This is just a few “first thoughts” on marriage equality. Please allow me the freedom to renew my mind at a later time. I often do. My own assessment, for what it’s worth, is that my views are probably viewed by those outside the church as conservative. But they are more liberal than they used to be. And may be viewed by many inside the church, as too liberal!
Firstly, marriage equality, or same sex marriage, is primarily a secular issue. The church is not driving this issue. Some see it just as a “storm in a teacup”, driven by the media, and expect it to fade away like all fads do. I don’t. I see it as much more significant than that.
Secondly, the issue is only about marriage. It is not illegal to be gay in Australia. The issues regarding decriminalisation of homosexuality were settled in every state and territory as well as at a Commonwealth level by the end of last century.
Thirdly, if you want to get married in Australia, no matter how spiritual or “righteous” the couple, it is ultimately a legal issue, not a church issue. You can’t do it without a government issued licence and a government approved official to “solemnize” the marriage. It’s about what is legal now and changing those laws.
Having said that, if this is an issue the church wants to fight, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the secular battlefields (e.g. parliament, courts, media etc). Paul talks of mighty weapons that can destroy strongholds; imaginations, thoughts and knowledge. (2 Corinthians 10:4).
Since these weapons are largely about thinking (imaginations, thoughts and knowledge), I thought I’d do some thinking!
I’d love to tell you what Jesus said about homosexuality.
But Jesus didn’t say anything at all. So that was a short conversation!
Some people have criticised various church leaders of our time for being “evasive” on the subject of homosexuality. Seems they are in good company.
I think that Christ’s silence tells us a few things.
- Major on the Majors – Jesus majored on the majors. And homosexuality is not a major issue in the kingdom of God. There are about 200,000 words in the New Testament, and only about 40 of them relate to the topic. In other words, there are about 5,000 other “slices” of the New Testament that we could choose to focus on. Jesus didn’t say anything about it, Peter, James, John, and Luke didn’t write anything about it.
Only Paul even mentions homosexuals – and it certainly wasn’t a major theme. We are misrepresenting the whole message if we continually focus on only the minor issues. Paul’s main themes were grace, faith and righteousness – how to be right with God. And he was very clear that what you do with your penis has nothing to do with righteousness now, and didn’t even way back as far as Abraham’s time. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
- Preach The Good News – Jesus did talk about sin and about how he came to take away sin. But He never personally called anyone a sinner. In John 9 the disciples wanted to label someone who was born with a visual impairment. They asked whether it was the man himself or his parents who sinned. Jesus avoiding an awkward conversation about in vitro sinning, quickly said “Neither”. Then He redirected their focus “so that the work of God might be displayed in his life”. Some Christians like labelling sinners the way that Oprah likes giving away new cars “You’re a sinner, you’re a sinner too, everyone’s a sinner!” Jesus never called anyone a sinner. Preach the good news, not the bad news. Everyone can have the work of God displayed in their own life.
- Expand The Kingdom – In Matthew 23:13 Jesus gets His cranky pants on because the religious leaders weren’t letting those who wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven get in. If you look at what Jesus did, and later Peter and Paul, it was all about expanding the kingdom – women, lepers, tax collectors, Samaritans, prostitutes, Italians – almost anyone! Jesus told us that God’s will is that none should perish (John 3:16). It is my feeling, (and again, I could change my mind on this) that we are at the precipice of a great expansion of the kingdom of heaven, similar in significance to the days of Jesus, Peter and Paul.
So nothing on homosexuality. Lots of good news on the kingdom; faith, love and mercy.
But what did Jesus say when he was asked about marriage (Matthew 19)? I like the fact that this was not a sermon inside a synagogue, or a letter dealing with every matter related to the subject. It was just a conversation and it was in public. And Jesus engaged rather than evaded the topic.
Lately, a lot of people want to start these kind of conversations with me in person and on facebook, twitter and other public forums. Here’s how Jesus handled it.
“Haven’t you read?” If you’re going to have a position on it, make sure you’ve done some reading! I find a lot of people who are talking about the bills being introduced to parliament haven’t actually read any of the bills. Even if you haven’t read any of the bills, at least make sure you’ve read what Jesus had read – the word of God concerning marriage.
“that at the beginning the Creator ‘made the male and female’ and said ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Jesus firstly points out that times have changed. He defines the correct time to assess something is to look at God’s original intent – how it was in the beginning. He points people to the ideal scenario. He also makes it clear that if God’s intent is to join people together, man’s intent should not be the opposite of that.
He is then asked why Moses provided a certificate of divorce for men to separate from their wives. Great question! Moses was a man, but he was also God’s highest representative on earth. He effectively changed the nation’s laws to facilitate the opposite of God’s original intent. Here’s how Jesus explained that.
“Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” Notice that Jesus didn’t condemn Moses. What Moses did was radical – it was not reflecting the original intent for marriage. It was recognising that times had changed, and it was reflecting the nature and character of God.
- Provided – Moses provided for the people who found themselves in a situation they didn’t want to be in. When we respond to people, we should respond out of a heart of Jehovah Jireh, the Provider. Don’t try and withhold something from people, try to give something to them.
- Certified – Moses gave approval. Not just turning a blind eye, but written, legal, authority, to do the opposite of what God originally intended. When we respond to people, we should respond out of a heart of Jehovah Tsidkenu, The Lord our Righteousness. Let’s find a way to make people morally right and guiltless, not shamed, sinful and wrong.
Also, I find it interesting that Jesus diagnoses the problem “your hearts were hard”. He makes it their problem and makes it clear it is a heart issue.
There’s three things I find instructive about that.
- Legal Solution – the prescribed solution was a written, legal one that certified their problem, not removed it.
- Leadership Solution – the solution came from God’s leadership, under His law, not by making the person change themselves.
- Love Solution – the solution allowed the heart to stay hard towards their ex-wife but also gave them freedom to find a new wife that they could be soft-hearted towards. There was hope for a new beginning and a new result.
Again, though, Jesus starts telling us the time. This solution, He reminds us, was not the “ideal” that God created in the beginning, it was just dealing with the “real” – hardness of heart. The Voice bible translates this verse this way “divorce was an innovation, an accommodation to a fallen world”.
Jesus then defines an even newer solution, for a new time – His time. “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Jesus explains that adultery is divorce – and remarriage is adultery. If you break the bond of marriage, even if it is done legally under Moses’ national law, it’s not necessarily legal under Jesus’ law that He just made up.
This totally freaks out the disciples. And so the disciples do, what a lot of people do when they are freaked out. They make up their own Disciples’ law. Their new marriage rule is “It is better not to marry” (note, that some of the disciples, like Peter, were already married).
This is where things get really interesting. Jesus doesn’t condemn even this innovative extreme view. He helps us understand how to respond to people, who have their own views that are not based on either God’s original intent, or Scripture, nor the words of Jesus.
“Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.” There’s a clear distinction here. If you can’t accept this word, it hasn’t been given to you. We respond individually. Some may accept it, some may reject it. And that’s okay. Don’t expect to be able to accept everyone else’s standards for your own personal life.
Then Jesus goes on to illustrate this important point by talking about a new subject – eunuchs. Eunuchs are those men who had been castrated – i.e. their testicles had been removed and/or they had lost the desire and/or ability to have sex or reproduce. Jesus introduces a topic about sexual behaviours, and, it has to be said, unusual sexual behaviours, into His response to marriage.
“For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
Jesus doesn’t link any of these three paths to sexual behaviour to sin or righteousness. Obviously, Jesus was a man who had personally chosen not to marry. But He didn’t impose this standard on everyone – only those who can accept it.
So how do you know if this word is acceptable for you? How did you get this way? If it was because you were born that way (naturally) or because you were made that way by other men, it’s probably not a standard that applies to your own personal life. If it was because you made a choice for the kingdom of heaven, i.e. voluntarily, and for spiritual purposes, it is a word that are you are free to accept or reject, and if you choose to accept, then it is probably a standard given to you.
Summing up, Jesus steered the conversation to a few essential points about changes to God’s original intent for marriage:
- It’s not ideal
- It’s a different time
- It’s a heart issue
- Let’s provide
- Let’s approve
- Let’s innovate
- Not everyone can accept it
Changes to God’s original intent for sexual expression
- Some born that way
- Some chose that way
- Some made that way
What time is it now? It’s not the beginning, it’s not Moses’ time, it’s not Jesus’ time, it’s not Peter or Paul’s time. It’s certainly not Abraham’s time when he was rescuing Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah. It might sound obvious, but Jesus made timing an obvious point in His repeated responses – so we should be mindful of it, too.
None of them dealt with twitter or facebook or blogs or media agendas. As I write this, the number 3 trending term in Australia on twitter is #ThingsJesusNeverSaid. Some of them are quite funny. Some of them are political. And yes, many of them are about sex and marriage. People want to talk about this.
It’s our time. What are we going to say to our community?
When we are responding to people, especially the conversations we have in public, let’s be open to new ways of doing things. For some people, that might even mean taking the lead on changing national laws, instead of fighting against them. For all of us, it should mean we help people manage the real, whilst still reminding them of the original ideal.
For us as followers of Christ, the ideal, is not just about sex and marriage, it’s about keeping the main thing, the main thing – preaching the good news and expanding the kingdom by letting people in not shutting them out.
Finally, a lot of people quote the Apostle Paul and his writings, particularly those to the churches in Rome and Corinth. I have no problem with people quoting these passages. Like Jesus, it’s good to read God’s original intent, as well as what God’s leaders, like Moses, and Paul have historically decided.
But we should keep in mind, that unlike the conversation Jesus was having, these were writings to the church, to tell us how to behave, not modelling how we should respond to others’ behaviour. For example, in Romans chapter one, when Paul points out how homosexuals are without excuse. He is just setting us up for an object lesson in chapter two that every time we judge others we are actually making ourselves guilty and showing contempt for the riches of God’s kindness, tolerance and patience. And that’s important, because God’s kindness is the only reason that we were lead to repentance. Don’t forget, where sin abounds, our role is not to make sure judgement and criticism and punishment abounds. Our role is to promote the kindness of God and the availability of grace that abounds.
Remember, that unless you were born a Jew, the way you got to be part of the Church, was largely based not on a solid sheet of Scripture, but an imaginary sheet in a hungry fisherman’s dream about food. This tenuous vision was followed up with a disembodied voice that told him to eat from the sheet. Peter replies “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean”.
The voice speaks to Peter a second time and says “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”. (Acts 10:15) The flimsy sheet thing happens three times. It’s really quite ridiculously comical when you think about it!
But from this Peter changes from his “Surely not” self-righteousness to get the revelation that only God can make us clean; “I should not call any man impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Of course, the believers criticised him because he ate with people whose penis wasn’t circumcised. (Paul hadn’t written Romans yet 😉
As radical as it seems, and it is, our entry into the church, was not based on anything Moses had said, or Jesus had discipled them in. We only got in literally between the sheets! And it led to the majority of people who are inside the kingdom now, coming from a place where they were outside of the kingdom before the whole floaty sheet incident.
We are called to be disciples of Christ, not disciples of Paul. So, especially when we’re responding to those outside the church, it can’t hurt to start thinking and talking as Jesus taught and modeled in the marketplace (rather than what Paul wrote, briefly, to those inside the church, who only got in by the skin of their sheets).
Let’s seize the opportunity to provide freedom, grace and God’s kindness to people and invite them to start their own journey of faith into the kingdom, rather than shutting them out. And let’s thank God, no-one shut us out at the sheet stage.