The quarrel over same-sex marriage has been raging for quite a while in Australia with no end in sight. A government decision one way or the other will not bring the discussion to a close. What is taking place is much more an ongoing, highly emotional exchange of arguments pitting people against each other. On one side are those who appeal to the concept of individual right to justify their support, and on the other side is the Christian lobby that appeals to the Bible to undergird their condemnation.
“Liberal free thinkers” against “conservative church people” – this is how the media describes what is going on. It must be said, however, that many Christians are not opposed to same-sex marriage, and say the Bible does not address the question in any way that is applicable to the contemporary culture of the West. Proponents of both groups hurl insults at each other. Those in favor condemn the “religious right” in acerbic tones and with demeaning words, whereas the latter often refer to LGBT+ individuals as heinous sinners condemned by an outraged God to everlasting burning in hell. As a Christian, I am pained to hear the vile judgmental vocabulary used by many Christians. This attitude lends itself to be soundly criticized and rejected.
Christians have not and are not doing a good job of defending their views on same-sex marriage. The weakness in their arguments is that the whole scope of the Christian view (both for and against same-sex marriage) seems to be solely based on three problematic ideas:
The first is a loose understanding of certain Bible texts (some say six; others suggest a few more). Many in-depth studies on these verses have concluded that they do not specifically address the question of same-sex relationships, except in a very indirect way. What Scripture condemns is not same-sex relationships, but rather the use of homosexual acts to degrade, humiliate, and shame. These acts were sometimes used to demonstrate power over a defeated enemy; to establish one’s right over people of lower social status (something similar to the medieval lord’s privilege “jus primae noctis” or “right of the first night”); or in immoral practices linked with pagan worship.
The second is the argument that adopted children of gay couples will in the long run face life issues for which their early incomplete parental education has not prepared them. The argument goes something like this: same-sex parents are not equipped to give a complete picture of life and its enormous complexity because two individuals of the same sex can hardly feel, let alone understand, what individuals of the opposite sex experience. The argument goes on to add that no amount of education, goodwill, and loving care will provide the missing dimensions. The difficulty with this view is that there are just as many child educators that stand on one side of the debate as stand on the other. Therefore, no clear consensus emerges. The problem is similar to the debate that pits the Bible’s advice to not spare the rod against modern child psychology that absolutely condemns the use of corporal punishment, as mild as that may be.
The third is the somewhat sugar-sweet idea that people in love should be given the right to get married to seal their love. But others counter with the question, would the same right be socially acceptable if the individuals in love were a brother and sister, or a parent (mother or father) in love with a child (son or daughter)?
Christians have done a poor job of defending their views because they have used biblical and psychological arguments – and sometimes romantic notions – that are not very persuasive. There is a far stronger argument to be made if the Christian view draws its arguments on the inspired story of the origin as presented in Genesis 1 and 2.
Bible scholars long ago established the fact that there is more than one lesson to be found in the Creation story. Too often the Genesis account is only used to defend the position that believes in a young earth created less than ten thousand years ago. The average believer knows very little beyond that.
An idea that is largely ignored, though well-researched by scholars, revolves around the two concepts binary and complementary. Indeed, even a cursory reading of the Creation story would surely identify those concepts as recurring with regularity, not only in the initial story but throughout Scripture. Yet, this has been largely ignored by believers because it is seldom taught, and only appears in specialized research. The concepts are defined as follows:
1. Binaries are sets of two related words or concepts that have opposite meanings (long, short; full, empty).
2. Complementary is defined by the dictionary as a relationship or situation in which two or more different things or entities improve or emphasize each other’s qualities, and when working together, produce a third entity different yet somewhat similar to the original entities. Science has discovered the extent of this complementary reality in many domains including medicine and physics, the DNA sequence, antigen and antibodies, and the mysteries of quantum physics. Binaries, on the other hand, are an intrinsic part of the language.
In the beginning the earth was formless and void. That is the poetical way of saying there was simply nothing – absolute emptiness reigned. Astrophysics speaks of the vast void between the celestial bodies. That being so, it is perfectly plausible for Christians to postulate that before the creation of anything, absolute emptiness was the order of the day. At one point in time, God invaded that space and proceeded to introduce order into the original void. Chaos may not be the right word because the word presupposes the presence of matter existing in a disorderly manner. Nothing had yet been created. God does not create out of nothing as if nothing is something that exists and is in God’s face. He creates out of Himself (see the Prologue of John and Colossians 1:15-17).
The creation narrative uses the concept of binaries to describe the divine intervention of replacing the original void with created order. Eight sets of binaries come into existence, seven of which are called forth by God. The eighth is fashioned by His divine hands:
1. Light and darkness
2. Below and above
3. Wet and dry
4. Cereal and fruit
5. Sun and moon (stars mentioned as an afterthought)
6. Birds and fish
7. Quadrupeds and creepers
8. Man and woman
Binaries are fixed in what they are and one cannot be confused for the other. The one never becomes the other. However, some of them can complement the other within the sphere of their kinds.
The last three sets are divided into two genders, male and female. The two have many of the same characteristics and abilities but they also have different ones that sharply distinguish them. This is even more apparent in the human male and human female. Both man and woman can walk, run, talk, experience and manage emotions, and acquire knowledge. But a man grows a beard which a woman cannot. A woman experiences and expresses maternal emotions that a man does not experience and therefore cannot express. Many attributes, qualities, styles, ways of doing things, etc. differentiate human males from human females, on top of their very concrete physiological differences.
The Genesis narrative has God acknowledging that He created man and woman differently when He said: “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” He created both man and woman in His own image, thus giving them equal dignity. God also gave the pair dominion over the newly created world, equal responsibility to act in ways that would ensure the wellbeing of creation. Men and women were to coordinate their different yet complementary God-given ethos and abilities for the good of all.
A note about the word that is translated helper: The Hebrew word is ezer which connotes power and strength. The word is used more than twenty times in the Old Testament. In the majority of cases it is attributed to God or the king. This is to say that it never connotes the idea of “helpmate” which suggest a lower subservient position. Adam, endowed by the Creator with the moral, mental, and physical power of unfallen manhood, needed a woman just as strong by his side, but with the added quality of female emotional sensitivity and soft-heartedness. (Could that mean that women might have more of what it takes to be ordained ministers than men?)
There is, perhaps, a mysterious aspect to the idea that man and woman are complementary. Ellen White writes that in creating man and woman, God introduced a new order of beings that were designed to present a unique insight into His own nature and character to the entire universe. It would seem that what White meant was that it was the nature of their complementary interactions within their relationship that accomplished God’s design.1
Furthermore, in another article published in the Review on June 18, 1895, Ellen White wrote that “man was designed to be a counterpart of God, even man’s biological functions were to be a part of the revelation, for the body itself is designed to be a part of that revelation.”2 Ellen White did not elaborate on this point, but she penned the idea in the context of marriage, procreation, and family relations which the angels do not share.3
Perhaps the argument Christians should be making is that marriage between a man and a woman gives an insight into God’s own personhood which same-sex marriage does not. Are not Christians like their Master Christ called to give the world a true picture of God in all the aspects of His being? This concept should be part of all marriage seminars conducted by Seventh-day Adventist ministers.
If creation was God’s supreme act that brought order and structured functionality, it follows that reversing these binaries and complementary aspects overturns God’s creation and brings back the original disorder. A revealing example of this is seen in what happened at the flood. Water, which God had separated on the second day, He Himself caused to return to the original condition, and the result was utter destruction of everything created. The result was ultimate disorder (Genesis 7:11, 17-23). All the binaries destroyed: cereals and fruits; birds and fish, quadrupeds and creepers, human beings – men and women, except for the miraculous protection given to Noah and his immediate family and the relative few things he gathered in the ark.
The true question is a loaded one: Is it possible that reversing the divine institution of marriage has the potential to deface God’s image in humanity and His own character in the eyes of the universe? Potentially, in effect, bringing the earth back to the moral chaos that existed just before the flood?
Without belaboring the point, I’ll add that the concepts of binary and complementary can be identified throughout Scripture. It is widely acknowledged by Bible scholars that the second chapter of Genesis is better understood as being complementary to chapter one and not in contradiction as some would have it.
With the above in mind, I would suggest that taking the same-sex marriage debate away from the highly emotional realm of human right and the fate of children, and placing it in the realm of theology, especially the theology of the origin story, would provide our church with a more powerful argument with which to defend the institution of marriage as defined by Scripture, ecclesiastic tradition, as well as most of the world cultures. I do concede, however, that many sincere believers will see things very differently and I am comfortable with that.
May I add that a large section of postmodern western society considers marriage to be simply a human construct, a part of a larger social contract defined and redefined as time and customs demand. It then follows that democratically-elected governments are legally entitled to change, and even abrogate, the clauses. I am personally comfortable with whatever the people will decide as, generally speaking, society is not in the least interested in anything that has to do with what God says. I will not impose my religious views on people for whom religion is just a phenomenon linked with antiquated ideas. I will not even raise the issue unless the encounter is with someone who is genuinely open-minded.
Keeping in mind that institutionalizing same-sex marriage might place religious celebrants in an awkward position, it might be good to consider lobbying the government to do what many countries already do: marriages are carried out by the Registrar’s Office with no religious connotations whatsoever, following which, Christian couples can choose to have a religious wedding ceremony conducted by their minister.
The narrative of the origin story also tells us that God gave freedom to mankind. Adam enjoyed absolute freedom of choice. The same freedom to choose this way or that way was given to Israel in Deuteronomy 30:15 (another binary). Should not God’s church do the same without getting involved in unending quarrels of words? Too often within its own confines!
Notes & References: 1. Moore, Leroy. 1979. Theology in Crisis. Life Seminars. 46. 2. Ibid, 47. 3. Ibid, 47.
Eddy Johnson is the director of ADRA Blacktown in New South Wales, Australia, and a retired pastor.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8243