What I have found most unhelpful in the debate so far is that the comments seem to be about critiquing same-gender relationships. Not all same gender relationships involve physical intimacy or sex. Not all marriages involve physical initimacy or sex either. I suspect some of the conversation is impacted by our incapacity to talk about sex. I am no different. So, I am not going to start by talking about sex. Instead, I want to talk about marriage.
Every marriage needs a conversation about how we enter into it and understand it. Because marriage involves more than one, it requires communication and negotiation about values, purposes, commitments, goals and outcomes. For people of faith, there needs to be a further conversation about whether what is being entered into has a faith basis. For people of deistic faith, there is a further question about developing a theology of marriage.
My husband and I are both in the latter category. We both believe in God and have a shared faith that commits us both to a journey of shared discipleship. We follow Jesus. We try to reflect Jesus' teachings in our lives. We try to live into the calling of being a blessing for others.
Here are some of the passages I think of as informing my theological reflections about marriage:
- Abused concubine as blessed mother (Hagar) Genesis 16 and 21
- Finding a wife for Isaac (Rebekah) Genesis 24
How much of our theologising also defaults to fear of discussing 'the other'? How much may that impact on discussions about who we may or may not marry?
I was struck by this story of an arranged marriage. The values expressed prioritized family, ethnicity, culture, language and upbringing, OVER love. Rebekkah's response was connected to adventure, possibility, promise, faith and vision, OVER love.
Learning: Biblical marriage does not automatically place great value on heart-felt love as the foundation of the marriage relationship. However, there is value placed on preparation, commitment and vision.
- Jacob's wives and Concubines (Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, Bilhah) Genesis 29.
Learning: Biblical marriage includes models we do not have here. Biblical models may be abusive and illegal. They may also be acceptable for good reasons in other places. E.g.1 Ensuring there is a large enough family to ensure a workforce for surviving in a place.
Many years later I read about their sister. The one whose marriage they destroyed. Some translations claim she was raped. Others claim she was taken and then Shechem begged to marry her. This would have ensured her survival and future. It may also have been a loveless and abusive marriage.
Whatever the reasonings, Dinah's brothers conspire to deceive and murder, not just Shechem, but his entire tribe. It is the first biblical genocide - of people who had just committed to and covenanting with God (through circumcision). It was the missionaries murdering the new converts. The murderers justified themselves saying they were standing up for their sister, but, in fact, they sacrificed her future for their property and financial gain.
I have seen families reject brides or grooms. There are often concerns about property or financial security or possible abuse. Sometimes the families are acting in the protecting role with their loved ones. Sometimes they have self-interests that cloud other issues.
Learning: When it comes to marriage, people will make up their own reasons for supporting or rejecting marriage. It doesn't need to be logical and can be violent and emotive. Often the behaviors demonstrate how important marital assets are to a whole range of people other than the couple concerned.
- Marital abuse victims and survivors (Esther and Vashti) Esther
Learning: Even in abusive or political marriages there are questions about what can be accomplished in faith. Sometimes marriage is one-sided. This is not an endorsement, but it is a reality. There are both those who benefit from and blossom in marriages AND there are those who find marriage to be oppressive, dangerous and debilitating.
- Familial rejection (no room for Mary and Joseph) Luke 2
Learning: Real families behave badly when they think they are being right or correct. Hospitality may be offered, conveying grace, or it may be withheld, conveying judgement.
- Many rooms (Divine Household) Matthew 14:2
Learning: God is generally more generous-spirited than most people!
- Marriage and in-laws (Peter's mother-in-law) Matthew 8:14
Learning: Biblical marriage has implied relationships attached. Marriage brings different connections that lead to more connections.
- Marriage Commitments and Future Responsibilities Matthew 22:23-33
- Relational foundation of AGAPE Love and honoring/respect Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19 and 22:39 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
'Love one another' in the biblical sense is not 'know one another'. Yet there is much confusion about what biblical love (or knowledge) mean. When we think of knowing and loving someone, we think of loving them despite knowing the truth of them. Physical intimacy, however, is only a small part of truly knowing someone.
The unconditional love that is described in parts of the New Testament, does not ask for something in return.
- Marriage and provision and security (Ruth) Ruth 3
Ruth and Naomi's story highlights that whatever the 'love aspects', marriage is largely about the security and future of women, including migrants and refugees. Expect a long study to come out on this one!
- Bride and Bridegroom
Biblical reflection: Some marriages are about blessing, life-affirming, nurturing one another and impacting other relationships around them positively. Other marriages are more like the fickle relationships that are for use and profit, services rendered and temporary gains. Marriage should be measured and corrected with these two extremes in mind.
There are countless more texts to list and explore. I have started with these ones because they shape me. Others will identify other texts. Between us all, we could help each other in gathering resources for exploring a biblical theology of marriage.
If people are going to discuss Christian understandings of marriage, I suggest they start to share what shapes their own experiences and understandings. What biblical stories shape your thinking?