Results from a recent poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute show that the theological views of Californians, namely how they view God and how they view the Bible, largely shape how they view gay marriage. Candace Chellew-Hodge, writing in a recent post for Religion Dispatches Magazine, points out
Californians who see the Bible as the literal word of God were less likely to support gay marriage (only 26 percent), than those who saw the Bible as a book written by men and not the word of God (76 percent of whom support gay marriage). The literalists tend to be among protestants of the Latino, white evangelical, and black groups. Latino Catholics and white mainline Protestants tend to view the Bible as not literal, though still as a sacred text to be taken seriously.
A person’s view of the Bible and their support or opposition to gay marriage should not surprise us. In fact, we have witnessed this trend within the mainline Protestant denominations over the last decade, from the Episcopal Church’s ordination of Eugene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.’s approval of non-celibate homosexuals serving as ordained clergy.
When individuals or denominations no longer view the Bible as the literal, authoritative Word of God, then by their actions — not their words — they demonstrate that they really do not take the sacred text seriously. If they do take Scripture seriously, then they would refrain from using un-serious and convoluted interpretations of the text to support that which cannot reasonably be supported by the plain meaning of the words. If one wants to argue that they do not believe what the Bible says about gay marriage or any other topic, that’s fine by me. But do not try to re-imagine and re-interpret the God-breathed Word to say what it clearly does not.
When you abandon Scripture as the very Word of God, as many within Hispanic Catholic and mainline Protestant faith communities have, then you will likewise jettison a Biblical view of who God is. Writes Chellew-Hodge,
The difference also lies in how Latino Catholics and Protestants view God. Overall, most of those polled from all religious factions (53 percent) say God is “a person with whom one can have a relationship.” Thirty-one percent view God as an impersonal force. Latino Catholics, the pollsters report “stand out for the relatively high proportion who believe that God is an impersonal force.”
Rev. Madison Shockley, the pastor at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California, says when viewed in that light, it’s easy to see why the theological gap is so great—it all turns on the how religious groups value human freedom.
“If you think of God as personal then you wonder, ‘What does God say about this?’ and that then determines how you feel about it. But, if God is a force in the universe, then people tend to understand that force as one for good, for love, a positive force. Then it’s incumbent on the human to interpret what is good, what is love, what is positive? That leaves a lot more room for human freedom to determine in a particular moment in time, ‘What does God desire of us?’”
If your view of God is based upon the Bible, then you not only will think, but will know, that God is personal. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, came to this earth to establish relationships with sinners. He came to seek and to save that which is lost. God, through His Son, Jesus, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, continues to establish relationships with people. You can’t get more personal than that. If you do not believe that God is personal — three Persons in One — then I’m quite sure that you do not understand what it means to be a Christian or a follower of Christ. God is not some mystical force from Star Wars. He is God!
And we see in these poll results that a deficient view of Scripture leads to a deficient view of God. If you don’t hold to Scripture as God’s Word, then you can really make it up as you go. You begin to think that you have freedom to determine God’s “desire” for you as opposed to knowing what God has already told you are His desires for you. Two very different things.
As denominations continue to reject the authority of God’s Word, we will see an increased acceptance for gay marriage and for many other behaviors that the Bible says are wrong. Within culture and within the Church, the Bible and God are not what they used to be. And because of that, proponents of same-sex marriage just need to wait it out.
“The message I take away from this research is that opponents of Proposition 8 can sit tight because time is on their side,” said Diane Winston, the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. “Each year, as more young people become eligible to vote, if the demographics hold, they will be supporters of marriage equality. It’s great to keep educating people but it looks like there is a certain inevitability that change will come.”
If you want to know why culture impacts the Church more than the Church impacts culture, ask your neighbor how they feel about same-sex unions. If they tell you they approve, ask them their views on the Bible and God. Their answers will not surprise you.