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Billy Graham and the gay marriage debate

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Former U.S. presidents, George H.W. Bush (L), Bill Clinton (2nd L) and Jimmy Carter (R), walk together with evangelist Billy Graham and Franklin Graham (2nd R) before the Billy Graham Library Dedication on the campus of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte, North Carolina May 31, 2007 . REUTERS/Chris Keane

North Carolina will vote today on an amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.  Billy Graham supports the amendment; Bill Clinton is opposed.  Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s statements endorsing gay marriage continue to lead the news.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday that he also supports same-sex marriage.  He joins Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, who spoke out in support of gay marriage last fall.

When I wrote yesterday’s response to Mr. Biden’s comments, I didn’t know that this issue would continue to make news or that my essay would generate so much interest among our readers.  I am grateful to each of you who took time to post comments and for the gracious spirit with which each person discussed this divisive issue.  Nearly all your comments were positive, but some of you asked questions that seemed to warrant a follow-up essay this morning.

One reader stated that the larger issue is divorce, especially among Christians: “We as a Christian group need to get our house in order before we go and poke at others.”  Since the divorce rate among Christians mirrors the general population, we certainly cannot claim exemption from marital issues.  However, like a doctor with cancer who can still make medical recommendations to his patients, fallen people can still explain and commend biblical truth as the best way to live.  If we must be perfect to deliver God’s word, none of the Bible could have been written.

Another reader noted that Jesus never commented on homosexuality and wondered why none of the passages mentioned yesterday comes from the Gospels.  The reason is simple: homosexual activity was forbidden in his culture.  Jesus didn’t need to speak to this issue, since the prohibitions in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 were still normative in first-century Judaism.

Only when Christianity spread into the larger Greco-Roman world did the issue gain relevance.  Paul had to address it in writing to Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians (1 Timothy), because homosexuality was a problem in their cultures.  Letters written primarily to Jewish Christians (such as Hebrews and James) didn’t discuss the issue, since it was not an option for them.  For my responses to other questions, please see yesterday’s commentary and my larger essay on this subject.

How should we respond practically to this issue?  I hope you’ll covenant with me to pray for spiritual awakening and a rebirth of biblical morality in our nation.  Commenting on the North Carolina vote, Billy Graham said, “At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage.”  Who would have imagined this controversy even 20 years ago?  King David could count on “men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).  Who will be “men of Issachar” today?