This essay was originally written as a response to a message posted
in another online group. I've modified it slightly. Essentially, I want to answer this question:
"Is it hypocritical for a Christian to support same-sex
while continuing to condemn other behaviors such as polygamy?"
My answer is no. I don't believe it's hypocritical at all. Read on,
and you'll see why.
I believe that God blesses the loving commitment of two people in marriage,
regardless of their sex. But a Christian acquaintance of mine complained that this is faulty logic. In his view, a "marriage"
consists of two people: one man and one woman. He felt that it was inconsistent of me to say that a marriage should be between
two people if I don't think that they have to be of opposite sexes.
You may have heard this argument before. Essentially, this man was
asking, "How can you justify saying that a marriage should be between two people when you've already thrown out the male-and-female
aspect of it, as depicted in the Bible? You're only keeping part of the Biblical model, and you're throwing out the other
part. Why not go all the way and support polygamy?" Here is my personal response.
First of all, this argument suggests that there are only two big conditions
for a marriage -- that it have two members, and that they be of opposite sexes. It says that we are using "one part" of the
model and not "the other part."
But there are many more than two conditions for a marriage that we
could derive from Scripture! For instance, what about the age
of the partners? If our only conditions were "two people" and "male and female," then even if we followed those conditions,
we'd still be supporting relationships between a grown man and a young girl (since such a relationship has two partners, with
one male and one female!) Obviously we do NOT want to support those relationships. So there must be something else going on
here -- some other standard we can appeal to.
There are two ways we could approach this. One would be to begin listing
all the supposed requirements for who can get married: "Two." "Opposite sexes." "Adults." "Human." And so forth.
The other way to approach it would be to look at what a marriage is,
fundamentally, and what purposes it should serve. Based on that information, we can draw conclusions about who would be fit
for marriage, and what the marriage should be like.
For now, let's take the first approach, where we list requirements.
Our first task would be to compile that list. As we've seen, "two" and "opposite sexes" aren't enough. So where do we find
all the traits?
A common suggestion is to look to the "Biblical model." In other words,
we could look at the marriages mentioned in the Bible and try to figure out what they have in common.
But ultimately, we run into a lot of problems that way. Consider for
- We can't say "adults," since young teenagers frequently entered into
marriages in the Bible, including Jesus' own mother.
- We can't say "two," since Old Testament kings had multiple wives,
and this was not condemned by God. In fact, God referred to David's wives as a "gift" from Himself, contrasting them with
the sin of his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:8). God even provided rules for how to treat a second wife, rather than
condemning the practice (Deut. 21:15-17).
- Until recently, many Christians would have added the requirement "of
the same race." This also can be supported by looking at the "Biblical model" (Ezra 10:10-11, Neh. 13:27).
There's another problem we run into with this approach. When we look
for examples of moral behavior in the Bible, we are limited to things which are BOTH supported by God AND practiced in the
culture of that day.
If something wasn't practiced in the cultures where the Bible was written,
then of course it won't appear (positively or negatively) in the Bible. For example, the Bible doesn't discuss open-heart
surgery, sign language, or wheelchairs. If we were to determine that "speaking" and "writing" are the only two forms of communication
mentioned in the Bible, and that therefore sign language is not supported by God, we would be making a false assumption. Of
course, there were deaf people in Bible times, but they did not have the benefit of a universally recognized language of hand
symbols as today's Deaf culture has. It wasn't practiced back then, so it isn't mentioned.
The same would apply to gay marriage. In Bible times, there was no
gay marriage. All marriages were between men and women. There were some extra-marital sexual activity (including homosexual
activity), and that was condemned. But there were no "gay marriages" to condemn or to support.*
* A side note: there were certainly gay relationships in Bible times.
However, here I'm specifically responding to someone who is arguing about marriage, and there was no institutionalized
marriage for gay people in Bible times.
I've shown why simply "listing requirements" for a marriage (such
as the number of people or gender of the partners) isn't a good way to determine what makes a marriage.
But I also mentioned that there was another approach we could take.
Rather than simply looking at examples of marriages in the Bible, condemning what we don't find and condoning what we do,
we can look at the definition and purpose of marriage, and then extrapolate from that.
So what is a marriage exactly, if we leave out
the part about who can be in one? Well, it is a committed, lifelong union. It involves a physical (sexual) melding,
binding separate souls together as "one flesh." Essentially, a marriage is a permanent bond for as long as we are on
the earth. It does not progress into heaven. [see Matt. 22:23-30.]
From what I can determine, a marriage has several purposes:
God said that it was not good for a man to be alone. It seems
that we have, built into our nature, a desire for a unique kind of companion which is different from mere friendship.
The persons in a marriage behave as one entity. From a Christian
perspective, this means they strengthen each other in their spiritual walk. This is the reason Paul did not want anyone
to be "unequally yoked."
3) Procreative Stability.
Children are produced by sexual activity. Marriage means that
the children would grow up in a more stable environment, rather than as the accidental result of someone's fling.
In addition to all of this, marriage serves a social purpose
as well, but that purpose tends to vary somewhat depending on the culture.
So a marriage is a lifelong, exclusive, and totally unique relationship
bound by both covenant and sexual activity. It is designed to best achieve the purposes listed above.
Notice that I've explained the idea of "marriage" without defining
who is involved in the marriage. So now, based on this information, we can analyze the different potential configurations
we discussed earlier and see if they're really fit for marriage.
First of all, what about an adult and a child? Can they form
a relationship of this sort? Well, no, for several reasons. Children are below the "age of consent," and thus
they cannot enter into a covenant relationship of any sort. They're not old enough to make that decision.
The exact age at which this changes is dependent on the culture (which is how we account for the young marriages in the Bible),
but there is always an age at which you become able to make that kind of decision. Before then, you cannot get married.
Also, an adult-child relationship has another huge problem.
Presumably, the only reason such a relationship would exist is if the adult were sexually attracted to children rather than
to adults. This automatically brings up a question: If the adult is only attracted to children, how can he form a lifelong
relationship with someone who will only be a child for a few more years? In fact, groups which support pederastry do
NOT support lifelong relationships for this very reason.
What about interracial relationships? Can they be classified
as "marriages"? Absolutely. There is nothing about a person's skin color, ethnicity, or national orgin that alters
their ability to form a lifelong relationship as described above with another human being of any race. An exception
to this can be found in the Old Testament, where Jews were forbidden to marry non-Jews for religious reasons.
In that case, the concern had to do with forming a bond between God's people and those who worshipped idols, thereby bringing
idol worship into the Jewish community (which is exactly what happened).
[Rev. Jim's note: And even here we find a loophole
in this prohibition, for we see that Moses' second wife was a Cushite (black) woman; and when Moses' sister protested, she
was instantly struck with leprosy from God for seven days.]
What about polygomy? Can a marriage include three or more people?
Well, if I'm going to consistenty apply the features of marriage I described above, I'd have to say no. Remember
that our goal in marriage is a stable, unique bond. It provides unity by making its participants "one flesh."
But when a man has multiple wives or a woman has multiple husbands, there is a necessary inequality in the relationship.
It does not create unity as much as it creates division, puting the wives (for example) in competition with each other for
their husband's affections. The procreative stability of the relationship is also undermined; if the father's attention
is divided between multiple wives, each with their own children, the children will have a necessarily less stable environment.
Note that the Bible does not put it quite this way, but it does strongly
hint at these problems. In the Old Testament, polygamy served a social purpose, and so it was permitted by God
in limited cases (although I can't say that I totally understand why.) In Deuteronomy, God provides provisions for cases
where "a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other" (Deut. 21:15, NIV) - a phrase which reminds us of the
perils of bringing more than two people into a marriage. (Notice also the situation of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah in Genesis
29.) It is inevitable, I believe, that in such a case, there will always be someone "left out" or "less loved."
Clearly, such a relationship cannot embody the traits of a marriage as I defined them above. And if a relationship does
not fit the characteristics of a marriage, why would we call it a marriage?
Now let's apply the same standards to a relationship between two
people of the same sex. I do not see any reason why two committed Christians cannot form a "lifelong, exclusive, and
totally unique relationship bound by both covenant and sexual activity." Furthermore, such a relationship can
provide companionship, unity, and stability just as well as any other, regardless of the sex of the partners. In fact,
while I have not encountered any pederastic or polygamous relationships which come close to providing the traits of a marriage
as I described them, I have encountered quite a few same-sex relationships which provide those traits
better than many heterosexual relationships.
[Rev. Jim's note: It should also be said that, Acts
17:26 tells us that God has "made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth", and though
usually applied to race/nationality, it also applies to one's sex. Humans, male or female, are of the same flesh, are
created in the image of God, are procreated the same way, and come from the same place (human womb). Remember that only
EVE herself was separatly made, but every male and female after her comes from the same source. This means that
same sex unions cannot be compared to bestiality.]
There is only one trait which I can imagine being called into question
with regard to same-sex marriage, and that's the issue of procreation. Two men or two women cannot procreate, and isn't
that one of the functions of marriage?
Almost, but not quite. Procreation is one of the functions
of SEX. The function of marriage is to provide the stability needed for the children that result
- which is why I listed trait #3 as "procreative stability" rather than "procreation." A gay marriage still provides
that stability, whether there are children or not.
But still - there would be sex in a gay marriage, so doesn't that
make it immoral, since the sex could not achieve the function of procreation?
Well, no. Sex, like many gifts from God, has multiple purposes.
The Bible explicitly tells us that one of the purposes of sex is to provide a physical bond within marriage. This is
still a valid use of sex, even when there is no chance of procreation. (Otherwise, infertile couples could not have
sex, and older couples would have to abstain once they were past their child-bearing years.)
[There are also those who have had to have their reproductive
organs removed, such as with hysterectomies or castration, due to physical damage, cancer or other diseases, but
their marriages are no less valid.]
Gay couples are not unique in their inability to produce children.
There are many causes of infertility, but that does not in any way lessen the importance or validity of the marriages in question.
With that issue resolved, I see no reason to deny marriage to gay couples.
I hope these comments were helpful to you; my goal was not to address
all the questions surrounding gay marriage, but rather to address the single question, "Is it hypocritical for a Christian
to support same-sex marriage while continuing to oppose polygamy?" I
would be happy to hear any comments or questions you have about this essay. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts, or to obtain permission to use this essay elsewhere.
Thanks, and God bless! --Justin Lee