A Christian Case for Marriage Equality

Many Christian arguments against marriage equality are rooted in flawed — even heretical — assumptions. Though perceived as hateful, these Christians often claim that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” It is this very statement that indicates the reliance on the heresy of dualism. Our Christian hesitancy to talk about sexuality within churches is also victim to this flaw.

The Heresy of Dualism

Heavily influenced by Greek thought, Christianity developed a strong sense of the goodness of the spirit and the sinfulness of the body. One group of early Christians, the Gnostics, even thought that Jesus did not really inhabit a human body. The divine could not be divine within the profane human body. By the end of the second century, this hatred of the body was declared outside of the Christian faith. Yet, it persists in the mindset of many twenty-first century Christians.pull quote

In Christian thought, human beings are created as Imago Dei, or in the image of God. “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1: 26a NRSV). Human beings are spiritual. Human beings are physical. Human flesh is inherently of God. Our self-perceived physical imperfections and our sexuality are the image of God. In our sexual expression within covenantal, loving relationships human beings are Imago Dei. In sexuality, we mirror God.

Yet, an attitude toward our bodies as profane has permeated Christianity throughout the centuries. The Puritans are an American example of groups who have taken this heretical dualism to the level of self-hatred. Modern churches are also places where the belief that sexuality (the body) is so profane that we don’t even talk about it. In the church, we have allowed a culture of titillation to define human sexuality.

The Sin of the Church: Dehumanizing Non-Heterosexuals

Within this context churches and individual Christians weigh in on the morality of homosexuality. When many hear the word heterosexual, “hetero” stands out. When they hear homosexual, “sexual” stands out. For too long we have viewed heterosexuals as whole human beings while viewing homosexuals as only about sex. The common heresy of flesh as evil further dehumanizes our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

In the dehumanizing of and refusal to accept homosexuals as Imago Dei, we allow fanatics to spew words of hatred and violence. In our refusal to accept our lesbian and gay sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, fathers, and mothers as made fully in the image of God, we commit sin. This is the great sin of too many contemporary churches.

Dualistic Thinking in Arguing Against Homosexuality

The argument that one can love the sinner while hating the sin when applied to homosexuality is dualist thinking. The separation of orientation from practice regarding homosexuality leads to a separation of the spiritual from the physical. My heterosexuality is intertwined with my spirituality, with my sense of who I am as a child of God. In the words of theologian Christopher Morse, “The way God makes us in creation, including our sexuality, is [n]ever a cruelty joke. . . .No gift of God’s grace is to be held in dishonor.”

When Christians let go of the dualism, we are no longer afraid to view the gift of human sexuality along its created continuum of homosexual and heterosexual orientation. We are free to let go of our fear of the body as less than “of God.” We are free to accept that each human being is uniquely gifted by God with a physical way of expressing love with another human being.

pull quote2The first testament is littered with examples of God’s loyalty and compassion within covenant to God’s people. In Judges 10, after years of idol worship, the Israelites seek God’s help when under threat from the Ammonites. God is rightfully angry with their newfound faith: “Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Judges 10:14 NRSV). Despite rightful frustration, God “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (Judges 10: 16b NRSV). God responds in compassion and honors covenant. It is this covenantal relationship that serves as a model for our human relationships, including our sexual relationships. When we express our sexuality–homosexual or heterosexual–within the covenantal relationship of marriage we are living more fully into the image of God.

God’s model of covenantal fidelity has been institutionalized by both the church and secular culture. Though not guaranteeing faithfulness, marriage supports stable, covenantal fidelity in American culture. By rejecting same-sex marriage we are denying homosexuals a tool that supports loving covenants. Americans have a duty to defend equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Doing so is consistent with our highest American ideals. We each will benefit from the stabilizing influence on our society.

Followers of Jesus have a moral imperative to advocate for marriage equality. Embracing the wholeness of body and spirit in the Imago Dei, Christian faith is rooted in covenantal fidelity and the love-ethic of Jesus Christ. Supporting marriage equality is fully and wholly consistent with the Christian faith and lifestyle.

Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In

I was pissed. If I didn’t feel it emotionally, my hoarseness revealed it. The children had scattered to their rooms. Even Isaac who was foolishly brave during “knock-down, drag-outs,” had retreated to his bedroom. That’s when it happened. I yanked the suitcase out of the closet. 



How had it reached the point that, even a small part of me, would consider breaking covenant? How could I possibly survive without my beloved? 


I looked at the suitcase in my hand and slumped down to the floor; all energy draining from my body. I became uncharacteristically silent. 


It was in that moment that I was finally able to hear the loving pleading of my wife. “You need help.” Yes, she was right. Yes, I would call first thing Monday morning.


***


Nearly thirty-three years ago, my wife and I publicly entered into covenant with one another. With the covenant revealed in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) between God and the Israelites informing us about how to live in relationship, we were married. We covenanted with one another, and with God. (See “The Core Secret of Our Marriage for more about covenant.


The dripping humid day when we committed our lives to one another was only the beginning. Maintaining a relationship takes emotional energy and regular time spent focused on one another. Human beings are constantly evolving and changing. We have ups and downs. There are times when we’re not so much fun to be around.


The challenge for two people in a covenantal relationship is to choreograph growth and change. Finding ways to dance through the stormy weather is perhaps the most intricate choreography. The steps are not always obvious.  Uncomfortable emotions tempt us to leave the stage entirely.

This is the second in a series about living in
covenant with another person.

Living in Covenant Series
The Core Secret of Our Marriage
Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In
It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, It’s My Wife!

That morning when I pulled the suitcase out of the closet was not our finest hour.   We’d bought an old 1850s house (think Tom Hanks’ Money Pit) in upstate New York. Both children were still living at home. I was working multiple jobs. We were both working too much. Our lifestyle was not sustainable. I know I was not fit to live with during those years. 


I was also unable to see that I was making poor choices. 


***

An unwavering commitment to one another–even during times when we’ve felt distant from one another–is indeed central to our long marriage. Our success is more than that, however. We truly like each other. We allow–no, we embrace–one another’s evolving growth and change. We truly want the other to be who they are called by God to be. 


We revel in one another’s joys and always have one another’s back. Yet, when one of us is not living into who we’re called to be as a unique human being, we speak forthrightly. That is, we call one another out.


During those years, my wife could see clearly that I was making poor choices. She knew I was working too hard and that I was physically exhausted. I couldn’t see it and would hear none of her pleadings.


Living in a covenantal relationship requires sticking it out when things are not going well. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel angry with one another. It doesn’t mean you don’t have good reason to dislike the other person. Likewise, part of a loving covenant – which includes God – is that we must each take care of ourselves. (There are times when leaving the relationship is the most appropriate thing to do. I will write about abusive relationships in a future blog.)


I was not taking care of myself during those times. The result was that I was taking it out on myself and those I loved the most. I am quite certain that my wife was irritated with me. I am quite certain that she was angry and worried about me.


In Judges 10, God is so frustrated with the Israelites poor behavior, with their breaking of covenant, that he laments, “Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Judges 10:14 NRSV).  God was tempted to break covenant with God’s people. Who could blame God? The people had left and worshiped other gods until they were under attack by the Ammonites. Then they came running back begging for God’s help.


Ultimately, however, God honors covenant. Because God “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (Judges 10: 16b NRSV), God responds compassionately. I imagine this was not unlike my wife’s experience. She had every rational reason to break relationship. Who could blame her? But in the end, her compassion and her commitment, reigned supreme.  



During that difficult time, my wife offered up the truth about me, sometimes with a little sugar and sometimes with a little vinegar. But still I could not hear her. Still, she hung in there with me. My wife saw the imago dei (image of God) through my armor of hurt, fatigue, and nastiness. Her patience and compassion and her commitment – our covenant – waited for a time when I could hear her pleading.


***


I looked at the suitcase in my hand and slumped down to the floor; all energy draining from my body. I became uncharacteristically silent. 


And I sobbed. Her arms around me, I felt God’s presence in our covenant. Then, I could hear God in the voice of my wife. “You need help. You can’t keep this up. I love you.”


***


God of Covenants,


Thank you for the extravagant love,
   that puts up with us no matter what.


Thank you for the love that forgives,
   even when we’ve ignored gentle pleadings,
      and angry pleadings.


Help us to include you,
   to accept your presence,
      to hear your voice in our relationships.


Help us to see the imago dei,
   in ourselves,
      and in one another,
          that we might be more loving.


In the name of the love which flows,
   within and throughout creation.


Amen.

The Core Secret of Our Marriage

The Core Secret of Our Marriage

My wife and I have been married for almost 33 years. I’m often asked, “What’s your secret?” Typically my answer is about being realistic, accepting highs & lows, or about a sense of humor. The core secret is about the covenant we made with one another on a sweltering midwest summer day.


About Covenant


The term covenant has a strong association with the Judeo-Christian tradition as a model for relationship. If you read the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), you are privy to a love story between God and the Israelites. 


Even when the people are unworthy of God’s love, and God has every reason to abandon them, God ultimately honors covenant. For example, in Judges 10, after years of idol worship, the Israelites seek God’s help when under threat from the Ammonites. God is rightfully angry with their newfound faith: “Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Judges 10:14 NRSV). 


Despite rightful frustration, God “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (Judges 10: 16b NRSV). God responds in compassion and honors covenant. It is this covenantal relationship that serves as a model for our human relationships, including marriage.


The core success of our marriage, then, is that we stood before family, friends, and clergy on that day, publicly entering covenant. We invoked the Divine blessing and covenanted to work at our relationship. Our marriage covenant is with one another and with God.


Divine Presence


Created as physical and spiritual beings, to live into the image of God requires that we open ourselves to the spiritual. Life is an arduous, challenging experience. It is evidence of divinity when any of us are able to connect with other human beings.


A UCC minister and his wife, friends of my parents from their days at seminary, gave us a simple but powerful wedding gift thirty-three years ago. The physical gift was a golden cross with two rings. 

This is the first in a series about living in
covenant with another person.

The physical cross, however, was not the gift. The gift was the comment from Uncle Harold that our love and marriage are a gift from God. The implication being that we must treat our love and marriage with reverence.


My beloved Maggie and I have both sought to remember that our marriage is a sacred covenant. We seek to afford one another the respect that we afford God. For example, I know that Maggie doesn’t rake me through the coals with co-workers. Likewise, her most sensitive secrets will never appear in one of my blogs. 


We have both made mistakes. (God knows I have!) But to have slept with another woman or man, would be no more a failure to keep covenant with my beloved than if I betrayed our private conversations. As such, neither of us -regardless of temptations – have strayed or long-avoided the hard work of living as a married couple.


Keeper of Covenants,


Thank you for your love,
   that flows within all of creation.
Thank you for the forgiveness,
   even when it is undeserved.


Flow through my relationships with others:
   with Maggie,
   with those whom I meet at the market,
      at the gas station,
         or who are begging on the street.


When I fail to be who you,
   created me to be,
      forgive me,
         and empower me to confess,
             and make amends.


For it is in following your loving lure,
   that the world reflects you.
It is in your love,
   that I am who you desire me to be.


Amen.


This is the first of several blog posts about what it means to live in covenant with another human being. The next will be about dealing with change and growth in one another.