Taylor Turkington and Rebecca McLaughlin discuss whether opposing gay marriage is just as bad as supporting slavery. They address:
- The biblical treatise against racism
- Ways people have used the Bible to justify slavery vs. how people use the Bible to justify same-sex marriage
- The nature of biblical sexual ethics
- The result of the new covenant on the justification of slavery
- The centrality of the gospel in any conversation regarding same-sex marriage
Read more from TGC on this topic:
Taylor Turkington: Hey, Rebecca. This is a good question I have for you here. It says, Christians at one point use the Bible to justify slavery. How is that different from Christians today who invoke the Bible to justify opposition to gay marriage?
Rebecca McLaughlin: It’s an extremely important question. There are multiple reasons to start with why it’s actually impossible to justify the kind of race-based chattel slavery that we saw in this country, and that was exported by my country from the Bible. So to start with, the Bible specifically condemns the practice of kidnapping people to make them slaves, which kind of blows a hole in the side of the transatlantic slave trade.
Secondly, the New Testament is the greatest treatise against racism in all of history. And we read about the first African Christian who was a highly educated man reading his own scroll from Isaiah in the book of Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch. Thirdly, the ways that enslaved Africans were treated under slavery was utterly at odds with New Testament ethics in every possible way. I could go on, but what’s really interesting to me about this analogy that people draw between Christians using the Bible to justify slavery, which tragically, Christians did, and Christians using the Bible to sort of, quote, “justify” opposition to gay marriage, at least for Christians, is that the reverse is actually a much better analogy, for two reasons.
So first, at the time when people were using the Bible to justify slavery, the cultural tide was pulling firmly in slavery’s favor. Christian abolitionists were actually swimming against the tide, and today the tide is pulling very strongly toward gay marriage. Secondly, at the time when Christians were trying to justify slavery from the Bible, they ended up having to cut out an awful lot of the Bible. In fact, “Bibles,” in inverted commas, were being produced, especially for slaves with all the awkward passages that might awaken slaves to the fact that Christianity was utterly opposed to what was happening to them cut out.
Likewise, today, if we try to justify same-sex marriage for Christians from the Bible, we have to remove or gloss over an awful lot of awkward passages. In fact, we pretty much have to jettison the authority of Scripture entirely. Now, I’ve been primarily attracted to women all of my life, so on one level, it would be much more convenient for me if the Bible didn’t prohibit same-sex marriage. It’s not something I’m looking to justify from the Bible. But when we look more closely at the logic of biblical sexual ethics, we find that they are much more like the true freedom of abolition than the historic and horrific injustice of slavery.
Taylor Turkington: I think beyond this, we cannot ignore what the New Covenant does when we think about people that it has completely destroyed any understanding of prejudice that we could possibly hold based on ethnicity, which much of slavery was based on. That the work of Christ turned down any division and command equality on the basis of his death and resurrection. That we see clearly from the New Testament that there is this command to love others as ourselves, by putting them before us and there’s no way for us to justify slavery in any way and read those texts rightly.
There isn’t a transcendent hidden ethic that you need to look at in the New Testament to find opposition to slavery there, like some people have said, but rather it is there. We don’t have to read between the lines, I don’t think. Rather, the Scriptures have really spoken to the text, in the text that this would be wrong, we cannot enslave people. And “enslavement” itself is a term that is condemned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
In Paul’s letter to Philemon regarding Onesimus, remember that book? I mean, he reveals this great brotherhood that he commands Philemon to value above slavery, above any other way that he would see this slave, Onesimus. Brotherly love and reception as a brother, is what he’s commanded to do.
Rebecca McLaughlin: You know, what fascinates me about Paul’s letter to Philemon, as you say, is Paul uses more specifically loving language when he talks about Onesimus than when he describes any other individual. Now Paul, as we know, talks a lot about Christ’s love and about love in more abstract and corporate terms. But he calls Onesimus his very heart…with the level of affection he had for this guy. And he tells Philemon to receive him as he would receive Paul. So it’s not like, “Oh, well, let him back in as a slave without beating him,” as you could’ve done because he was a runaway slave in the culture of that time. It’s not even, “Accept him as a kind of equal,” it’s, “Receive him as an apostle, as an equivalent to Paul himself.” It’s this extraordinary inversion of the power structures at the time.
Taylor Turkington: And the value that he’s put on this man reveals the value that he actually has, the dignity that Paul expects to be given to him.
So Rebecca, if we were coming back to that question, how would you respond to someone who asks, “What does the Bible have to say in regard to gay marriage?”
Rebecca McLaughlin: So, if we’re asked the question, “How or why is it that as a Christian, you would limit marriage to one man and one woman?” I think we are forced in the best possible way to tell people the gospel because the entire reason that there is male and female Scripturally, and the entire reason there is marriage is to give us a picture of Christ’s love for his church. And we see this throughout the Old Testament as God is called, described like a husband loving his people, his wife. We see it as Jesus comes and dies for his bride and we see it in the New Testament as the husband loving the wife is pictured as Christ loving and sacrificing for the church. And so we cannot give a biblical answer to the question, “Why would you say a marriage is only between one man and one woman?” without telling people the gospel, which is great news for us.
Taylor Turkington: Yes. Amen. That is good news for us.