Let it Go – Tradition (What does the Bible say about homosexuality and gay marriage? Part 2)
When I do weddings, I invoke an old Jewish prayer for the couple.
Grant that she and I may find mercy
and that we may grow old together.’
Karen and I have been married for 35 years and we have found mercy, though we have not grown old yet.
That is what I want for my children.
I want them to be blessed with someone with whom they can find mercy and grow old together.
When my son came out as gay several years ago, one of my concerns was that he would never have the kind of companionship that comes with being married to another person.
AJ believes he has found that person.
In 2020, AJ and Adam can have that relationship with each other civilly and, in the PCUSA, faithfully.
It wasn’t always that way.
Until 2015, gay marriage was not universally legal.
It was not recognized as valid in the PCUSA.
In June of 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was a constitutional right.
In March or 2015, the PCUSA ratified an amendment to our Book of Order authorizing pastors and churches to conduct same sex marriages.
Why was it forbidden until then?
Two reasons, I think.
First, if we allowed people of the same sex to get married, we were approving their “lifestyle”.
And that lifestyle was profoundly disturbing to many people and so they prefered it be forbidden.
Second, there seems to be a specific Biblical definition of marriage that excludes same sex marriage.
Once again, there is little that anyone can say to change the personal views of people who find homosexuality abhorrent.
But we must take scripture seriously and interpret it faithfully.
What does the Bible say about same sex marriage?
Simply put, the Bible says nothing about same sex marriage.
The prohibition was nothing more than a cultural tradition.
As we enter into the Season of Lent, we begin a sermon series that surrounds the theme of what will we let go of for Lent.
This is not about the popular meme, “Let go; Let God”.
That meme implies that we give up control of our lives to God who we then expect then to micromanage.
What we will be discussing is what we just need to give up.
The things we should no longer let control us.
Our emotional idols.
What are these things we need to let go of?
These are things that we need to let go of for good.
For our own good.
Today, we start with tradition.
What is a tradition?
According to the Oxford Dictionary it has two primary meanings:
- Tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation.
It also includes:
- A doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures.
We have many traditions that we believe to have divine authority but do not.
We need to let unfair, unjust and hurtful traditions go if the only reason we follow them is because we believe they have divine authority, when they do not.
The prohibition of same sex marriage is one of those.
Let it go!
But, Jeff, you say, the Bible does say something about marriage, right?
Jesus talks about it, right?
Well, Jesus does indeed talk about marriage only in one particular context.
Let’s take a look.
Here is the only passage where Jesus talks about marriage.
Matthew 19: 3-12
3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ 4He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, 5and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ 7They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ 8He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. 9And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’
10 His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ 11But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’
We have been taught over the centuries that Jesus is describing “Christian” marriage in this text.
The one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, 5and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Marriage is for men and women, certainly.
But does Jesus say that marriage is only for men and women?
He does not.
The problem with using that passage to prohibit gay marriage is that it is not about marriage.
It is about divorce.
Divorce in what was the accepted cultural norm for Jesus’ day.
To understand it, we need to understand what marriage was in Jesus’ day.
In Jesus’ time, people were married in their early teens.
Marriages were arranged by family within the narrow circle of the clan.
As a rule, the fathers arranged the match.
A marriage contract was negotiated between the families.
The bride and groom were consulted, but the usually after the deal was done.
The marriage was a business deal.
Its purpose was the survival of the family and community.
So, the only marriages ever negotiated were between men and women.
And women were given precious few rights in those contracts.
The bride could become a virtual slave to the groom.
And one of the rights of the groom was his ability to dismiss the bride for anything that irritated him.
To do that was to basically send the woman into economic oblivion.
She became destitute.
Moses reacted to this by requiring the groom to provide a certificate of divorce so that the bride could prove she was not married and so seek another marriage.
This was what Jesus was asked about.
Is this OK?
Jesus said, “No”.
That was not God’s plan.
Men were not supposed to dispose of wives on a whim.
The relationship was intended to be permanent, but people were hard hearted, and so Moses allowed divorce, but required women to be protected.
That is what Jesus was talking about.
So, does this passage say anything about same sex couples?
It does not.
Marriage is no longer a business transaction, at least in the US.
It is about shared labor, bearing each other’s troubles, sharing each other’s joys.
It is companionship and intimacy, love and respect, until death parts them.
It is to be “one flesh”.
A covenantal unit.
It says nothing about who can be married.
Jesus describes one type of marriage – heterosexual.
But he says nothing about homosexual marriage.
The second part of the passage starts out almost comically.
The disciples react irrationally.
“If divorce is bad, we should just stay single.”
Jesus response is profound.
“Don’t be silly,” Jesus seems to say.
“The ability to live life without a marriage is not for everyone. It is a gift. For everyone else, to live as a married person is what God desires. We are not made to be alone.”
So, what does this have to do with same sex marriage?
It seems to suggest there are benefits to it.
Yet because of this passage, AJ did not believe that he was eligible for a “Christian” marriage.
He was born homosexual and so marrying a woman would be impossible.
Destined for failure.
If he wanted to remain true to his Christian faith, he would have to remain single.
I mean that was what was required for ordination in the PCUSA.
From 1996 to 2011, the PCUSA Book of Order required that all ministers, elders, and deacons live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness”.
Three traditions in one sentence.
First, to be ordained, you must be faithful to your spouse, if you are married.
Second, to be ordained, you must be married to a spouse of a different sex.
Third, to be ordained, if you are not married, you must not have any sexual relations.
No gay marriage.
Chastity for all who are not married.
That was our theology.
So, that means that if you are homosexual, you are forever barred from any form of physical relationship with someone you love.
Love but don’t touch.
But what if you did not have the gift of celibacy?
You were in a Catch 22.
You could not marry a person of the same sex.
That was not who you were.
So you had to be celibate.
But what if you did not have the gift?
So, your choices were to live in misery or walk away from God.
Is that the God we describe as love itself?
Or is God better described by the Westboro Baptist Church that proclaims, “God hates gays” (thought that is not the word they use)?
I think God loves all of us and wants what is best for us.
And one of those things is for us to be in relationships that are good.
How do we know if a relationship is good?
Jesus says that we can see what is good by the fruit it bears.
If something bears good fruit, it is good.
If something bears bad fruit, it is bad.
If it bears bad fruit it is to be disposed of.
That is how we should evaluate marriages – all marriages.
Heterosexual and homosexual.
Does a marriage, regardless of who the spouses are, bear good fruit (and I am not talking about children here)?
Does it look like this?
Do they take each other as wedded spouses?
To have and to hold from their wedding day forward?
And do they promise and covenant, before God and their witnesses, to be loving and faithful, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, as long as they both live?
That would be good fruit, I think, regardless of the sex of the spouses.
Better than living a life without an intimate companion for those who don’t have the gift of celibacy, I think.
That would be bad fruit, I think.
Better than walking away from God because of something God does not require, I think.
That would be bad fruit, too, I think.
Here is what I mean.
Two weeks ago, I shared a story about a beloved member of a church who died.
She was “full of years” as they say.
She had been a faithful member of the church, sung in the choir, and been ordained a Deacon.
She was a retired teacher.
She had never been married.
At the viewing, a woman sat next to the casket.
She was clearly grieving.
It turned out that this woman had lived with the dead parishioner for decades.
She too was a retired teacher.
She too had never been married.
At the funeral home it seemed as if she were his parishioner’s spouse.
A few weeks later another of his parishioners asked the dead woman’s pastor what he thought about the PCUSA proposal to allow same sex weddings to be conducted by pastors in church.
He told his parishioner about the woman sitting by the casket.
“I wonder if they thought their relationship was like a marriage?”
His parishioner looked at him with mouth open and finally said, “That never occurred to me!”
This amusing story made me think.
What would the congregation have done if she had told them she and her roommate were “more than friends”?
Would they have labeled her a sinner and made her leave the church?
Would they have defrocked her as a Deacon?
Or would they have affirmed her relationship with her companion?
Would they have celebrated their lifelong commitment to each other?
If you ask anyone who knew them, their relationship, whatever it was, certainly bore good fruit.
Why would we deny the dignity and appropriateness of such a relationship?
The Bible does not.
That tradition of prohibiting of same sex marriage?
Let it go!
What does the Bible say we should do instead?
Let them bear their good fruit.
That would be a much better tradition.