I’ve been getting a lot of questions about my thoughts on gay marriage/theology/whateverelse lately, so I decided to write up a short bit about gay marriage and celibacy.
First, when dealing with marriage, it’s important to notice that Christians have forgotten what Christian marriage actually is. The simple fact that the divorce rate in this country is over 50% is ample evidence that Christians (at least those in America) have no clue what Christian marriage even means.
Marriage is not – though many “conservative” Christians seem to think it is – a priest giving a couple permission to have sex. It’s not institutionalized sex. It’s not blessed sex. It’s not sanctioned sex. The focus of marriage isn’t sex – no matter how many people seem to think it is – and that’s where we start to go terribly wrong.
In Matt. 19 Jesus gives a wonderful, complete, and explicit account of what marriage should be. Though Jesus was speaking to a particular people at a particular time and therefore uses male and female pronouns to refer to the two people involved in a marriage, I shall abstract away from that language a bit to underscore the theological framework he is setting up. Jesus makes clear that marriage is an economic, physical, spiritual, emotional, permanent union between two people in which nothing is held back. Both parties are to give everything to each other.
This brings us to what Jesus intends marriage to be: a teaching tool of the faith which allows people to experience (in a physical, concrete way) what the unconditional love of God is like. Marriage is to be an institution which gradually, over the course of the two people’s lives, transforms the eros (sexual love) that brought them together into the agape (unconditional love) that keeps them together, holding nothing back from the other long after the original sexual spark of the relationship has faded. Of course, God loves us with this agape – this unconditional, eternal love – but we cannot experience it fully in our current state, separated from God and from one another. Marriage is an institution through which we can learn not only how to receive this love, but how to give it as well. Of course, celibacy is an equally valid option for Christians, and monastic vows and monastic communities accomplish this same end of teaching agape.
This brings me to my final point. Marriage is necessarily procreative. I have said before that the love of a marriage gradually comes to reflect the love that God has for us and for God’s self. And we can see from history that God’s love creates and restores and renews constantly. God had no need to create the universe and he has no need to sustain and renew it, but he does! The love of God (agape) cannot help but to create – it overflows and joyfully brings new things into being to share in this wonderful love that it has. Marriages – if they are to reflect the love of God – must do the same. Traditionally, this has been interpreted as the necessity of a married couple to bear children (which would exclude same sex couples), but procreation doesn’t necessarily imply children (lest we invalidate sterile heterosexual couples). A marriage can be procreative in many ways – through community service projects or creating a better life for an adopted child. Further, the world hardly needs more children – a Christian bearing a child with the world at its current population may very well be contravening their duty to be stewards of the earth. We should not get too caught up in equating the terms ‘procreative’ and ‘child-producing’ – after all, the Trinity did not create God-children like itself, it created the world and humanity. Procreative love finds many ways to create.
In this framework I have derived from both Jesus’s statements in Matt. 19 and the Church’s traditional understanding of nuptial theology, it should be noticed that there are no requirements placed on the genders of the two parties engaging in the institution of marriage, nor do I see any need for there to be. I cannot imagine how, exactly, two men or two women could not fit into the theological framework Christ develops. And so I am inclined to conclude that the gendered pronouns used by Christ are little more than an artifact of the culture he was speaking to. Of course, there is still the question of what other Scriptural passages have to say about homosexual relations, but a post addressing those will have to wait for another day.