byFaith | 10.1.15
By Alan Dowd
The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as “a legally accepted
relationship between a man and a woman in which they live as husband and wife.”
Merriam-Webster calls it “the relationship that exists between a husband and a
wife.” But 21st-century America is not so sure about what marriage is and what
it isn’t. In fact, 57 percent of the American people say the definition of
marriage should be changed to encompass same-sex couples. And
the Supreme Court agrees, concluding in a 5-4 decision that “Laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right
impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter…it would
disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”
The decision raises many challenges for people of faith.
should applaud and support homosexuals who seek to marry because it is an
affirmation of the institution of marriage.
This argument misses the point of what God has always
intended marriage to be: the lifelong union of one man and one woman. This is
the very foundation of God’s plan. We see this in Genesis when the Father presides
over the first wedding ceremony, and again in the Gospels when the Son points
to that first marriage, and again in the epistles, as inspired by the Holy
Spirit—all of which suggests that God is really
serious about this marriage thing.
“A man leaves his father and
mother and is united to his wife,
and they become one flesh,” Genesis 2 declares, adding: “Adam and his
wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
The text doesn’t say Adam and his husband, Adam and his girlfriend or
Adam and his wives (sorry, King Solomon). “Adam and his wife were both naked”
and yet felt no shame precisely because they were married. By creating Adam for
Eve, and Eve for Adam, God made His design for intimacy plain: one man and one
woman sharing their life and love within marriage.
Jesus, in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, echoes these words, explaining,
“At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and
female.’‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and
be united to his wife,and the two will become one flesh.’So
they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has
joined together, let no one separate.”
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul offers
instructions for Christian households by going back to the beginning, to that first wedding ceremony,
and quoting what the Father said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and
mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
To be sure, some of the people in God’s family tree engaged
in polygamy and adultery, but that was not God’s will. We know that multiple
wives and sex outside of marriage brought huge problems—moral, spiritual, practical—for
David and Solomon.
As for homosexual marriage, it is simply not contemplated by
the Bible. First and foremost, scripture is consistent on what marriage is, as
the words of Genesis, Jesus and Paul tell us. Second, the Bible speaks early,
often and consistently about homosexuality, and the verdict is that homosexual
behavior is wrong. See Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Deuteronomy 23, Judges
19, I Kings 14 and 15, 2 Kings 23, Romans 1 and I Timothy 1.
Gary Thomas argues in his book Sacred Marriage that “The first purpose of marriage—beyond
happiness, sexual expression, the bearing of children, companionship, mutual
care and provision, or anything else—is to please God.”Since it serves to sanction a behavior God defines as sin, it’s difficult to
see how homosexual marriage could be pleasing to God.
Given that scripture
revises itself on things like ceremonial and dietary laws, modern Christians
can and should revise out-of-date views on homosexuality.
As Rev. Tim Keller, author of The Meaning of Marriage and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian
in New York, observes, respected Christian thinkers are increasingly making
this case. He notes that they say things like, “Christians no longer regard
eating shellfish as wrong—so why can’t we change our minds on homosexuality?”
Keller’s answer is measured and wise: “Yes, there are things
in the Bible that Christians no longer have to follow,” he explains. “But if
the scripture is our final authority, it is only the Bible itself that can tell us what those things are. The
prohibitions against homosexuality are re-stated in the New Testament…but Jesus
himself (Mark 7), as well as the rest of the New Testament, tells us that the
clean laws and ceremonial code is no longer in force” (emphasis in the
silent on homosexuality and warned against passing judgment on others. We
should follow His example.
This is another common refrain from Christians who advocate
for marriage redefinition.
However, Jesus’ teachings on adultery make it clear that sex
outside of marriage is wrong (see Matthew 5, Matthew 15, Mark 10, Luke 16, Luke
18, John 4 and John 8). His teachings on marriage make it clear that He defines
marriage as between a man and a woman—see Mark 10:6-8—and that He is grieved by
our misuse of marriage and contempt for His guidelines on intimacy.
Consider the story of the woman at the well. The woman is
drawn to the well—and to Jesus—by an intense thirst. Jesus says to her,
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the
water I give them will never thirst.”
responds, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.”
He then asks her to return
with her husband so they can continue the discussion. “I have
no husband,” she admits.
fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your
We know He is using the well and the water as a
metaphor about the wellspring of life opened up within us when we accept Him
into our hearts. But given how prominently marriage is featured in their
discussion, could Jesus also be commenting on the sacredness of marriage? Could He be telling us something about the sorts of
relationships that drain us and dry us out? Could He be saying that relationships
that distort this God-ordained institution are outside God’s will—and leave us
Or consider the story of the woman caught committing adultery.
Some justify certain behavior—or even try to erase the notion that certain
behavior is wrong—by turning to this story in John 8. Here, Jesus protects a
woman from being punished by a mob of Pharisees.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw
a stone at her,” He declares. As the accusers leave, He asks the woman,
“Has no one condemned you? ... Then neither do I condemn you.”
What a beautiful picture of God’s grace and mercy. Yet too
often, those who cite this passage to rationalize this or that behavior leave
out the most important part: Jesus telling the woman, “Go now and leave your
life of sin.” To be protected from the consequences of sin—to know God’s grace
and mercy—we must have a desire to leave our lives of sin. And God—not
presidents or judges, movie stars or Facebook—defines what sin is.
That brings us to judgment. Increasingly,
it seems the only wrong behavior is judging something to be wrong. To be sure,
Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way
you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be
measured to you.” However, scripture is full of references to the need for, and
benefits of, godly judgment.
As a matter of fact, in the very same chapter where we find
that oft-quoted “judge not” admonishment (Matthew 7), Jesus invites his
followers to use their judgment to be on the lookout for false prophets. “Every
good tree bears good fruit,” He explains, “but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
Deciding between bad and good presupposes judgment. In Matthew 18, Jesus adds,
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just
between the two of you.” Again, this presupposes judgment about sin. In fact,
just using the word “sin” presupposes judgement about right and wrong.
Of course, applying godly judgement is much different than
being judgmental. The former is about loving God, accepting and defending the
truth, and building others up. The latter is about elevating self and tearing
about religion or the Church. It is political issue and a personal choice.
In fact, the definition of marriage has everything to do
with the Church. At its core, marriage is a religious institution—God ordained
it at the very beginning—that is recognized by the state. It is not a state
institution that religions have come to recognize.
As to the political dimensions of redefining marriage, the
Church is not here to take its cues from politics and pop culture. The Church
should be salt and light for a culture bent on decay and darkness.
As to the issue of choice, Christians can and do disagree
about whether a person might be born with a predisposition to be homosexual.
Regardless of where we land on that question, it doesn’t follow that a person
has biblical license to engage in homosexual behavior. After all, a person
might be born with a predisposition to alcohol dependence or overeating or lust
or fits of rage or any number of other human frailties—also known as sin. All
of us are born with a sin nature. That doesn’t justify succumbing to that
about love.Hence, this is not so much about redefining
marriage as it is about expanding our definition of love.
Justifying the redefinition of marriage on these grounds is
fraught with consequences and complications.
example, redefining marriage opens the door to polygamy. As Justice Samuel
Alito observed, “A marriage between two people of the same sex is not something
that we have had before…Suppose we rule in your favor in this case and then
after that, a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage
license. Would there be any ground for denying them a license? …What would be
the logic of denying them the same right?”
If this is just about a person’s definition of love, there
wouldn’t be any logic to preventing three or four or more people from marrying.In fact, a federal judge struck down parts of Utah’s
anti-polygamy law soon after the Supreme Court weighed in on the Defense of
Marriage Act and began its march toward redefining marriage in 2013.
Spurred by the Court’s actions, so-called “marriage equality
advocates” are targeting bakeries, flower shops, photography studios, banquet
halls and other industries that provide services for weddings—demanding that
they provide services for same-sex ceremonies. The
next logical step is to force churches and pastors to conduct such ceremonies. “Once it’s made a matter of constitutional law,”
Justice Antonin Scalia warily asks, “is it conceivable that a minister who is
authorized by the state to conduct marriage can decline to marry two men if
indeed this Court holds that they have a constitutional right to marry?”
If that’s where this slippery slope leads, then
Christianity’s future in the United States will increasingly look like
Christianity’s distant past: Rather than living in a culture that is largely
shaped by Judeo-Christian mores, we would be sliding toward a culture that is
less tolerant of and less influenced by Judeo-Christian values—and heading
toward a future where the Church is, at best, a marginalized remnant within an anything-goes
marriage redefinition is about hatred and intolerance.
A 2013 Supreme Court decision
described attempts to defend the traditional definition of marriage as a “bare…desire
to harm a politically unpopular group” and an effort “to disparage and to
injure” same-sex couples.In his dissenting
response, Scalia sensibly explained, “To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn,
demean or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements…In the majority’s
judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned
disagreement…All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than
codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most
of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for
virtually all of human history.”
Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts noted in his dissenting opinion to the High
Court’s 2015 decision that his colleagues had ordered “the transformation of a
social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia,
for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs.
Just who do we think we are?”
For most of us who oppose the redefinition of marriage, this
is about nothing more or less than the sanctity of the God-ordained covenant of
marriage. That seems to be what motivated 342
House members and 85 Senators who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act
in 1996—and President Clinton when he signed it into law.
Likewise, President Obama
declared in 2008 that “marriage is the union between a man and a woman…I am not
in favor of gay marriage…For me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union.
God’s in the mix.” He later changed his position, declaring ahead of the 2012
election, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Was he hateful or intolerant
before he changed his mind, or was he simply defending his beliefs, or was he
just politically calculating before and after?
of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is outdated and increasingly
outside the mainstream.
We all know that right and wrong
are not defined by what the majority says. Even so, the fact is that 39 states have defined—via
democratic political processes—marriage as the union of one man and one woman.Yet unelected judges—what a Scalia derides as a self-appointed “black-robed
supremacy”—have overruled this commonsense view.
This is the most important
issue facing the Church today.
and no. In one sense, there are lots more important issues than whether two men
should be allowed to marry: the scourge of abortion, the assault on religious
liberty, hunger, postmodernism, the gap between haves and have-nots, the rise
and reach of jihadist terrorism, the decline of political and economic freedom
around the world. But in another sense—in the sense that the very foundation of
civilization is the family, and the family cannot exist without man and
woman—this is an extremely important issue.
marriage to enfold same-sex unions is the latest chapter in the struggle for civil
cover story in The Advocate, a
magazine focused on homosexual culture, calls homosexuality “the last great civil-rights
African Americans bristle at such comparisons. In fact, 55 percent of African
Americans say that equal rights for homosexuals are not the same as equal
rights for African Americans, while just 28 say they are. In addition, more
African Americans oppose same-sex marriage than support it.
From a biblical perspective, the difference between the
civil-rights movement and the marriage-redefinition movement is vast. The
former sought to eradicate prejudice based on race and color, which echoes the
spirit of scripture (see Isaiah 19, Romans 10, I Corinthians 1, I Corinthians
12, Galatians 3, Colossians 3). The latter seeks acceptance for behavior scripture
says is wrong. On this and other matters, we can reject or ignore what
scripture says, but we can’t pretend scripture doesn’t say what it says.
If society is
changing, shouldn’t the Church change as well?
If we accept the Bible as the ultimate source of the truth,
then we shouldn’t discount what it says about marriage and sexuality, and we shouldn’t
keep quiet about it. We are called to “speak the truth in love.”
However, knowing the truth about what God
intends marriage to be does not give us the right to be hurtful or hateful in
speaking it. We should love one another, cognizant of the fact that all of us
sin and fall short of what God wants. In other words, we shouldn’t elevate any
particular sin above others.
Our motives and our means matter. If our motive is to hurt
or hate—if our means are humiliating or un-Christlike—then we are failing our
Savior and our fellowman. But if our motive is to honor God in what we say, in
what we do, in how we say it and how we do it, then we are fulfilling our duty
to Christ and our fellowman.Of course, to some ears, our means and motives
are secondary to our message. The very fact that we oppose the redefinition of
marriage is offensive to them. As believers, we should take this in stride. After
all, the cross itself is an offense to the world.
 Thomas, p.33.
 Tim Keller, “The Bible and Same Sex Relationships: A
Review Article,” Redeemer Report, June 2015, www.redeemer.com/redeemer-report/article/the_bible_and_same_sex_relationships_a_review_article .
http://time.com/3704760/barack-obama-gay-marriage-david-axelrod/ and http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0512/76109.html