What God Hath Not Joined
Our radically confused society is debating the meaning of marriage with increasing intensity. That question leads to a host of other issues—especially the boundaries of sexual behavior and the nature of procreation. No one is untouched by this debate.
Confusion in society spreads easily to the church. To help bring a biblical perspective to these discussions, Christianity Today offers this special section, the first of a series. Here we focus on the meaning of marriage in light of the national debate about gay marriage. In future issues, we'll go down other paths.
As we address these issues over the long term, we hope to communicate two things: First, a definite "no" to calls to lower the moral bar (whether they come from within the church or from secular critics). And second, a decided "yes" to respect and extend compassion to the people who advocate views and practices we oppose. The issues are too important to fall short in either direction.
"Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?" So Jesus declares that in the first marriage and in every marriage since, it is God himself who joins particular members of the opposite sex together in a natural relation unlike any other.
All societies have honored this special union that Christians, Jews, and Muslims rightly recognize to be a gift of the Creator. Even in an atheistic context like Russia during the Communist period, Muscovite couples were married with festal trappings at what passed for a sacred site, Lenin's tomb.
Our generation has introduced a tear in this universal fabric. Same-sex activists are clamoring for the state to grant homosexual couples marital status. These blows to the definition of marriage are landing not only in the North American civil sphere, but within churches. Theological arguments may not hold much sway in public debate, and there are certainly good social reasons for preserving the definition of marriage. But for the defense of marriage in both civil society and church, Christians must look to—and guard—the deep theological foundations of marriage.
Theological foundations are indeed under attack. On June 3, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, while deferring the decision to bless same-sex unions in formal ceremonies, declared that longstanding homoerotic relationships were already sanctified. Even while questioning whether this issue touches on core doctrine, the Synod employed a theological term (sanctity) to "support" its gay and lesbian members. Such confusing events lead the faithful to ask: What is the connection between the same-sex debate and doctrine? Can those who desire the "sanctity of marriage" rightly find it for same-sex relationships? Can same-sex unions truly be blessed in the churches?
The cry goes up that the biblical teaching must be surpassed, since "God is doing a new thing." What is the style of God's action in the world? How does the Bible describe God's activity and homoeroticism itself? In Romans 1:18-32, Paul traces the drama of creation, sin, idolatry, and rebellion. Wonderfully, the created order provided a window through which God's glory can be seen (20). Humanity drew the blinds over this window, however, when it acted willfully, giving neither honor nor thanks to the Creator.
But true atheism is not possible for those made to worship. Human beings simply exchanged loyalties, worshiping creatures rather than God (23). God's response to this senseless idolatry was to permit the natural consequences (24, 26). Paul gives a vivid example of this fallout: Human passions are disturbed and the primary created relationship (male and female) is distorted into homoerotic behavior (24, 26-27).