So what’s really behind Christians who are so up in arms over marriage equality? I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a strong claim. Are you ready?

Behind almost every Christian who opposes the SCOTUS decision is Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theology.

In a nutshell, this is the belief that Jesus died on the cross for your sins so that you may enter the pearly gates of heaven. How could such a seemingly innocent theology be the cause of such pandemonium surrounding marriage?

When the death of Jesus is regarded as a bloody sacrifice veiled as martyrdom, it is a strong indication that the justification of an angry God is at hand. What does that have to do with gay marriage? If God isn’t in alignment with Jesus’ teachings, then why should those proclaiming to be Christians follow that kind of God? There really is no way to reconcile that Jesus said to “love your enemies and turn the other cheek,” and hold the belief that God had to sacrifice Jesus requiring blood to reconcile humans into divine relationship. According to this theology, being human is innately sinful and so offensive that it makes us enemies of God. If that’s true, why can’t God just love us and turn the other cheek? If Jesus is God, then why isn’t God doing what Jesus said?

This theology is laden with cognitive dissonance revealing why liberation for LGBTQ persons feels like persecution for those Christians who staunchly oppose marriage equality.  If Jesus is a martyr for the sins of others, then the need to feel persecuted is rooted in the entire identity behind the cross. To be like Jesus through this lens means feeling crucified every time someone rejects this ideology and can live freely doing so.

Ironically, this message is still a law that says unless you do x then consequence y will happen. In short, unless you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins then you will go to hell. Suddenly, Jesus becomes just another law replacing one sacrifice for another. Is this really love?

If the God being worshipped is angry and requiring blood, what could that possibly mean for those who are standing outside of this law-bound sacrificial theology?

The word that comes to my mind is worthlessness.

How tragic it is for someone to see their selves so estranged from God and in need of rescue from hell. How sad it must be to feel that unworthy and sinful. How in the world could someone love an LGBTQ person and question their entire basis for theology if understanding the death of Jesus is wrapped around fear and hell? I really do feel sadness here, because at the end of the day they aren’t just rejecting LGBTQ persons, but also abandoning their own self-worth. How can we expect them to see Imago Dei (the image of God) in us, when they don’t even see it in the reflection of the mirror they look into everyday?

You’ll always know the God someone loves by the way they view the death of Jesus.

If a person’s sin is magically wiped away by the death of Jesus, we can easily see how much damage has been perpetuated in the name of God. This theology also gives credibility to miraculously wiping away a person’s accountability for harming another person, while also justifying that harm. The logic follows, if God had to sacrifice His own son to bring about salvation in order to have a righteous world, then His people must go to extreme measures to bring about their idea of righteousness. Yes, pushing an LGBTQ person out of your church and denying them basic rights falls right under this.

This brings me to my next point; the use of “His” or “Him” is so prominent in this theology when describing God.  Who could imagine such an angry and powerful deity if that God were female or non-binary? So much of the forcefulness in our society has been perpetuated by the need to dominate. If God is male and rejecting His plan for salvation means hell, then that that model serves to show why men have felt the right to dominate women.

This reveals how homophobia, biphobia and transphobia so easily flow out of this theology. If God will punish you to hell if you don’t obey, then reading the bible literally is your only option to prevent such a fiery fate. Not only does this justify reading the bible through a lens that is literalistic, but it also doesn’t require much critical thought or questioning.  If the bible literally says God created Adam and Eve, and constantly affirms how male was to dominate over female, then it is pretty easy to see how queer relationships threaten the very foundation of this theology.

Who will be the man, and who will be the female? If a man marries a man who will be dominate and who will be submissive? If a woman marries a woman, then who is supposed to cook and clean, and who will fix the sink when it stops working? At the core, the validation of same sex marriage means facing the possibility of having a theology that could unravel.

I can imagine how scary it might feel to slowly realize that you actually like this gay couple you met last week, and what that might do to your entire basis of belief.

I see so many people trying to hold onto this theology and find a way to love their gay friends and family by trying so hard to touch both worlds by saying or thinking “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” Even this at its core is still rooted in a harmful atonement theology, projecting that hell will be that person’s fate if they don’t change.

Are there more wholesome ways to believe in the death of Jesus that actually teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves without believing we are worthless in the eyes of God? Yes, absolutely! While I can’t cover it all here, below are links to a few of my favorite blogs. Embracing change in society will always mean questioning faith systems. The fears held in the early church are the same fears faced now. Something new always means something changes.

Jesus will always remain new when we invite ALL of our neighbors to the table.

Additional resources:

On finding different meaning in the death of Jesus:

On Sin:

On reading the Bible:

On hell:

On why Jesus was killed:

Photo taken by Robert Couse-Baker, modified for size

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