Let’s begin with the beginning.
God, having crafted a good world and a very good man to till it, declares that it is “not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
A lot of energy has been expended on that word, helper. On the face of it, it sets up a nice little proof text for straight marriage. A man is alone, so God makes a woman and, thus, a cosmic balance is achieved. Let never humanity tip it asunder.
But the more interesting word in “it is not good for the man to be alone” is the word alone. Eve isn’t spun into existence for her uterus—the “child bearing hips” modern society imagines all ancient cultures reduced women to—but for love. It is not good for man to be alone.
Of course, it is also not right for mankind to die out because there was nobody around to have any babies, but I think it is important to note that while Adam immediately jumps to Eve’s function (it has to do with getting her pregnant. Not everything has changed since the Garden), God’s concern is communal. He’s a romantic at heart, this God.
In even a cursory scan of Christian theology, this is not radical. A core tenant of Christianity has always been the idea of the Trinity—three persons whose love for each other runs so deep and pure that the boundaries of their identities blur and they become one. God does not think it is right for people to be alone because He Himself has never been alone.
I do not believe we must necessarily accept a literal reading of the creation narrative for this point to stand. Even as a myth, it is notable that the creation of woman was not primarily utilitarian, but relational. The core truth of Eve’s identity was not that she was a woman, but that she was a human. Strictly speaking, God didn’t create women to be anatomically useful, but simply to be. He didn’t create love as a pleasant incubator to keep humanity coming, but because love is in His nature. The whole idea of childbearing doesn’t even show up until God curses humanity’s sin.
It follows then, that the primary aim of marriage is not to propagate mankind through children. No, the aims of marriage are made clear in the vows: to have and to hold, for better or worse. It might be better said that marriage, while certainly not without its uses, was not created to be simply useful. It was created to be beautiful.
This should be a comfort to those married couples who find themselves without children, either by choice or otherwise. I believe it may also be a help to same-sex couples.
* * *
When I was newly out of college, I worked at a church in Chicago. The church was in a neighborhood called Boystown, and I’m sure you can guess what Boystown was all about. The church I worked for was very explicitly not about what Boystown was about, and this made things very complicated.
They would have been complicated anyway. The church couldn’t afford to pay me much, so I lived there. They put me up in the laundry room, and I was eventually in charge of something we called Safe Haven.
Safe Haven was simply a night we opened the doors of the church up to the neighborhood’s homeless and homeless-ish. It was a motley crowd. Mostly gay. Mostly young. Sometimes angry or unruly or even violent, but definitely hungry. That’s where Safe Haven came in.
Every Friday, we’d make a dinner for everyone who showed up, which generally ended up being around fifty people. It was almost always deafening—people screaming at each other, playing the church keyboard, sometimes shrieking in laughter and sometimes arguing. But they always ate. Everyone always, always ate. We made all the food on fifty dollars a week, a fact that astonishes me to this day. I have no idea how we did it.
I was fresh out of a conservative Christian college at the time, and it’s impossible to overstate the seismic shift in my surroundings. I learned a lot of fine theology there, and I cherish that. I really do. But theology that doesn’t work at Safe Haven is not very good theology, and a good number of solid truths I had learned evaporated on those Fridays, in that church, around those people.
One day, in the midst of all that clamor, a boy pulled me aside. He didn’t come very often, I don’t think. I didn’t even know his name. But he had a question for me.
“If God doesn’t want me to be gay, why did He make me this way?”
There were a hundred things going on. The coffee needed to be refilled. A fight was breaking out in the hallway. I was on my way to the bathrooms, where someone said people were doing drugs. There were a hundred things going on, but that moment is frozen in my mind like a painting. I remember his face, glassy-eyed and honest. I remember the din. I remember my own stomach, which felt like it’d been punched.
I know all the answers to this, my friends. I know there is a conservative, Christian response here that is gentle. I have read many of them. I’ve read the books.
But I promise you, in that moment, in my heart, those answers were as sensible as Sanskrit.
* * *
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
-1 Corinthians 6:10
“The sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,
-1 Timothy 1:10
I could go on. There are many—a good deal more than most people think, actually. I print them here only to prove that I am not ignorant. I know the Bible. I know what it says. I’ve been reading it all my life.
And I know that there are a lot of rules in the Bible. Some of them we follow imperfectly, some we re-contextualize for our time, and some we don’t follow at all. We’re all doing the best we can, I guess.
There are attempts to explain this away. Some Old Testament scholars will split the law into different categories about which ones were intended for just Israel and which continue to apply to anyone who follows Jesus. So, laws about slaves, rape and women were meant for that time, and laws about wearing linen and eating shellfish were meant for that culture. But laws about murder and theft continue to be relevant for our lives today. As do laws about gay marriage, the thinking generally goes.
If you do that, then it becomes very easy to sort through the Scripture and systematically choose which of God’s laws seems most reasonable for you to follow.
Perhaps that is how God intended the law to be understood. Perhaps He never meant for it to be a whole cloth. It seems a bit odd to me (it seems contrary to a plain reading of James 2:10), but it could be true.
Or perhaps when Jesus came, he truly did free us from the law. Perhaps he didn’t free us from it in a complicated way, but a simple one. Perhaps the burden of our law is love. Perhaps the many, many scholars who believe Paul’s writings about same-sex relationships referred to a cultural practice no longer applicable to our modern conversation around homosexuality are right.
Perhaps. It could be true.
* * *
The phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” is a trickier principle than it’s made out to be. Its origins lie with Saint Augustine, who wrote um dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum—roughly, “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” This phrase was appropriated by Mohandas Gandhi, who wrote “hate the sin and not the sinner,” which seems rather more gracious than the dichotomous phrasing trumpeted today.
Of course it’s brought up most frequently around the question of homosexuality. But what exactly is meant by it? What is the sin, and what does it mean to hate it?
Is the sin in simply being gay? If so, loving the sinner becomes awfully tricky, because the sin is part of who they are.
Is the sin, as the plainest reading of the Bible would have it, in the act of sex itself? Perhaps, but what then is permitted for a gay person? If two gay men committed to a lifelong but celibate marriage, would this union be welcomed by the Church, being thus sinless?
I suppose most same-sex marriage opponents would say the best course of action for gay people would be a life of abstinence from romantic love altogether. Not a gift of celibacy, but more of a curse—plagued with a longing for companionship forbidden by God Himself.
But then, it is not good for man to be alone.
I’m not trying to be liberal here. I’m not trying to be cool, or falling in with faddish theology. I am simply thinking of the LGBTQ men and women of the world and trying to find a good reason for God to condemn them to a life without love. I am hard pressed to find them.
* * *
Opponents of same-sex marriage will often point to children as the purpose of marriage. Matthew Lee Anderson, in his very beautiful essay, explains how children steel love against death itself, as the love of the parent is manifested in their progeny. The child survives as an icon of the parents’ eros.
This is a grand thought, but I do not believe in it. Not entirely. I do not believe in it for its rather crude materialism, the way it reduces love to flesh and function. In this view, a love that does not procreate is denied a truer, eternal form. The woman who cannot bear children, a newlywed couple whose lives are cut tragically short, even the father and mother who must bury their own children—all of these lovers must grapple with the reality that their love is marked by a missed opportunity.
This is a very Protestant view of eros, which has always elevated the act of sex to a mythic act of inevitably eternal consequence. I’m sympathetic to that line of thought, but I find it a bit wistful.
The Song of Solomon, the Bible’s chief teaching on love and marriage, does not mention future children. Paul was a bit reserved about marriage to begin with: “To the unmarried and the widows,” he says in 1 Corinthians. “I say it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self control, they should marry.”
This is a rather dim view of sex, which isn’t all that surprising, considering Paul. He seemed hugely unbothered by anything that wasn’t strictly spiritual. I love him for this, but I can’t help but think he would scratch his head at a good deal of the fuss made about marriage in modern Christianity.
* * *
I don’t know. Could it be that Paul had no understanding of monogamous homosexual love? He did not address it because there was no ancient context for it? It could be true. Many people think so. I don’t know. Neither do you.
But I know that faith, hope and love remain. And the greatest of these is love. And a love that must hold people’s identity at bay is an imperfect love—a love that refuses their own loves. If someone were to say they loved me but saw my own marriage as an affront to God, I would say that that person does not then really love me. I could not abide that sort of love in my life. I just could not.
And I know that the Church is full of openly gay men and women, people of astonishing courage, who continue to believe and build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. These people are the Church. They just are.
And I know this is an emotional argument. I do not write it to convince anyone, but to make myself understood. If you disagree with the Supreme Court ruling, as I know many of you do, I love you. I know that being a homophobe and opposing gay marriage on religious grounds are different things. They just are.
And I know that I write this with tears in my eyes. Tears for long, difficult road of our brothers and sisters. Tears for the young man who told me last week, “I finally feel human.” Tears for the young woman who told me she is still too frightened to enter a church. I would hope that all Christians can join with me in affirming that, whether or not you agree with gay marriage, legal equality is a noble goal. It just is.
And I know that when I told that young man that I think God created him to be gay—that God celebrates that too—I saw God’s honest love shining from his eyes. I saw it. I just did.
* * *
One last thing.
It seems to me there are two options before us. Either the God affirms same-sex marriage or He does not. I understand that thoughtful, loving Christians believe one thing or the other. It is a disagreement. The Church has spent the entirety of its history in disagreement on this or that point. We are carrying on a proud tradition here. Gone are the days when doctrinal disagreements led to excommunication, or worse.There is no need for the barbs and stones that have been thrown. If anything, we should be grateful that the Supreme Court ruling has finally forced the American Church to discuss this issue in earnest.
One day, I may die and discover I was wrong about this. I am surely wrong about many things—this may be one of them.
But I’m not scared of it. I won’t be damned for this. I don’t fear judgement, because I do not think God is some strict old schoolmaster who means to check beliefs against a divine answer key at the pearly gates. The secret to salvation is not a pass/fail exam in which doctrines are lined up, weighed and measured.
And I don’t believe you’ll be damned either, if you believe God forbids same-sex marriage and it turns out you are wrong.
However, I do urge you to consider: If you are wrong, what is the cost in the here and now? A life condemning others for something they can’t change about themselves? A life judging love?
That’s the wager. It’s not one I’m willing to make.
This August, I’ll have been married for one year. The best year of my life. It wasn’t right for me to be alone, I can tell you that much. And having tasted a year of marriage, I won’t deny it to others simply because of their orientation.
Instead I will say God did not have a certain type of person in mind when He found the first problem with humanity, before war, disease, doctrine and before the problem of sin itself. A problem I don’t mean to exacerbate: the problem of being alone.
(I will leave the comment section open as long as everyone conducts themselves like adults. I will delete hurtful and mean-spirited comments. If things go off the rails altogether, I’ll just turn off the comment section.)