California is abuzz with discussions and debates about the impact of gay marriage. And let me say right off, whether your for it or against it, you can’t dismiss the economic benefits this is bringing to the state — at least for the short term.

There are a number of angles that one can approach the issue, but for the church the theological and the pastoral are deeply connected. At one level, we who are clergy, and the church itself, is faced with the pastoral question — if society is offering the opportunity, do we share in it? That is, even if the church isn’t required to bless such unions, when approached by members or the public seeking our involvement in such unions, what shall we do? As I told people yesterday, I’ve not been asked, and I’m moving to Michigan in less than 2 weeks, so the possibility of being asked is limited. But what if?

The pastoral is rooted in the theological — the core theological values that form and inform the life of the church. We are, after all, a people formed by our heritage and in our case by Scripture. The questions that we have wrestled with down through the ages have to do with interpretation and application. As Larry Keene, a Disciples minister, says in a clip from the film For the Bible Tells Me So, it’s not a matter of what the Bible says, but how the Bible reads. We can agree that the Bible says this or that — in terms of pure literal words — but how should it be read? What do we bring to the table that influences interpretation and application?

Today, in the LA Times, there is an interesting article that raises just these issues. We read about a variety of starting points, from right to left. The person representing the conservative position is the president of my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary, Richard Mouw. In the quotes here, he makes the same point as in the documentary, Romans 1 speaks specifically about the “natural use.” He goes on in this article to speak about the “orders of creation.” In other words, human beings are not designed for homo-erotic relations. And in a sense he’s right. If marriage is linked completely to the possibilities of procreation, then gay marriage would seem to be “unnatural.” But is procreation the sole criteria for determining the right to marry?

As I read Mouw’s statements about natural use and orders of creation, I became worried. My worries lie in the fact that the same arguments have been used against women’s ordination and for a subordinate place in society for women. Indeed, as a Fuller student 20 plus years ago, we dispensed with arguments about nature as rooted in an ancient culture. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul speaks of a man’s hair and says:

Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (1 Cor. 11:14-15)

Interestingly, Paul seems to recognize the problems that his argument presents and continues:

But if anyone is disposed to be contentious –we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. (1 Cor. 11:16).

So, what is the natural use? Is it something that seemed natural/unnatural then — to Jews but not necessarily Greeks? If short hair is natural . . .

As for the orders of creation, that is an even more problematic issue. People like Bill Gothard used this argument — that has medieval roots — to argue for a family relationship that requires male headship/female submission. I know for a fact that such a position doesn’t reflect Fuller’s positions — at least it didn’t 20 years ago.

So how then do we read Romans 1:26 – 27:

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.

What is natural? And, has the definition of nature changed in 2000 years?

Previously published at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.