Thoughts on Amendment 1, Billy Graham, and The Continuing Conversation

Lately I have been more forthright in my position on the ethical legitimacy of homosexuality. Indeed, my feelings on the subject get stronger with each year that passes and especially as old debate points and arguments continue to get recycled even in light of the work that's been done on the other side. Indeed, it's not people's position that bothers me as much as it is their ignorance of the scope of what has already been argued. For example, it wasn't long ago that I heard someone say, "can anybody argue against Romans 1?!" as if the answer should be that nobody can and nobody has done so because it's so clear and simple. But therein lies the ignorance. The fact is, pretty much EVERYONE has argued against Romans 1 and there's little simplicity or clarity to the matter. Everyone who's bothered to deal with the issue has addressed Romans 1 because it is perhaps the most problematic passage regarding the issue. But, nevertheless, the argument has been made (for example, see my post in The Bible And Homosexuality)--regardless of whether or not one agrees with it--and the issue should be discussed accordingly, that is with sensitivity to the range of conflicting arguments. In fact, the arguments are out there concerning any and every verse or passage that one could bring up, so the issue cannot be oversimplified. Clarity is not as easy to come by as some have made it out to be.

Although I am frustrated by the arguments that come from ignorance, I am more patient than some with the variety of sensitive and robust biblical arguments against the legitimacy of homosexuality (and sorry liberals, but there are at least a few). Though I disagree, I think I still have a grasp on where people are coming from. I can hear their position and as such, I try to be a unifying voice wherever possible rather than a polarizing voice. We are, in fact, all members of the same body, the same family--Evangelicals and main-liners alike--and we should not give up on one another.

Whatever the case, though I was not surprised, I was disappointed to hear of the passing of North Carolina's recent Amendment 1, a discriminatory constitutional ban on gay marriage in the state (similar to the infamous California Proposition 8). I was disappointed because of how the church has responded to the gay community and for a variety of other reasons. I think that the church has mixed up its definitions. We have allowed our understanding of marriage to be limited to the definitions of state governments when, I hope, our definition involves much more--including the reflection of God's image through the uniting of two people and two families and a sacred covenant between God and God's people (some things the state just wouldn't understand). What gay people are asking for is access to the same governmental state rights as so-called straight people when it comes to their relationships. A loving response, regardless of how we feel about the biblical ethical legitimacy of those relationships, would be to give them those rights and then deal with the ethics accordingly. Why should the church deny them those state rights on the basis of marriage definitions when the church and the state are talking about two very different things from the start? The church has flexed its religious power in the arena of state governance and I find that to be unethical and especially un-Christlike. We need to have a relationship with the gay community before we start speaking to their conduct. We need to earn the right to speak into their lives... that's the loving thing to do... before we go legislating their lives and their futures and their social-status. As such, by such legislation, the church has become a politically oppressive force, wielding our political power to rule over the moral lives of others. It's not even about the morality or immorality of homosexual relationships, it's about the church and its power and the wielding of that power.

Perhaps more disappointing to me than the passing of Amendment 1 was the way Billy Graham, a hero of the church in our time and an historically unifying figure in the public sphere, responded to the situation. These were his words regarding Amendment 1:
"I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage. The Bible is clear -- God's definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment ... Watching the moral decline of our country causes me great concern. I believe the home and marriage is the foundation of our society and must be protected."
Really Billy?! Why are you doing this to yourself?!

Now, I'm not surprised at his position. He's 93 years old, after all. What surprises me is his ignorance and his lack of grace. Now, this may just show my own ignorance regarding Billy's political career, but I would not have expected Billy Graham to say something so polarizing. I would have expected him to listen and hear the other side, to lovingly disagree, and then to advocate the reconciliation between the gay community and the church. But he did the opposite.

He didn't hear a word from the other side... really Billy?! You "never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage"? I thought you'd been around the block enough times to know that we would. Anyone who has actually taken the time to read and absorb the scope of the conversation knows that the Bible is anything but clear on this particular subject. Quote a verse in regards to homosexuality and there'll be volumes of polarizing discussions regarding its meaning. Clarity has certainly not been reached in this discussion, even if Billy Graham's superior intellect has made it seem clear to him. Rather than disagreeing graciously and lovingly, he refers to the lives of gay people as part of the "moral decline of our country." That's anything but loving, even if it is merely a characteristic of Billy's generation. And rather than advocate for reconciliation, he implied that gay people are enemies of "the home and marriage" from which we should be "protected." Now them's fightin' words... anything but reconciling.

I love him. I respect him. I'll still remember him for his better moments. But Billy is behind the times. Not in his position or his opinion but in his approach. We are beyond polarizing oversimplifications and false claims to biblical clarity. We are beyond slanderous implications of exaggerated social dangers. We are beyond the "us vs. them" battles. The conversation now must be graciously and intellectually compassionate and it must on some level involve the reconciliation of the church to the gay community. Because even if the conservatives win the biblical argument, without relationship and love that will be their only victory.


Robin Dugall said…
you've been making some great posts lately bud..proud of you...I wish we could hang out and have some deeper conversations...we take similar paths exegetically and hermeneutically but come to divergent destinations. My only "push back" about your conclusion about Billy is your comment about "behind the times"...anybody can use that argument about any "older" perspective...including Jesus, Paul, anything from scripture for that matter...contrasting our "enlightened" world with those voices from the past is a bit intellectually and theologically arrogant. but I'm just love bro! Can't wait to see what the Lord is going to do with your intellectual journey!
wellis68 said…
Thanks Robin,
That's fair enough "push back." I've been hearing a lot of people using "behind the times" in reference to the position against homosexuality. I was merely trying to contrast that in a way by saying that it's not the position that's so behind the times, indeed there are good arguments on that side (with which I disagree), but it's the approach that's behind the times. But you're right "behind the times" isn't always fair and we should avoid using the term as a debate strategy.

Thanks for your comment and for your grace.

Unknown said…
Like Robin, I believe you and I have much in common. We seem to approach exegesis similarly, grace similarly, and unity similarly. As you know, we see this issue (gay marriage) slightly different. What I always enjoy is your open ear and desire to be unified wherever possible. Your assessment about polarizing comments was insightful, but is there room for bold statements on issues we see as complicated? Differing and good opinions exist on the future coarse of history within evangelical and mainline circles. The immediate impact of varying opinions has limited (exceptions being doomsday predictors) effect on our daily course of action. But an opinion regarding gay marriage (good scholarship on both sides aside) would have large and immediate effects on daily life. Would you say this is the reason there continues to be such boldness? Or just ignorance? Honest question.
wellis68 said…
Unknown (and I appologize for forgetting exactly who this is, though I have a theory),

You're right about the immediate impact of this issue. Indeed, an appropriate sense of urgency is necessary. On one side, it's people's rights and dignity on the line and on the other side it's the authority of scripture and the moral fabric of society that's at risk. Definitely an immediate concern. This, no doubt, increases the temptation to be bold, to be polarizing, to "take a stand." But I think that both sides need to dial it down a few notches if we're actually going to get anywhere as a church. Of course we could just split and fragment and oppose one another, but that doesn't seem like an acceptable option in light of Christ's unifying work on the cross. I think that bold disagreement can be done respectfully and without oversimplifying the issue. Boldness is different than ignorance.

There's definitely room for MUCH more discussion here and I appreciate the honest question. I'm definitely wrestling with it. I even feel guilty sometimes for my hesitation to be even more bold as an advocate for the gay community but I have to balance that with my conviction that I am called to love the church and build bridges therein. Thus, I try to keep myself open to those with whom I disagree. It's a difficult balance (especially in my context) and one at which I frequently struggle.

Thanks again for commenting!

Unknown said…
I don't know why it didn't put my name down - Rudy
I think the "authority of scripture" complaint can be shelved with appropriate exegesis. See my blog post and its links: As for the "moral fabric of society," John Edwards, Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian, and a host of others are doing more to make a mockery of "traditional marriage" than my various gay and lesbian friends in committed relationships, some of whom have been fortunate enough actually to marry. As always, Wes, I appreciate your delicate balancing act, especially within your context. And certainly the rhetoric needs to be dialed down; the surest way to derail constructive discussion is to declare "rights." But as you can tell from my blog, I'm starting to get annoyed with the last-ditch heels-digging-in.
wellis68 said…
I'm with you. And I agree that the "authority" argument as well as the "moral fabric" one can be dismissed. But nevertheless, those explain the desperation of the argument as well as the sense of urgency. I enjoyed reading your post... I always enjoy your blog. Thanks for the comment Steve.
As usual, Wes, you're right about the seriousness of those arguments for those who hold them, never mind their accuracy. That IS a big question, isn't it - how does one, with sensitivity but without compromise - challenge and overcome such?
Agent X said…

I just commented on post above, and am only now working my way through some recent posts. I see that I am breaking in on on-going conversations(s) that I have not been a part of. I have not conversed with you in several years, but as I recall, you were then -and seem to be now- open minded and gentle with others when disagreeing.

I must take that tack with you too. I will come out of the closet and say that I do not endorse homosexuality. I see it as sin. I have never seen anyone make argument or exegetical case in the way that I have to come to that conclusion. I have not desire to break that down in this comment either.

However, I appreciate the grace you take with homosexuals and with those of us who hold more traditional views of scripture and faith.

I have homosexual friends. Some are in fact very dear to me. I know they are to God as well. I am certainly not one of those "God hates Fags" protestors. That nonesense is some of the greatest evil I know of.

I think that despite my final conclusion being so different from what I make out to be yours, that I walk a similar path with you at most points of interest along the way. For instance, Christians decrying same-sex marriage are making a mockery of the very institution they seem to defend at the front door with their divorces, remarriages, and blended families at the back door. Too many critics are too dismissive and hurtful, and inconsistant too!

We all need humility as we approach God. And as we approach God in each other. And that means finding God among sinners.

I have no use for banning gay marriage. I have every use for loving each other.

At this point, I see this issue has something in common with most others: How do we proceed in humility, love, and grace with each other on the one hand, and live true to God and his Word (which is also inherently limited by our broken understanding)? No matter how careful you are, and no matter what the "issue", this is the hard part.

Many blessings...

And glad to find you again...