Framing the Discussion on Same-Sex Marriage

            On July 31, 2004 Ellen Severance Crozier became Ellen Crozier Kiehn. It was one of the best days of my life. Marriage is one of the most precious gifts that God has given our world. I am grateful for marriage. And if marriage is such a beautiful and precious gift, should it not be opened to all? What right does any man have to restrict marriage? Or to say that people do not have the right to be married?

            We have to first define what marriage is and who the arbiter of marriage is before we can answer these questions. As a culture, we are often are driven more by emotion than we are by truth. We should be driven by emotion, but only in accordance with truth. American Theologian Jonathan Edwards, a key figure in the First Great Awakening, said, "I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with."[1] God is not against emotions. He made us emotional beings, but He wants our emotions to be governed by the truth.

There is no greater institution that causes more of an emotional reaction than marriage. There is extreme jubilation and delight that accompanies a happy marriage and extreme pain and sadness that comes when a marriage ends. I know marriage is an emotional issue, and I, like Edwards, desire to raise your affections as high as possibly, yet to govern those affections by the truth revealed in God’s Word. So before we can ask questions about the possibility of same-sex marriage, we have to first define what marriage is as revealed in the Bible.

God Defines Marriage in Creation

            It has been said by proponents of same-sex marriage that Jesus never prohibited same-sex marriage. Although it may be true that Jesus never explicitly condemned same-sex marriage, he did define marriage, and his definition of marriage would exclude same-sex unions. Jesus was approached by a group Pharisees to test him by asking a question about divorce.  “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?’ According to Jewish records, there were certain Pharisees who believed it was permissible to divorce or send away one’s wife for just about anything even for something as small as burning his bread.  Jesus answered:

Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:4-6)

Jesus grounds his argument in the first two chapters of the Bible.

            The Pharisees would have been familiar with the Law so Jesus is giving them a little bit of a jab when he asks, “Have you not read?” They had probably read Genesis 1-2 thousands of time, but did not understand all its implications. I believe the same could be said for scholars today. Many have read Genesis 1-2, but do not understand all its implications for marriage. Jesus believes in the sexual complementarity or the male/femaleness of marriage. Jesus quotes two passages from Genesis: 1:27 and 2:24. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The second chapter expands on how this male and female creation occurred. Genesis 2:18-25,

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18-25)

Adam did not have a helper fit for him so God made someone who was similar and yet different. Eve’s sameness and differentness are the reason it was possible for Adam and Eve to become one flesh.

Jesus quotes this passage in defining marriage as a man and his wife becoming a one flesh union. Then Jesus adds in Matthew 19:6, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Jesus connects the permanency of marriage together with the gender complementarity of a marital couple. Therefore, by definition, marriage can only be entered into by a man and a woman in a committed life-long union. Jesus prohibits same-sex marriage by defining marriage between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples by definition cannot be married.

Our society is attempting to redefine marriage. The motivation may be compassion, but it also changes the very definition of an institution that has been defined in one way since the creation of the world. Sixth Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton was on a 3 person panel that voted in favor of defining marriage between a man and a woman 2-1. In the court’s decision, he wrote,

For better, for worse, or for more of the same, marriage has long been a social institution defined by relationships between men and women. So long defined, the tradition is measured in millennia, not centuries or decades. So widely shared, the tradition until recently had been adopted by all governments and major religions of the world. A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the States.[2]

Our culture is rapidly moving towards a redefinition of marriage, but we must at least pause with humility to ask if that is right. The traditional view of marriage between a man and a woman has been adopted by all governments and all major religions of the world until the last several decades. It takes an incredible amount of hubris and arrogance to redefine the institution of marriage.

God Displays Marriage as a Reflection

            There are some who say, “What is the big deal if we redefine marriage? Why can’t Christians just agree to disagree and hold on to the traditional view of marriage in our own private communities?” The reason we cannot ignore the push for same-sex marriage in the public square is because marriage was created by God for a purpose. One purpose is to be a reflection of His Gospel. If we redefine marriage, we are trying to thwart God’s design in marriage as a means of sharing the gospel. Ephesians 5:25-33,

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-33)

Marriage is picture of the gospel. The love a husband expresses towards his wife is a picture of the love that Christ has for his church, and the love a wife shows towards her husband is a picture of the love the church has for Christ.  A healthy marriage is a beautiful display of the gospel.  If we forfeit God’s design for marriage, we are diminishing the picture of the gospel.

God Designed Marriage as a Foundation

A society is only as strong as the families of that society. If the family breaks down, the society will also break down. One of the reasons same-sex has gained so much acceptance is the erosion of marriage over the last 50 years. Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation writes,

America has experienced a slow erosion of marriage over the past 50 years that is now culminating in the view that marriage must be redefined to include same-sex relationships. Americans with same-sex attractions aren’t to blame for this, but redefining marriage will only further weaken our marriage culture.

In the 1960s, heterosexuals, acting on the destructive liberal ideology of the “Me Generation,” increasingly began to debase human sexuality and the marital relationship. As a result of the sexual revolution and the introduction of no-fault divorce laws, marriage became an institution more about the desires of adults than the needs of children—an institution that need not even aspire to permanency. In the eyes of marriage revisionists, marriage was about adult emotional union and sex became more casual—something conquerable, rather than embraced for what it could beget: children.

Laws and cultural practices shape belief; belief shapes behavior. So it is little surprise that when the law redefined marriage through no-fault divorce that Americans changed their behaviors, with divorce rates rising from single digits to nearly 50 percent. This culture focused on adult romance—that a marriage should last only so long as the love does—is what today’s Millennials have inherited. Same-sex marriage is, in a certain sense, a logical progression in the erosion of the meaning of marriage. The question facing Americans now is whether we will further abandon the norms of marriage—monogamy, sexual exclusivity and permanency—and promote the collapse of the institution by fundamentally redefining it.[3]

Marriage norms are shifting and society is suffering.

            Christians should continue to strive to create laws and structures that uphold the biblical definition of marriage. One of our highest callings is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). Let me apply that general principle in two specific ways in regards to how we publicly address same-sex marriage. First, one way we love our neighbors is by working towards advocating God’s way. Psalm 33,

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. (Psalm 33:10-19)

A nation will experience more prosperity and peace when it follows God’s law. I am not advocating we push for a theocracy, but for laws that are consistent with God’s nature. In the end, this will make our lives better as a society. If the all-wise, all-good, God has given marriage as the foundation of society, then systems and structures that support a biblical definition of marriage are good for society.

            Secondly, we love our neighbors in how we advocate for this position. The reputation of Christians in the gay community is hateful and mean-spirited. Harmful language and aggressive tones are not helpful and do not honor God. We speak gospel truth in a gospel manner; full of grace and tenderness. God cares about what we say, but he also cares how we say it. If we do not speak with grace, we will never win a voice among the gay community. And if you do not care about the gay community, I question whether or not you truly know Jesus. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, full of grace AND truth.  Beloved, we should advocate for godly laws in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.

God Delights in Marriage Sacrifice

            One of the most damaging underlying ideologies of same-sex marriage is the importance of sexual fulfilment. Our culture has raised sexual fulfilment to be its highest aim, but our highest aim should be glory of God. There are people who will have to sacrifice their desire for marriage for the cause of Jesus Christ. Singleness is a blessing in the Scripture. The most fulfilled and complete human being in the history of the world was a single man. Jesus never married. Paul said it was good to remain single as he was. When we raise romantic, sexual fulfillment above God, we diminish the beauty and glory of God. God delights in those who for the sake of the gospel lay down their desires. Some say it is unfair, but God simply says, “Follow me.”

            There are Christian brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Jesus is asking them to lay down their desires for the cause of Christ. Will it be hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely yes!! There is a cost to following to Jesus.  Jesus wants us to forsake all others and follow him. He calls us to pick up our cross daily and to follow him. He bids us come and die. Mark 10:28, Peter said to Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” We do not know the tone in which Peter said this. It could have been a prideful tone boasting in how much they gave up or in an exasperated, “what else do you want from me?” tone.  Regardless Jesus responded to Peter’s statement with tremendous compassion and hope. Jesus said:

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31)

Sacrificing for the gospel is always worth it. Do you believe that? Do you believe that when God calls people to lay down their lives (including the right to marry) for the gospel that they will be rewarded?

            It has been said of Christians that we do not understand the challenges facing those struggling with same-sex attraction. Our ideas are built are theories rather than experience. Let me close with some insights from Rosaria Butterfield, who understands personally what God is calling the gay community to lay down. Rosaria was a liberal, lesbian feminist English professor at Syracuse University. She started doing a project aimed at the Religious Right when she met a pastor who shattered all her preconceived notions about Christianity and started to slowly believe the gospel. Butterfield shares her conversion in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:

I learned that the Lord wants all our loyalties under submission to him. He wants us to identify ourselves by name, in his name for us. In my case, my feelings of lesbianism were familiar, comfortable, and recognizable, and I was reluctant to give them up. I clung to Matthew 16:24 (Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.), remembering that every believer had to at some point in life take the step that I was taking: giving up the right to myself, taking up his Cross, and following Jesus. The Lord made it clear to me that I had to make some serious changes…I learned that we must obey in faith before we feel better or different.  At this time, though, obeying in faith, to me, felt like throwing myself off a cliff.[4]

God asks us to give up our lives. He promises it will be worth, but he does not promise it will be easy.

            Even in the Mark passages above, Jesus says, you will receive hundredfold with persecutions. Listen to how Rosaria described her conversion,

Although grateful, I did not perceive conversion to be “a blessing.” It was a train wreck…When I became a Christian, I had to change everything—my life, my friends, my writing, my teaching, my advising, my clothes, my speech, my thoughts. I was tenured to a field that I could no longer work in. I was the faculty advisor to all of the gay and lesbian and feminist groups on campus…I was flooded with doubt about my new life in Christ. Was I willing to suffer like Christ? Was I willing to be considered stupid by those who didn’t know Jesus? The world’s eyes register what a life in Christ takes away, but how do I communicate all that it gives? Do I really believe, in Charles Bridges’ words, “The very chains of Christ are glorious” (p. 33)?1 Peter, after being beaten for preaching the gospel, rejoiced that he was “counted worthy to suffer shame for [Christ’s] name” (Acts 5:41). I pondered this. To the world, this is masochism. To the Christian, this is freedom. Did I really believe this? Do I really believe this today? I wondered: If my life was the only evidence that Christ was alive, would anyone be convinced?

Conversion wrecked Rosaria life. She had to sacrifice it all, but it was worth it. And the Lord delighted in her sacrifice.

            Let me close by saying this: Rosaria, a full blown liberal lesbian said this of her church family,
I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself. 

God bids the gay man and woman to come and die as God bids the straight man and woman to come and die. The call of the gospel is a call to lay down one’s life.

We hurt our Christian brother and sister who struggle with same-sex attraction by not calling them to sacrifice. God is not withholding something good from them in the gospel, but rather He is offering them something better, Himself. Jesus Christ asks his followers to only follow his example: to lay down their lives. He promises he will reward you when you lay down your life for his name’s sake. Will you trust him?

[1] Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4, ed. C. Goen (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972), 387.
[4] Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Rosaria Butterfield.
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