Thursday, May 15, 2008

The California Supreme Court and the biblical Church: A difference of opinion ?

In my early years of college I was required to pick a class from a rather strange listing of classes. I picked an encounter class led by an interesting psychology professor named Famous. Famous, whose background had at one time included the desire to be a bishop in the Methodist Church, lived a postmodern lifestyle to say the least.

We had some rather interesting and provocative discussions about Christianity including the meaning of marriage. I remember stating at the time that I believed that in our Western mindset there would come a time when marriage would only have any true purpose or meaning for Christians. While everyone else in the class was upset by that statement, Famous agreed with me. I think both his Christian background and his lifestyle helped him to see that when people simply live with their partner or when marriage can be seen as meaning any kind of arrangement, including same sex marriage, the biblical understanding of marriage dies.

Except in that place where the true body of Christ gathers to hear the word.

Jesus, when answering a question about marriage and divorce, stated what was once obvious:

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

And my argument that day, in class, was, Christ and his love for the Church sets the standard for marriage, gives the Church a picture of marriage. Paul, writing to husbands and wives states:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5: 25-27)

Today the Supreme Court of California ruled that banning same sex marriage was unconstitutional. As a secular body they went the direction of our broken western culture, which truly does not understand the basic foundation of marriage. How could they understand when they do not acknowledge the biblical Lord?

Marriage, as it copies Christ’s great love for the Church, and his desire to present his bride to himself with out any blemish, negates any kind of marriage that encourages un-holiness. Whatever the state does, whatever it blesses, whatever its words, the Church, biblically, may not, must not, call same sex partnerships and rites, marriage. They must not, alongside the state, acknowledge any arrangement called gay marriage.


Debbie said...

You've got it exactly right, Viola!

P. S. I see you've linked to Choral Evensong on the BBC. I think that's my dad's favorite thing on the Internet!

Viola said...

Good Debbie--I think our stand must be grounded in Jesus Christ, the church He bought with His blood and Holy Scripture.

Yes, I wish I would remember to listen more often.

Anonymous said...

Hi Viola,

Me again.

I wonder. Marriage in the time of Jesus was about property. A wife was a man's property just as a slave or a donkey. She was purchased from her father for a price. A perfect analogy for Christ's ownership of the Church. But also, just as a man was willing to become one with his wife, to expect her fidelity and to die for her, Jesus is willing to become one with His Church, to expect her fidelity and to die for her.

Not at all what we understand as Christian marriage today. Specially the part about property.

Obviously in that system the marriage between two men made no sense, and the marriage between two women made even less.

Today, marriage is a contract between two equals. It is a right that people have to marry whom they wish. If we are willing to accept marriage as such, then marriage between equals of the same gender is unavoidable.

The only alternative is to go back to the definition of marriage in biblical times.

The California Supreme Court decision was not about marriage at the time of Christ or even Christian marriage today, though I am not sure I know what that is exactly. It was about extending equal rights and protection to all people under the law.

Don't you think the bible agrees with giving people equal rights?

Carl Hahn

Viola said...

I don’t think I would agree with your statement that “Marriage in the time of Jesus was about property.” That is just too simple a statement. I could make a long list of reasons but a better thing would be to recommend two books by Ben Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” and "Women in the Earliest Churches.” Witherington has done some of the most extensive work I know of on the subject of women in the time of Jesus and the early church and that includes information on marriage.

Also your statement that, “A wife was a man’s property just as a slave or donkey,” is a bit over the top. For instance, from the first book I recommended, after listing the wife's duties Witherington lists the husbands.

“A man had an obligation to provide for his wife, whereas he had a choice as to whether or not he would provide for his slaves. Thus a wife was not treated as property. The marriage contract bound the husband to provide food, clothing and material needs for his wife, and a women could demand these things before a court. A husband’s responsibilities also included fulfilling his connubial duty, redeeming his wife from captivity, and providing shelter. Unlike a man, a woman was said to have a right to sexual pleasure.” (There is a long list of references with this but I am not going to be that ambitious in a blog comment.)

My point is, that list cannot in anyway be analogous to one for a slave or a donkey.

But you have not “listened” carefully to what I have written. I was writing about the biblical view of marriage; marriage as it has been understood in the Christian Church for almost two-thousand years. And that biblical view has touched and influenced society for almost that long also.

Marriage between two men or two women in biblical society was sin and because God and his word does not change it still is sin.

You write, “Today, marriage is a contract between two equals.” That is not Christian marriage at all. Christian marriage involves vows made before God, it is a covenant that two people make with God to be faithful to one another and most of all to be faithful to Jesus Christ. That involves a relationship between one man and one woman and the Lord of the universe.

Viola said...

Carl sorry,
I didn't answer your last question. "Don't you think the Bible agrees with giving people equal rights?" No, not when those equal rights have to do with sinning. The adulterer according to the Bible doesn’t have the right to his adultery, it is sin. The thief doesn’t have the right to take others property. Etc., etc.

Anonymous said...


Whereas I may have painted a slight caricature of marriage in first century Palestine to illustrate a point, I think you would agree that what was marriage then and there bears no resemblance to what is marriage here and now. I think my point is valid that what passes for “Christian marriage” is also a moving, morphing target, and it continues to be subject to all the whims of societal norms as they change over the centuries.

I don’t know where God or Scripture calls same gender marriage a sin. If the subject is human sexual relations, it seems to me the Church has made much more about sex than the Scriptures do. And much of it has been wrong. Even highly trained biblical scholars can’t seem to agree on what the bible says about same gender sex and whether is says it is a sin. They all agree the bible says Moses parted the Red Sea and they all agree it says Jesus rose from the dead, but on this they do not agree. If it is not so obvious to them, then obviously it must not be so obvious.

Unless we want to re-define marriage to be what it was in biblical times, together with some kind of consensus or unambiguous proof that God rejects the notion, I think we have to allow for the possibility that Christian marriage today may in fact have room for same gender marriage. It is just a matter of evidence and fairness.

I don’t know where all this is going. We may have to agree to disagree. But I think that in the long run, decisions such as California’s will have been in the best interest of all.

Thanks for listening,


Viola said...

The important point in the Bible is that same gender sex is sin, as is adultery, incest, etc. One usually doesn’t marry without the idea of having sex. And in fact, in Romans when Paul writes “For this reason, [because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator] God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)

It seems to me that this covers both unmarried and married gay sex. And I believe that with my earlier reference in my posting to Jesus’ definition of marriage as between a women and a man, (Matt 19:4-6), that should be sufficient although there is certainly more in the Bible.

And I think that it is a poor definition to call something “Christian marriage” and then say it “continues to be subject to all the whims of societal norms as they change over the centuries.” If it is Christian marriage it must meet the standards of Christian marriage found in the New Testament. Will we decide that “Christian” marriage is polygamous? That is not Christian marriage! And neither is same sex marriage.