Christians and Marriage

5 02 2013

A friend of mine recently published a short parody of the case against gay marriage and I felt that having remained quiet on this subject it was time for me to try and articulate some of my thoughts on the subject.

Firstly, I think the case against gay marriage isn’t about the people or our emotions, or even about homosexuality. It begins with the question what is marriage and that goes right back to our understanding of Adam and Eve both being made in the image of God and together their complimentary differences revealing God’s image to us. It is about marriage being about more than just two nondescript or even three or four nondescript people being ‘in love’ but about a covenant relationship between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all else. It includes the life giving potential of children and assumes that male and female role models are both important for the development of children (this is not to discriminate against single mothers or fathers or even single people, being a single parent may be the best result in a difficult situation, but it is not the ideal).

It’s not a issue of equality, treating people the same way despite the fact that their situations are different is actually harmful to equality (which we all recognise). And redefining a word like marriage in our litigious culture opens the door to further mistreatment of other people (consider Lillian Ladele or Shirley Chaplin) with sincere religious convictions about the nature of marriage. Legal experts suggest that even hospital and army chaplains could find themselves in trouble for expressing on a week day a belief about marriage that they preach and teach on a Sunday. Christian teachers will be on the front line of this and despite verbal assurances that liberty of conscience will be upheld there is nothing to protect a headteacher from dismissing a Christian teacher who wasn’t happy teaching this. Atheist teachers have for over a century had their freedom of conscience upheld by law (it seems people of sincere religious conviction will soon not have this right).

Even the government could find itself in trouble as the legality of their ‘triple lock’, to avoid religious organisations being forced to conduct gay weddings against their own doctrine and understanding, is already being challenged.

In Canada and the Netherlands moves are already in place to legalize three-way marriages, in Brazil a so-called triple marriage has already been conducted, and we already have guardian columnists writing in support of ‘thruple marriage’. Once marriage is redefined once what is to stop marriage being further redefined? Though this is not a foregone conclusion nor would I oppose one redefinition on the basis of where it might go next.

I think the so called Marriage Bill is wrong in and of itself because it already confuses the meaning of marriage. In this country the Marriage Bill would make marriage legal for gay people but makes no mention of adultery as grounds for divorce as in heterosexual marriage (and some legal experts suggest that adultery as grounds for divorce will soon be removed from law on heterosexual marriage as its unworkable). This seems to me to undermine the conservative assertion that this is about the importance of commitment!

All told the complex and three dimensional nature and understanding of marriage seems to me to be being flattened out and reduced to a lowest common denominator. So the very thing that currently means so much (particularly to Christians who see in their marriages an image of Christ and His Church) and is so attractive that people want in on it will be undermined by the changes to it.

This is why I just don’t think my friends easy parody does justice to the complexity of the issue here or to the sincerely held beliefs and motives of those opposed to the changes. In fact it impugns their motives, mocks their arguments and worst of all encourages a culture of fear towards those who wish no one ill. Fear is of course the basis and justification of prejudice and the enemy of liberty and freedom.

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4 responses

8 02 2013
David Palmer

Today’s Gospel describes how John the Baptist was beheaded for speaking out about the sanctity of marriage. In a week when Chris Huhne and David Cameron have shown their disregard for simple Commandments to avoid lying and adultry, perhaps we need to be more forthright in our defence of what we believe. Blessed are you when people revile you for my sake…..

19 01 2014
darren (aka Lucius)

I also wrote about this subject, but mine came out differently. And I’m interested to know your response.

From the Bible I observe that Jesus intends to marry the church, the collective of all Christians. Tradition requires us to say that 1(man) + 1(woman) = 1(Jesus) + 1(all believers from all time). If Jesus, who is a man, is going to marry all believers, men and women alike, I suggest there is more depth to what marriage is.

I propose that marriage is about protecting relationships. Jesus marrying the church is a legal solution to the problem of our sin–we are saved through the law of marriage.

But according to American law, there is no requirement that people treat each other well. You can be as cruel as you can imagine, as long as you don’t break a law. But marriage is the single law that ties people together, legally protecting the relationship.

So in the interest of intentional community, what if there was a law, a sub-type of marriage, that protected communities? As it is, communities are frail and unprotected. So those who seek security do so by some form of “hazing” perspective members; if a person doesn’t put up with a little difficulty, they must not really want it. Right? But hazing is it’s own cruelty, and not everybody who needs community still has the strength to jump through the hoops to get to the promised reward.

So legal definitions of marriage are changing. Since we can’t stop it, why not give it a nudge so that instead of marriage being a straight vs. gay issue, legal marriage can be about protecting relationships? That is something every Christian should be in favor of.

19 01 2014
James Church

You present some interesting if cynical thoughts about the nature of human relationships, and marriage as a form of hazing. On a purely sociological, non-religious basis I can see where you are coming from but I don’t see marriage in that way and could not agree to such a mechanistic perspective.

I have little knowledge or understanding of American law so cannot speak to your situation but in the UK we have civil partnerships that offer the same legal benefits as marriage but are distinct from marriage itself.

I think your point about Jesus marrying everyone is a significant error, Jesus doesn’t literally marry every person. Jesus is presented as the bridegroom and his church as the bride. It’s a corporate image. If Jesus were to marry everyone individually I’d pity the guys who had to compete with that (the Son of God).

I do agree, however, with your observation that this being a straight vs gay issue is unhelpful. It reduces the argument and presents it as a simple issue of bigotry, but for Christians (both those who struggle with same sex attraction and those who have no such temptations) this is not a matter of being for or against gay people, it’s primarily a matter of allowing God’s Word to frame our understanding of what marriage is and to construct our life together according to that Word.

You are again right that the legal definitions are changing and that will have an impact upon the church. I don’t see this, however, as an opportunity to broaden or push at or further alter the legal definition of marriage (because for me marriage already has a definition and I believe that should be protected). I know sisters and brothers who live together here who would dearly benefit from a change in the law might recognise their relationships and protect their inheritance rights, and I’d support changes in the law that might do that, but I don’t believe changing the meaning of marriage is the right vehicle for that.

21 01 2014
darren (aka Lucius)

I do apologize for the apparent misunderstanding. When I mentioned hazing, I was talking about the filtering process a community uses to protect itself from individuals who seek membership but aren’t committed to the ideals of the community. Hazing might have negative connotations, but in a general sense it’s a natural process by which people gain trust and find their place and belonging within a group.

So I didn’t mean to say that traditional marriage is hazing. What I meant is that a legal commitment would protect those who are in a community, and it would serve to take the place of the hazing/testing process. As Christians we seek to love our neighbors unconditionally, but life experience tells us to be cautious in new relationships.

And regarding an intentional community, even the most prepared will find surprises and problems, and it’s easy to just leave the group when they arise. But a legal commitment makes it easier to resolve the issues than to abandon the group. So if a person makes a formal, enforceable commitment to a group, and the group to the individual, that would make community more secure. And with membership hinging on such a commitment, a person who is in dire need might quickly gain belonging without a lengthy hazing process, a process which could otherwise be an insurmountable hurdle. Hazing is like separating the wheat from the tares, and as Jesus says, you might pull up the wheat with the tares.

In America we do not have any type of civil union. The idea is out there, but homosexuals seem to persist in demanding the same marriage as heterosexual couples. To them, a civil union is not good enough, even if it affords them the same rights and protections.

I’m glad you mention Jesus’ marrying the church as being a “corporate” marriage, which is a marriage that is a different kind of marriage than the heterosexual marriage we usually think of. The Bible still calls it marriage.

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