Confronting Senator Portman’s use of scripture to affirm gay marriage

It’s just not credible to think that Jesus meant the Golden Rule as a sanction for sexual immorality.

In short, Portman appeals to at least three biblical doctrines to support his embrace of gay marriage: (1) the love of God, (2) the Golden Rule, and (3) creation. His understanding of all three of those doctrines is distorted at best and calls for a response.

 
Last week Senator Rob Portman announced a dramatic reversal in his views on gay marriage. He cited a number of reasons, but the main catalyst was his son’s coming out of the closet two years ago. As a result of that revelation, Portman says he began to reconsider his own opposition to same-sex marriage. In an op-ed for The Columbus Dispatch, Portman explains:

Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.

At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.

At one level, this announcement is no surprise. Portman is likely the first in a long line of “conservative” politicians who will be realigning their principles in order to match a more liberalized electorate. What caught my eye in Portman’s words, however, was not the politics but the theology. Without question, Portman has reconsidered his views out of a desire to accommodate the news of his son’s homosexuality. But his son’s disclosure led him not only to change his political views, but also his Christian faith. He writes,

I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.

In an op-ed for The Plain Dealer, Portman elaborates a little more specifically on his view of what scripture teaches:

The overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly the Golden Rule, and the fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue.

In short, Portman appeals to at least three biblical doctrines to support his embrace of gay marriage: (1) the love of God, (2) the Golden Rule, and (3) creation. His understanding of all three of those doctrines is distorted at best and calls for a response.

The love of God in scripture never appears as a broad-based sanction of evil behavior. As the apostle Paul famously put it, “love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). Love does not consist in mere sentiment or generic positive feelings toward another person. It is rooted in the truth of God. Thus any “love” that gives a wink and a nod to sin is not love as the Bible defines it.

Likewise, Jesus never intended the Golden Rule to become a permission slip for bad behavior. The Rule appears in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most morally exacting passages in all of scripture. Jesus commands,

Therefore in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. –Matt. 7:12; cf. Luke 6:31

This verse appears in the same sermon that forbids sexual sin (Matt. 5:27-30) and that celebrates righteous living (Matt. 5:6, 16, 48). It’s in the same sermon in which the Lord warns against those who would claim the Christian mantle while fundamentally undermining Christ’s teachings (Matt. 7:21). In this context, it’s just not credible to think that Jesus meant the Golden Rule as a sanction for sexual immorality.

Finally, the doctrine of creation. It is true that God made everything and everyone (Isaiah 44:24). It’s also true that God called His creation “good” and designated human beings as “very good” (Gen. 1:31). But it does not follow from God’s good creation that His creatures can only do “good.” Right after the creation of man in Genesis 1-2 comes the Fall of man in Genesis 3. Sin entered into the world and into man’s heart, and every person from Adam until now is in rebellion against God (Rom. 3:23). As the Preacher put it, “God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Eccl. 7:29). Thus, that God made us does not first imply that He is our Friend but that He is our judge.

Portman’s appeal to scripture is facile and misleading. The attempt to to suppress the particulars of Scripture with an appeal to “overarching themes” is a disastrous hermeneutic–especially when the “overarching themes” themselves are distorted. The Bible does not say what Portman claims it does, and that is why we need to be ready to answer such challenges with biblical truth. Without question, we haven’t heard the the last of challenges like this one.

Denny Burk is Associate Professor of New Testament and Dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminar. He blogs on matters concerning politics, theology and culture. This article is used with his permission.