Gay Marriage: A Pastor's thoughts

" I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," 
President Barak Obama

As Pastor of a wonderful congregation (, I have been asked numerous times "What do you think of Gay marriage?".  I have been lobbied by Godly people who feel strongly for and Godly people who strongly oppose Gay marriage.  I have talked with congregants who feel this is the single most important issue of our era, and with those who feel this is merely a distraction in the church's mission.  I share that to say that church is not monolithic in its approach to this issue and I recognize that Godly people may respectfully disagree with what I am about to say.

From a Biblical perspective, I have written extensively that healthy sexual intimacy is always from a perspective of marriage.  Sexual intimacy before marriage or outside of marriage is clearly prohibited in scripture, both the old and new (For a sweeping review, consider reading my blog series called Jesus and Sexuality).  For those who do not know me or my theological bent, I have a fairly high regard for the authority of scripture in describing orthopraxy (literally, the right ways).   In the Bible,  the Genesis narrative defines marriage as the cleaving together of a man and woman.  There are no sanctioned same-sex, sexually intimate relationships in all of scripture. So the idea of same-sex marriage would have been an oxymoron as same-sex and marriage were incompatible in the typical Hebrew/Jewish worldview. The focus of marriage was not friendship, happiness, mutual satisfaction, or erotic pleasure, but procreation and legacy.  Although married couples experienced love in antiquity, that love is often described as more of a deep loyalty and sacrificial devotion than the emotional affection that is the foundation of many modern day marriages.  (For a wonderful review of the changing meaning of marriage, check out Andrew Cherlin's book, Marriage-go-round).  Because the marriage emphasis in Biblical times was procreation and legacy, it made no sense to define same-sex relationships as marriage as there was no chance for heirs.  Even in the Biblical record, we see the bitterness caused by marriages where children were not conceived (I Samuel 1:1-15 is a great example).  Scripture does not say those couples are evil or disobedient, but from a marriage perspective, they are not fulfilling the purpose of marriage in the Biblical era.

Yet, we do not live in the Biblical era! While Jesus reinforced the Hebrew understanding of marriage in his day, the Apostle Paul clearly shows that the emphasis was no longer procreation and legacy, but the demonstration of Godly love towards one another as a witness to God's love for us (Ephesians 5).  Our understanding of the purpose of marriage has changed from simply procreation and legacy, to the culturally driven goals of companionship and mutual satisfaction.  Using the contemporary practice of marriage, is it possible for members of the same sex to enter into an exclusive bond for the purpose of companionship and mutual satisfaction?  The answer is yes! But this is the wrong question.  The answer is not Biblical because the marriage emphasis of Biblical times is not the marriage emphasis in contemporary American culture.

I would argue that the concept of marriage focusing on companionship and mutual satisfaction is not wrong or evil, but merely found wanting.  Contemporary American culture has made marriage into a consumer defined commodity where participants enter into marriage based upon their own desires and satisfaction.  The problem is that when marriage partners become unsatisfied, they leave to look for satisfaction elsewhere.  This is why the divorce rate in America is so high.  It is this focus of marriage that has turned contemporary marriages into a scandal.

I believe that the purpose of marriage is not simply mutual satisfaction and companionship, although those things should be part of a healthy marriage.  I believe the marriage, as defined in scripture, is to be covenant relationship that pledges unconditional love as a witness to the love of God and the faithfulness of God.  Despite our current marriage practices, we are not free to redefine marriage or its purposes, without-destabilizing the purposes and roles of families in general.  Theologian Miroslav volf has done a wonderful job in his collection of Essays: Against the Tide: Love in times of Petty Dreams.  He demonstrates that the focus of American lives has shifted from honoring God, to honoring nation, to honoring causes, to our current situation of honoring self.  This shrinking of the vision has been mirrored in contemporary marriage and that's why its a mess.

All that to say this:

1. The Christian institution of marriage has been Biblically defined as a covenant between a man and women to honor God through a sacrificial and exclusive devotion, where the legacy is not necessarily children, but a legacy of love that mirrors the love of God as demonstrated through Jesus.

2. Gay marriage is not Christian marriage in that the institution of same sex marriage is never sanctioned in scripture and there is not even the slightest hint of this provision.

3. Words are important in this discussion.  It is important for Christians to understand that what is being described as Gay marriage is actually a same sex civil union.  As discussed above, there is no such thing Biblically, as same sex marriage.  When the church speaks of marriage, it must use the scriptural definition as opposed to the secular definition.

4. Civil unions, where same sex couples commit to one another for life-long fidelity, support, and even spiritual growth, should be recognized by the government in the same way the government honors non-religious civil unions between heterosexuals.  The United States of America is not a Christian nation and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) citizens make up a sizable minority.  I believe that this in no way challenges the institution of Christian marriage, but simply acknowledges that in a pluralistic society, there are multiple expressions of what would be considered family.  Christians are not being asked to support homosexuality as much as recognizing that tolerance has to be given if it is desired.

5. The Church should feel comfortable in strengthening, honoring, and promoting Christian marriage while co-existing with civil unions.  The greatest thing that the Church can do to demonstrate a credible witness to the love of God is foster loving marriages.

6. The Church should feel comfortable in understanding marriage as a faith-based covenant that is supported by the secular government.  The foundation of Christian marriage is faith.  The role of the church is not to authorize unions, but to ordain marriages.

7. Civil unions are a reality of participating in a secular nation.  There is no such thing as a civil union in Iran, because it is a religious state.  This is not the case in the United States, nor is it desired.

8. The judgement of whether a couple should be in a union and their right to be in a union are two very different things.  This is regardless if it is a heterosexual or homosexual relationship.  While scripturally, one can argue whether it is right, prudent, wise, or sinful to be in union, however the  right to union has been given without prejudice (we do not make qualifications for adults to be in relationship with one another, but feel its their right to do so).

9. In all things: Love.  The ethic of the authentic church is love.  The mission of the church is to demonstrate love to the world in practical ways.  The challenge of the Church is not whether homosexuality is a sin, but how to demonstrate the love of God to all of us who are broken spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, socially and sexually.

I pray today that this issue would invite further discussion, deeper understanding, and a higher expression of the love of God!

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor