The Adulterous Woman and the gay marriage debate


With the Supreme Court hearing the gay marriage case last Tuesday, and the overwhelming response on social media, Christians are once again forced to look at the plight of the Adulterous Woman. In the account of John 8:1-11, Jesus rivals, the Pharisees, try to trap him by giving him an impossible question: no matter his answer, he will either violate the traditional interpretation of God's law or the law of the secular authorities (thereby either losing popular support or being condemned to death).  They place before him a woman caught in adultery and ask if it is lawful she should be stoned.  Remarkably, Jesus is able to evade their scheme by showing them that the law of Moses is right, but the way they were asking him to apply it was wrong.

Christians have rightly used this story over the years as a guide in how to treat those who sin against God.  But Christians are always torn between two of Jesus' words regarding the woman caught in adultery: "Let he who hath no sin cast the first stone" and "go and sin no more".  Balancing those two has always been one of the chief struggles of the Christian life.

Throughout history, Christians have violated both of those commands. On the one hand, Christians can in many cases rightly be faulted for persecuting people who were different or with differing views (Jews, scientists, political dissidents), or cruelty and ostracization of those they consider "sinners" (unwed mothers).

On the other hand Christians have also been guilty of not speaking out against injustice, or not standing firm against cultural trends.  The church first opposed but then capitulated on Colonialism, then sought to accommodate and adapt to Napoleon's reign and the cultural trend of Fascism.  Many Christians in the United States in the 19th century believed based on Jesus commands they shouldn't judge their Southern Plantation neighbors for having a different "lifestyle" than they did--thereby allowing slavery to continue.

So, once again, in the gay marriage debate, the Christian community remains divided about what to do.  How should we respond?  Which of Jesus commands are we violating?  Or are we violating both?

Some argue that Jesus’ command to not condemn means that we should accept gay marriage and homosexuality.  To accept people, regardless of their lifestyle, seems to them the Jesus-like thing to do.  To condemn another person for their sin is literally what Jesus said we should not do: "Do not judge lest you be judged" (Matt 7:1).  Because of this, and personal experience, they cannot believe admonitions in the Bible against homosexuality can be taken literally or universally (Rom 1:27).  So we should affirm and support gay marriage.

Others reply that Jesus never asked us to call what is wrong right.  Jesus himself constantly proclaimed what was right and wrong or just and unjust in his time.  In Matthew 5:18-20 he affirmed that God's standards were eternal and anyone who taught otherwise would face eternal consequences.  Even with the adulterous woman he affirmed that her lifestyle is a sin.  This, the opponents of gay marriage say, is what proponents of gay marriage are asking us to do: not treat sinners kindly, but to proclaim it not a sin through the law.  So we should not support gay marriage.

Others argue we should support traditional marriage personally, but we shouldn't talk about it.  They make the case that if we just lead people to Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will work on those people for us.  To speak out about it now only makes us look angry and judgmental and leads people away from Christ--who is their salvation.  To them, there is no way to have a loving dialogue about it without condemning and sounding like a jerk.  So we should oppose gay marriage privately, but not fight its advance.

What is the right answer? I don't know. But I do know that getting the right answer is vital.

Christians now find themselves in the place Jesus did all those years ago.  With an impossible choice set before them. To accept the traditional interpretation of scripture and scare people away from Jesus, or to accept the new cultural trends and risk violating God’s commands for the sake of the world. Whatever you think of Christians or at least traditional ones, one should sympathize with their plight.  Whether or not they can find the right answer will determine whether they live or die as a movement, become villains or heroes in the story of history, and save souls or condemn them.

But we Christians can have this assurance.  That if we make the wrong choice, if we sin by intolerance or over-tolerance, we have a savior who will say to us as he did to the adulterous woman: "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more."