Can’t even Covenant

From here. I’m not going to comment until later, but I’d welcome your opinions right now.

Things are different in Canada. No offense to Canadians, of course. Recently I was engaged in a lively debate about the topic of homosexuality and politics with a dear Canadian friend while I was there for a speaking engagement. Obviously, Canadian law has gone much further than U.S. law when it comes to the legitimization of homosexuality. Canada’s speech codes and laws on marriage are far more liberal than ours. And, from an outsider’s perspective, Canadians are not as engaged in the political battle surrounding these issues as we are in the United States. In fact, many of my Canadian friends, this one included, give me a very hard time about ministering to people struggling with same-sex attraction and being active and outspoken on political and social issues that encompass homosexuality.

During lunch, my friend asked my views on “covenant friendships”. I’d never heard that term, but quickly realized she was referring to sexless committed relationships between members of the same gender. I immediately called them sinful. She was shocked. So was I. Apparently, we don’t share what I consider to be fairly cut and dry biblical position on this issue. So I asked her to give me a first hand account of such a relationship that she saw as healthy. She went on to share the story of a Christian lesbian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful, but holds no hope of ever experiencing heterosexuality. The thought of living a single life was too much for her to bear and so she developed a committed non-sexual relationship with another woman. They held a commitment ceremony, bought a house together, combined their finances and are trying to live happily ever after. They live in separate bedrooms, but in every other sense of the word, they are partners. “What’s wrong with that?” my friend asked. Everything.

Talk about selling God short in the “I will supply all of your needs” category. What about abstaining from all appearances of evil? How about fleeing from temptation? Two same-sex attracted women getting married and pledging their lifelong love and devotion to one another, with or without sex, is called homosexuality. How can we say anything less? There is no such thing as diet homosexuality. If I was going to go as far as these two women have I would just go all the way. It isn’t only the sex that makes homosexuality sinful, it is choosing to live outside of God’s best. He did not create two men or two women to meet the needs of one another in a spousal capacity. Loneliness isn’t grounds for trying to meet your own needs outside of His will, sexually or otherwise.

The story of Abraham and Sarah comes to mind. God promised Abram that he would have a son and that his descendents would be as plentiful as the stars. Abraham expected that God was going to give he and Sarah an heir. By age 86, Abraham and Sarah still had no children or prospects of any. Sarah told Abraham to sleep with her maidservant, Hagar. Abraham did so and she conceived and later bore him a son that they named Ishmael. This wasn’t God’s plan for them or the heir He had promised and they quickly knew it. Fourteen years later, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, God fulfilled His promise and gave them Isaac. I don’t know how much you know about world history and how Abraham and Sarah’s choices affect us today, but the turmoil that exists in the Middle East – the turmoil that has always existed there – is directly linked to a war between Isaac, the heir God promised, and Ishmael, the product of Abraham and Sarah’s impatience.

Our impatience with God and our inability to allow Him to work things out in our lives can lead us to sin. I see the relationship between the two women that I related above as a counterfeit to the intimacy that only God can give and bring through another person. Like Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Filling the hole in our hearts with anything other than God’s best will make our hearts sick. Whether we call them civil unions, domestic partnerships, same-sex marriage or covenant friendships, the truth of the matter is that these unions are less than the Creator’s creative intent for His creation.

So as the Prop 8 debate in California reheats once again, I am reminded that God’s plan for marriage transcends our human interpretation of fairness and affection.

Marriage is His idea. It is a reflection of Jesus, the Groom and the church – His bride.

It goes to the core of who God is and who we are in relationship to Him. Repackaging or redefining it in the political or social realm will not change the truth, but we are foolish to try.

Alan Chambers is the President of Exodus International, the largest worldwide Christian outreach to those dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction.

Let’s have your thoughts below.

9 Comments on “Can’t even Covenant

  1. Are Mr Chambers’ views on monasticism available anywhere? I presume he doesn’t approve of it. If he does, then he needs to manage an explanation as to how the ‘covenanted friendship’ differs from it. I had always thought that chastity was an appropriate life choice for a Christian, and this couple mentioned are clearly chaste.

    It also occurs to me that this is pretty tough on anyone who never manages to meet their ideal opposite sex partner. They are condemned by exercise of Chambers’ logic to a solitary life because living any sort of communal life would be sinful.

    He takes a pretty dim view of humanity in general, doesn’t he?

  2. Justin – I don’t find living a “solitary” life a something condemnable.  And no, my friend Alan is one of the most joyful men I know.

  3. Randy, please beware of reading what you think you see rather than what is actually written.

    There is a difference between saying that a solitary life is to be condemned – which is not what I wrote – and saying that someone might be condemned to a solitary life. The former implies that there is something wrong with a solitary life. The latter implies that a solitary life is not for everyone who finds themselves in the particular situation I describe. If you wish to take issue with that I would be delighted to respond.

    I am slightly confused by your assertion that your friend Alan is joyful. If it is in response to my final comment then obviously it requires some explanation – it is a particularly British idiom. I have no doubt that your friend Alan is the life and soul of every party. Had I wished to describe him as dull, humourless or obsessive I would have done so. However joyful he might be, though, the view of humanity implied by his remarks is far from joyful. It is, in fact, intensely depressing, as it implies that we are doomed to sin unless we follow a very particular path. The burden of original sin and a fallen nature is one thing – the impossibility of living a good life unless it is ordered in precisely the way he extrapolates from various diverse parts of the Bible is quite another. That is what I mean by his taking a dim view of humanity.

  4. I have to wonder, would it be ok if two straight people of the opposite sex who both did not have marriage prospects but wanted the companionship of living with somebody entered into a covenant friendship, would we be ok with it?

    • BT,

      I’m not going to comment fully yet on Chambers’ piece, but I just wanted to say that I think you have cut straight to the heart of the issue.

  5. I agree with Justin, that some engagement with ideas like those of Ailred of Rievaulx on friendship in a monastic context need to be engaged with.
    One thinks, among other examples of holy friendship, of that close friendship that existed between John Henry Cardinal Newman and Ambrose St John; despite what Peter Tatchell would have us think, there is surely no whiff of immorality there.
    Perhaps Alan Chambers sees the covenant aspect as a slippery slope, the thin end of the wedge; and one might legitimately ask why it should be necessary; is it some form of pseudo-marriage? The monastic parallel is nevertheless an interesting one, though different in the important respect that it is a specifically religious covenant to live in community.
    There is also the point that Peter himself has raised in the past that a same-sex friendship can still be erotic without being specifically sexual; and there would be a problem with that, if that were the case.
    I certainly agree with Justin’s way of thinking, that the solitary life is a specific calling, or at least suits particular people, and some form of communal life might be a way around it for those who are not suited to marriage.
    As for the point made by B. T. Carolus; I think I am right in saying that the Roman Church, at least, will re-admit a person to communion who has been divorced and remarried on the condition that they have repented and are now only living together as brother and sister; so two heterosexual people living together isn’t necessarily beyond the pale.
    The first big problem, then, seems to be with the covenant aspect; but it seems to be slightly too simplistic to dismiss the idea out of hand without considering some legitimate precedents and parallels. Marry or live on your own for ever seems a rather harsh rule, and surely can’t be right. How to live in a Godly way with others to whom one cannot be married is the question.
    Furthermore, regarding B. T. Carolus’s point; does it not accept the erroneous idea that a homosexual couple can be equated with a heterosexual couple? Surely there should, in God’s natural order, be nothing wrong with two people of the same sex living together, so long as they are not succumbing to sinful behaviour; that is, that they live in absolute chastity. Carolus’s point accepts the idea that homosexuality is an innate and immutable part of one’s being; a view with which Peter, I think, would disagree. There would, though, in the natural order of things, be something inappropriate about two people, who could appropriately be married, living together in a covenant of friendship: there can only be very special exceptions, as the example I mentioned earlier demonstrates; and that is by no means an ideal.
    I am not sure that my argument is clear, and whatever you can take out of it I put forward as a hypothesis to be knocked down if necessary.
    To make my general position clear, I do not support the laws providing for civil partnerships, for all the ususal reasons and more. On the other hand, is it wrong to give some kind of religious sanction (not legal sanction, note) to absolutely chaste same-sex friendship lived in community? If the answer is to be yes, then I think it would have to have a quasi-monastic model.

    • John,

      On Catholic divorce and remarriage: technically, the Catholic Church holds that valid divorce for believers does not exist.  It is possible to recieve an annulment, but only if it can be proved that the marriage was not valid from the begining (or alternately that it was not consumated).  People who want to be divorced but can’t prove that they deserve an anullment are supposed to merely separate.  Remarriage is only permitted if somebody has first gotten an annulment.  And as far as I know remarried people are not required to live ‘as brother and sister’ but are allowed full conjugal relations (as defined by Catholic doctrine), and people who have gotten anullments are expected to fully separate from each other (ie, not live together any longer).  And I doubt a good priest would consider two of his parishoners cohabiting as something that was ok, no matter whether they claim to be abstaining or not.
      The point that I intended to be inherent in my rhetorical question is that we are all supposed to live by the same code of morality.  To do something which is immoral, and then try to paint it as moral because ‘well, we’re gay, so we get a pass’ doesn’t really work.  If you’re sexually tempted by members of the opposite sex, you don’t get to live with them in a sexless, fake marriage, and pretend that morally you’re in the right.  If you’re sexually tempted by members of the same sex, you don’t get to live with them in a sexless, fake marriage, and pretend that morally you’re in the right.  Peter’s subsequent blog post on the subject explains my position relatively well, so I won’t repeat the details.

  6. I’m 38, never married, and I live alone.  I am profoundly heterosexual.  I like the way men look.  I like the way the walk.  I like the way they talk.  I even like the way most of them smell.  I’ve just never met the right person.  Sometimes that bothers me.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But, because I’m so old and never married, most of my extended family and even some people in the church assume that I’m gay.  So, according to Alan Chambers I should go out and marry anyone who would have me and spend the rest of my life wishing I were dead all to avoid the appearance of evil?  Really, I have way more married friends who would trade places with me than I would trade places with them.
    If the two women in the above senario are in fact living chastely, I don’t see the point in a commitment ceremony except to get presents.  What we need is events that single people can get presents for.  Seriously!  My sister got so much STUFF when she got married it was incredible.  She got two and three of some things.  That’s not even considering the people who gave money.  I bet they got close to $10,00 in cash gifts.  I never get jack – except my sister’s unwanted castoffs.

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