The social innovation called gay marriage requires the church to pay attention to its theology of marriage in a way that it hasn't done in a long time. Western thought about marriage was shaped by the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, and those basic conclusions served both church and society (with adjustments) until the 1960s. The 19th-century ferment, which aimed to protect and empower women by giving them the freedom to vote and hold property, left basic understandings of marriage intact.
In the 1960s, society finally shed the remnants of Christian notions of marriage, reducing it to a contract between individuals for the pursuit of intimacy. Certainly, one major factor in that change was the advent of the pill, which ultimately resulted in the divorce of sexual intimacy in marriage from procreation. Now that this separation has made gay marriage thinkable, Protestant thinkers are relearning the biblical necessity of connecting marriage with children.
Pastors cannot wait for the theological conversation to run its course before they face issues of pastoral care of gay people in our congregations. Some members of theologically conservative churches do experience same-sex attraction, and in many congregations, people have tacitly formed long-term same-sex pairings. The advent of gay marriage as a social issue means such couples are now talking more openly to their pastors about it. Those pastors have to provide teaching, guidance, understanding, compassion, and prayers.
We are pleased that the Summer 2004 issue of our sister publication Leadership picks the brains of four pastors who minister in gay-friendly urban areas. The article ("Same-Sex Marriage: What Can I Say?") is posted online at Leadership Journal.
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