President Obama’s Scriptural Defense of Gay Marriage

Earlier today, President Obama became the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage. In his remarks to ABC News, the president cited his Christian faith as the basis for his decision. In particular, he cited Jesus’ words in the “Golden Rule” as a key factor in his thinking. He says,

[Michelle and I] we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and, hopefully, the better I’ll be as president.

How does President Obama reconcile his reading of the Golden Rule with other passages of scripture that speak about homosexuality and marriage? Readers should know that this isn’t the first time that President Obama has used scripture to defend gay unions. Nor is it the first time that he has appealed to the Golden Rule.

In March of 2008 when then-candidate Obama was running for president, he based his support for civil unions upon a particular interpretation of the New Testament. He argued that Jesus’ sermon on the mount supports gay civil unions. In his own words,

I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other. . . I don’t think it should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. If people find that controversial, then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans. That’s my view. But we can have a respectful disagreement on that.

Notice the logic of the president’s 2008 remarks. He implies that Jesus’ words conflict with Paul’s words in both clarity and priority. In terms of clarity, he is suggesting that the apostle Paul’s condemnation of homosexual acts in Romans 1:26-27 is less than transparent. In terms of the priority, he says that Paul’s teaching—whatever that may be—has to give way to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), as if the two were somehow contradictory. Candidate Obama called Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount “more central” and labeled Paul’s words to the Romans as “obscure.”

Although this makes some sense of the president’s remarks today, we have to conclude that this is not a “Christian” way of reading the Bible for a number of reasons.

First, it presupposes that Paul and Jesus are at odds with one another. This not only undermines the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics, it also undermines the authority of scripture itself. If the Bible has contradictions in it, then it cannot be the inspired word of God. Christians understand that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible alone is the inerrant and infallible norm over the Christian conscience. As a Christian, President Obama should affirm scriptural authority rather than undermine it with statements that set Jesus against Paul and that undermine Biblical sexual norms.

Second, neither Matthew nor Jesus intended the Golden Rule to be a permission slip for debauchery. “Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” does not nullify the Bible’s clear teaching about marriage and sexuality. The Sermon on the Mount affirms and intensifies Old Testament sexual norms (e.g., Matthew 5:27-30). Moreover, Jesus himself affirms the creation principle that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman (Matt. 19:4-5; cf. Gen. 2:24). To imply that Jesus would have supported gay marriage has no basis in the text of scripture. In fact, Jesus stands against it.

Third, the interpretation of Romans 1:26-27 has been fiercely contested in recent years. But I think candidate Obama was mistaken to conclude from that fact that the passage itself is somehow opaque. Revisionist interpretations of Romans 1:26-27 are a relatively recent phenomenon and are at odds with every interpretation of this text prior to the middle of the twentieth century. If one allows the democracy of the dead to have their say, the “obscure” interpretations are the ones coming from theological liberals who are standing against 2,000 years of the history of interpretation of this passage. As far as biblical sexual norms are concerned, President Obama is standing on the wrong side of history.

Fourth, Christians believe that doing the right thing also happens to be what’s best for our neighbor. In other words, God’s design for marriage is good for us and promotes the public good and human flourishing. Loving our neighbors, therefore, means doing what promotes their good and their flourishing. Gay marriage falls short of that ideal.

Fifth, the president’s reference to Christ’s sacrificial death fundamentally misunderstands what Christ accomplished on the cross. Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf doesn’t just free us from the penalty of sin; it also frees us from the power of sin over our lives. Christ’s death is not just about forgiveness in the past; it’s about power in the present. The apostle Paul says, “our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6). Those who have truly tasted the forgiveness flowing from Christ’s sacrificial death also taste freedom from the stranglehold of indwelling sin. The President seems not to understand that Christians have died with Christ and that sin is no longer their master (Rom. 6:14). The point of “Christ sacrificing himself” is to free people from sin, not to keep them in bondage to it. Real Christianity doesn’t lead to endorsing what Christ died to free us from.

President Obama’s scriptural defense of gay marriage is not just untenable; it’s also unchristian. Even though this is a contentious issue, the most loving thing to do would be to stand on the authority of scripture and on God’s definition of the good. Unfortunately, President Obama has fallen short of both today.

30 Responses to President Obama’s Scriptural Defense of Gay Marriage

  1. Keith Kraska May 9, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    I don’t want anyone sanctioning my sin, so my opposition to gay marriage fulfills the Golden Rule.

  2. donsands May 9, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Excellent post my brother. May many read it, and hear it, and take it to heart. You’re a good teacher of our Lord Denny.

  3. Don Johnson May 9, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    It is a fair question to ask what is the priority when 2 commands interact. This was a lot of the disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees, for example when some disciples gather and husked some grain on the Sabbath, did they violate the Sabbath prohibition to not work? Jesus’ reply was that they were hungry and that trumped any Sabbath concerns. Also for Jesus healing on the Sabbath, did that constitute work that was prohibited?

    What liberal believers tend to do is allow the law of love to trump every other command and there is some truth in that as the law(s) of love are the 2 highest commands on which all others hang. This was one of their arguments against the slaveholders, that the law of love trumps “slaves, obey your master” so most people think today that slavery is immoral, so we should not be too fast to dismiss this argument.

    So I would say that unless conservative believers (like me) can come up with a better way to show love to people who do homosexual acts, then we should be silent. Right now we look at the sin lists and it is just too easy to find the one on it that is the LEAST tempting to us and pound away on that sin, but that is not loving. We are all broken sinners, all of us need help to live as God wants. A survey asked what words are associated with evangelicals and the word that got the highest percentage was antihomosexual and that concerns me.

    • Joe Blackmon May 10, 2012 at 8:20 am #

      A survey asked what words are associated with evangelicals and the word that got the highest percentage was antihomosexual and that concerns me.

      Funny. I’m ok with it.

      • FreddyBenelli May 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

        It’s pretty ironic to use your indifference as an argument in response to this particular article. “I’m ok with it” is a concise summary of Mr. Obama’s statements up top. As explained by the rest of the article, however, any person’s opinion is inadequate to represent Christ unless it is informed by something more than a lazy investigation of Scripture.

        To the extent that being “antihomosexual” is opposition to a certain segment of the human population, it is an unbiblical stance. The survey cited indicates that the general population sees evangelicals as selectively anti-people.

        The Church should not be that way because Christ was not. He ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, and offered salvation to the thieves dying on the crosses next to Him. Furthermore, Ephesians 6:12 says that our battle is not against flesh and blood — we are not to seek the destruction of any person. The Church’s reputation for doing so creates barriers that are good for no one.

        • Marta Reyes May 16, 2012 at 12:17 am #

          Your comment about a “lazy investigation of Scripture” proves that you do not know the Scripture. What was wrong to GOD since the beginning will be wrong always. A sin will always be a sin, no matter how modern we want to make this world! Yes Christ ate with sinners, but he did not okay their choice of life…..He said go and sin no more. Homosexuals were blinded when they went to Lot’s home to get the men of God who had visited Lot to warn him of the damnation that was coming upon the city of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their reason for wanting these men of God……… to sexually pervert them. Our acceptance of their lifestyle will send them to hell unless we reach them for the LORD. God constituted marriage between one man and one woman, if anybody has a problem with that argue with GOD.

        • Joe Blackmon May 16, 2012 at 8:08 am #

          If you call homosexuality a sin, people accuse you of being anti-homosexual. If you believe that marriage is defined as one man and one woman you are called anti-homosexual. So when people assume that because I’m a Southern Baptist I’m anti-homosexual, I take that as a compliment. Call me an ignorant, narrow minded fundy and I’ll probably do back handsprings. :-)

  4. Janet Whetton May 9, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Great post Mr Burk

    Using scripture to support something that can destroy God’s purpose for the family i.e. to multiply and replenish the earth with his children is just evil.

    I believe in equal rights for all. But..just as when people say that they have the right to do something, that right stops when they infringe or violate the rights of others. Calling a union of people of the same sex a ‘marriage’ is infringing upon our God Given right to a union that is sweet and sacred and ordained of God. It is mocking God.

    Those who want to have unnatural affection for each other can do so if they choose. I suppose it is their right. But it will be WITHOUT God’s blessing.

    If satan can ruin the family structure he can ruin the world. He knows this.

    This country was built on Gods word. We need to keep it that way to survive.
    Thank you :)

    • Jake Patten May 12, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      This country was built on God’s word because the founding fathers feared
      God. Our leaders now do not. Neither do the majority of the citizens in this country.

      The greatest tragedy in this whole same sex marriage thing is that it will further corrupt and distort our picture of God. God has used the institution of marriage to communicate truth about Himself to us all, and if that picture is distorted, then God’s image will be maligned.
      So it’s not just about what is good and right for us, but what was God’s purpose in creating the marriage relationship?

      I wrestle with the idea of legislating morality. As Christians who believe that the greatest need in the world is for renewed relationship with God, we must also see that in order for man to come to repentance and faith in Christ, man must see that he is sinful. If we legislate morality, it clouds man’s vision of his true nature. If man can perform what is moral, then he rests on his own ability and his own righteousness, and this is the most damnable sin.

      The greatest responsibility in this issue rests not with politicians and lawmakers, but with all of us who claim to have faith in Christ. Are we walking in the obedience that God requires of us? Do we affirm what is true and condemn what is inconsistent with God? The world will see who God is when they see Him alive in us, His church. And most importantly, Christ will see Himself reflected in us, His church, to His own glory.

  5. Mark Borofsky May 10, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    Denny, you were one of my son Jon professor’s at Boyce…….. you taught him well. Go to thechristianwatershed.com and read my oldest sons post on this recent stand on homosexual marriages; I think you will find it interesting. And thank you for pouring your life into my son Jon.

  6. Mark Warnock May 10, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    Thanks for this. I’ve noticed that in addition making a case for traditional marriage, there is an acute need for Christians to correct misrepresentations of our faith. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard the “yeah, well the Bible says you can’t eat shellfish, too” argument. Dan Savage’s recent diatribe is one example of breathtaking ignorance of what the Bible actually means for Christians.

  7. Jon Sweeney May 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    I have absolutely no problem with the first half of then candidate Obama’s remark: “I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other. . . I don’t think it should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. ”

    Just about everything he has to say on this issue is flat out wrong, and this article does an excellent job of explaining the fallacy the President’s justification.

    Isn’t marriage a sacrament or relationship defined by and for the covenant between a man and a woman and God? Throughout history, the secular rights and privileges attached to the marriage relationship seem to have transitioned the right of granting a marriage into the hands of the state. Marriage does not belong in the hands of the state – it should remain strictly in the hands of the church. If a couple wants to get married they should do so in and with the church. If two persons of the same sex wish to form a legal union to protect a limited number of benefits, then it should be considered. The rights and privileges attached to marriage or a civil union should be rendered unto Caesar. I recognize that my argument is a slippery slope towards the full recognition if not approval of a relationship that is not condoned by scripture. However, my sense is that there are better ways to minister people out of this sin than the way we are today.

  8. Stephen Hesed May 10, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Okay…I think I see what Obama is trying to get at here. When he alludes to the Golden Rule, he’s saying, “Since I don’t want you to impose your religion’s ethical views on me, I won’t impose my religion’s ethical views on you.” He’s applying the Golden Rule to the issue of civil liberties, not personal ethics.

    • Jesop Ash May 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

      Quoting a Mr. J. E.: “What a Christian says: “Lying is a sin. Stealing is a sin. Blaspheming God is a sin. Dishonoring your parents is a sin. Adultery is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Murder is a sin. Coveting is a sin. We need to love people and help them realize these things so that they will repent and put their faith in Jesus.”

      What liberals hear: “Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin. Be sure to hate homosexuals and bully them and beat them up and kill them so they will go to Hell where they belong.” “

  9. Jerry Corbaley May 10, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    A Brief Reflection on the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”.
    It is a great “rule of thumb”, but an imprecise measure.

    To apply our Lord’s words to justify sexual behavior is to justify any form of sexual activity as long as the participants agree. It removes every form of censure from every sexual practice.

    I doubt that Jesus Christ is amused.

  10. carl hill August 13, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    I wish someone would explain why Christians are opposed to same-sex marriage without using a circular argument…Sadly, I think few know why. As a Christian myself I’d like to set the record strait : what non-Christians may not know may surprise them: that the marriage between a man and woman is the consummate symbolization of the Christian gospel: That is that Christ, serving as the husband and the church serving as the wife are unified under a covenant established at the time of Christ’s death on the cross. What this means is that marriage is not a human invention; God established marriage during the beginning to remind us of our past creation, present separation and future unification; God made made in his image, then he created woman from the man and then re-unified both the man and the woman with marriage. When one understands this then one can understand why same-sex marriage flies in the face of traditional marriage. To say that a man may marry a man tells the story of a very different gospel, one that is not found in scripture: that Christ died for himself and established a covenant with himself, a very selfish motive indeed. Equally, a woman who marries a woman tells another very different gospel: that the church made a covenant with itself, that is to say, that the church died for itself or can accomplish this convent through works of its hands and not the work of Christ. Finally, traditional marriage reflects the true Gospel perfectly, and this is why some Christians see it as an attack to their faith, and the spread thereof.

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