Mods and progs … help me understand

I live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. Soon, I will live in a country where that is the case. As a pastor, the question for me is not what is legal by civil code, but what is righteous in the eyes of God. And so, I have been a part of my denomination’s conversations, debates, prayers, and wrestling with these questions.

If you asked me to define what marriage is, I would go to Genesis 2. I’ve always found this foundation solid. Yes, the Old Testament has many examples of marriage other than the monogamous union of a man and a woman, but I find Jesus’ quotation of the Genesis formula a good basis for concluding that God’s blessing falls upon lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

When questions about other forms of relationship and marriage arise, my reference is back to the first question: What is marriage? Well, the Bible and tradition tell me it is this. If something does not fit that description it might be similar to marriage or like marriage, but it is not marriage.

This is why when people in my denomination suggest we change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, I start asking about polygamy. I don’t do it to engage in a slippery-slope argument. I do it because in discounting what Jesus says and the words of Genesis, you take out the entire basis I have for answering the question: What is marriage? There is no longer any definition to distinguish between marriage and other social arrangements. So, I raise questions about polygamy because I can’t see how to declare it invalid in a theological world in which Genesis and Jesus do not settle the question.

I am in the position that if I accept your argument about same-sex marriage, then I don’t see any way for me to argue biblically against polygamy. Indeed, once you knock out Genesis 2 and Jesus, there is a lot of evidence in support of polygamy. Obviously, people who advocate for same-sex marriage do not have such problems, although I’ve struggled to get them to articulate their theological (as opposed to American Constitutional) reasons for distinguishing the two.

So, I end with a request to my colleagues who advocate for same-sex marriage not as a civil right but as an arrangement blessed by God. What is your definition of marriage? How do you ground it in the Bible? How does it allow you to distinguish between forms of relationship that God blesses and those that God does not?

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16 thoughts on “Mods and progs … help me understand

  1. Might I suggest the way you frame the question may be a bit problematic?

    I’m not sure it’s logically or theologically or ecclesiologically the case that suggesting marriage may be a broader category than what Genesis 2 and its quotation by Jesus describes requires that it be regarded as including EVERYTHING the Bible describes as marital relationships– which, for the sake of your argument, would also include concubinage as at least a form, if not necessarily on the same level as “spousehood,” of marital relationship.

    It seems to me there may be a missing step to get from your premise (IF not exactly and only what Genesis 2 describes) to your conclusion (THEN everything the Bible seems to include).

    It would seem to me you would need to show in this instance (or any instance) that an argument to add one or a limited number of things to a category NECESSARILY adds all possible things of its type to that category.

    You would also need to show that the church would be necessarily bound by that logic alone to add all other forms of bibically described or sanctioned couplings as being appropriate to the category “marital relationship” as well.

    How would you show those two things to fill in the gap between your premise and your conclusion?

    1. If the church is willing to ADD same-sex relationships to the arrangements blessed as marriage, then it MAY be willing to entertain other libidinous arrangements. I think this is what John is accenting. He doesn’t see where the addition stops. Neither do I. Cyberspace is already filling up with arguments for creative multiple partnerships. (CNN Money recently splashed this as a Silicon Valley trend). Remember, California always leads…

    2. Tried reading again. Here is where I feel you are missing my point, undoubtedly due to my writing.

      If someone asks me why ssm or polygamy is not what God intends, my answer to both and similar questions his back to Genesis 2 – as does UMC liturgy at the moment. Convince me that it did not apply to one and I see no grounds for saying it applies in any case.

      So, again, give me a biblical definition of marriage that allows ssm but does not permit polygamy or polyamory. Every argument I know relies on extra-biblical sources and/or spend all is energy negating traditional biblical arguments without offering anything to replace it other than slogans or modern social science.

    3. Taylor,

      Perhaps you’d like to take a stab at responding to John Meunier’s final paragraph where no reference to the “problematic” framing is made?

      “So, I end with a request to my colleagues who advocate for same-sex marriage not as a civil right but as an arrangement blessed by God. What is your definition of marriage? How do you ground it in the Bible? How does it allow you to distinguish between forms of relationship that God blesses and those that God does not?”

  2. John, i recast your original argument regarding the normative (scriptural) basis of marriage only to support the premise that once the biblical basis is swept aside, there remains “no definition to distinguish” between various libidinous arrangements. You gave us a standpoint worth underscoring. Contrarily, if there is a biblical argument for ssm, well, let’s hear it.

  3. John, based on Jesus and Genesis 2, you conclude that “God’s blessing falls upon lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

    Jesus commanded us to, “be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)

    Jesus said, as I understand him, that the Father’s blessings fall on everyone, not just on a select group, and that one of our primary tasks as Christians is to become more like our Father in heaven.

    Am I in error?

    1. Can you define Christian marriage? My statement was not exclusive. When the beattitudes say blessed are the peacemakers, you don’t object to that language do you?

        1. Thanks, Ron. Yes, I was not asking people to point out why they thought I was wrong, but what they offer to replace what they consider to be wrong.

        2. John, in your original post you wrote, “How does it allow you to distinguish between forms of relationship that God blesses and those that God does not?”

          You set up a dichotomy: relationships that God blesses, vs. those God does not bless. You apparently believe there are relationship which “God does not bless.”

          I brought up Jesus’ statement that God blesses both the righteous and the unrighteous. “Be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)

          You then said your comment was not exclusive. You set up a dichotomy between relationships that God blesses and those which “God does not bless.” I’m not sure what “exclusive” means in this context.

          You repeat the original statement almost verbatim in your response to Taylor:

          “How does it allow you to distinguish between forms of relationship that God blesses and those that God does not?” Again, according to you, there are relationships and arrangements which God does not bless.

          What I offer in contrast to your project is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:45:

          1) God blesses both those considered righteous and the unrighteous. This includes the individuals in same-sex couples.

          2) We become like the Father by blessing both those considered righteous and unrighteous.

          3) Our sanctification is at least partially dependent upon our willingness to bless both those we consider righteous and unrighteous, which includes gays and lesbians.

          4) I am not called upon by God to make the distinctions you demand between individuals in relationships. Your request that I offer a Bible-based definition of “Christian marriage” is not a demand from the Bible or God.

          5) You have preemptively eliminated Bible evidence of God’s clear acceptance of and blessing on marriage diversity by eliminating a great deal of testimony from the Hebrew Bible.

          6) Christian missionaries learned the necessity of accepting polygamy, lest tribal chiefs kill off their extra wives in order to become Christians, which did in fact happen. In this discussion of polygamy I smell a red herring.

          I am not arguing for the legalization of polygamy. I am simply saying that even plural marriage has been formally approved by Christian ministers in the modern era.

          7) I assume that God blesses UMC pastors who are divorced, remarried, and retain their credentials. God blesses all sorts of relationships and arrangements that are less than ideal. It’s always interesting which concrete issues to which we pay attention and which we ignore.

          I’m sure you could generate a list of relationships and arrangements that God blesses, accepts, and “tolerates.” King David, with his multiple wives, “was a man after God’s own heart.” Apparently, even polygamy was not a deal-killer for God. UMC pastors have retained their credentials who have had multiple affairs with female parishioners. Very odd.

          All scripture is inspired by God, for our instruction and training in righteousness. But you frame the discussion to eliminate those scriptural examples which gut your absolutist position. The Bible illustrates and embodies the very diversity you seek to quash.

          God bless you and your congregation.

        3. Thanks, Ron. I think there are relationships that God does not bless. He may love the people in the relationship, but that is not the same as blessing the relationship. Surely, you don’t believe that every human relationship is something that God approves of.

          If you find the word “bless” inappropriate, just think in terms of approve.

          There must brew forms of marriage that you think fall outside the will of God. All I want to understand is what is the biblical basis for that.

  4. I think Jesus gives a pretty clear description of marriage but for some this does not seem quite enough. Simply because polygamy is described in scripture does not mean that it is approved. If we take the extreme example of Solomon we see where it led to the downfall of his kingdom. There are other example such as Abraham’s concubine or Jacob’s two wives where serious problems occurred. I cannot see how polygamy can be viewed as a positive model for marriage given what we read in the Bible.

    1. I was trying to think of cases where polygamy was mentioned and it did not lead to rivalry or division in the household. I’ve not done a systematic study.

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