Here is one Christian leader's attempt to rise to Pat O’Brien’s challenge in last weeks’ paper.
I hope we can say yes to gay marriage, get on with it, then get back to the actual threats to our families and children, like climate change and the growing gap between rich and poor.
Saying “no” is not defending traditional marriage. Marriage as we celebrate it today is not derived from biblical traditions, nor would we want it to be. The bible shows a clear development in the role and understanding of marriage, so if we are to be “biblical” we need to be open to continuing to reshape the role and form of marriage in our context. Marriage today is not even the same as traditional Australian marriage in the 50s, and nor would we want it to be.
Traditional marriage, as described in the Hebrew Scriptures, was an institution whereby the ownership of a women transferred from her father to her husband, who could have as many wives as he could afford (and foreign concubines). The bible is fine with Jewish men using prostitutes, but not with Jewish women being one. In the book of Ezra, all mixed marriages are declared void. When Christians say they want to preserve biblical/traditional marriage, they seem to mean none of this.
Jesus was deeply ambivalent about both biological family (Luke 14), and marriage (Matt 19). Paul was even clearer that it was better not to marry, though he conceded that it wasn’t actually a sin (1 Corinthians).
Paul and probably Jesus were against sex outside of marriage, leading to the disingenuous position of many churches, which say that the only legitimate sexual relationship is a married one, and that gay people cannot marry, thus trapping them in celibacy forever. Whatever many Christians may say about their reasons against gay marriage, it stems from a conviction that gay relationships are fundamentally sinful and can never be supported in any form.
Later Christian letters in the bible value marriage, as a way of preserving stability and the church’s good name in society, and in preserving the patriarchal structure the church had returned to, after the radical egalitarianism of Jesus and Paul. “Biblical Christian marriage” is inescapably sexist. Wives are to submit to husbands “as to the Lord.” Perhaps a problem with gay marriage is that it won’t be clear who has to do the submitting, and who gets to be the Lord.
This legacy lived on in traditional Australian marriage, where women were forced to resign from their career upon marriage until the late 1960s. Is this part of the tradition we are meant to be defending?
We live in a very different world from the early Jews, and from the early church. Marriage already looks very different from how they understood it. We live in a less racist world than the 50s, and marriage has changed to reflect that. We live in a less sexist world than the 70s, and marriage has changed to reflect that. We live in a less homophobic world than the 80s, how should marriage reflect that?
The actual tradition of marriage is that it constantly changes to reflect our society’s growing acceptance of difference. That is a tradition I’m happy to say yes to continuing.
Rev. Dr Jason John
A longer version of this letter is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org