Today, we continue the summer sermon series, 20 questions in 10 weeks, with two questions about Gay Marriage.
They are, “Should we be sponsoring same sex marriage?”
And “Does the Bible profess marriage as between a man and a woman?”
I’m kinda glad this question came up, as one of the decisions at Synod Assembly was that, in light of New Jersey allowing marriages between people of the same gender, every congregation should re-examine our 2009 statement on Sexuality “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.”
Now, by way of beginning it’s important to point out that part of the ELCA’s statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” involved the concept of Respect for the Bound Conscience of the Neighbor
—the idea that brothers and sisters in Christ can deeply disagree with one another and still recognize the other person comes to their position from a place of faith.
Within our tradition it is acceptable to fall anywhere between the two following positions:
1. It’s acceptable, to believe that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching, and natural law. That same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin,
and therefore it is safe to conclude that the neighbor, and the community, are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.
2. It’s also acceptable, to believe that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today. That the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status, as hetero-sexual marriage
And Therefore, it is imperative to surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer, that they might live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, in order to serve others. Same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children, and other dependents and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships in their respective state”… in New Jersey that means Marriage.
So, to reiterate, both those extremes, and everything in the middle, are acceptable and faithful ways for members of the ELCA to understand Homosexuality and relate to gay-folk.
For the sake of full disclosure I fall decidedly in the 2nd camp. I am convinced by scripture, and witnessing the spiritual fruits of such relationships,
that same-gendered couples should be afforded every protection under the law,
and bear every responsibility of the faith,
with regards to their publically accountable, lifelong, monogamous, relationship.
They should get married and do so amongst God’s people.
For me to profess anything other than that, would go against conscious.
Let us pray
To answer the question: “Does the Bible Profess marriage as between a man and a woman?” the best place to start is in the beginning, or at least within spitting distance of it.
The starting place for thinking about marriage, and in a lot of ways the starting point for natural law arguments against gay marriage too, is this beautiful and tragic account of man being without a partner.
The man experienced the fullness of creation and says, “(Sigh) I need a partner, a help-mate, a wife.”
And God said, “It isn’t good for Man to be alone.”
And God trots out companion after companion before him
—does a barn cat fill that hole in your heart? A dog, they’re man’s best friend, right? A hippo? Birds and bees?
And so God took drastic measures, instead of digging deep again into the hummus to form a human partner, God digs into the man himself, and fashions from the very flesh of man a companion. God forms an Ishah from an Ish—a Wo-Man from a Man.
And the man looks upon this companion and says:
‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh.’
and flesh of my flesh.’
This second chapter of Genesis asks the question “Why is it, couples leave their flesh and blood, their family, and become a new family? Why does marriage and sex make you feel so very connected to the other person? Why is there such a tight bond between husband and wife?”
And the answer is because they too become flesh and blood. /In marriage, they become one flesh.
Why do most people yearn for “their other half?” Why do they so strongly seek a mate? Because it’s natural! That yearning is innate within us!
So that’s where marriage being between a man and a woman comes from
—from this explanation of the creation of new families,
this explanation of the fullness found in finding your other half,
your flesh and blood,
your rib so long removed from you,
There are also found in scripture five verses which prohibit sex between people of the same gender.
Several are found amongst the purity laws, for example in Leviticus 20 “And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
Of course, as we read last week, if we go down this road, we’ll need to round up everyone who worked on the Sabbath and kill them.
If we follow the admonition to kill all children who have ever talked back to their parents, we’re not going to have much of a youth group left.
For that matter, (Bob, Randy, Eric)—following Leviticus 14, I’ve inspected the education wing on more than one occasion, and have reason to believe there is at least some mold there, therefore we need to go out to the Mighty Fortress and get all our gasoline and pour it on the education wing, light it on fire, raze it to the ground, and take whatever is left to the local place of impurity.
In short, straight people applying purity laws only when they don’t apply to us, is unfaithful.
The best place to go for prohibitions against same gender sex would be Paul, he’s at least consistent. He’s against all marriage, advising all Christians to stay celibate like he is, but if they’re too weak for that, to get married—though he warns getting married leads to much distress.
Paul advises this, on one hand because he thinks the world is ending sooner rather than later,
but also because he believes marriage and sex can not be divorced from a Roman understanding of Power, which insists on separating people out into categories like Slave and Free, Citizen and Barbarian, Gentile and Jew, Male and Female
—in order to ensure one of those two categories is in charge and powerful, and the other is disempowered, disenfranchised, and victimized.
In fact, one of the main places people turn to, in order to dismiss gay marriage, Romans chapter 1, which we just read, is one of those places where Paul is kicking these lines of division in the teeth in the name of Jesus Christ.
Paul is writing to a divided community in Rome. A community filled with both Jewish and Gentile Christians, in which the Jews had been expelled from Rome for 5 years and then returned.
Imagine half of St. Stephen, let’s say all but one council member and everyone who sits on the pulpit side, being removed from New Jersey by the government, and then coming back in five years time. Things would be different, you might even resent those who replaced you on council or who are sitting in “your” pew.
Well, Paul writes to this community, and is insisting that everyone, both Jew and Gentile, is a sinner in need of Christ’s love.
So Paul sets a Rhetorical trap,
he ensnares his reader with his words.
He makes his argument by paraphrasing a Jewish book which talks about how sinful gentiles are, The Wisdom of Solomon.
Imagine this being read aloud to the whole community:
“Hey, fellow Jews” the letter begins “remember what you’ve read in The Wisdom of Solomon about those sinful Gentiles who’ve taken over your church?
They’re so horrible that they worship the creature instead of the Creator, and therefore the Creator allows them to fall into degraded and impure lust—instead of loving the Creator they lust for the creation.
--At this point those Jewish Christians begin to nod in agreement. (They’ve read Wisdom of Solomon before, they know where this is going)
Once those gentiles head down the slippery slope of Idolatry
—and we know they do because they’re Gentiles after all—
they’ll continue falling further from God and the natural order of things, they’ll be disordered, and will have unnatural sex with members of the same sex because Lust is the only thing left in their hearts—those Gentile Sinners.
-- The Gentile Christians start to grumble, the Jewish Christians smile ear to ear.
And from there it just gets worse, doesn’t it? All wickedness will pour out—Evil, coveting, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, disrespect, arrogance, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness.
Those Gentiles are so bad they deserve to die!
-- One of the Jewish Christians might even shout out an Amen at this point.
“And therefore,” the reader continues, “my fellow Jewish Christians you have no excuse, by judging others, you are guilty. You Do The Same Thing!”
It’s just like when Nathan tells David the story about the horrible man who stole a sheep, and David says “That man should die.” And then Nathan responds, “You are that man.”
Or, it’s like a friend of mine who looked at the ELCA’s statement on Human Sexuality to read about the sins of gay people, only to find that in its 44 pages there were only 2 pages about gay-folk, the rest was about straight folk and our sexual inclinations.
The point of this verse is that all, both Jew and Gentile, are in need of Christ.
Now I’m not saying Jesus or Paul were high fiving homosexuals in the 1st century
—instead I’m saying there was no such thing as homosexuality in the 1st century…
there was only homoeroticism—only same-sex-acts.
there was only homoeroticism—only same-sex-acts.
Roman Males had sex with Slaves and Women,
Greek Males had sex with Boys and Woman.
Sex was used to affirm power and create those categories that Paul is so insistent are inconsistent with the Christian faith.
Marriage and sexuality both gay and straight, expressing love, commitment, and trust, just wasn’t the norm back then, but it is now.
So that answers the first question, what’s the Bible have to say about marriage being between a man and a woman, as well as the implied question of what does it have to say about same-sex-marriage.
As for the 2nd question, “Should we be sponsoring same sex marriage?”
Lutherans have a different relationship to the state than most denominations—it goes all the way back to Luther being protected by the princes while thinking through his faith—
The logic, I think, goes “Wow, the fanatical religious folk want to assassinate me, the secular state is keeping them from doing so… maybe there is a place in my faith for a division between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Government!”
Marriage isn’t a sacrament.
The church blesses what the state has done, that why a traditional European Lutheran wedding often involve the long parade from the court house to the church.
Additionally, marriage isn’t just about sex.
To quote the ELCA’s sexuality statement, “Christians believe that marriage is not solely to legitimate physical sexual intimacy, but to support long-term and durable communion for the good of others.”
I think of two gay seminary class mates, married in Massachusetts—a more traditional Lutheran couple you will not find, an organist and a Pastor—when they look at one another you know it’s not just about sex, it’s about love and commitment.
I think of one of my professors, raising her son along with her wife. Their marriage supports their parenting, it’s a safe place from which to raise him.
I also think of when my good friend and colleague Pastor Fred and I get to grumbling:
Like Adam I say, “(Sigh) Being a Pastor is so hard and emotionally draining, I can’t do it alone, I need a partner, a help-mate, a wife.”
And Pastor Fred responds, like Adam, “(Sigh) Being a Pastor is so taxing, I can’t do it alone, I need a partner, a help-mate, a husband.”
Having sex doesn’t lighten the load of being a Pastor, having someone to come home to, who you trust and love, who is flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, that does.
There is a wide variety of ways to understand marriage and be a faithful member of the ELCA.
Any pointing to purity laws to justify discrimination or worse against gay folk, if followed through logically, would have such severe consequences for everyone in our society, it could make the Salem witch trials, reign of the Taliban, or ISIS, or Boko Haram look tame.
We are truly at a different place than people in the 1st century were—Romantic love, especially between same gendered individuals, just wasn’t a thing, but it is now.
I’m wholeheartedly convinced marrying gay folk is not baptizing gay sex, but instead creating a healthy and holy space for legitimate yearnings for companionship, the protection of gay parents, and the strengthening of the institution of marriage. A+A