I argued yesterday that the new social and legal reality of same-sex marriage is not a passing fad that will just go away because we invest a lot of money and effort into strategies to stop it. This train has left the station!
I then asked, “How do we respond?” I ended by quoting from the apostle Peter’s counsel to a besieged early Christian community living in a time long before Christendom and political favors were afforded to the church. I would add, though one commentator on yesterday’s post said my approach was “naive,” that the Epistles of James and Peter need to become more and more prominent in the life of the Christian community in coming decades. We will face times that look more and more like the first three centuries of Christianity and less and less like the last two in Christendom-based America. My friendly critic was correct to point out that one can take this counsel I give in a simplistic way but the counsel stands as both apostolic and profoundly needed.
Here are several things that I believe are mainstream, orthodox Christian expressions of the ancient tradition, regardless of Supreme Court rulings and widespread public opinion.
- Homosexual acts are sinful. I did not say “homosexuality” was sinful. All sexual acts outside of the covenant of marriage, as revealed and explained in Genesis 2 and Matthew 19, are equally sinful. Homosexual orientation is a disordered affection because it cannot be God’s design for a covenantal marriage that joins two people in holy matrimony but as with all sexual orientation it can become an intense longing that God uses in his grace to satisfy deeper holy longing for purity and fidelity.
- We may need a distinctively Christian way of speaking about marriage since the culture now accepts a definition that is far removed from the covenantal language of the Bible. Rob Schenck has suggested that we call marriage “Holy Matrimony.” I like that. Holy Matrimony is a sanctifying and solemnizing commitment of one male and one female to enter into a new social and spiritual reality that includes a a sacred, and sacramental, pledge to live in a unique love bond faithfully until death.
- If we are to minister in this new social context then we will need great courage but we will also need even greater wisdom to carefully explain Holy Matrimony. What is it and why does it matter if we are to protect God’s orderly design for coupling and family life?
- As a minister of Jesus Christ I cannot and will not perform same-sex marriages. I will only serve the church by conducting ceremonies of Holy Matrimony which are great celebrations of the covenant love of God before witnesses. Even if the state someday requires me to officiate such “legal marriages” I will not do them regardless of the consequences.
Having said this I hope that my view of marriage is rather clear. But there is much more to say about same-sex marriage in our present context.
- I will seek to love and respect those churches and ministers who disagree with my conclusions. Why? Jesus plainly commanded me to love all of his body and all his servants, even if they hold views on this contested issue that I find biblically unacceptable. This stance has been life changing for me personally. I would have instinctively shunned churches and ministers who blessed same-sex unions only a few years ago. My acceptance of people and congregations that confess Christ, couched in my clear rejection of this highly debatable practice, has required me to listen very carefully. It has also taught me to love in ways that I do not think I would have known or understood.
- Churches that agree with me about Holy Matrimony will need to work much harder to love same-sex couples. How will we embrace such persons in the life of the local congregation? How will we deal with a sexualized culture that threatens to overwhelm all of life as we’ve known it for centuries? How will we teach our children. More to the point, “What will a church do when a same-sex couple that is legally married comes into their fellowship, especially if this couple has children and is a loving social community of human persons?” These kinds of questions will not even be considered by rigidly conservative churches since same-sex couples will never enter their fellowship in the first place. I have drawn a great deal of help in thinking about this issue based upon how the church dealt with polygamy when the gospel began to build new community relationships in Africa over a century ago.
- I will continue to read, think, listen and pray about all of this conversation and debate. I will not refuse to dialogue with Christians who disagree with me ethically and pastorally about marriage. I will respectfully engage with anyone at the most humane level I can because I am committed with every fiber of my being to real ecumenism, thus to serious ongoing dialogue. Simply put, I will not allow fear to drive my response to this hot-button issue.
Someone posted an interesting reflection on the same-sex marriage issue on my Facebook wall that reveals how a Millennial Christians respond, with some degree of nuance, to this issue. I found this post rather insightful.
Having said all of this I recognize that the pairing of two human beings in deep emotional ways creates profound emotional impulses that bond two persons together in true friendship. I do not think sex is the real glue here. The real glue is love and people can deeply and profoundly love people of both genders. We must stop allowing Freud’s views of sex and sexuality to define our Christian relationships. This goes for male-female relationships as well as for same gender friendships. Women are much better at this than men, at least generally speaking, but both sexes need to re-engage the meaning and transcendence of deep friendship.
What I am saying is that sex is not the essential core that bonds two people together. For centuries people have lived together in deep friendships and we called them “roommates.” I grew up seeing two women live together for a lifetime and no one ever suggested that this was morally wrong. (This was less common for men in my own experience.) In our present sexualized culture we seem to think that this arrangement is no longer possible because two people of the same-sex, who deeply love one another, will always engage in sexual activity with each other. How will we (the church) respond to these kinds of questions? Will we read sex into every expression of bonded love and emotion that we see among people? Will we make room for deep and emotional love and not assume that sex must be involved every time we see deep love shown between two people, especially two people of the same gender?
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thanks John H. Armstrong….I’ve always appreciated your thought processing and excellent communication skills.
Ryan Collman, check out the link here.
Thank you, John, for your insights on this issue. They have been of tremendous help to me.
Thank you Facebook friends for reading me and for encouraging me.
Am I right in hearing that you’re working on a book related to these themes? I look forward to reading it if so.
No, Adam. I am writing a book titled Our Love Is Too Small.
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