Same-sex marriage: Staying out of God's way

In response to my op-ed on marriage below, in which I suggest that one reason conservatives oppose same-sex marriage is because it threatens the to undermine the power of the patriarchy (go read it), commenter Russ writes the following:

Marriage was created by God and He alone has the authority to define it.

Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The scripture that Russ appropriates comes from Matthew 19:4-6. The backstory is that Jesus is answering the Pharisees’ famous question on tying the knot: “Can two dudes get married?”

Actually, as some of you may know, the topic at hand is about heterosexual divorce, not gay marriage, though it sure would be convenient for Russ and others if Jesus actually did take sides on this issue. But this is what I want to get at here (extracted from my response to Russ’ comment):

As Jesus warns us above, I certainly do not advocate the separation of those whom God has joined together. To the contrary, this is precisely why I advocate marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples. Who are humans, or even government, to stand in the way?

We need to remember that there is more criteria to the Christian marriage ethic than simply whether there is one man and one woman. For example, a marriage predicated on abuse or destructive behavior is not God-ordained. We need to open up to the possibility that God is calling us to unite not only in terms of gender, but perhaps more relevantly, in terms of a relationship that is spiritually fulfilling, mutual, monogamous and wholesome. I know many gay and lesbian Christians whose relationships meet the criteria of the Christian marriage ethic as well or better than many straight couples I know.

Finally, we need to stop assuming that God is somehow in error in creating people to be gay or lesbian. Who are we to question God’s creation, simply because aspects of it transcend our understanding? To be sure: we need to address sin where we encounter it, but the biological fact of sexual orientation is no sin–and it’s not an accident! Humans need to get out of the way and embrace that which the Creator has made good.

For more on this, see Acts 10:9-29.

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19 Responses to “Same-sex marriage: Staying out of God's way”

  1. Brian Says:

    Very thoughtful. I think the church has done a very poor job of helping people to understand what marriage is. The debate over gay marriage seems a little pointless to me. There are plenty of gay folk who are married — they just don’t have a legal contract recognized by the state.

  2. Erin Says:

    What a wonderful post! Thank you for taking the time to share it with us.

    I often have a problem with the “Marriage was created by God” group because they do not take into account thousands of years of tribal history, current cultural differences in marriage, and even the wide and varied history of the institution itself. Most of them–without realizing it–are probably descended from people who were not married in the traditional sense of marriage as we understand it today because the institution (as we know it) didn’t exist then or their ancestors were of a class/caste who were restricted to symbolic marriages.

  3. FranIAm Says:

    You got it- what threatens the power center and/or dominance.

    This is a great post and really deserving a wide audience. I am going to link to it.

    Thank you Tom- you elucidate things so well and with great tenderness, love, faith and spirit.

  4. FranIAm Says:

    Tom – I linked to you in the post I wrote. Hope you are cool with it.

    Disclaimer- if Tom’s readers come to my blog, I am a Christian who is Anti-Theocracy. I am in deed a Catholic with very leftist and progressive viewpoints. You are welcome but I hope to not have any flaming or negativity.

    Which is why I wrote a post called You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right.

  5. TomCat Says:

    Hi Tom. I came from Fran’s and, like you, I’m a non-judgmental Christian. This is what I commented there in response to the suggestion that marriages should be civil to deny religious bigots control:

    Fran, for all intents and purposes, marriages in this country are already civil. It matters not how many priests line up and perform the ceremony. Without the license, obtained from and recorded with the civil authorities, it’s not a marriage. And the only reason same-sex couples cannot marry now is that the civil authorities refuse to document it. If a particular church does not want to perform same sex unions, it’s their right to be bigots, if they choose. However for the civil authorities to refuse to sanction one, it is a violation of the couple’s human rights.

  6. jos76 Says:

    The book “What God has joined together” explores your point in-depth.
    I also think that it is widely accepted by theologians that most of the old testament is alagory (Adam, Eve, Noah, etc.), so it is naive to “believe” that things actually happened this way. Every good story needs a good beginning. I am a commited Christian, so I am not opposed to using the Bible and the life of Jesus as a guide for life.

    Jos76
    http://www.jos76.wordpress.com

  7. Mick Says:

    Just a few questions for you Tom. On what grounds do you claim that same sex marriage is “good”? What moral standard do you use to make that judgment? Do you think that by opposing certain behaviors we are “getting in God’s way”? If so, where does it end and why; should we “get in God’s way” when someone attempts murder, or should stay out of “His” way there too? Why do you think that all marriages are”God’s way” anyway, do you deny that the act of marriage comes from the mutual consent of two, free, human wills? (The same free will that allows us to either walk a morally upright path in a meaningful manner, or choose to peruse our own, self interested desires)

    Also, if God did not intend for us to make our own informed decisions (such as, in this case, who we marry and what gender they are), why then did He grant us free will in the first place? Since we have been given free will, how is exercising that free will in a morally upright manner (holding fast to what is good, and abstaining from immorality) “getting in God’s way”? Unless you think that marriage is some sort of predestined thing (in which case you deny that humans have free will), you can not honestly claim that opposing same sex marriage is “getting in God’s way” any more than you can claim that opposing murder is “getting in God’s way”.

    God gave us free will, and everything we know about Him tells us that He honours our decisions regardless of how terrible those decisions may be. We can either say to Him “Thy will be done”, and follow the moral code He has given us, or shout “MY will be done”. So where do you Tom, get the idea that a same sex marriage is “Thy” will, rather than “my” will?

  8. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Hi Mick,

    Welcome to the site. On first glance, I’m not convinced you actually read beyond the title of this post, being that I actually addressed some of your main questions in it. That said, if you’ve actually got the time and interest to engage a Christian, non-Biblically-literalist perspective on why I support gay people (and gay marriage), please check out the back-and-forth in the comments on this thread.

    It’s finals week, it’s late, I’m tired, and I’m going to be frank. Simply put, and our disagreement will inevitably hinge on this point: Same-sex marriage is “good” (well, it’s at least no better or worse than opposite-sex marriage) because gay and lesbian people are created in the image of God.

    You ask if by “opposing certain behaviors” people are getting in God’s way. Let’s be clear: by opposing gay marriage, you’re not “opposing certain behaviors.” You’re opposing the possibility of gay people. You’re opposing equal rights conferred to families centered around two men or two women. You’re opposing the idea that gay and lesbian couples, the very concept of which seems inconceivable to you, should have access to the validation of their relationships via Holy Matrimony under God. In short, you believe that on the basis of what I presume is a selectively literalist* reading of the Bible, you are more equipped to discern whether a gay or lesbian couple is ready for marriage under God (categorical no!) than anybody else is.

    Bottom line: if it is true that gay and lesbian people too have been created as they are by God, you are indeed getting in God’s way by advocating the continued second-class citizenship of people who are only seeking to live out their lives as God has created them to live (just like the rest of us!).

    One last thought: just because the Bible is friendly to the institution of slavery doesn’t mean we must apply those attitudes today. Our science, social circumstances, and even Biblical interpretations have radically changed over time on this issue – even as the Bible has remained clear. So why was it acceptable to make this change in our Biblical understanding yet not consider any change in our understanding with regards to gay and lesbian people today?

    Peace,
    Tom

    *P.S. Regarding selective literalism: please don’t quote Leviticus 18:22 at me only to make excuses for, say, Numbers 5. Literal application of everything in the simply doesn’t work, no matter how frustrating that is for the rest of us.

  9. Elder Hoss Says:

    Tom.

    If one jettisons a revelation (ie., the Canon) extra nos as the infallible criteria, or lens by which these questions must be approached, your argument is entirely appropriate. In fact, though you won’t “go there,” bc. you probably realize the inflexible consequences of logic created by this interpretative choice, you can extend the field far beyond same-sex “marriage” to various other kinds of unions.

    Epistemologically though, you (and others posing this same argument) have not justified such an interpretative leap. At best what one often hears is “Fundamentalist X is a wack job and I’m not a Fundamentalist, therefore my elastic approach to revelation justifies my position.”

    Prove though, the warrant for the interpretative leap – this playing fast and loose with revelation, and thereby setting up an alternative standard of infallibility which then becomes the new lens through which all of life is viewed.

    I don’t believe you can. In fact, I know you cannot…

    All of this, mind you, from one who may at least AT POINTS concur with you re the various blandishments of Fundies, as I am no longer one.

  10. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Elder Hoss,

    Hello, and thanks for visiting. I am having a hard time fully understanding your position (we are but simple pirates on this site), so let me simplify mine, then you can tell me where I’ve gone wrong. I should hasten to mention that as I am only now completing the first year of what I believe to be a life-long theological study, I have no doubt that my views will shift over time. What follows is where I stand today on the subject of revelation, and why.

    I do not believe that everything in the Bible is necessarily (a) the Word of God, or (b) intended to be literally applicable to our lives. This is because I cannot, at this time, reconcile either (a) or (b) with passages like Numbers 5, Judges 19, 1 Timothy 2, nor the bizarre practices alluded to throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy, just to name a few.

    So what, then, are my sources for revelation? There are three: I know God and receive God’s message through personal, direct experiences and prayer, I know others who are personally in relationship with and have ideas about God, and yes, I have also come to know God through revelation about God as written in the Bible. I take seriously the command to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (and might!). But I can do none of these if I must attribute all of the crazy, violent, and disturbing passages in the Bible to God’s own dictation, rather than humans operating within the science and social circumstances of their time.

    Hope this helps as a conversation-starter.

    Peace,
    Tom

  11. Elder Hoss Says:

    Hello Tom,

    There are without doubt, a host of passages in Scripture which, simply by virtue of our own fallenness, our own cultural distance from the initial writing of a given passage, we are all alike, unable to comprehend fully, if not in some cases, comprehend at all.

    However, when one confronts even the most bizarro passages (how about the account of how the Benjamites found their wives, or as you rightly note, Numbers 5?), I would caution that our immediate assumption in every case is that the fault in understanding lies entirely on our side.

    Call it a presupposition of epistemological humility rather than a presupposition of the infallibility of I, me, my, the subjective person, sitting in judgment on Scripture.

    When I was in grad school in the so-called Ivy League (whatever that means, not much…) I recall a Professor gleefully announcing to us in a bible study that, even though Scripture did not support his decision, the Lord had shown him by “revelation of the Spirit” that he was “released” from his wife, and free to marry another.

    This is the problem with subjectivism – It’s not that the idea of inerrancy or infallibility is now done away with. Instead of an infallible revelation from God in the Scripture, a man (or woman) now shift his/her doctrine of infallibility to SOMETHING ELSE.

    In Marx, it’s the infallibility of the proletariat. In Rome, it’s a more limited doctrine of infallibility viz. the papal sort. In the circles frequented by admittedly bright minds like James Cone, another type of infallibility doctrine holds sway.

    In the case of the Yale professor I mentioned, his infallibility was simply the dictates of his own heart (or loins), however sincere he may have appeared to be.

    We could put it like this – As image-bearers of God who inescapably are His creation, and yet fallen creation, we either move in terms of the categories He’s established extra nos viz. divine revelation, problems and all (were there two demoniacs confronting Jesus or one, were there two cleansings of the temple or one, why polygamy’s tolerance, etc. etc.) , or we set up our own (unintended, in many respects) standard of infallibility, being as gods, determining for ourselves good and evil, which essentially is replicating the primordial lie in Genesis 3.

    It sounds to me that you are really a thinking person who is seriously wrestling with some of these questions. I might recommend a few volumes such as the British Anglican J.I. Packer’s “Fundamentalism and the Word of God,” as well as, for more detailed study, Gerhardus Vos’s “Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments.”

    Back to this issue of Scripture/its comprehensibility, D.A. Carson once humorously stated that, “I may not know exhaustively the meaning of John’s statement ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” but I DO know that this verse is NOT about the sex-life of sea turtles.

    Carson’s point there of course is that we may understand Scripture, although not exhaustively. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, producing in God’s people true repentance and faith, a new consciousness, a new orientation emerges wherein we know instinctively the truthfulness of Scripture, notwithstanding the fact that our knowledge is cloudy, even as Paul put it. Now, we “see through a glass dimly,” but we DO see nonetheless.

  12. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Elder Hoss,

    I think you raise some really good points here. Thank you for taking the time. I won’t have time to respond until later this evening, but I wanted to let you know I appreciate your efforts and look forward to continuing this conversation.

    Peace,
    Tom

  13. Elder Hoss Says:

    No problem, Tom. I appreciate your spirit, and we’ll seek to connect as the Lord enables. The subject of Scriptural Authority and some kind of balanced via media to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of Liberal Christianity on the one hand, and Fundamentalism ala Americana on the other, is something very important to me, so I welcome the discussion.

  14. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Elder Hoss,

    In response to your post above, particularly your suggestion that if something is incomprehensible to humans than the error is with us rather than with God, I have many reactions, but two big questions.

    1) Assuming that God is right on all things biblical, why shouldn’t good believers implement even those bizarre and weird things that transcend our understanding that can be found in the Bible?

    Let’s use Numbers 5, since it’s such a great and shocking example. I don’t believe the interpretation of this passage is particularly difficult. I don’t think we humans have too much “error” when it comes to interpreting this text. Rather, it’s clear and easy to follow. What makes it incomprehensible is that we ought to go and do likewise. As of now, my response is, “Well, no. Absolutely not. Even if this were once the will of God, that’s just too bad if God wants me to do this now.” But if, as you’re suggesting, the error is mine and God’s will, as described here, is correct, wouldn’t God want me to simply implement this procedure on faith? And all of the other things that seem wacky and out-dated to my human understanding?

    2. It is indeed possible that we are simply unable to comprehend everything that’s in the Bible, because God is much bigger than our understanding. I’m with you there. But why isn’t it also possible that some of what is contained in the Bible was written by humans with agendas?

    If you don’t mind, please remind me again why I’m supposed to believe that the entire Bible comes directly from God. (a) What are our sources for believing this? Are we relying on sources inside of the Bible to come to this conclusion? (“The Bible is the Word of God.” “How do you know?” “Because it says so in the Bible.”) (b) Even if we determine that it all is pure, unadulterated God-breathed Word, does that mean that the faithful should be implementing it literally into our lives? (c) If not, what is our criteria for discernment?

    Thanks Elder Hoss. I know that whatever your response, it is sure to be illuminating.

    Peace,
    Tom

  15. Tom Ryberg Says:

    PS – Question 2(c) above is really it’s own question. I think that’s where the real meat of this discussion is – if everything is God-breathed, then how do we discern what must be kept verbatim, verses what is permissible to be jettisoned?

    Thanks,
    TR

  16. Elder Hoss Says:

    Tom

    I appreciate your thoughtful questions.

    You could probably anticipate by now that I would start by saying that our presuppositions, that is to say, the “floor boarding” or “epistemological planks” upon which we both stand as creatures made in the image of God, but fallen creatures, will determine the trajectory of our respective responses.

    I’ll try to explain a bit more about my presuppositions, hoping that you will grant that, contra what most Liberals and Fundamentalists say, all reasoning is circular, and based at the end of the day, on our presuppositions.

    I accept Scripture as infallible revelation from God because, with the entire Christian church (Roman, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) I wholeheartedly consent that Jesus did (notice for example what Jesus says about the “Law and the Prophets” when rebuking the super-pious religious traditionalism of the Pharisees in Matthew 5:17-20, or when he states, in John 10 that “the Scripture cannot be broken”, or when our Lord accepts as a given the historicity of the first human family in Genesis 2-3).

    In short, my presupposition on Scriptural infallibility grows directly out of Christology. Christ as a theanthropic (divine-human) person, viewed Scripture in this way (interestingly enough, even the 19th century Liberal scholarship granted this, they just rejected our Lord’s divinity, but did not contest the point that He viewed Scripture as God-breathed, even as Paul describes it in II Timothy 3:16).

    Second, I so view Scripture because the Holy Spirit illuminated the gospel to me through both a black street preacher named Solomon and the minister David Wilkerson when I was a lost 19 yr old, giving me repentance and faith (the sovereign work of God, and not produced by us), and thereafter, through a series of remarkable providences I can’t take the time to open up tonight, God confirmed time and time again, the veracity of both His claim on my life, as well as the veracity of the objective content of the Canon of Scripture.

    Thirdly, after 3 yrs in a graduate program in the so-called Ivy League wherein every possible chair, table, and foreign object was thrown at Scripture by my agnostic “Christian” professors (one of whom asked me behind closed doors how he could be sure he was converted to God), I came to find that nearly every “bible difficulty” could be viewed in radically different (and more cogent manner) if one operated with a different set of assumptions than all but one of my professors did.

    Then also, the fruit – In other words, witnessing a former Arian nation member and former Nation of Islam member I met in Teen Challenge, hugging one another, after both had found repentance and faith and been converted by the Holy Spirit, now living lives of submission to the Kingship of Christ, many other examples as well, of utterly transformed lives bearing witness to the promise of Christ, “Who the Son sets free is free indeed.”

    There are various other penultimate considerations as well one could discuss, such as the fact of Scripture’s being the most well-attested (textual copy-wise) document of any piece of Literature of its era (all of the textual variants one may assemble do not materially alter any point of Christian doctrine), the consensus teaching of the various branches of Christendom pre and post-Reformation, etc.

    But again, I don’t believe any of these positions will compel anyone unless he or she begins with the presupposition that we are fallible, fallen creations of God, totally dependent upon Him for revelation, even as my 1 yr old daughter depends on mommy and me at almost every hour of every day.

    As Calvin noted, what we have in the Bible is God’s “lisping” to us, even as my wife and I have done with each of our children. What might be appropriate for infancy stage (the earlier history of God’s people under the Old Covenant which Scripture itself refers to as consisting in “types” and “shadows” in for example, The Epistle to the Hebrews) later gives way to that which more appropriately belongs to those of more mature years.

    This is another way of saying that both our Lord and the men He chose as witnesses to the great facts of redemptive history viz. His earthly ministry, sinless life, substitutionary death, burial, resurrection, ascension, THEMSELVES bear witness to this progressive nature of revelation. In other words, the Bible itself most often answers such questions as “What portion of this mind-blowing 66 Books is normative for us hic et nunc”?

    Best Wishes

    Hoss

  17. Elder Hoss Says:

    P.S. – There are a number of voices out there who, in my view, navigate between what I previously called the Scylla and Charybdis of Liberalism & Fundamentalism, such as the Anglican N.T. Wright, or the Jewish-Christian Pastor Steve Schlissel in Brooklyn, NY (note the latter’s site/blog http://www.schlissel.com – the section on epistemology for moral philosophers). I am happy to send you any number of these kinds of volumes from our library, since Jesus owns it all anyway….

  18. FranIAm Says:

    I am not a theologian or a scholar and would never pretend to be one.

    That said – I sit here astounded by the amount of discussion on this topic.

    As a Roman Catholic, for good or ill, I am grateful to be free from the bounds of such literalistic interpretations of things. IMHO this makes for an idolatry of the Bible versus adoration of the Word.

    Also as a Roman Catholic, I bemoan the day that St. Augustine tied “the fall” and sex together. It is a braid of rope that continues to bind.

    While we sit around splitting sexually theological hairs, the real imperative, as I understand it from Jesus – to love God and one another, goes a-wasting.

  19. Why I support gay marriage « Reflections on faith, politics, and society. Says:

    […] thoughts on LGBT people and marriage can be found here and here.) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)What I Think About Gay Marriage.Gay Marriages […]


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