Wednesday, October 29, 2008

a theology of marriage

Since I've been posting on prop 8, I thought I should give a short post regarding my theology of marriage. I will not go through all of the scriptures and exegete them. Others who are much more skilled have done that. I will give you my understanding of the broad strokes. And I won't talk about the shape of marriage across the centuries or across cultures. It is enough to say that it isn't the same and never was.

About gay and lesbian people... I don't know what makes one person gay and another straight. My guess is the answers are as different as people, but at the bottom line, I don't care whether it is chosen, inborn, a combination of the two, or completely fluid. I don't think God cares either.

I believe people are not created to be alone, but that basic idea plays itself out in very different ways from individual to individual. Some of us are single and find the companionship we need in the broader community. Some of us require a different kind of intimacy that requires a life partner. Still others fall somewhere in the middle. I believe God's concern for us and God's design for us in creation is that we be in relationship and those relationships reflect the love of God. Period.

But what about sex? First, let me say that I do not believe that any of the passages traditionally used to condemn GLBT relationships are relevant to the issue as we experience it in our culture. I do not see any passages in scripture that directly address two same sex adults involved in a committed relationship. There might be hints - check out 2 Samuel 1:26 - but tey are only hints and nothing for sure. So how do we make decisions regarding the appropriateness of sexual expression between two people? The criteria for GLBT folk are the same as for straight folk.

I really like a book I read some years ago by James Nelson called Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology. If I remember it correctly, after talking about the meaning of sexual expression in human relationships, Nelson sets out a schema for judging the morality of sexual expressions. He says that sex is always infused with meaning and that it is never just a bodily function. As such, there must be a theological/moral framework to evaluate the appropriateness of sexual acts. His criteria, as I remember them, are
1. Is the sexual expression appropriate for the depth of the commitment of the two people?
2. Is the expression humanizing for the partners or is it exploitative of one or both of them?
3. Are both partners willing and able to live with any possible consequences of the act?

Obviously two people who just met in a bar cannot meet #1. A pair of teenagers cannot meet #3. A pedophile and a child cannot meet any of the three. Nelson would argue, and I think rightly, that there are sexual expressions between married couples that do not meet his criteria and are immoral. He would also argue, again I think rightly, that sexual intercourse between a gay couple can meet all of the criteria and if so, is proper and absolutely blessed by God in the context of their relationship.

So what is marriage in my theology? It is a covenant between two people before God in the context of their community to work together to fulfill God's yearnings for them as individuals and as a couple. Gender is not an issue. For me, the legal aspect is entirely separate. Because marriage is a covenant before God, the role of the state is secondary. I have done weddings of gay and of lesbian couples in New York where it was not sanctioned by the state. I still performed a marriage and believe they are married before God. Regardless of what happens with the law in the state of California, if a gay or lesbian couple comes to me seeking marriage, I will perform the service under the same criteria I would use for a straight couple. Unfortunately, if prop 8 passes, that same couple will not have legal standing, secondary though it is.

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