Christianity,  Politics,  Theology/Bible

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

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.


  • Lauren Law

    I wonder what the people of Sodom and Gomorah thought about God’s love for them? I appreciate your willingness to step to the forefront with sound, Biblical “proof” when the message is twisted to meet the needs of individuals who refuse to obey God. I was born a sinner…period. But God’s love…Christ’s sacrifice…and the Holy Spirit’s guidance give me the power to overcome that sin nature. I believe the homosexual has access to that same power to overcome sinful tendencies. I have gay friends. I love them dearly. They know that I believe they are living in sin…but they know I love them. This father is in trouble…his love for his son will affect both their eternities…makes me so sad.

    • Jonathan Aigner

      Um, Kenny, I’m pretty sure the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover all sin, including those in our blind spots. I have no knowledge of the son’s spiritual condition, but he is no more culpable for his sin than I am for mine.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    I’m still not quite clear how Sen. Portman should have reacted. Would the father be demonstrating “righteous living” if he had kicked his son out of the house upon the announcement of his sexual immorality (as ostensibly still happens to one out of three people when they come out of the closet)? Should Portman have pulled his son out of Yale and sent him to conversion therapy? Should he have consistently reminded him of his sin, regardless of whether the son is acting upon his orientation?

    No doubt I’m not the best to comment on this topic, since I am not a believer and am not as well-versed as most here. But I am sympathetic of the need to reconcile the spiritual with the secular, and it is clear to me that the Bible is unambiguous in casting homosexuality into the realm of sin, articulated most clearly in the OT. The only hermeneutics that will “get around” this unambiguous statement is to treat the Bible as metaphor, which is obviously satisfactory for quite a few Christians (including, apparently, Sen. Portman), but isn’t going to work for everyone.

    The real weakness has little to do with getting the message of Truth out. But how Evangelical Christians are witnessing to the gay community still reveals a cognitive disconnect at its core, manifested by how quickly the cultural tide is rejected the Evangelical message of Truth when it comes to this topic. Frankly, Evangelicals seem to be holding steady in preserving a consistent moral voice on the issue of abortion–good for them, because I’d hate to live in a world where abortion is an a priori right. But the same isn’t happening with gay rights. Sen. Portman may be the first Republican Senator to come out in favor, but we all know he won’t be the last.

    How would YOU affirm the Gospel in handling this situation, if your son/daughter confided in you that he/she is gay?

      • Lauren Law

        I have friends who are gay. I have a cousin in a gay relationship. I treat all of them the same I treat everyone else…with respect and love. But I never hesitate to preach the Truth…that homosexuality IS a sin according to the Scriptures. So is lying, adultery and divorce…sins that have been a part of my life. The difference is that I didn’t choose to STAY in my sin…and too many homosexuals have left that lifestyle to say that once you’re “born that way” you have to stay that way. I was born a sinner…but now I live a life free from the power of sin. The sad part here is that Portman’s “faith” was in his personal belief…and not in Truth. Truth doesn’t change because circumstances change. Beliefs may change…but Truth does not. His changing his mind about gay marriage does not change the Truth about gay marriage. It’s still a sin. The “cultural tide” is rejecting Truth (just as prophecied in the Scriptures) because at the core, man is sinful. Man would rather embrace his sin…it’s just plain “eaiser” and “more fun”. Satan has deceived man. He’s got man looking at personal feelings instead of Truth. He’s got man convinced that sin is okay…instead of man dealing with the Truth that sin has serious consequences.

        The sad part is this…TRUTH DOES NOT CHANGE…and one day EVERY knee will bow and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Scriptures teach that just believing in Him will not save you…the demons believe in Him. The Scriptures teach that doing things “in His name” will not save you…He will say to some, “Go away, I never knew you.”

        Truth is not a “concept” or a “belief”…Truth is a person…named Jesus. He is God in the flesh. He searches the heart. Andy His Word has made clear that if we reject His teachings, He will reject us. Basically…He’s allowing us to choose our destiny. He will not force Himself on us…that’s love. So if a man chooses to spend eternity separated from God, God will allow him to make that choice.

        A redeemed, cleansed, repentant homosexual has access to the same power to overcome sin that I have. It really is a CHOICE…his or hers to make. Even if they believe themselves to be “born that way”, they still have an opportunity to make a better choice. I only pray that choice is made BEFORE they face the Truth…because there will be no opportunity to make that choice after they stand in His Presence.

    • Jackie Evans

      I would communicate my belief in the same way I would to a son or daughter who tells me they are considering living with a person they are not married to, or who plans on having sex with a boyfriend outside of marriage… ‘I love you kid, but you know I don’t agree with what you are doing with your life. It is against God’s principles and I am going to hate watching as your life moves away from God. God gave you free will, and you have chosen to do this… I cannot support your choice and I can’t help you live it out, but I won’t stop loving you because of it. I can be involved in your life if you can accept my position. If you can’t accept my position and need to move away from me emotionally, then I’ll be here waiting for you.’
      Simple, really. No constant bashing and no stamp of approval on actions that are against my religious belief. Being clear about where I stand in my convictions and where the child stands in my heart. Still loving the person, but not supporting the sin. Then living it (the hard part).

      And yes, if it means the young adult child needs to move out and follow their own path, then they need to do so. Not in a vindictive ‘Get out of my house’ kind of way, but in a clear concisely laid out plan such as ‘you have 60 days to get a job and find a place of your own so you can commence living out your life in your own way.’ Again, loving the person but not the sin.

      • Mary Gray Moser

        Jackie, you say what you would do. Thank you for inspiring me to give testimony here for parents who have difficulty with what you say. One of my kids, who is 50 yo, asked for my support of his sex-change surgery and I, instead, offered to pay for him to stay in a biblical, Christian treatment center. He refused my offer and I haven’t heard from him now for three years. I pray for him every day that he will come to Christ, and I have peace. –“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10.37 ESV

    • stephennhays

      Lauren Bertrand

      “I’m still not quite clear how Sen. Portman should have reacted.”

      He shouldn’t react any differently than if his son was caught in some other serious wrongdoing.

      “Would the father be demonstrating “righteous living” if he had kicked his son out of the house upon the announcement of his sexual immorality (as ostensibly still happens to one out of three people when they come out of the closet)?”

      Since he son is a 21-year-old college student, why assume he’s still living at home?

      If his son was still a teenager, I don’t think he should be kicked out of the house on that account.

      “Should Portman have pulled his son out of Yale…”

      Actually, the social climate of Yale, with its biennial Sex Week and coed locker rooms, may well have exacerbated William’s sexual identity confusion.

      “…and sent him to conversion therapy? “

      Since his son is an adult, that’s not legally feasible. But if his son were still a minor, it might well be appropriate to have him undergo counseling with a competent psychologist.

      “Should he have consistently reminded him of his sin, regardless of whether the son is acting upon his orientation?”

      Since it’s doubtful that his son is celibate, why do you say “regardless”?

      “How would YOU affirm the Gospel in handling this situation, if your son/daughter confided in you that he/she is gay?”

      They should be told that we all have to struggle with sin. They should obey God’s commands and cultivate their spiritual life.

      They should also work towards marriage with a member of the opposite sex.

  • James Bradshaw

    Lauren, what do you tell your heterosexual friends or family who are getting divorced or who have been divorced and remarried? Christ Himself was clear on this: to divorce your wife is to force her to commit adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. He provides ONE exception: infidelity. Otherwise, to repent of divorce means you either remain single and celibate … or you reunite with your first spouse. That’s it.

    Do you tell these heterosexual friends/family that they will spend an eternity being tortured as well if they don’t “repent” of their unbiblical behavior?

    • Lauren Law

      James…just so you know…my divorce was based on infidelity. However…when I later had an affair and committed adultery, that was MY sin. I would say to anyone who refers to the Scripture that you reference that Jesus DID directly address this issue when the men brought the adulterous woman to Him and He said to her, “Go and sin no more.” She was obviously a married woman at the time. If Jesus can forgive her adultery, then Jesus can forgive my adultery…if I choose to repent and not continue in that sin. When Christ forgave my infidelity…and my husband chose to forgive my infidelity…I started as a whole and new person…my sin removed as far as the east is from the west. I am no longer an adulterous woman…I am a forgiven and redeemed daughter of God. The person who TURNS FROM THEIR WICKED WAY…the person who REPENTS…that is the person who will spend eternity in the Presence of the Savior. But the person who refuses to repent and turn from their wicked way is also making a choice…to spend eternity separated from God. That is THEIR CHOICE…they are choosing torture because they refuse to believe Truth. And, yes…if I see a Christian brother or sister in sin, I do talk with them (as instructed in the Scriptures). As for non-Christian heterosexuals…yes, I share the Truth with them. After that…it’s their choice as to what or who they choose to believe. Everyone chooses to believe something or someone. I choose to believe Truth.

    • stephennhays

      Adultery effectively dissolves the existing marriage. Hence, it’s not possible to continue committing adultery against the same (ex-)spouse. Therefore, you analogy is flawed.

      • buddyglass

        Adultery effectively dissolves the existing marriage.

        Since when? Adultery is adequate cause to end a marriage without having sinned, but it doesn’t itself end the marriage.

        • stephennhays

          You need to read a few good commentaries on Mt 5 and 19 concerning divorce and remarriage. Yes, adultery effectively dissolves the marriage.

          • buddyglass

            So couples who reconcile and continue to act as if they’re married after one partner commits adultery are, in fact, living in sin, since the adultery immediately and automatically dissolves the marriage?

            • stephennhays

              To begin with, I’m just remarking on what Mt 5 & 19 teach. They don’t say everything there is to be said about marriage.

              In addition, you’re confusing marriage with a marriage ceremony.

              • buddyglass

                A couple is either married or not. If they are not married and sexually intimate then can we agree they’re sinning? You’re asserting that the act of adultery immediately nullifies the marriage. That is to say, it moves the couple from the “married” state to the “not married” state. Any subsequent sexual intimacy would seem to be sinful, then, because the couple is no longer married (regardless of what they or the state thinks).

                • stephennhays

                  You continue to confuse marriage with a marriage ceremony. As Jesus himself implies in Mt 19:4-6, the key features of marriage are consummation and monogamy. A public ceremony is preferable, to have a community witness, but that’s not the essence of marriage. If the couple are reconciled, then they simply revert to the status quo ante.

                  A common law marriage can be a genuine marriage, from a biblical standpoint. For instance, traditional Catholic countries refuse to recognize biblical grounds for divorce. A husband could walk out on the marriage, leaving the wife stranded (or vice versa). The innocent party has no recourse to divorce under Catholic law. But if the innocent party entered into a common law marriage, that would be legitimate from a biblical standpoint.

                  • buddyglass

                    I’m not confusing them. When I said “married” in the above post I meant “in God’s eyes”.

                    Any two individuals on the planet are either “married” or “not married” (to each other) in God’s eyes. If they are married then sexual intimacy is permitted. If not then not.

                    You’ve said that adultery automatically and immediately nullifies marriage. I take that to mean it moves the two involved individuals from a state of being “married” (in God’s eyes) to a state of being “not married” (in God’s eyes).

                    Is that not what you’re saying? If it is what you’re saying, then can you explain how any subsequent sexual intimacy between two such individuals is not fornication?

                    • buddyglass

                      Your definition of marriage seems to preclude the commonly understood meaning of “fornication”, i.e. sexual intimacy between two people who aren’t married to anyone (including themselves).

                      If a man and woman who’ve never had sex (with anyone) are effectively married to each other as soon as they’re sexually intimate with one other (assuming both intend monogamy) then what room is there for fornication (as opposed to adultery)? There would seem to only be adultery.

              • Lauren Bertrand

                You offer a fascinating exegesis here that seems incompatible with everything Evangelicalism teaches about the Bible. Using a phrase “[these Gospel teachings] don’t say everything there is to be said about marriage” makes you sound like a Mainliner.

                • stephennhays

                  Not if you read evangelical commentaries on Matthew. Adultery, not divorce, is what dissolves the marriage. Divorce is simply a formal recognition of the fact that the adulterer effectively ended the marriage by his (or her) sexual infidelity. Desertion is another case in point (1 Cor 7:15).

              • Lauren Bertrand

                You offer a fascinating exegesis here that seems to counter most traditional Evangelical interpretations of the Bible. The very use of the phrase “[these Gospel teachings] don’t say everything there is to be said about marriage” sounds like something I’d expect to hear from a Mainline Christian.

                • Don Johnson

                  I think all of the commenters should read David Instone-Brewer’s book “Divorce and Remarriage: The Social and Literary Context”. All of you are taking the verses out of context.

  • buddyglass

    Portman is wrong to think the golden rule compels him to approve of homosexuality. It does not. He’s not wrong, however, to regard the golden rule as relevant to the issue of whether believers are compelled to seek to deny the secular, legal rights and obligations of marriage to same-sex couples.

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