Should Christians Embrace Gay Marriage?

The issue of gay marriage appears headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices may finally decide if states can bar gay couples from marrying or not. Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage, including Alaska where Rev. Howard Bess lives.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

The phone rang. “This is Ray Briggs. Do you remember me?” The name was familiar, but I could not come up with a face with the name. I had not seen Ray for almost 20 years. However, with a little prompting, I recalled exactly who Ray was.

“Gil and I want to get married. Will you do the job? We figure after 39 years, it is time to get married. We have the license.”

Rainbow flag of the gay-rights movement

Rainbow flag of the gay-rights movement

I felt a special joy in being asked to officiate at a gay marriage that has legal standing. I have performed many uniting ceremonies for gay couples, but this will be the first that will have legal standing. Even though I am no longer the pastor of a church, I suspect that I will be doing more marriage ceremonies for gay couples now that the courts have forced legal standing for gay marriages in Alaska.

In earlier ceremonies, I avoided using the word “marriage.” I was willing to leave that word in the hands of the state. I always used the term “holy union.” At last, I am free legally to use the appropriate word, “marriage.”

The story of Ray and Gil follows a pattern that has come to be very familiar to me. Each knew he was gay from early childhood, but it was a closely guarded secret. Both came from religious backgrounds. Ray tried desperately to be someone that he was not. He joined the U.S. Army when he was 17 and served in the Vietnam/Cambodia theatre.

Under social and family pressure, Ray married an unsuspecting woman. He fathered six children, but the marriage did not work. His wife divorced him and took the children. Honorable military service, marriage and fathering children with a woman did not change Ray. He was still a gay man.

Ray met Gil, a shy young man ten years younger than Ray. They soon moved in together and have been together in a faithful, monogamous relationship for 39 years. Ray has maintained a relationship with his children, and one of his grandsons is planning to be his grandfather’s best man. Ray and Gil left churches long ago.

The story of Ray and Gil is one that has repeated itself over and over again in my career as a Baptist minister and advocate of full acceptance of gay and lesbian people. I could write a long book about the gay couples that I have known and still know here in Alaska’s Matanuska Valley. They live in committed relationships, parent children and lead responsible lives.

The legal recognition of gay marriages is a great milestone in the process of gaining full acceptance of gay persons in our society, but we still have a long way to go. In the Valley, gay families are still largely hidden. Gay couples and their children are fearful of social ostracism and physical abuse. Their fears are not unfounded.

Jesus and the Expendables

We are learning more and more about the social and political structures of the days of Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus’s time and place a desperately poor region then dominated by rich absentee landowners and governed by the Roman Empire there was a large population of peasant farm workers barely existing.

Below the peasants at the bottom of the social and economic ladder were the expendables. Every era has its expendables. They are people who are deemed to be without value, people whom much of society believes are worthless. It is getting more and more apparent to New Testament scholars that expendables were a high priority to Jesus.

Who are the current expendables of our society? They have many faces, but in my career as a Baptist minister, I found “expendables” in abundance in three places. I found them in jails. I found them suffering from long-term mental illnesses, often times institutionalized. I found them among closeted gays, fearing the stigma from letting the broader society know who they were.

I went out of my way to make these “expendables” my friends. Today, people, who are in jail or have been in jail, people who suffer long-term mental illnesses, and gay people like Ray and Gil make up a large portion of my friendship circle. I have listened to long narratives of rejection by family, church, preachers and society in general.

A tragedy is that we have large numbers of “expendables” in a land where Christians and Christian churches are very popular and public. Self-identified Christians make up a majority of Americans, yet the phenomenon of “expendable” neighbors persists. How can we have so many followers of the great friend of expendables in a nation that professes to uphold his values?

Churches —  their preachers and parishioners — are the key to changing these attitudes. But it can be dangerous work for one’s career and reputation. Out of fear and unfounded prejudice, many Christians keep away from “expendables.”

Two millennia ago, powerful people also decided that Jesus was expendable and brutally killed him. Is it possible that we need to re-examine what it means to be a Christian?

Reciting the Apostles’ Creed can be an act of solemn devotion or it can be Christians’ most fraudulent act. I suspect that Christians and people of all religious beliefs joining with “expendables” in the cause of justice for all is the higher and truer standard.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is hdbss@mtaonline.net.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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11 comments for “Should Christians Embrace Gay Marriage?

  1. Aaron Lindahl
    November 21, 2014 at 18:00

    Homosexuality flourished and was accepted by the general public for over 1,300 years within the Greek culture, and for almost 900 years of Roman culture, without causing any ‘downfall’ of civilization as some people today claim will happen if homosexuals are able to get married. Yet, within a little over 100 years after Christians at the time gained political dominance in Rome (‘Christians’ who were utterly unlike the loving and peaceful Christians of the first 300 years of Christianity), and had renamed Byzantium as Constantinople, the entire Classical civilization and culture (the birthplace of our own Western Civilization) collapsed… after they had forbade freedom of religion under pain of death, freedom of thought, shut down the Olympics, the theaters, the gymnasiums, and schools of learning. These were the same sort of self-styled ‘Christians’ who you see today demonizing gay people and attempting to stop them from marrying each other, or being free from their persecution. This is why the Founding Fathers were so wise to separate Church & State.

    They basically killed civic culture as it had been. The cities began to decline and fall into ruin. Public libraries were closed or abandoned since the majority of the citizens within 2 generations had lost the ability to read. Knowledge of sculpture, realistically depicted artwork, civil-engineering, and all that a robust and educated civic life engenders, withered and died. After all, you were told the world was going to end at any moment, and you didn’t need to know anymore than what the religious authorities told or forced you to believe, let alone worry about ‘secular’ knowledge or interests.

    The ancient world had been a relatively tolerant place in the world of religion. There were occasional bursts of persecution of this or that sect but as a rule many religions existed side by side. The fact that the Christians were persecuted at times, does not excuse what they did upon coming to power.

    During the years 342 CE to 395 CE all this changed when Christianity established itself as the only religion in the Roman Empire and launched an all out campaign of religious terror against all other sects.

    It was not until the Roman world was forcibly converted, and succumbed to an unforgiving and dictatorship-like form of Christianity (completely unlike the earlier peaceful and loving form of Christianity that had existed for 300 years), that we began to embark upon the Dark Ages.

    PERSECUTION OF HOMOSEXUALS BEGINS:

    On December 16, 342 AD, the Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans, under advice from their bishops, issued the following edict.. a law specifically outlawing marriages between men, and reads as follows:

    “When a man marries in the manner of a woman, a woman about to renounce men, what does he wish, when sex has lost its significance; when the crime is one which it is not profitable to know; when Venus is changed into another form; when love is sought and not found? We order the statutes to arise, the laws to be armed with an avenging sword, that those infamous persons who are now, or who hereafter may be guilty, shall be subjected to exquisite punishment.” (Theodosian Code 9.7.3)

    Christian emperors Theodosius and Arcadius on Aug 6, 390, under the advice of their bishops, issued the following edict.. an edict that would begin an evil persecution towards gay people that would last well over 1,600 years:

    “All persons who have the shameful custom of condemning a man’s body, acting the part of a woman’s to the sufferance of alien sex (for they appear not to be different from women), shall expiate a crime of this kind by being burned to death in the public sight of the people.” -Codex Theodosius IX. Vii. 6

    What follows are quotes from the legal code of the Roman Empire as set forth by the Emperor Theodosius at the request of Christian leaders to crush competing religions. The legal persecution of non-Christian religions by Rome marked the beginning of a wave of religious terror that would remain in place until the eighteenth century.

    THE BURNING OF NON-CHRISTIAN BOOKS:

    “All writings whatever which Porphyry or anyone else has written against the Christian religion, in the possession of whomsoever they shall be found, shall be committed to the fire.” — Emperor Theodosius I.

    LAW BANNING ALL RELIGIONS OTHER THAN CHRISTIANITY:

    “We command that all those proved to be devoting themselves to sacrificing or worshiping images be subject to the penalty of death.” — Codex Theodosianus, XVI.10.6

    “It is Our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. … The rest, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative.” — Codex Theodosianus, XVI.1.2.

    EDICTS AGAINST NON-CHRISTIAN WORSHIP:

    “No one shall consult a soothsayer, astrologer or diviner. The perverse pronouncements of augurs and seers must fall silent. … The universal curiosity about divination must be silent forever. Whosoever refuses obedience to this command shall suffer the penalty of death and be laid low by the avenging sword.” — Codex Theodosianus, IX.16.4

    “The ability and right of making wills shall be taken from those who turn from Christians to pagans, and the testament of such an one, if he made any, shall be abrogated after his death.”– Codex Theodosianus, XVI.7.1.

    THE DESTRUCTION OF TEMPLES:

    “It is decreed that in all places and all cities the [pagan] temples should be closed at once, and after a general warning, the opportunity of sinning be taken from the wicked. We decree also that we shall cease from making sacrifices. And if anyone has committed such a crime, let him be stricken with the avenging sword. And we decree that the property of the one executed shall be claimed by the city, and that rulers of the provinces be punished in the same way, if they neglect to punish such crimes.”– Codex Theodosianus, XVI.10.4.

    Thankfully society at large is now freeing itself from the type of self-professed ‘Christians’, who are full of hatred and condemnation towards anyone who doesn’t fit into their narrow view of reality, and who caused the Dark Ages to begin in the first place. Their mind-set is of the same type as those described above. Thankfully as well, more and more ‘true’ Christians have seen the errors of their ways on this issue and now openly and lovingly welcome gay souls and their loved ones, for the unique way that God created them.

    A TIMELINE OF BRUTALITY, TORTURE, AND MURDER DONE IN THE NAME OF CHRIST:

    305- 306 – Council of Elvira (now Granada, Spain). This council was representative of the Western European Church and among other things, it barred homosexuals the right to Communion.

    314 – Council of Ancyra (now Ankara, Turkey). This council was representative of the Eastern European Church and it excluded the Sacraments for 15 years to unmarried men under the age of 20 who were caught in homosexual acts, and excluded the man for life if he was married and over the age of 50.

    342 – Under advice from their bishops, the first law against same-sex marriage was promulgated by the Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans.

    390 – Under advice from their bishops, the Christian emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius I and Arcadius declared homosexual sex to be illegal and those who were guilty of it were condemned to be burned alive in front of the public.

    498 – In spite of the laws against homosexuality, the Christian emperors continued to collect taxes on male prostitutes until the reign of Anastasius I, who finally abolishes the tax.

    529 – The Christian emperor Justinian I (527–565) made homosexuals a scapegoat for problems such as “famines,earthquakes, and pestilences.”

    589 – The Visigothic kingdom in Spain, is converted from Arianism to Catholicism. This conversion leads to a revision of the law to conform to those of Catholic countries. These revisions include provisions for the persecution of gays and Jews.

    693 – In Iberia, Visigothic ruler Egica of Hispania and Septimania, demanded that a Church council confront the occurrence of homosexuality in the Kingdom. The Sixteenth Council of Toledo issued a statement in response, which was adopted by Egica, stating that homosexual acts be punished by castration, exclusion from Communion, hair shearing, one hundred stripes of the lash, and banishment into exile.

    1120 – Baldwin II of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, convenes the Council of Nablus to address the vices within the Kingdom. The Council calls for the burning of individuals who perpetually commit homosexual acts.

    1179 – The Third Lateran Council of Rome issues a decree for the excommunication of homosexuals.

    1232 – Pope Gregory IX starts the Inquisition in the Italian City-States. Some cities called for banishment and/or amputation as punishments for 1st- and 2nd-offending homosexuals and burning for the 3rd or habitual offenders.

    1260 – In France, first-offending homosexuals lost their testicles, second offenders lost their member, and third offenders were burned. Women caught in same-sex acts could be mutilated and executed as well.

    1265 – Thomas Aquinas argues that homosexuality is second only to murder in the ranking of sins.

    1283 – The French Civil Code dictated that convicted homosexuals should not only be burned but also that their property would be forfeited.

    1370s – Jan van Aersdone and Willem Case were two men executed in Antwerp in the 1370s. The charge against them was same gender intercourse. Aersdone and Case stand out because records of their names have survived.

    1432 – In Florence the first organization specifically intended to prosecute homosexuality is established, the “Night Officials”, which over the next 70 years arrest about 10,000 men and youths.

    1451 – Pope Nicholas V enables the papal Inquisition to persecute men who practice homosexuality.

    1475 – In Peru, a chronicle written under the Capac Yupanqui government describes the persecution of homosexuals with public burnings and destruction of homes (a practice usually reserved for conquered tribes).

    1483 – The Spanish Inquisition begins. Homosexuals were stoned, castrated, and burned. Between 1540 and 1700, more than 1,600 people were prosecuted for homosexuality.

    1532 – Holy Roman Empire makes homosexuality punishable by death.

    1533 – King Henry VIII passes the Buggery Act 1533 making anal intercourse punishable by death throughout England.

    1620 – Brandenburg-Prussia criminalizes homosexuality, making it punishable by death.

    1721 – Catherina Margaretha Linck is executed for lesbianism in Germany.

    1836 – The last known execution for homosexuality in Great Britain. James Pratt and John Smith are hanged at Newgate prison, London after being caught together in private lodgings.

    1895 – The trial of Oscar Wilde results in his being prosecuted under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 for “gross indecency” for having sex with other males, and is sentenced to two years hard labor in prison, ruining his health.

    1903 – In New York on 21 February 1903, New York police conducted the first United States recorded raid on a gay bathhouse, the Ariston Hotel Baths. 26 men were arrested and 12 brought to trial on sodomy charges; 7 men received sentences ranging from 4 to 20 years in prison.

    1945 – Upon the liberation of Nazi concentration camps by Allied forces, those who were interned for homosexuality, and who miraculously survived.. are not freed, but required to serve out the full term of their sentences under Paragraph 175.

    1954 – June 7th –Mathematical and computer genius Alan Turing commits suicide by cyanide poisoning, 18 months after being given a choice between two years in prison or libido-reducing hormone treatment for a year as a punishment for homosexuality.

  2. Wayne
    November 20, 2014 at 23:32

    ….embrace as devoutly as Christians have embraced their Sacrament of Divorce!

  3. RJA
    November 20, 2014 at 17:14

    Congratulations to the Rev. He is far ahead of many of his own faith. Those that try to raise their own apostasy will never comprehend the separation of church and state

  4. elmerfudzie
    November 19, 2014 at 16:55

    Before Christians can magically assume a judicial authority over Catholic Church theological dogma, we must first, return to square one, and separate sexual attraction issue from the other emotional state(s) of love and bonding. That said, may I presume that both the gay and straight communities disapprove of exclusively parental arranged marriages, pre-puberty marriages (for any reason) and the far more sinister unions based on arrangements that resemble indentured servitude more than marriage? Can any modern day culture honestly recognize a shotgun marriage, childhood marriage (under 14 years of age), or one of convenience (to obtain citizenship or monetary inheritance) or again, almost mockingly, a human marrying an animal? These examples are not intended to be obnoxious or provocative. Society needs goal posts, I think we’re all in agreement on that point. Now, switching gears, strictly on a biological level, does the size and shape of the human brain pan (in men anyway) have a direct and provable correlation to being a homosexual? On a social level, what conclusions can be drawn from situational homosexual behavior, for example, during extended submarine patrols? Here’s another narrowly defined reality or cultural situation; The long standing issue of what amounts to, lonely priests, kept in isolation from conjugal marriage, or even other emotionally satisfying partnerships? What steps can be taken to demand new interpretive policies from the College of Cardinals in Rome? On another completely different level, the public acknowledges that specific social environments, poverty for instance, do indeed promote or aggravate criminal behavior such as pimping, human trafficking, rape, bestiality or child molestation. In the broadest sense, marriage organizes society and personal relationships in such a way as to steer us clear of these criminal tendencies or enterprises. Back to my point, official doctrine, whether it’s broadcast by clergy or formally trained lay-person(s) fail to clearly explain, what exactly is the state of homosexuality? how does it improve our communities and or steer the citizenry at large away from criminal activity? is it a truly biological or cultural thing or a mixture of the two? The Catholic Church has yet to articulate and explain this to the average parishoner. By strict interpretation, the Catholic Church specifies that sexual relations be exclusive to married man and woman (his wife) for the purposes of creating children without artificial barriers to conception, the only exception being the rhythm method or some extraordinary medical condition. Be that as it may, the Church also recognizes the homosexual(s), their need for community, friendship and some management of their sexuality (witch translates into a disciplined abstinence). As I understand it, with a caveat that I am not a church official or trained theologian; friendships that evolve into a loving homosexual relationship are understood and recognized by Church authorities but not permitted to be sexual, since that behavior is reserved for a natural, as opposed to artificial, procreative male-female relations. Raising a family is done within an environment consisting of consensual couples, mutually loving and a Church sanctioned marriage, whew! For these reasons, the loving partners in a homosexual relation may indeed decide to legalize their partnership, but this has yet to be sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Such a union would be recognized on a governmental level but remain separate and apart from any Church recognition. I suppose it would have the strength of a common law marriage, however any attempt to form an equivalence to a Church sanctioned male-female marriage would confuse or obfuscate the intent of the Doctrinal aspects of male-female sexual union, that is to say (again) reserved exclusively for purposes of procreation (stuffy, idealistic but a reality) . Finally, and aside from this entire argument, I’ve always suspected, without any solid evidence, that the Catholic Church and it’s familiars like the Jesuits, as well as many other Christian denominations, were “kept in line” by the government Intel community. Their deliberate malice continues to apply old-style blackmail techniques such as the “sex scandal tool” for purposes of retaliation, domination and threaten Church officials into hidden political submission or agendas. The reasons for this alleged malice are obvious; any organization that can legally congregate large numbers of people together, own a string of independent news outlets, have an indisputable moral authority, higher than any government (signified by the pulpit) surely requires Policing with the “hidden hand”, eh? Lest we forget many churches are in possession of substantial quantities of gold or equivalent in wealth, and these facts can influence economic forecasts on a world wide scale.

  5. Alec Herzog
    November 19, 2014 at 12:28

    Wow, “holy union” in a gay marriage! This is fantastic! The “blessed” Rev. Howard Bess and the Baptist Church (or at least a branch of it) touch new horizonts after 2000 years with their sort of religion. Integretion of expandables means to maryy gays! Saint Francisc didn’t look so far (very limited he was indeed). No wonder that churches are empty. For an orgy it’s more comfortable at home.

    PS But what if one faithfull of you want’s a “holy union” with four women? It will be a problem? Just curios…

    • Zachary Smith
      November 20, 2014 at 01:59

      PS But what if one faithfull of you want’s a “holy union” with four women?

      It’ll take more than one person. Lots more, for this is a “consensus” issue.

      There have been cultures where a woman took more than one husband. Where a man took more than one wife. That was something which worked out for them.

      Even in the US of A, past changes have been major. Consider this from 1903:

      MISCEGENATION. Forbidden by Abraham, Gen. 24:3; Jacob, Gen. 28:1;
      Moses, Ex. 34:12-16; Deut 7:3,4;
      Joshua, Josh. 23:12.
      Reasons for prohibition, Ex. 34:16; Deut. 7:4; Josh. 23:12,13.
      Results of. Judg. 3:6,7.
      INSTANCES OF: Moses, Num. 12:1;
      Esau, Genesis 26:34,35;
      Israel, Num. 25:1, 6-8; Judg. 3:5-8

      Marrying somebody who wasn’t of your “kind” was against God’s will. And 39 years earlier in 1864 a fellow was positively frothing at the mouth about the issue:

      The dogma of a single human race is one of those channels—one of those beaten tracks in which the minds of men have run. As Agassiz says, “It is a theory formed in the infancy of science,” yet it has been accepted as true, and from it flow all the absurd and revolting doctrines of abolitionism and miscegenation or amalgamation.

      That’s only a sample of the rage. He was carrying on about the awful war we were fighting – for such a dreadful cause that negros (almost always in lower case) were real people like us Caucasians. (ALWAYS upper case!)

      People have adapted. If we somehow survive the ravages of Global Warming, we will continue to do so.

  6. Alec Herzog
    November 19, 2014 at 12:27

    Wow, “holy union” in a gay marriage! This is fantastic! The “blessed” Rev. Howard Bess and the Baptist Church (or at least a branch of it) touch new horizonts after 2000 years with their sort of religion. Integretion of expandables means to maryy gays! Saint Francisc didn’t look so far (very limited he was indeed). No wonder that churches are empty. For an orgy it’s more comfortable at home.

    PS But what if one faithfull of you want’s a “holy union” with four women? It will be a problem? Just curios…

  7. Larry Edward
    November 19, 2014 at 01:00

    “…marriage ceremonies for gay couples now that the courts have forced legal standing for gay marriages in Alaska.”

    Government force is what I object to. I believe that homosexuality is a sin and the government can’t change that.

    • rosemerry
      November 19, 2014 at 04:55

      “sin” is a term related to religion, and is personal to people, but in a free country should not be a legal bar to actions. Envy, greed, pride etc are encouraged in the USA, and murder, violence of all kinds, stealing are part of government policies.
      You cannot expect others to conform to your ideas of “sin” in their personal lives.What difference does it make to you? Nobody is forcing you or anyone else to marry a man, or woman, you do not wish to.

    • KHawk
      November 19, 2014 at 13:44

      So you are opposed to laws in general? We are (supposed to be) a nation of laws. Laws create the framework by which our society functions. Without laws, there would be nothing but anarchy and chaos. Every law ever created, either at the federal, state, or local level, is an example of “government force” established by our Constitution and elected representatives. If you don’t like certain laws, you can work to change them – such as changing the law to allow homosexual marriage. I imagine what you mean is that you object to an oppressive government, or one that doesn’t obey its own laws. If that’s the case then we would agree, but to simply state that you object to “government force” in general is meaningless.

  8. Zachary Smith
    November 18, 2014 at 13:36

    Should Christians Embrace Gay Marriage?

    They ‘should’, and unless the nation is captured by the Billionaire-funded Dominionists, most eventually will. But it’ll not necessarily be a swift process, for most Americans (myself included) have a lot of “unlearning” to do. After being told since birth that homosexuality is one of the worst abominations, it’s not easy to readjust to another view. In one of his few first-rate novels, Robert Heinlein had this to say:

    The people will take a certain amount of reform, then they want a rest. But the reforms stay. People don’t really want change, any change at all – and xenophobia is very deep-rooted.

    “Double Star”

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