). First century understanding of same sex sexual behavior is naturally vastly different than ours. Conflating the two understandings is ignorant at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. Without engaging the concepts that make this entire debate function, it’s impossible to convey your belief for or against gay marriage.
Evolution of Religion
Be forewarned: You’re never going to win an argument about this with a fundamentalist. It doesn’t matter if you’re perfectly reasonable and have the perfect case for what is historically provable. Fundamentalism, like extreme liberalism, inherently ignores history in favor of revisionism. It took me a long time to accept this, but the “historical context” they provide for Scripture is little more than a snapshot of a 2,000 year old world with almost zero regard for everything that has happened since. To a fundamentalist, quoting a passage of scripture that sounds relevant has more weight than a rational argument based on thousands of years of tradition and history. The two should go hand in hand.
Instead of discussion divine revelation, however, I want to focus on the given examples of religious evolution: marriage and slavery.
Example A: Marriage
It was over a millennium after Jesus death that marriage for love began to become a thing—and that was only in Europe. In the Middle East and India today, love marriages are either unpopular or considered socially unacceptable.
Believing that the current Fundamental Baptist ideal for marriage has always been God’s plan and it’s always been that way is absurd. Many marriages in the Bible have components that are not acceptable today, especially when it comes to women. Polygamy, anyone?
And let me say how frustrating the How do we know better than God? reasoning is. The only way we can hope to perceive or understand the nature or mere possibility of a deity is through ourselves. We sense, observe, and interpret. How do we know better than God? ends up being a lazy rhetorical device used to shut down legitimate discussion on moral issues. I’ve seen it many times. The more subjects you put beyond the possibility of debate, the easier it is to control people with unwavering dogmatism.
Example B: Slavery
Go read Exodus Chapter 21. The entire passage assumes slavery is not only acceptable, but a natural part of life. There’s even a rule says you shouldn’t be punished for physically assaulting your slaves unless they die from the attack. No Christian would support that today, but many of them would happily quote Leviticus to delegitimize same-sex romantic love.
I’ve listened to pastors and other Christians try to explain why the Bible doesn’t support slavery, but all it took was one step back to realize how tenuous those arguments are. The Bible never celebrated the institution of slavery, of course, but its writers provided a framework in Christians could interact with it (see Paul’s letters). Likewise, the Bible certainly never advocated for abolition of slavery. And while many abolitionists were Christians, so were their pro-slavery counterparts. Both sides argued their position from scripture. Both sides declared God was on their side. And one side was wrong.
There are cases to be made for both positions reflected in the original video. And while I don’t think either advocate got a chance to fully explain his position, I contend that Dr. Jeffress’s arguments are deceptive, inaccurate, or both.