“RE-DEFINING” MARRIAGE

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Last week our President announced the end of his personal evolution of thought on same-sex marriage by endorsing it.   He acknowledges the deeply divisive nature of the issue and thus the differing conclusions to which others have, and will, come.  He grounded his conclusions in a love ethic that endeavors to practice the Golden Rule and claimed that his thinking is rooted in our common Judeo-Christian heritage.  Of course, many others disagree, respectfully or not.  I am among those who disagree, respectfully.

What has fascinated me most is the way the question has been framed, in a way which involves a logical fallacy—if anyone really cares about such things—and also virtually precludes discussion.

The President’s announcement brought adulation and praise from many.  Almost without exception (I didn’t see any) the praise came because our President took a stand for equality and for the freedom of people to choose for themselves.  The President affirmed “marriage equality” and the individual’s right to choose whom to love and marry.  There you have it—it’s a question of equality and freedom.  Who can argue against such things?  Who wants to stand up and say, “I do not believe all people alike should be able to marry!”?  Or, “I believe someone other than you should decide whom you can love and marry!”?

But this way of framing the question “begs’ the question (the logical fallacy).  To “beg” the question is to assume a part of what you want to prove as a basis for proving it.  The question “begged” in this case is, “What is marriage?”  Or, to put it another way, would a loving commitment between two people of the same sex even constitute a “marriage?”  Some would say, “Of course!”  But simply asserting it doesn’t convince anyone not already convinced.  Others would answer the question with a “No,’ and at least some of them could explain their answer.  They would argue that “marriage” has always meant this or that, and what it has always meant is fundamentally different from what a same-sex union would be.  To be sure, someone else could argue against that, but in the current climate no one gets to such a point.  In the reframing of the issues around equality and freedom the notion of “marriage” itself has been re-defined.  It has been re-defined in a way that makes all talk about the nature of marriage itself unnecessary and actually beside the point.

I am among those who would disagree respectfully with the framing of the question in these ways and with its implicit re-defining of marriage itself.  More about that in a moment.  First, however, as a follower of Jesus I want to understand as clearly as possible the views of those who disagree with me, to see behind the words to the heart, and often the deep pain that provides context for their words.  This is what love does and what followers of the Lord of love do.  Then, also, as a follower of Jesus I will firmly but graciously respond with all the social, cultural and political opportunities available to move discussion and decision-making toward fuller compatibility with the kingdom Jesus brings to our world.  Finally, I want to insist that followers of Jesus must engage in their own re-defining of marriage, and the issues surrounding it, and to do so with transparency and courage.  Let me suggest two ways our re-defining and re-framing might go.

First, we “re-define” marriage by recalling and reimagining the story our Scriptures tell.  In many ways, it’s the story of multiple marriages.  It includes the union or “marriage” of heaven and earth.  The creation and union of the original man and woman stands specifically as the primary way in which the creator God chooses to express and reflect God’s presence in the world God made—i.e., together they are or become the image of God’s self given to the world God made.   When this originating “marital union” occurs, the world was very good, ripe for flourishing of every kind, human and nonhuman.  When the original marital union suffers a violation, when the humans decide they can do better than God, brokenness enters the world in multiple ways and at multiple levels.  Everywhere brokenness soon prevails and what once was very good, now submits to ruin.  Prior to the brokenness all was well—equality, freedom and love prevail.  After the brokenness, the opposites prevail.  God’s response to the brokenness brings healing, restoration, reconciliation, and renewal.  Through Abraham, Israel, Judah, and ultimately through Messiah Jesus God opens to us a kingdom where heaven and earth once again will be united, when humans will be one with their God, with each other, and with the world God now remakes.  Often, these sweeping realities are described in terms of marriage, infidelity and divorce, reconciliation, renewed courtship, re-engagement, and remarriage.  At the last, a final marriage between the Messiah and his people becomes the setting for the new heaven and earth.

In broad strokes, we re-define marriage by recalling the primary role and meaning it has for the story Scriptures tell as our story.  At the least, that story calls into question whether we can understand “marriage” as a “right” or “entitlement” or “benefit” that a society or civil government owes us.  Certainly, a civil government may do whatever it chooses.  And, certainly, followers of Jesus—participants in the Scripture story—will seek to shape civil government in ways compatible with that story.  Still, just as we place our ultimate allegiance in Jesus’ kingdom, so we insist and embrace marriage as gift and
seek to enter in to its blessings as such.

In addition, taking the story Scripture tells as our context, we would insist that it was precisely when human beings took matters into their own hands that brokenness gained the upper hand.  When the first humans decided to define life on their terms and seek their own way of understanding—deconstructing and reconstructing life in ways seemingly more suitable to them, that chaos came to stay.  In that light, we would insist that redefining marriage, or anything else, reflects more of the problem than the solution that humanity most needs.  We would insist that true intimacy, transparency, freedom and joy attend only the life that God offers us.

This suggests the second way we must re-define marriage.  And to do so we must begin to face our failure and rebellion against what our Scripture story clearly shows us.  When followers of Jesus do not observe God’s plan for sexuality they compromise their ability to represent God’s way.  When they engage in pre- and extra-marital relations, dabble in pornography, or break their vows through infidelity, they commit crimes against God’s good idea of marriage.   Less salacious but no more justified, when professing Christians routinely do not themselves enter into the joys of marriage, but settle for cold and distant relationships, or simply abandon their vows , they lose whatever voice they might have had in the current discussion.  When followers of Jesus reject God’s idea of marriage in actual practice, they have no credible basis for correcting others whose views on marriage may be errant.

We must consider why anyone should listen to us telling them about marriage when we so often reject our own and God’s instructions?  When divorce rates soar among us, and when Christian marriage counseling continues to be big business in our circles, why would others deem our understanding helpful?

But what if we “re-defined” marriage in practice?  What if followers of Jesus truly followed Jesus?  If in Jesus’ name, we found grace to wait on sexual expression, grace to enter into deep and joyful intimacy with the one to whom Jesus leads us, grace to forgive and be forgiven, grace to become truly one in Jesus, grace to weather the storms of life together better and stronger than on our own, grace to grow old graciously and sweetly together, grace to experience a bond so insoluble that even death does not threaten?  What if among more and more of us, God’s good idea of marriage—God’s idea—appeared on beautiful and inviting display?

How might God work if we could “re-define” marriage, beginning in our homes, in such ways?

 

Comments 23

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    Bishop Kendall, This is why I am proud to be a Free Methodist. Similar to churches that fail, marriages seldom fail from external factors. As Jesus followers we should stand in stark contrast to the world around us. Thank you for introducing a loving position into a highly volatile social issue!

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    we as Christians and followers of Jesus Christ should speack up, and defend our instructure foundation, we need not to be quiet as the political and destructive ways of evil appering, the President has a great
    influence in the world and, that decision has being desaponteid many, including myself as an american citicen thanks Bishop for your
    insights.may God bless you and keep you firm with the faith, Ephesians4:14-16

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    I appreciate your courage and grace to address the complex conversation in a cool-headed way. When the Scriptures give a consistent and unambiguous message on this subject, as I believe they do, we can’t reframe the question as our president and many others have done for the sake of loving and compassionate principles. Those who speak for “the Church” often lack compassion on this subject–making it much harder to hold the conversation in the right tone, sorting through the vital issues at stake. Thank you, Bishop Kendall.

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    Our president clouded the real issue of “what marriage really is” Thank you for stating your thoughts in such a straight forward and yet loving way. It was very helpful to a Church where many are wondering what to think.

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    A very thoughtful and gracious word, Bishop Kendall. But I wonder if we are we asking the wrong question entirely. Is it about marriage, or about what the Bible clearly defines as sin (that is, homosexuality)?

    Do we reflect God’s love by NOT proclaiming God’s grace to those who are sinning and by NOT calling people who are sinning to repent and receive forgiveness? Isn’t that the gospel Jesus Christ proclaimed?

    Regarding re-defining marriage as Christians, I agree. But how do I make our marriages good in God’s eyes? Do I just try really hard? Or do I fully surrender to God and ask my heavenly Father to fill me with the Holy Spirit and His actual love? Then I will love my spouse with His love, and my attitude will be that of selflessness. What good news Jesus has given us to share!

    So that you will know that Jeff and I are not hypocritical, by God’s grace, He gave us a hunger and thirst for Him and we were filled. What was the result? Our marriage has the same oneness Christ desires to have with His church; it truly does. That’s because the very love of God has been poured out to overflowing in our hearts. We love each other with His actual love, not fickle human love. And the most wonderful part is, God continues to be at work in us, making us more and more like Christ each day. I believe that’s how God defines marriage.

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    Please know that I do not speak with strangers about sin in a blunt or cruel way. But if I should see someone about to walk off the edge of a cliff, I will run and warn him. It is the same with sin — any sin.

    Dear friends, we don’t know whose life God will require of them that very night. Like our God, we don’t want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

    If I err, may God help me. But I believe I do as the Spirit leads, and I believe I do as Jesus and His apostles did.

    I am glad my FM pastor boldly spoke of sin. The Holy Spirit spoke through him to convict me regarding sin and righteousness and judgment, and I repented and was saved.

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    Keep challenging those logical fallacies, and those sins of the church which promote a loss of credibility when we seek to engage the hurting culture around us. Good word bishop!

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    Thank you for sharing with heartfelt sprirtual insight. It is encouraging to know that one is not alone in their thinking. We need the out pouring of God’s Holy Spirit to help us live such influential lives.

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    If we who take Christ’s name were to live in the joy and freedom that are ours, in our marriages and our whole lives, people would be standing in line to find out what it is that makes us the way we are.

    You have definitely hit the nail on the head. We have lost our voice, because we have not embraced and lived out in our lives what we say with our mouths!

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    Thank you for you thoughtful and well-reasoned blog regarding the current discussion of same-sex marriage. Two weeks ago I commented on a high school class mate’s recent Facebook post (he lives in Vermont). He was declaring that Jesus said nothing about gay people. Although I agreed that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality directly, I respectfully disagreed with his conclusion. When we carefully observe everything Jesus said about human sexuality and marriage, we cannot conclude that Jesus would have approved of same-sex marriage by making the argument from silence … the argument from silence in any situation is a poor rational anyway. His response to me were several posts that attacked me and my faith with personally crass and demeaning comments. Unfortunately, those who cry “tolerance!” the loudest are often the most intolerant of opposing opinions. Your respectful comments were encouraging and refreshing for me as I was “licking” my wounds … so to speak.

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    As an admitted pedant on certain topics, I am often irked by the misuse of the phrase “beg the question.” Many, many people use it in the sense of “raise the question.” While your definition begging the question as a logical fallacy is correct, your use of it in your blog follows the (incorrect) sense of “raising the question.” Raising a question is not a logical fallacy. Yes, any discussion of marriage and how it works in the public/religious spheres will raise the question of “What is marriage?” That is certainly a topic that can prompt good discussion. Raising this question, however, is not an indication of a logical fallacy (or at least not this particular logical fallacy) in the framing of same-sex marriage as a freedom and equality issue.

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    Marriage as defined in Gen 1:28 Much could be said in response, but only one comment is essential: Genesis 1:28 is not a commandment, but a blessing. It does not refer to what humans must do to please God, but to what God does for and through humankind. The text says, “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply'” (RSV). Fertility is not a command but a blessing that God gives to his creatures, to animals as well as humans (Gen. 1:22). The filling of the Earth is a gift of God’s wisdom and shows forth his glory as Creator (Ps. 104:24, 31; Isa. 6:3). Sex of any kind is sinful without the marriage bond. Without the marriage bond it is fornication or adultery.. Sin is sin and all sin separates us from Gods loving mercy.

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    God is not a homosexual.Jesus is not a homosexual.The Holy Spirit is not a homosexual.Heaven has no homosexuals and for any one two think it is good or okay in any way they might not be a Christian as in follower of Christ.Just saying……..The WORD is the truth all else is misled individuals.

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      Hi Mark, I’m trying to understand your position. Is the statement that ‘heaven has no homosexuals’ the same as saying that heaven has no pornographers, murderers, adulterers, molestors, liars, cheaters, etc.? If by saying that heaven has no homosexuals, do you mean that anyone who engaged in homosexual behaviour will not be able to live eternally with God?

      It may be more accurate to state that all of those PRACTICES mentioned above (including homosexual activity) do not EXIST within heaven’s perfect harmonious state, but to say that people who engaged in those practices at one point or another during their lifetime on earth are not found in God’s heaven would be grossly inaccurate. Obviously, none of us would be there.

      I’m simply attempting to point out that all too often, we can hammer on one issue and come across as bigoted and disrespectful. Mark, I don’t know you, so I don’t know if you are a bigot or if you act disrespectfully toward others (either intentionally or unconsciously). I’m assuming you are not. So, I’m not being accusatory or argumentative. I’m merely trying to clarify your statement. Also, I merely want to remind all of us that even life-long, continuous offenders of God’s love and grace may find redemption before their last breath. Thus, though their sins were like scarlet, they are now white as snow, and they hear the words that Jesus spoke from the cross: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (This would be the case whether the offense is sexual in nature or not, and if it is sexual, whether it is homo- or hetero- in nature.)

      Hope this makes sense.

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    Bishop Kendall – thank you for describing so well the deep and loving blessing that marriage entails for those that love God. Your message really hits home and brings forth excitement concerning the “real” wedding to come!

    We really have to strive to make this issue of the definition of marriage clear to our children and teenagers. If they are in the government schools then they are constantly barraged with indoctrination that homosexual marriage is “cool” and if they oppose it then they are “bigots”. The statistics of which age groups favor gay marriage are overwhelmingly comprised by the young and this is due in large part to the godless education most of them are receiving. If we don’t claim back our children (and their education) for Christ, then we are going to lose not only this important cultural and spiritual issue, but we are putting the eternal salvation of our progeny at risk as well.

    The Bishop’s words inspire me to model a good marriage for my own children by striving to love my wife in a more Christ-like manner.

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    Mr. Obama has proven to be an astute politician and leader of men; but with little understanding of the Bible or Christianity. His new “revelations” seems to be more inclined to obtaining votes and appeasing those who choose the homosexual lifestyle.
    Please pray for him, whether we like it or not his opinions have much weight with humanity. At least with the worldy ones.
    Through prayer we can overcome the hurt he’s caused, the damage he’s done and perhaps help him along the way.

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    The first amendment garuntees all US citizens the right to freedom of religion. What happens when government denies people that right? Our religion might prohibit gay marriages, but wat about those who do not practice our religion? Should they be subject to its beliefs, practices and doctrines? And if so, then the government is forcing Judeo-Christian values on all of its citizens. Marriage from a strictly secular position is a contract and it is treated so by he courts. Who are we to say that two consenting adults cannot enter into a contract simply because our religion prohibits it. That is simply illogical.

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    When speaking of a marriage then one should look at the marrige of Jesus to his wife in the Old Testament even though she was a woman who was not the most loveable, she continued her sinning ways until she was divorce in Jer 3 and the father scatter her children among the hated gentiles. After he has forsaken her for a moment he provided a means of being rejoined to the wife now divorced. Deut 24 says that one partner has to die to permitt the rejoining to former wife. Jesus died willingly to be joined to his former wife to get all the children of her. They nailed his body to the stake so that he could be remarried to the wife. Isa 54 Jesus said rejoice oh barren wife you that did not bear for more are the children of the desolate wife than the children of the married wife.
    Jesus was willing to give his live to be married to the wife. He came only for the children of the wife and no others.
    It is a study all in and of its self. God loves the children of his two wives so much that he gave his only son to get those children. John 3:16
    See my web page for more details about the children of the divorce.
    http://www.myprivatelib.com
    Jerry Collins

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