A Journey of faith within the church, the culture and the world
Friday, April 5, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage: A Parallel
In the conversation about same-sex marriage, please allow me to offer a theological parallel that might help us.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the evangelical church, in general, didn’t know what do with divorced people. In the little church where I grew up, while we didn’t see many divorces back in the 1960s, if someone did suffer a marital break up, they just disappeared from our faith community. There was simply no place for them. There was this unspoken assumption that something was wrong with that person that wasn’t wrong with the rest of us—a leper among the healthy.
A greater problem emerged when these divorced people remarried. After all, we had a text of scripture, words from Jesus, which prohibited this:
“I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)
But when the national divorce rate skyrocketed, churches started reaching out by creating divorce recovery groups and embracing these people, even those who had remarried.
There was a practical side to this accommodation. If a high percentage of people are now divorced, and some are remarried, ignoring or shunning them would be to turn away from some very deep human needs. Such neglect would also affect whether or not people would find a place in the community of faith. Churches could shrink pretty quickly.
I’m not sure, however, that there was a lot of theological exploration on the issue. There were (and still are) churches that draw a hard line about biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage, and how people who violate those grounds will be subject to church discipline and, if necessary, dismissed from the church. Others, however, seem to have decided that God’s grace and love trumps the text.
There were some who took the theology of the problem seriously. They looked at the texts of scripture (such as the one above) and realized that Jesus’ words were in reaction to the male-controlled process of easy dismissal of an unfavored wife, one who would be desperate to remarry in order to keep from becoming homeless. Jesus also extended the culpability in the sin of adultery by claiming that even a lustful thought about a women (again, he spoke directly to the men in the audience) produced the guilt of infidelity (Matthew 5:28). In other words, there was a pervasive solidarity in the sin of adultery. It was real for everyone, and wrong for everyone. Everyone with a mind and body had the stain of adultery on them. All were in need of forgiveness.
But another question had to follow: Was divorce and remarriage the unpardonable sin? If one lacked the so-called biblical grounds for divorce, was that person eternally consigned to a solitary life? Or could there be forgiveness available for the one who helped destroy a marriage, and grace to start anew? Some of these thinkers said yes. In these situations, everything was not okay. Something sacred had been broken and destroyed. The marks and scars would always remain. But there could be forgiveness and grace.
I am watching to see if the churches that are talking about the implications of same-sex marriage will engage in deep theological and biblical reflection on this topic—not to dismiss Scripture, but to question our own hermeneutic (interpretation) as was done with divorce and remarriage. And not to be theologically reckless, tossed about by every new cultural preference that blows across the landscape, but to be theologically alert, willing to think broadly and to pray humbly.
And I hope we will remember that we follow Jesus, the one called by the religious elite “the friend of sinners.”