Introduction by Dan
Full disclosure – pastor Ryan Bauers is a good friend of mine, my brother-from-another-mother. I’ve mentioned him numerous times on What the Faith, and if any human being can be credited for my transition from skeptic to believer, it’s him. Ryan’s been a full-time pastor for over thirteen years, and his intelligence, insight, patience, and humor have been a crazy blessing for the folks who attend Hillside Church in Duluth Minnesota, where he and his beautiful wife Krista have served as the lead pastors for the last eleven years. I’m honored to present him as the first guest blogger on What the Faith, and I hope you guys enjoy reading his article as much as I enjoyed publishing it.
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“Why I, as a committed Christian and ordained pastor will Vote “NO”, against the Minnesota Marriage Amendment and encourage others to as well.”
By Rev. Ryan J Bauers, Lead Pastor, Hillside Church, Duluth MN
An Amendment will appear on the ballot this Tuesday, November 6, as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment. The measure would define marriage in the Minnesota Constitution as between one man and one woman in the State. The proposed measure was supported by several legislators, was approved in the House, stalled in the Senate and is now up for public vote. According to supporters, although same-sex marriage is already not recognized in the state, they hope to reinforce this with the proposed Amendment that, if passed, would write in a “traditional definition of marriage” and be very difficult to overturn in the future. For those of us who are Minnesota residents, we will have the opportunity to vote on this Amendment on Tuesday, November 6. A “YES” vote will confirm support for this proposed Amendment to define marriage in this specific way, and a “NO” vote is a vote against this proposed Amendment, leaving the Constitution as it is.
There seems to be a pretty resolute voice of support from many of my friends who are Conservative or Fundamentalist Christians and pastors to Vote “YES” for this Amendment to pass. And, while I completely support their right to express their view and vote their conscience, one might begin to feel that all people of faith take the same stance that they do about the proposed Amendment. Therefore, as a committed Christian and an ordained evangelical pastor who takes the Bible and following Jesus seriously, I want to share a few of the reasons why I will Vote “NO” on Tuesday, November 6, against the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. My hope is to offer an alternate Christian perspective on this issue so that voters who consider their faith a central part of their lives can be informed about this complex issue and vote their conscience with a sense of confidence.
From a more legal perspective:
The proposed Marriage Amendment contradicts the Minnesota Constitution itself and would force everyone to follow a religious definition of marriage at a State level.
As a Christian, I am thankful for the rights given by our State that grant me the freedom to worship as I would like. As passionate as I may be about my faith and about what I believe it offers, I am very much in favor of each person’s individual freedom to choose if and how they worship. One of the great things about our Nation and our State is our ability to choose freely on matters of conscience, and the guarantee to not have other people’s religion or faith forced upon us. The Minnesota Marriage Amendment’s goal is to write a “Biblical” or “Traditional” definition of marriage into the Minnesota Constitution as “only between one man and one woman”. Because this is overtly influenced by a one religious perspective, this directly violates the healthy separation of church and state and would force everyone in the State to follow this very specific, religious definition, whether they are Christian fundamentalists or not.
Article 1, Section 16 of the Minnesota State Constitution itself guarantees that the State cannot or will not impose any single religion’s definition of any one matter on another person or persons. And, I quote, “The right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any man be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any religious or ecclesiastical ministry, against his consent; nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted or any preference given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” (Highlights my own to emphasize)
Even as (or especially as) both a committed Christian and an ordained evangelical pastor, I feel that we desperately need this separation from the State imposing any single religion’s viewpoint on all people, so that our own personal freedoms are not restricted in any way. I would not want someone else’s personal beliefs or religious stance on an issue to be approved by the State as law and forced on my life. I would be very upset if the State imposed a religious agenda demanding that I not be able to visit my sick loved one on his or her death bed nor marry the person of my choosing (or other such things like how many kids I can have or what kind of clothing is appropriate in public). I appreciate these freedoms for my own life and I want them for others as well. I will vote NO because I do not believe that we should adopt a law that would impose a specific, Fundamentalist Christian definition of marriage on a State level.
The proposed Marriage Amendment will restrict the fundamental civil liberties of fellow human beings.
Even though same-sex marriage is already not recognized in the State of Minnesota, supporters of the proposed legislation want to insure against it for a long time. For me as a Christian, a pastor and human being, the question for how I will vote fundamentally comes down to the fact that this will directly further restrict the civil liberties of my friends and fellow human beings. To be clear, voting NO to the Marriage Amendment is in NO WAY a vote for same-sex marriage. However, as stated above, I believe that the State should not restrict the basic freedoms of human beings, especially from a conservative religious vantage point, including a restriction on marriage. Even if a person does not “agree” with same-sex marriage, the State should not be able to tell two consenting adults who are in a life-long committed partnership that they cannot enjoy the same freedoms that I do.
As our Declaration of Independence eloquently describes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We do not live in a Theocracy, nor in a Religious Dictatorship (thank God), nor in a Christian Nation, we live in a Republic whose function is to ensure the basic civil liberties of its people regardless of and separate from religious ideology. These basic civil liberties should include those that allow each of us “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, including the freedom to marry. The State’s responsibility is to protect and even to expand these wonderful, “God-given” and “self-evident” basic rights to its citizens, not to restrict them. I will vote NO on Tuesday in an effort to voice my opinion that civil liberties in this case should be expanded rather than restricted to include only a certain, very conservative religious understanding of marriage.
Much of the information used by the proponents for the Marriage Amendment is rooted in fear and unfounded claims.
The disappointing thing that I have experienced as I have done my own extensive research on this matter is the massive amount of mis-information being presented by proponents of the Marriage Amendment. Their commercials, web sites and ad campaigns rely heavily on creating fear by presenting unrealistic hypothetical scenarios of “what will happen if this Amendment is not passed.” There have been numerous analyses of the claims made by neutral, third-party groups and many of their claims have been found to be inaccurate and misleading because that they relate to a scenario that has nothing to do with the outcome of this Amendment.
One such fear proposed in these ads is that Christians will be “forced” to put up with expanded versions of marriage and that will threaten our personal religious freedoms and impose them on our churches. They claim that if same-sex marriage is eventually legalized then pastors will be forced to marry gay couples in the church. As a pastor of a congregation and someone who has many friends in the GLBT community, I do not see how this is even plausible. First of all, I already have the right to “discriminate” who I am going to perform a marriage ceremony for and who I am not, based on my relationship with them, their connection to our congregation and my personal conviction. People are very understanding if it does not work out for me to perform their wedding ceremony. Second, I can’t see how anyone, especially my friends in the GLBT community, would want to force any pastor to perform a wedding for them. Can you imagine how grouchy a forced pastor would be in this context? Not a very fun ceremony. All of the folks that I know would want someone who supports them as a couple and believes in the sacredness of their relationship to perform their wedding, not someone who is forced. Additionally, I know pastors who, in their conscience before God after serious prayer and study would be glad to perform a same-sex ceremony. So there is no need to force anyone to do anything they would not want to.
From a more Biblical perspective:
The above arguments could well be enough to convince any American who believes in basic civil liberties to Vote NO on the proposed Marriage Amendment. However, I am going to diverge from the immediate subject of how one might consider voting on the Amendment for a moment, because I would like to address several related topics to bring additional perspective for those who are interested. I do this recognizing one fundamental reality: Voting NO to the Marriage Amendment on Tuesday is in NO WAY a vote for same-sex marriage. And yet, many people of faith are wrestling with questions related to same-sex relationships as they consider how they will vote for this Amendment. My hope is to share some of my thoughts about these particular related issues from a Biblical perspective as a trained theologian and pastor.
Throughout the centuries, embarrassingly, the Bible has been used to support other issues that are now considered outdated; including the ownership of slaves, prohibition against alcohol and a Woman’s right to vote.
Many times, my friends from Conservative and Fundamentalist Christian perspectives will speak of their support of the Marriage Amendment or other related topics as “Biblically obvious” and criticize anyone as unfaithful to Scripture if they happen to see it differently. However, this same attitude has, sadly, been used throughout the centuries to support other, now known-to-be-outdated views of current issues such as: divorce and remarriage, the ownership of slaves, prohibition against alcohol and a woman’s right to vote.
People like myself who are committed to the Bible because we believe it offers a unique and “inspired” interaction between God and humans throughout many centuries need not choose between Biblical faithfulness and a relevant and reasoned understanding of current issues. My Conservative or Fundamentalist friends may call me and people like me who ask questions and reassess issues “not committed to Scripture”, but I would argue that my open-minded position is actually more faithful to Scripture, not less. It is approaching what is supposed to be a sacred text with a deep sense of reverence and humility in an effort to understand the ancient texts from a fresh perspective in a modern setting. It is relating to the Bible like it is really “living and active”, best interpreted with the presence of God’s Spirit and wisdom in a real world setting. It is being willing to give up past-held, even misguided ideas about certain topics and looking at them with fresh eyes in the middle of Biblical context with proper analysis. It is recognizing that we, as fallible human beings, can misinterpret the Bible and misuse it to support things that are not right and further, being willing to apologize and make adjustments when we realize that we have erred (in some cases, gravely so).
There are many thoughtful, serious Christians who believe that the Bible does not prohibit what we know today as monogamous, consensual, same-sex relationships.
In Romans chapters 14 & 15, Paul urges his readers in the early church to give space for disagreement over what he calls “disputable matters”. At the time, these were first order moral issues that these early communities of faith were facing and serious, devout followers of Jesus were staunchly divided over them. In this context, they were fighting over whether a serious Christian could legitimately eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols or not. Some felt in their conscience that it was absolutely fine and no big deal while others felt in their conscience that there was no way that they would ever be caught doing so. These “debatable issues” did not include central issues of orthodoxy, creed or dogma that everyone agreed upon since the beginning of Christianity (like the resurrection of Jesus) and subsequently those thing affirmed in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. They did, however, and do to this day, include lesser matters related to conscience and each individual’s response to their personal conviction as they interact with Scripture and hear from the Holy Spirit. These “disputable matters” are issues like: Is killing in war murder? Is it ever appropriate to divorce and remarry? How much consumption by a person constitutes gluttony?
After very careful study of the passages in the Bible that are said to relate to “homosexuality”, it is debatable whether those texts can accurately apply to what we know today as monogamous, loving, consensual, same-sex relationships. Scholars disagree on what these texts actually say about “homosexuality” and how, if at all, they apply in our modern era, causing the topic of homosexuality in general to be a “disputable matter” among Christians (as it is a minor subject in the whole of Scripture and each passage is well debated). Some feel that it is “obvious” that homosexuality is condemned in these passages. However, many scholars are convinced that the Bible is not prohibiting what we know today as monogamous, consensual, same-sex relationships.
So, committed Christians can take the Bible seriously and still be accepting of same-sex couples without violating their conscience, their commitment to the Bible or their Christian faith in any way. After much study and prayer, I am convinced that it is not an “obvious” or black and white issue, but one that is significantly complicated, nuanced and open to disagreement between serious Christians. Wouldn’t it be nice, in this day and age of such polarization in politics and worldviews, if we could learn from Saint Paul and realize that certainty was not always the aim of the Bible, but rather it was unity, love and humility? How much better would our world and our faith communities be, if we did not allow peripheral, “disputable” matters to divide us, but like the early church we kept the main thing the main thing and united over learning to love God and love others?!
The possibility of same-sex marriage does not threaten the “sanctity of marriage”.
One of the arguments by proponents for the Marriage Amendment as to why they are convinced that everyone should vote “YES” to pass it, is that they argue that doing away with the “traditional” or “Biblical” definition of marriage will destroy the sanctity of marriage (it will taint it) and subsequently disrupt the family system as we know it.
As an ordained evangelical pastor who has led premarital counseling and performed countless wedding ceremonies, I recognize how sacred the word “marriage” is to some people. However, in my personal experience, it is not the State that gives marriage that sacred power, nor is it the Bible itself, but it is the love and commitment shared between two people in the presence of God. My own marriage is not reduced in “sacred-ness”, because some random couple is getting married at the courthouse right now, who may not be ready for marriage and who may divorce in a few days. The sacred aspect of my marriage does not have anything to do with what other people do or think. It has to do with my partner and me, our relationship with God, the commitment that we made on June 12, 1999 and our dedication to live that commitment out faithfully every day. The sacredness of marriage rests on my commitment to making my own marriage sacred and powerful and not in restricting it for others.
Additionally, what those proponents define as the “traditional” or “Biblical” definition of marriage when analyzed through a historical perspective is a minute percentage of the actual relationships and family structures that have existed throughout the centuries. From tribes where more than one parent is involved in the life of each child, to structures where men care for children while the women work, to households where one parent is working outside the home a significant amount of the time, to single family homes, to mixed culture homes, “traditional marriage” does not seem to exist as the norm historically.
A final word
While there is much more that I could say (and may very well in the future) and other articles that you may be advised to read on this subject in addition to this one, the aim of this paper is to share my perspective as a committed Christian and ordained evangelical pastor after a significant amount of research, thought and prayer. I did not come to these opinions easily, nor do I share them lightly. I do hope that by sharing honestly you will find that there are alternative viewpoints that serious, devout Christians take on these complicated issues. I believe that what is desperately needed in this generation are more people committed to the relentless pursuit of truth, however uncomfortable that may be.
May you and I be these people!
References used & suggested reading
One such article outlining some of the misleading information presented on Pro-Marriage Amendment marketing and media:
A thoughtful article from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press by someone who explored and wrestled the issue for a long time and who looks at it from both sides.
The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith
This book reveals the weakness in the modern, North American evangelical perspective on the Bible. It is helpful for those with an evangelical background in seeing that particular, narrow culture from the outside, especially regarding Scripture. It helps to give people a fresh perspective for reading Scripture in a more balanced and, dare I say healthy, context.
Paul Among The People by Sarah Ruden.
The entire book is excellent at making sense of all of Paul’s letters in the context of ancient Greek & Roman culture. The chapter on Homosexuality is especially helpful in flushing out what that Bible refers to when it prohibits homosexuality in the ancient Biblical context. It is historically plausible that Paul’s prohibition against homosexuality was pederasty (married, heterosexual men having intercourse with pre-pubescent boys in the sex temples). It is hard to draw a correlation between this prohibition then and modern day, monogamous, same-sex relationships today.
Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality; Explode the Myths, Heal the Church by Jack Rodgers.
As a Presbyterian minister, a seminary professor emeritus and author, he once opposed homosexuality. Yet, after taking years to study the issue in depth, he shifted from a literalistic method of biblical interpretation (common among evangelical churches, especially those from a Reformed Theological background) and moved to one that sees Scripture through the lens of the redemptive life and ministry of Jesus Christ. This completely changed his outlook on all Biblical texts, especially those referring to homosexuality.
Born Gay by Glenn Wilson & Qazi Rhaman
This book is one of the most comprehensive works that aptly summarizes the modern scientific discoveries regarding sexual orientation. Written by some of the primary researchers in the field and filled with all of the latest available research, this book will help explore the hard science related to the issue.
Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality and Politics by Adam Hamilton.
In the modern era where people are often polarized on two, very hard-line sides of any issue, this book is a refreshing invitation to the middle ground to take a look at both perspectives. As a pastor of one of the largest churches in North America and a Biblical scholar, Adam Hamilton helps his readers journey into some of the most complicated issues that face thoughtful people today and welcomes us to see these issues in a more balanced, nuanced and “gray” way.
The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity by Roger Olsen
This is excellent exploration of the different stances on specific doctrines within the worldwide, historic church. The introduction proves very helpful in that the author established the category distinction between dogma, doctrine and opinion, which is essential in helping to frame something as a “debatable issue”. He demonstrates that serious Christians can have unity over the central Creeds while respectfully agreeing to disagree over a host of other issues.
A Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays
This is an excellent introduction to Moral Theology which many Christians and church leaders are weak in. Hays pitches that the New Testament has a strong bent toward a unified ethical vision. He demonstrates how the New Testament provides moral guidance on the most troubling ethical issues of our time, including violence, divorce, homosexuality and abortion. Even though he takes a traditional approach to homosexuality, he argues that it is an example of a “debatable issue”.