Monday, April 9, 2012

An answer to "Apologia for a Marriage"

The organization More Light Presbyterians is offering a paper for the use of commissioners to the 220 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Written by Ken Cuthbertson a minister in the PCUSA, "Apologia for a Marriage" is a paper explaining why it is supposedly proper for him and his partner, Doug Calderwood, an elder, to be married. The ceremony was preformed in New York on March the 25th. Because the paper will undoubtedly be read by some commissioners I will respond to several of Cuthbertson’s views about same gender marriage.

Much of Cuthbertson’s foundational views do not come from the biblical text but Western secular culture. After explaining that most of Christianity views the marriage relationship between a woman and man as a reflection of God’s image Cuthbertson writes:
A more modernist and humanistic approach to marriage looks to the evolution of life, and of the sociocultural modalities of civilization, and notes that perhaps the divine imprimatur may be not so much inherent as assigned, and more assumed than discerned.
He includes the modern view of marriage as “a fully mutual consensual union of equals.”

However, attempting to prove his point from Scripture anyway, Cuthbertson states that as a gay progressive Christian he wishes to come to the issue “from a scripture-honoring perspective.” He lists eight statements he believes are important. I will look at each one.

“1. While the Bible forbids particular homosexual activities (rape, idolatory [sic], prostitution, etc.) in several instances, it never actually speaks to same-gender mutual, consensual, sexual relationships. (And, by the way, rape, idolatry, and prostitution are also equally forbidden for heterosexuals.)”

It is simply not true that the Bible “never actually speaks to same-gender mutual, consensual, sexual relationships.” Probably Romans 1:26-27 is the clearest of the texts as far as consensual sex is concerned. Verse 27 states, “And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural functions 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 own error.”

“2. On the other hand, the Bible strongly affirms affectional relationships (see #5, below) between persons of the same gender. But (again) does not speak to the sexual aspect of such relationships.”

Yes, certainly, the Bible does affirm affection between persons of the same sex. And of course the Bible does not speak to the sexual aspect of such relationships because the Bible does not affirm same gender sexual relationships. So those relationships it affirms are not sexual. The great antinomian heresy of this time has caused unspeakable damage to the understanding of friendship between men and friendship between women. Friendship is a beautiful gift given by God and it should not be confused with sexual desire.

“3. The emphasis of both Jesus and Paul concerning morality and ethics was on “love” and on just and caring relationships in the community, not on ritual “purity” or “clean” vs. “unclean” behaviors.”

It would take a very long paper to unpack all of Cuthbertson’s implications. Jesus’ ethics were based on the commandments which he insisted were fulfilled in his own person. Jesus never turned away those who came to him with real needs, but he also insisted that they no longer continue in sin. Paul was very clear about what sin was and what was not sin. But he did not preach reform he proclaimed repentance and transformation in Christ.

And to take this further, as I believe Cuthbertson intended, the issue of same gender sex is not about “ritual ‘purity’ or ‘clean’ vs. ‘unclean’ behaviors.’ The Old Testament purity codes existed for the Hebrews until the time of Christ. But Christ took them to the cross. (See Col. 2:16-23)But sexual sin is something else. It must be repented of—given over to Jesus Christ. Just as a thief, a liar and a gossip are still required to repent and live righteously so those who commit sexual sins such as adultery and same gender sex are also required to repent. Then the Scriptural outlook is “Such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11) That is good news.

“4. In the second creation story (Garden of Eden) it is said to be “not good” for the man to be alone, and the focus is on the creation of a “companion” and “helper” for the first human, not on procreation and reproduction. Human companionship lies at the essential core of the “good” in marriage.”

Cuthbertson is right in suggesting that rather than procreation being at the heart of marriage God created Eve because of Adam’s need of a companion. But he has made a mistake, as another theologian recently did; the emphasis is on both companionship and ‘man and woman.’ Jesus goes back to the original story when speaking about divorce. (Matthew 19:3-7) And Jesus did not leave out the fact that God created a woman to be the companion to Adam. Scripture cannot be so easily broken and misused.

“5. Various biblical accounts of same-gender relationships (the covenantal relationship of Jonathan and David, the affirmations of Ruth to Naomi, etc.) remarkably resemble egalitarian “marriage” as our society has come to understand it.”

Cuthbertson is perhaps suggesting one of two things. Perhaps that the friends he has mentioned are in a sexual relationship or perhaps that marriage is simply a friendship with sex added. Neither is right and the model falls apart. The relationship between Johnathan and David as well as Ruth and Naomi do not resemble marriage since there is no sex involved. If this is Cuthbertson’s meaning the beauty of friendship once again is wiped out by the sinful insistence that all such relationships must be sexual.

Of course as C.S. Lewis pointed out friendship between a man and a woman can lead to romantic love and marriage. But there is certainly a difference between romantic love and friendship. And that is why the idea of marriage as friendship with sex added is also wrong. It wipes out the very thing Cuthbertson is trying to establish. That is, marriage as a covenant relationship. The marriage of a man and woman fill out that covenant changing even the contours of friendship. The new relationship is molded by the difference of man and woman.

Once again Ruth and Naomi as well as David and Jonathan are not good models even for modern egalitarian marriage. In fact, the picture of Ruth, Boaz and their marriage is a healthy and beautiful picture of marriage. It is indeed a covenant and one that leads to the birth of David whose seed, Jesus, would sit on his throne forever.

“6. The progress of revelatory understanding about God and the extent of God’s realm is repeatedly shown to be directed away from exclusive categorizations toward inclusivity and the breaking down of divisive barriers between people. (See Isaiah 56, Acts 10, Galatians 3:28, etc.)”

First the idea of “the progress of revelatory understanding about God” needs to be addressed. The Bible is God’s written word—it does not change. Jesus Christ is the living Word of God; he does not change. The biblical text in Isaiah 56, Acts 10, and Galatians 3:28 speak of God’s desire to bring the broken, sinful and needy into his kingdom. But even in Isaiah God does not open the gate unconditionally; speaking to the eunuchs God says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, and choose what pleases me and hold fast my covenant, to them I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial, and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”

We are drawn to Christ in repentance and he makes us children in his kingdom. We are all sinners but God calls his children to acknowledge their sin and turn from it.

“7. Although specific gender roles are noted according to the socio-cultural norms of the times, the basic underlying teaching concerning Christian marriage in the New Testament is about mutual submission, mutual esteem, and love, undertaken out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:21, etc.)”

The New Testament does not shape marriage gender roles according “to the socio-cultural norms of the times.” There were same gender marriages in New Testament times. The New Testament writers insisted that Christians should follow the Hebrew Bible in matters of sexual ethics which forbade same gender sex. More importantly, basic New Testament teaching about marriage is based on Christ’s relationship to the Church, which includes both respect and love. The image is of a bride (the Church) and groom (Christ), not of two brides or two grooms.

“8. The vows and promises of the historic Christian marriage covenant – “to love, honor, and cherish, to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live” – are neither gender-specific nor gender-exclusive. They are simply about how two people relate to one another. (And nowadays most couples omit the woman’s archaic “obey” vow.)”

All I can say about the eighth statement is that it is a non-sequitur. It has nothing at all to do with Cuthbertson's conclusion that same gender marriage is an acceptable Christian practice.

The author goes on to the conclusion that “The core ‘meaning’ of Christian marriage thus seems to be pretty consistent with the modern sociocultural expectation of a mutual consensual union of equals, grounded in love, mutual esteem, and a commitment to sharing the journey of life together. The one distinctively Christian aspect being the undertaking to do this ‘out of reverence for Christ.’”

With that statement Cuthbertson kills his whole argument. Christian marriage is to be biblical. That means it must be and can only be between a man and a woman. A celebration, ritual, whatever it could be called between two same gender persons cannot be done out of reverence for Christ. It can only be done with disregard for Christ and the word of God written.

“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 become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matt. 19:4-6)


Whit Brisky said...

Viola, I would not have given him the concession you gave on point four. God's first command to mankind is in Gen. 1:28 to multiply and fill the Earth. And while the second creation story in Gen. 2 does not emphasize reproduction, that story cannot, and should not, separate marriage from the reproductive function as the two become one flesh. That is, none of the other creatures was suitable because they could not become one flesh with the man and thereby fulfill God's first command.
Our society gave up something essential when it broke the essential unity among love, marriage, sex, children and family.

Viola Larson said...


I do believe and know it is God's mandate that there should be families with children as an important part of marriage when ever that is possible. But I do believe that Eve was first of all created as a companion for Adam.

ghallead said...

Well spoken/written Viola. The arguement presented in opposition to Biblical marriage is spurious at best.

Glen Hallead
Wellsboro, PA

Douglas Underhill said...

My issue continues to be the fact that no one actually just applies what the Bible contains to modern marriage. No one. So the debate isn't which position is more "Biblical" - modern marriages between consenting adults who are societal equals at an average age of 28 is not at all "Biblical".

The debate, rather, is how do we interpret the Bible and apply that to modern relationships. The Apologia for Marriage seems to do this. Your response, Viola, simply continues the smoke-screen of what is more "Biblical". I mean, do you uncover your hair or speak in Church? Probably, because you understand on some level that you are interpreting and being selective, just as everyone is, with your use of the Bible.

Doug Hagler
Dalton, OH

Viola Larson said...

Doug my point is that marriage between a man and a woman is biblical, marriage between same gender couples isn't. You jumped right over that point.