Someone wrote: “Biblical arguments about context and culture aside, where the rubber meets the road is here: Genesis! It is as plain as the nose on your face that God made man and woman for each other… exclusively.”
This was part of a comment I recently received. Throughout history, Christians of all traditions have used the Bible to support doctrinal positions they believed to be “as plain as the nose on your face” but that they later had to confess to be mistaken. The doctrine of those who read their anti-gay presuppositions into the Creation narrative of Genesis — and other biblical texts — is believed to be only the most recent doctrinal position well on the way to being generally acknowledged as a mistake of this kind.
In Genesis 1:27 we read:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
To argue that the Creation story privileges a heterosexual view of the relations between humankind is to make one of the weakest arguments possible: the argument from silence. An argument from silence is no argument at all. The Creation story is indeed about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, as critics of homosexuality like to admonish. But though heterosexuality may be the dominant form of sexuality, it does not follow that it is the only form of appropriate sexuality.
The authors of Genesis were intent on answering the question: Where do we come from? Then, as now, the only plausible answer is from the union of a man and a woman. The text celebrates God’s deliberate and equal creation of man and woman: God created both the males and the females. The Creation story does not pretend to be a history of anthropology or of every social relationship. It does not mention friendship, for example, and yet we do not assume that friendship is condemned or abnormal. It does not mention the single state and yet we know that singleness is not condemned. The Creation story is not, after all, a paradigm about marriage, but rather about the establishment of human society. The Creation story is the basis, and not the end, of human relationship and thus to regard it as excluding everything it does not mention is to place much too great a burden on the text.
This text is often cited in what’s loosely termed “the defense of traditional marriage.” Yet while few human institutions claim to be as traditional as marriage, even fewer have undergone more traceable metamorphoses. Imagine how you’d like: (a) concubinage with female slaves functioning as secondary wives and surrogate mothers; (b) a woman’s loss of property to her husband once married; (c) levirate marriage where men were required to take a dead brother’s wife and produce heirs for him; (d) a husband’s unquestioned right to philander; (e) marital indissolubility in the face of spousal or child abuse. All these and more were once part of marriage’s bedrock tradition.
The argument against homosexuality from the Creation order is also hazardous on other fronts. Virtually all churches reject the notion that God created sex for procreation only despite the fact that the first man and woman were commanded to be fruitful and multiply. An argument based on an inability to reproduce is all the more problematic to defend given the vast number of marriages that never lead to procreation. Some couples marry at ages when childbirth is no longer an option. Other couples are childless because of impotence, infertility, health restrictions, or genetic concerns. Still others opt to not have children for a variety of reasons. The lack of children doesn’t invalidate these relationships nor does it devalue them.
Undoubtedly, the male and female sex organs are designed to complement one another and are necessary to produce babies. But sexuality means much more than reproduction. This insight seems to be confirmed by the complementary account of Creation provided in Genesis chapter 2. We’re told God was strangely sympathetic to the loneliness of Adam, observing that within the universe he had so conspicuously pronounced “good” there was, nevertheless, a significant omission. It was “not good” for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In the following verses, we are given another account of the purpose of sexuality: not procreation this time, but companionship. In other words, a primary creation purpose of sex is interpersonal intimacy. Sex as a profound expression of love and mutuality is something most of us accept gratefully as a good part of God’s good world. It is a marvel, a mystery and a grace that babies can come from ecstasy, but the ecstasy does not require babies to justify it.
It is here in Genesis 2:18 that we have the first appearance in the Bible of the expression “not good”. This is the first thing in the history of the universe that God declares as not good. What was it? It is not good for man to be alone, to be all by himself. Everything up to this point had been prepared for life, and certainly for the life of humanity. But suddenly there is but one human and that’s not good. Man needs somebody specifically suited for him so God says he will make a suitable helper.
As scholars have pointed out, complementarity is what is in view here. Not a workmate as some insist. Others wrongly use the term to promote female inferiority and passive submission to “complement” male superiority. Complementarity involves seeking someone matching you, someone “like-opposite” you, complementary and perceived as fascinatingly other than your own sense of self.
This is not a question of genitalia. Even in the physicality of heterosexual relationship, so much more than the mechanics of genitalia is involved. The complexity of the “one-flesh” phenomenon is a union that has much more to do with two persons than with two body parts. In complementarity, one is looking for companionship in the fullest sense of intimacy, a fully matched person, utterly suitable in every way that actually fits the needs in question. Not simply for procreation, but a companion. Fact is procreation is not even mentioned as a reason why God was creating a companion for the man.
In anti-gay rhetoric, however, Jesus seems to have died so that an anatomical technicality might be tweaked. In other words, it’s what a couple does with two penises or two vaginas instead of what another couple does with one penis and one vagina that constitutes the sin in the anti-gay argument — period. The self-sacrificing love that “fulfills the law” and is shown within a committed same-sex marriage is beside the point. Yet in both heterosexual and homosexual attraction, what draws two people together is the fascinating otherness that each sees in the whole persona of the other, not the shapes of their genitalia.
Mixed Orientation Marriages
This sheds light on why mixed orientation marriages — where one spouse is same-sex oriented — almost always fail. Statistics suggest that up to two million gay men and lesbians in the U.S.have married heterosexually in the belief that the only way to achieve a loving, committed relationship and a family is to enter the traditional form of marriage espoused by their family, community or church. In doing so, most gay people deny, ignore, or leave unquestioned their orientation. As the heterosexual spouses who have lived through a mixed orientation marriage have repeatedly indicated, eventually those feelings can no longer be suppressed. After a painful struggle between fidelity and truth, love and deception, many come to terms with their suppressed orientations. In the majority of cases, the couples divorce, leaving broken families and single parents across the country. Thus, the gay or lesbian spouses’ attempt to commit to a heterosexual marriage endorsed by their churches and others ends up hurting not only themselves, but also their wives or husbands and, most importantly, their children.
As for the “ex-gay” claim that reparative therapy works and that sexual orientation can successfully be changed, studies confirm that after many years in a mixed orientation marriage, the same-sex oriented spouse is still same-sex oriented (see ‘Characteristics of Mixed Orientation Couples’ recently published in Edification, a journal from the evangelical Society for Christian Psychology).
There’s nothing in the Creation narrative that either condemns or approves the love that people of the same sex have for each other. The notion that this passage restricts sex to heterosexual marriage is the reader’s, not the author’s. The text simply does not say it. The text is mainly concerned with describing how things have come to be as they are, not with prescribing how people ought to act. To insist otherwise is to inject our later-day prejudices into the biblical text, wearing the fig leaf of biblical authority.
The desire of at least some gay couples to have their parings solemnized and made permanent within the confines of holy matrimony is actually a conservative development. What we have in this community is a group of men and women who have voluntarily withdrawn from the chaotic Friday night meat-market scene in order to construct a permanent relationship based on mutual love.
While we all make mistakes, nowhere is the propensity toward human error more obvious than in the history of biblical interpretation. For 2,000 years, Christians have read the Bible convinced they will discover the certainty and authority of infallible truth within its pages. Yet on a host of issues, the consensus of opinion about how the Bible should be understood has changed.
The parallel between today’s debate over homosexuality and earlier debates in which the Church was eventually forced to acknowledge they had erred is striking. We’ve already witnessed a global shift in this debate in that the few passages often quoted to claim the moral abhorrence of same sex relationships are now being more exegetically interpreted by steadily growing numbers of theologians, evangelical Bible scholars and others, just as texts have been reinterpreted in the case of slavery, the ordination of women and a host of other issues. For those under the age of 35, same sex marriage is not even an issue.
The Church has too often lagged behind other institutions in recognizing when it has erred. Howard Hendricks, longtime professor at Dallas Seminary, was fond of saying to his students, “They should charge admission to this place so that visitors can see how people used to live 50 years ago.” I pray for a day when the Church will be the engine rather than the caboose when it comes to changing society.
See also the following related posts:
Leviticus 18: What Was the Abomination?
Romans 1: What Was Paul Ranting About?
Romans 2: Paul’s Bait and Switch
Genesis 19: What the Bible Really Says Were the Sins of Sodom
Exegesis: Not for the Faint in Heart
Why No One in the Biblical World Had a Word for Homosexuality
* Links to these and other posts may also be found on the “Archives” page.