Same-Sex Marriage in the UMC, Part II: The Bible

* this is part 2 of my series on same-sex marriage in the UMC. See parts I: The Issue at Hand, III: Complementarity, and IV: Inclusion.

THE BIBLE:

The first sort of Biblical argument I’ve encountered by UM thinkers in opposition to same-sex marriage and relationships is based on a direct reading of some five passages (Lev 18:22, Lev 20:13, Rom 1:18-32, 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10). I find these appeals less than convincing for reasons New Testament scholars such as Victor Paul Furnish have explained:

[T]o search the Scripture for judgments about homosexuality is to look for biblical answers to questions that were not and could not have been raised by the biblical writers themselves. Homosexuality, as we have come to understand it and to use the word, is not a biblical topic. There are a few passages that refer or allude to sex between males, and one that refers to sex between females. But these passages have nothing to say about ‘homosexual orientation,’ of which the ancient world had no notion, and for which, therefore, it had no equivalent expression. [1]

Richard Hays, despite being on the opposite side of the issue, agrees on this point. [2] Ben Witherington’s lack of reference to these texts further proves the ambiguity of their import on the issue.

The above mentioned five biblical texts, on the surface, seem to speak with some regularity about the prohibition of same-sex sexual activity. However, the more we learn about their given contexts and that to which they are referring, the more it seems to be the case that these verses cannot be used to conclusively answer our question. [3]

The second sort of Biblical argument I’ve encountered uses references to Gen 2 and/or Jesus’ teachings on marriage.

Most biblical arguments of this sort are rooted in the second creation narrative in Genesis. [4] Here the writer of the second chapter indicates that the first woman was created from the first man (Gen. 2:21-23) and, “therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

William Abraham makes such an argument by way of the teachings of Jesus, claiming that Jesus’s teachings are clear in his reference to Genesis 2 that marriage ought to be between a man and a woman [5].

Comparatively, Jesus talks about marriage very little. Most notably he does so when confronted by a question or controversy around concerns of divorce and remarriage. [6] Jesus, in both Matthew 19 and Mark 10, recites Genesis 2:24 in an attempt to explain why divorce is problematic: two people become “one flesh” in marriage and therefore ought not to be divided. [7]

Staking his argument against same-sex marriage on fidelity to the words of Jesus, Abraham argues for the acceptance of divorce and remarriage along lines of “compassion” – in open violation of Jesus’s explicit teaching (Mark 10:11-12). [8] I find Abraham’s reason for endorsing divorce and celebrating remarriage, which echoes that of the Book of Discipline [9], to be sound and compelling, and I am in full affirmation of remarriage in the church. [10] I find in Abraham’s approach to the issues of remarriage and same-sex marriage an untenably contradictory way of reading and applying Scripture, especially for someone (Abraham) who potentially sees in the question of the inclusion of same-sex marriage an appeal not just to “human judgment or opinion…[but to] the teaching of our Lord in divine revelation.” [11]

On this issue the Bible cannot settle the dispute (we’ll table whether or not it should ever do that sort of thing by itself). More theological discussion is needed and can be found in the next part (part III).


NOTES:

[1] Victor Paul Furnish, “’The Loyal Opposition’ and Scripture,” The Loyal Opposition: Struggling with the Church on Homosexuality, eds. Tex Sample and Amy E. Delong (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2000) 34.

[2] Richard B. Hays, “The Biblical Witness Concerning Homosexuality,” Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality, eds. Maxie D. Dunnam and H. Newton Malony (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2003) 74.

[3] It should be noted that significant scholarly debate is being had about the meaning of the Greek words used in both the 1 Cor. and 1 Tim. passages. See, among others, chapter 3 in Dale Martin, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006).

[4] See, for example, Maxie D. Dunnam, “The Creation/Covenant Design for Marriage and Sexuality,” Staying the Course, eds. Dunnam and Malony, 112.

 

[5] William J. Abraham, “The Church’s Teaching on Sexuality,” Staying the Course, eds. Dunnam and Malony, 25-29.

[6] Matt. 5:31-32, Matt. 19:1-12, and Mark 10:1-12.

[7] Matt. 5:32.

[8] Abraham, “The Church’s Teaching on Sexuality,” 27.

[9] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2012, 161C (109-110).

[10] It seems as if Abraham exemplifies a willingness to contradict Scripture because of a good, thorough theological argument. The frustrating thing is that he is unwilling to acknowledge this.

[11] Abraham, “The Church’s Teaching on Sexuality,” 29.

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