Tim Keller, gay marriage and Bible interpretation

Gay marriage demonstration

A few weeks back, influential New York minister Tim Keller spoke at a forum run by the US Ethics and Public Policy Centre, during which he made some comments on the issue of gay marriage. What he said attracted a lot of discussion, but was apparently misunderstood by some, and he subsequently issued an explanation.

His comments merit further thought.

What he said

you can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal”

A lot of my own younger leaders are saying, why are we fighting about gay marriage? We are not trying to make the nation into a Christian nation. People should have civil rights.”

Reaction and explanation

Some of those reporting Keller’s comments inferred that he himself supported the establishment of civil gay marriage, but the transcript of his comments, and a subsequent explanation made it clear that he does not. Rather, he was observing that, in contrast to his more reformed viewpoint:

many younger evangelicals are taking an Anabaptist-like position; that is, that while they still believe homosexuality to be a sin, they don’t think the government should put that belief into law for the nation”

Three interesting issues

I think his comments raise three interesting issues:

Christianity is changing?

Is he right that increasingly, evangelical christians, especially younger ones, are adopting an approach that differentiates between christian ethics and civil law, and so doesn’t oppose gay marriage?

A 2013 Pew Forum survey revealed that christians in the US still mostly believe that homosexuality is a sin, but are slowly moving towards greater acceptance of same-sex marriage, even though this is still not the majority view. This follows the US public as a whole, where the greatest acceptance is in the younger age groups.

The Huffington Post referred to two other polls which indicated that a majority of younger evangelicals now support gay marriage. So it seems Tim was right in how he saw things panning out in the future.

Is it right to change?

I have blogged on this before, and my views haven’t changed. I agree with the Anabaptists that, whatever ethical view we hold on homosexuality, “we surely have better things to do than expending energy trying to legislate righteousness”

Keller does not support changing the law to allow gay marriage, but he nevertheless recognised there is a strong argument for not opposing it, when he said:

there are all sorts of things the Bible forbids …. that we would never want to be legislated. …. idol worship is the worst sin in the Bible, … but I think it would be quite un-American to make that illegal.”

Can we change a Bible-based teaching?

Keller raises this issue, which will be the subject of my next post.

Photo Credit: Marc Love via Compfight cc

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  1. The inequality of marriage is caused by special treatment of married couples that is not available to non-married citizens. If you remove tax benefits, at hospitals prohibit hospital policies that only allow immediate family members and/or spouses to visit the patients, even make it so that family medical plans are extended to those living in one household ie: household medical plans… etc..
    Here’s a sample list of rights:
    (googled results)
    Remove those rights from married couples, or equalize them so that non-married persons can receive those rights as well, then marriage becomes separate from state, and left into whatever the “married” people want it to be.
    Removing marriage rights and benefits is the only way to equalize marriage. Those who support gay marriage, are not equalizing marriage, they’re just giving benefits and rights for another specific group of people, and are not equalizing it for everyone.

  2. Thanks for that comment. I think those are interesting thoughts – I hadn’t realised there were so many social benefits open to married couples. While I can see the principle that there should be equality in these things, I wonder whether all those benefits have been granted for the same reasons, as may be inferred from that reference? If they were granted for several different reasons, then you’d have to argue the case for each different reason.

  3. I can’t call myself a member of the ‘younger evangelical’ generation, but I have come to believe that while I still consider same-sex relationships contrary to Biblical teaching, I cannot oppose legalising gay marriage. It is not for me to ‘convict’ the unbeliever, that is for God to do. It is not for me to try to use the law to impose my beliefs on others. And if a gay couple want to have their relationship recognised by all the world, then why should I try to prevent that. The longer I have been a Christian the more tolerant I have become. I do not know what God has in store for some of the kindest, gentlest, genuine and honest people I have ever known, despite the bitter harsh way they are treated by hardline evangelicals – just because they are gay.

  4. Thank you for your comment here. I think I agree 100%. I don’t think same-sex relationships are God’s best for us, but neither is sickness or poverty or accidental injury. So like you, I don’t know how God deals with gays. And we clearly agree about gay marriage. Thanks again.

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