Changing Attitude have published a new document called “Fifteen Reasons” by Keith Sharpe which attempts to give fifteen reasons why same-sex marriage is not an unbiblical idea.
And you know what, it’s silly. Even just reading it through once I could see the obvious flaws in the argument, so let’s have a go at a quick fisk.
1. The fundamental purpose of marriage is companionship:
Then YHWH said, “it is not good for the Earth Creature to be alone. I will make a fitting companion for it.” Genesis 2:18
The reason God creates Eve is solely to alleviate Adam’s isolation. God’s overriding concern is for Adam’s/our well being. God wants him/us to thrive and flourish and realises that this will not happen unless his/our loneliness is relieved by a soulmate. If God did this for Adam it is not credible that God would create homosexual people and then subject them to the pain of lifelong loneliness For gay people the fitting companion, the soulmate, is necessarily somebody of the same sex.
Oh dear. This is a typical case of the “let’s pick one verse and build a theology on that” line of biblical interpretation that demonstrates a wilful ignorance of the Scriptural text. One could point to Genesis 1:28 for an instruction to the couple to multiply and fill the earth. Perhaps Keith could explain to us how a same-sex couple would fill that command? Alternatively we could look at Ephesians 5:22ff where the grammar of the text is very clear that the sex of the married couple is indicative of the parts of the union of Christ and the Church that they uniquely signify in connection to their sex.
So we have two purposes for marriage beyond companionship. And shock horror – these are the same two purposes that the liturgy of the Church of England recognises.
Feel like we’re already banging our head against a wall? Brace yourselves because it just gets worse…
2. A lifelong companion has to be someone compatible. Gender is not important.
The Earth Creature gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals. But none of them proved to be a fitting companion. Genesis 2:20
At first God tries to find a companion for Adam by creating the animals, but then realises that he needs someone like himself, another human being. So the essential point about Eve is not that she is female but that she is human. She is a human person like Adam.
This is such a naive reading of the text. Where is this “Earth Creature” phrase coming from anyway? The word is “Adam” and I cannot see how you get “Earth Creature” from that. The fact that Eve is a human does not distract from the fact that she is also a woman and in other places the Scripture makes that sexual distinction an important factor.
3. The essence of marriage is mutual commitment and faithfulness
Adam exclaimed, “this time, this is the one! Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! Now, she will be woman, and I will be man, because we are of one flesh. Genesis 2:23
What matters here is that the human pair should commit totally to each other in a relationship of mutual dedication and faithful support. Widows, widowers and bereaved partners often say they feel only ‘half a person’ after the death of their spouse. ‘One flesh’ does not crassly imply the sexual act but rather the entire human union which the two people together created. Two men or two women can equally make such profound mutual commitment.
Once again, Keith ignores the passages of Scripture that contradict his position and suggest two more purposes to marriage. More than that his translation ignores the notion of Eve being “taken out of Adam”. Why is that?
4. Procreation is not essential
There is no reference to procreation in the story of Adam and Eve until chapter three of Genesis, and even then it comes only as a sort of incidental afterthought. Its only mention is as a minor detail in the story of God’s punishment of Eve for eating the apple proffered by the snake.
To the woman God said, I will greatly multiply your pains in childbearing, you will bear children in pain. You will desire union with your man, but he will be bent on subjugating you. Genesis 3:16
Childbearing is therefore not an essential part of marriage. And indeed the Christian churches have long been happy to marry couples who cannot have children by reason of infertility or age. And of course protestant and reformed churches all approve of contraception which clearly demonstrates their view that marriage is not about having children. There can therefore be no objection to same-sex marriage on the grounds of inability to procreate.
Well, apart from the fact that two chapters earlier God instructs the human pair to multiply, that’s a great case. But since two chapters earlier God does instruct the human pair to multiply, it’s actually a lousy case. If procreation is not an important component of marriage, why does the Church of England liturgy suggest it is? Indeed, why does the Bible suggest it is?
5. There is no Biblical injunction on individuals to reproduce
There are two accounts of Creation in Genesis. In the first account there is no mention of Adam and Eve. God creates the heaven and the earth and then everything else including humanity, and then the text says:
God saw that this was good and blessed them. saying, “Bear fruit, increase your numbers, and fill the waters of the seas! Birds abound on the earth!” Genesis 1:22
This injunction is addressed to whole species of creatures, and by implication to the whole of humanity, not to individuals. So there is no necessary implication here that every single person is supposed to be heterosexual or produce children. Indeed in the present circumstance of global overpopulation where the earth has been more than replenished, this commandment has been fulfilled and not having children might be considered the more godly act.
Good grief. Is Genesis 1:28 not in Keith’s Bible? Is he really that naive that he cannot see something that contradicts him just six verses away from the verses he mistranslates? Do I need to add anything else?
6. If marriage is a ‘remedy for sin’ for opposite-sex couples then it is equally so for same-sex couples
St Paul’s view was that the sexual drive is so powerful that most people (he of course meant men) have difficulty restraining it, and so it is better for them to marry in order to avoid the sin of fornication.
But if you cannot control yourselves, then you should marry, for it is better to be married than to burn with passion. 1 Corinithians 7: 9
Homosexual people are as much in need of this institutionalised channel for sexual expression as heterosexuals, and it is therefore as good a theological justification for the marriages of lesbian and gay people as it is for those of straight people.
Keith’s argument is as follows. The Bible says that marriage is a remedy for sin for a specifically defined couple (a man and a woman). Therefore it is a remedy for sin for any couple.
What about an incestuous couple? If not, why not?
And why cannot a homosexual person marry someone of the opposite sex as a remedy for sin?
7. Marriage is a partnership of equals
St Paul is usually read as a defender of patriarchy and female subjugation, but on the question of marriage he advocates equality, with each partner owning the body of the other.
The husband’s body belongs not to him alone, but also to the wife, and the wife’s body belongs not to her alone, but also to the husband. 1 Corinthians 7:4
He even goes further to suggest that there should be equality in the sexual pleasure enjoyed by both partners, placing a duty on both to ensure that they think of the satisfaction of each other:
Do not deprive each other (of sex), except by mutual consent and within a time frame, so that you can devote yourselves to prayer. But come together again lest you invite Satan to tempt you through your weakness. 1 Corinthians 7: 5
Since there is no gender differentiation in these injunctions they apply equally well to a faithfully committed same-sex couple.
Some Christians, particularly evangelicals, believe that in Genesis, and in some of the writings of St Paul, God establishes what they call ‘complementarity’ between the sexes. This concept, for which in practice there is very little actual Biblical support, leads them to overemphasise the differences between males and females and ignore manifest historical and cultural variation, to believe that God ordained men to rule over women, and of course to argue that monogamous heterosexuality is the only divinely sanctioned erotic. They overlook both Paul’s important statement that ‘in Christ there is no male or female’ and Christ’s own words that there will be no marrying in the Kingdom of Heaven. This discredited idea is an interpretive imposition on the Biblical text and is not a sound basis for opposing gender equality and same-sex marriage.
There is no gender differentiation? No gender differentiation? Did he not read 1 Corinthians 7:4? Did he not see the words “husband” and “wife”? Do I need to add anything?
8. The diversity of human sexuality is a gift of God
Paul believed that the second coming of Christ and the end of the world were imminent in his own times. He therefore thought it best that people should remain celibate in order to work for the coming of God’s Kingdom, although he acknowledges that this does not suit everybody.
Let me make a suggestion – it is not a decree. I would hope that everyone could be like me. But we all have our own particular gifts from God. One has the gift for one thing and anfother has the gift for another thing.
1 Corinthians 7:6
There seems to be an implicit recognition here that not everybody is the same. Some theologians have seen in this text an implicit acknowledgement of human sexual diversity as a gift of God. Not everybody is heterosexual and these differences should be respected because they are part of God’s creation. The logic of the argument is that if marriage is the solution for heterosexuals then it is also the solution for those with other ‘gifts of God’, lest they too fall into sin.
So we leap from “people are different” to “the sexual union I wish to engage in is therefore a good thing”. That’s the argument here. Step forward my consensual adult incestuous couple please…
9. Marriage is the union of two people who find each other sexually attractive, love each other and wish to commit to each other. It is not necessarily the union of one man and one woman.
A person does not marry somebody because they are the opposite sex. A man does not choose to marry a woman because she is female. He marries her because he is sexually attracted to her and loves her. Marriage is the union of two people who are sexually attracted to each other and who love each other. This works in exactly the same way for two homosexual persons as it does for two heterosexual persons. There is no difference. If God blesses the union of a man and woman who love each other and marry he will also bless the union of two men or two women who get married because they love each other. There is no ‘missing ingredient’ in homosexual unions which is present in heterosexual unions. Also, because marriage is the union of two human persons there is no ‘slippery slope’ into disorder. Marriage is an I-Thou relationship in Martin Buber’s sense. This rules out all the usual claims about the recognition of same-sex marriage leading to the legalisation of pederasty, bestiality, polygamy etc.
I refer the honourable gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.
Seriously? Marriage is about sex? Really? And because two people are sexually attracted to each other they should be able to get married? Step forward my consensual adult incestuous couple please…
10. ‘Traditional’ marriage is constantly evolving
Historically marriage was seen in a socio-political and economic context. In Biblical times daughters were effectively owned by their fathers, and then ‘given’ in marriage to a husband who took over ownership. The main concern was control of property and obedience to authority. A thousand years ago most marriages were not celebrated in church. Right into the twentieth century many states in America prohibited interracial marriage. Being divorced used to be a barrier to remarriage. Now almost half of all marriages end in divorce, and serial monogamy has become normal, so in practice marriage is no longer a lifelong union of two people to the exclusion of all others. It is simply not the case that there is a ‘traditional’ concept of marriage which same-sex marriage threatens to destroy. On the contrary, the devotion and commitment of same-sex marriages will help to strengthen the institution.
And yet the New Testament model for marriage (1 Timothy 3:2) is still the one we proclaim in the liturgy of Marriage in the Church of England 2,000 years later. Funny that.
It’s worth just mentioning miscegenation here. Yes, some states in the USA continued the practice of banning inter-racial marriage into the 20th Century and the Biblical arguments in favour of it are a nonsense. But we make the following observations:
- There has always been a dispute in the church over issues of race. There has never been a time when a large portion of the church was preaching and working for racial equality. In comparison, it is only in recent decades that Christians have argued against the traditional prohibition on same-sex activity
- Race (and sex) are categorisations which are easy to identify genetically and are natural human variants over which an individual has no control. In comparison, the sexual orientation of an individual cannot be determined by any method other than asking the person what their sexual orientation is. In that regard it is a self-determined identification rather than one which can be made externally to any self declaration (i.e. through a DNA test) even if one cannot control one’s sexual attractions.
- One may be attracted to people of the same-sex (and be happy to describe such an attraction as homosexual) and yet reject any attempt to own a sexual identity of “gay”. Having a particular sexual attractions does not obligate one to act on those attractions. By contrast, it is simply impossible not to be a particular race or sex if one is. A contrast needs to be made between discriminating against what a person is and what a person does.
11. The Bible does not support models of ‘traditional marriage and the family’
The modern advocacy of the happily married heterosexual couple with two children is an invention of nineteenth century protestantism. Marriage appears nowhere in the Nicene Creed. Any claim that the Bible presents anything approaching consistent teaching about marriage is frankly incredible. Biblical men have multiple wives and many concubines, they marry and have sex with their relatives, they engage in forcible sexual conquest, and all apparently with the approval of the almighty.
Jesus was certainly no nuclear family man. He sought no wife and had a particularly loving relationship with one of the disciples. He told his disciples to leave their families and said that nobody could be a disciple unless they hated their own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters.
It is therefore simply not possible to argue that the Bible endorses heterosexual marriage and condemns gay marriage. There is no eternal divinely ordained form of marriage and therefore same-sex marriage is as Christian as opposite-sex marriage.
But the Bible does have (i) an initial clear model of monogamous heterosexual marriage and (ii) a trajectory back towards monogamous heterosexual marriage from models that emerge in the Fall (e.g. polygamy). Furthermore, the Bible never commends many of the examples Keith gives above (e.g. forced sexual relationships, polygamy), often condemns them and sometimes observes them.
The fact that Jesus did not seek a wife merely tells us that even though humans are created as sexual beings they can live completely fulfilled and functional lives without engaging in sexual activity. Jesus was not diminished in his humanity in any sense by dying (and rising) a virgin or single.
12. Tradition and Christian Love: Orthodoxy and Empathy
Even if it were possible to demonstrate a continuity of tradition in marriage, the Christian approach would still be to consider the needs and wellbeing of those outside the orthodoxy. Many protestant and reformed churches believe in divorce, yet there is arguably a very clear Biblical injunction against it, and a centuries long tradition of legal prohibition. These churches have accepted divorce because of the pastoral need, and because they empathise with the pain of those caught up in it, whatever the orthodox teaching might say.
On every occasion when Jesus had to choose between orthodoxy and empathy he chose empathy. The task of Christians is to proclaim the gospel afresh in every generation. In our generation empathising with the genuine love lived out by a faithful same-sex couple is a greater Christian imperative than rigidly adhering to a supposed traditional set of rules governing who can marry whom. The Christian churches therefore should recognise and celebrate the fruits of the Spirit evident in these faithful same-sex unions – love, joy, peace, patience, fidelity, kindness, goodness, constancy, tenderness, gentleness, self-control etc.
The claim that Jesus always chose empathy over orthodoxy is misleading. That Jesus is empathic and treats all sinners as deserving his forgiveness and a relationship with him is undoubted, but the way of Jesus was to combine orthodoxy and empathy. Hence, the woman caught in adultery is first compared to the other sinners around her (“Let he who is without sin….”) and then challenged to forsake her sin. There is no case in the Gospels of Jesus’ empathy altering orthodoxy and if Keith wishes to suggest that there is he would do well to actually cite it.
13. The LGBT communities need same-sex marriage
The LGBT communities suffer disproportionately high rates of problems relating to self-esteem, social integration and psychological security: alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, social isolation, self-harm and suicide etc. This cannot be God’s will if we are to believe the Gospel. These sad statistics arise out of attitudes towards LGBT people in the wider society but they are also influenced by a lack of the sort of stability which marriage can provide. Marriage is good for the individual and good for the community. Including same-sex couples in the institution of marriage will help to strengthen it and will help also to stabilise networks of relationships within the LGBT communities themselves. It will also send a message that LGBT people are fully loved and valued as God intended.
It’s a brilliant argument apart from the fact that the research doesn’t support the proposition. Recent studies in the Netherlands have shown that despite ten years of legalised gay marriage, there is little change in the level of mental health issues amongst those self-identified as LGB. Introducing same-sex marriage may help add another level of legal status to gay relationships but the suggestion that it will in and of itself help reduce the problems listed runs contrary to the empirical data.
14. Civil Partnerships are not marriage
The term ‘civil partnership’ is essentially about a legal and financial contract. Marriage is also a legal contract but it carries a superstructure of social and cultural meanings about personal commitment, dedication, devotion and mutual love. with which many same-sex couples wish to identify themselves. And for gay Christians it is important that they make these marriage vows before God. Furthermore, while same-sex couples are barred from the institution of marriage there is still the implication that they are second-class. It is a form of segregation and discrimination, it is a manifestation of inequality, and it is a denial of the Christian birthright of all, evident in Christ’s great commandment that we love our neighbour as ourselves. We are all God’s children, gay or straight, and we should be treated accordingly equally.
Keith picks and chooses the “social and cultural meanings” of marriage to suit his purposes. He neglects the widely held understanding of marriage as a stable institution for procreating and rearing the biological children of the union and the specific Christian understanding of husband and wife signifying the union of Christ and the Church. Furthermore, his argument that it is important that gay Christians make their vows before God could be equally applied to our permanent, faithful and stable monogamous adult incestuous couple from above.
15. Same-sex marriage as much as opposite-sex marriage models the self-giving character of God
Any faithful loving relationship finds its raison d’etre, meaning and purpose in self-giving love for the other person. To enter into such a relationship is to experience at first hand the kind of self-giving which is characteristic of the three persons of the Trinity and characteristic also of the relationship between God and his Creation. In reality it has never mattered what the genders of the two people are. Many scholars believe for example that the relationship between the Roman centurion and his boy servant, whom Jesus healed, was a gay one (ref) . What mattered was that here was true love and commitment. Everything therefore that the church has taught about opposite-sex marriage mirroring the love of God applies equally to same-sex marriage.
Save the worst for last. Keith demonstrates here that in order to make his argument he has to minimise the meaning of marriage and extract from the definition those commonly understood and liturgically pronounced notions that contradict his position. That any mutual relationship can reflect the relational nature of God in his being is not in question, but the Bible then qualifies the sexual expression of such relationships.
As for the the Roman Centurion and his servant, I have dealt with that here and it’s worth repeating the summary of the analysis – To assume the revisionist readings involves first translating the word pais in a manner not used elsewhere in Scripture and secondly, accepting that the only culturally contextual use of the word pais as a lover would be as a pederastic junior who, give the fact that the Centurion was Roman, not Greek, may not have had any say in the sexual relationship.
And if all that matters is true love and commitment, what about our monogamous and consensual incestuous couple?
Are we done with this?