Final Thoughts and Conclusions
on Gay Marriage and the Bible
Although this project grew significantly from my original plan of jotting down a few thoughts in an email, it currently only covers a small portion of the total conversation.
I would be quite surprised if someone from a conservative Christian mindset changed their mind to support gay marriage simply by reading this essay. However, I do hope that I've been able to show that the Bible is not as clear-cut as we might like on this subject. I hope that maybe there will be more willingness to listen and to question assumptions.
There is so much more that could be said on this subject, but I've decided that for now I'm going to leave this project focused mainly on these six verses in the Bible. This conclusion will cover:
- A summary of what I have learned during this research, and what I hope you may have seen along the way whether you agree or not.
- A brief acknowledgement of how much more there can be to this conversation.
- What are our next steps?
What Have We Learned?
I can't speak for you, but in the process of this project I have learned and had reinforced a number of things. I'll summarize here, and you can compare your experience to mine.
Can/SHOULD we examine the traditional interpretation?
We've seen that the Bible is a complex revelation that has never remained static in Christian community interpretation. There are many examples of previous ways of reading for social issues that we are grateful to have corrected (heliocentrism, slavery, antisemitism, interracial marriage, etc), and I suggest that this leaves open a strong possibility that homosexuality may not be as clearly condemned in Scripture.
We also know that there is much pain and division between gay people, much of general American society, and the church. Regardless of where we may assign blame, this pain and conflict should drive us to make sure we are handling the situation as wisely and in as Christ-like a manner as possible.
Under the Law – the Tanakh
We examined three passages, taking into account some cultural context, Hebrew word study, and cross-referencing in the context of all of Scripture.
- The Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah: The traditional reading of Genesis 19 has given us the word sodomite as describing certain male-with-male sexual acts. However, when we re-read carefully and look for references to the event throughout the Bible it seems clear that the focus of judgement is on communities who practice inhospitality, violence against the stranger, and not taking care of the powerless and marginalized.
- An Abomination in Leviticus 18: We explored the use of abomination throughout the Bible, and the context that our key verse is found in. It seems reasonable to read this commandment as specifically excluding neighbor-nation idol worship practices involving male prostitutes for the set-apart nation of Israel.
- The Death Penalty in Leviticus 20: Our second mention of "men lying with men" adds the death penalty as punishment. As disturbing as it is to consider some of the punishments, by cross-referencing them we can add a bit more evidence to connecting this command with a ban on male cult prostitutes.
For me, I have no problem affirming the continued relevance of these passages as they speak against inhospitality, sexual abuse and violence, prostitution and sexual worship rituals. They don't seem to have much to do with modern gay marriage proposals though.
Freedom in Christ – Does Paul Condemn All Same-Gender Sex?
Moving to the New Testament, we find three more passages that our contemporary translators have interpreted consistently against all expressions of homosexuality.
- Male-bedders in 1 Timothy: Moving from Hebrew to Greek, we investigate this mysterious word arsenokoites. While the origin of the word leaves room for various interpretations, it seems quite possible that in context we're reading a description of men who visit slave boy prostitutes. There are no gay Christians I know of who are advocating for this to be a legal part of gay marriage.
- The Effeminate and Sodomites in 1 Corinthians: Taking the word malakos to mean soft in a metaphorical way, we see that some form of sexual behavior is most likely being condemned. However, when we see the popular evangelical NIV and ESV translations preferring to combine the terms as clearly meaning passive and active sexual partners, we may logically assume that it seems to be speaking about the abusive, temporal, and unequal relationship of pederasty, not a marriage context. We also see Paul advocating for the rule of Love rather than the rule of Law.
- Unnatural Acts in Romans 1: Paul's main concern is unity in the church, and he knows that he must destroy the Jewish philosophy that "all sin comes from the idol worship (often including sexual worship practices) which they don't participate in so therefore they are more righteous by nature than the Gentiles." "No!" he says, and then shows them their equality in Christ's new covenant which leaves them no room to judge. Once again, Love trumps Law, both at the cross and in the church.
Overall, it seems that Paul is more concerned about the early church finding the right balance between the freedom of Christ and abiding by a healthy moral code. He's trying to help this fledgling movement "write the Law on their hearts" instead of living by strict do's and don'ts.
Jesus overturned the convention of the Pharisees' "religion of rules" to establish a "relationship of love", and to emphasize the Two Principles of Love to guide us instead of the 613 Commandments of the Law. This requires maturity, community, and maybe a bit of fumbling around from time to time to see how we may need to re-evaluate our traditions and assumptions to fit better with new realities. The early church was not alone in finding this difficult, and we need Paul's pastoral, counseling words today more than ever it seems.
Other Parts of the Conversation
There are other common objections to homosexuality and gay marriage in Christian circles that we have not addressed here, both inside and outside of the Bible.
- Observations about the creation of Adam and Eve.
- Jesus's discussion of marriage and divorce between a man and woman.
- Metaphors of Christ and the church use a husband/wife motif.
- Questions about the legitimacy of a marriage that cannot procreate.
- Questions about the state's role in encouraging marriages that add to stability of society.
- Questions about compatible physiology.
- Questions about created intent and nature.
I take these questions very seriously as well. They are simply not part of this essay right now. While I believe there are good, satisfactory options for answering these questions in an affirming way, I will not cover them here. I would be happy to discuss them directly though.
What's the Point Then? What is the Goal? Next Steps?
My goal in writing has been to offer a different perspective – one that demonstrates it is possible to affirm both the authority of Scripture for Christians and support the institution of marriage being offered to same-sex couples.
I hope that those who have read this are willing to consider the following steps:
- Recognize that gay marriage affirming Christians are not required to throw out the Bible. While some gay-marriage-affirming arguments do minimize the continuing value of some Bible passages, that doesn't mean all of us think that way. I hope you can see why we think it is possible to support gay marriage from a Biblical position, even if you don't agree.
- Be humble. Realize that the situation is not as simple as you may have understood from your upbringing and cultural surroundings. Hold your personal opinions, but realize that there are other options. Maybe think carefully about the downsides to NOT affirming.
- Listen. Pay attention to the conversations and stories from gay Christians. Listen first – and maybe end with listening for now as well. Your friend doesn't need to hear another person explain the traditional condemning interpretation from the Bible. They've heard it before. Listen with your heart, not your head, for a while.
- Support equal rights and affirm human dignity. Even if you don't agree personally, maybe you could still support civil rights and equal access to protection under the law that we as heterosexual couples receive. That starts with expanding employment, housing, healthcare and commerce protection. I hope it could include understanding that allowing gay marriage as a secular institution at minimum could stop being seen as a threat to traditional marriage.
Why Gay Marriage Though?
It's a good question – if we're going to accept same-gender couples in our society, do we have "change marriage" to allow them there too? Can't we just have civil unions or a different name?
Very briefly, here are a few things to consider if you're not sure about this answer:
- Marriage in general is being seen as less relevant or sacred by much of our society today, and certainly treated that way in practice by much of our church itself, looking at divorce rates. Shouldn't we welcome those who are eager to enter into the institution?
- Gay marriage gives our gay Christian friends good role models of how to be gay, follow Christ, and have a healthy family relationship too. Giving it an equal footing removes the support for forcing gay people to enter straight marriages as their own option for marriage, which they have .
- It's a sign of equality before God, as humans. Limiting it to "heterosexual couples only" implicitly denies equality. A policy of "separate but equal" is not something we want to return to, as it supported much abuse under Jim Crow laws.
- Access to marriage gives equal access to legal, political, and family rights.
We've already seen many changes in the institution of marriage in recorded history:
- Multiple wives and substitute servant partners were considered normal and expected in the Tanakh.
- Levirate marriage, mandated by the Law, expected a man to marry his sister-in-law when his brother died, and have more child for him (read more about Judah and Tamar to see how seriously they took this).
- Divorces were given for any reason by the man in Jesus' time (but not woman), and often because there were no children. Jesus had a big problem with this functional view of marriage. We may also assume that the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) had been rejected over and over because of infertility, and Jesus offered her life and acceptance with no condemnation even though he knew that she would be perceived with no value by others who knew.
- Marriages have been seen as primarily economic and political transactions in many cultures through the centuries.
- Arranged marriages have been the norm for most people in the world.
- American slaves were encouraged to marry, but were not given legal status and the marriages (and children) were often ignored when buying and selling.
- Mixed-race marriages were strictly forbidden in most states in the US until 1948, and it wasn't until 1967 that the Supreme Court overturned the remaining 16 state laws that forbid intermarriage of all races (appeals to for permission to reinstate the bans continued until Alabama gave up in 2000 – just 15 years ago!). Appeals to tradition and the Bible were often central in arguments against interracial marriage.
Other objections to marriage that seem problematic are:
- "Children need both male and female parents." Studies show that two loving parents are equally good regardless of gender, and certainly better than orphanage care.
- "Marriages are intended for procreation." Certainly there was much assumption about this in previous centuries, and the Roman Catholic church's official policies on birth control still reflect this as does the Protestant "Quiverfull" movement. However, we encourage marriages between infertile heterosexual couples all the time – either by age, or disability, or genetics. It would be seen as cruel to divorce a partner simply because they could not medically have kids.
More discussion of how welcoming same-gender marriage can actually improve the institution for all of us can be found in Bishop Gene Robinson's book "God Believes in Love".
I encourage you to continue reading, thinking and talking. The conflict we see in our society is harmful to everyone – our families, churches, social fabric, and especially to those caught in the middle as gay Christians.
On the last page of this project you will find a variety of resources to continue learning more. I especially have gained from reading and watching personal stories of gay Christians navigating these difficult waters. It's because of them that I went back to Scriptures with an open mind and a searching heart.