Friday, July 25, 2014

Thoughts on Sacramental Marriage equality and the letter of Paul to the Galatians...

One thing Christianity has had a history of doing is absorbing and repurposing foreign traditions for its own use. This is not a bad thing; Christmas and Easter are both exceptional examples of appropriated holidays put to exceptionally and vibrantly meaningful use. There comes a point, however, when we have to honestly access these appropriations. There is nothing wrong with having our liturgical calendar aligned with the seasonal calendar of solstices and equinoxes. There would be a problem, however, if we found ourselves falling into worship of the solstice and equinox itself.

Marriage, like Christmas and Easter, has been absorbed and repurposed by Christianity over the past two thousand years. This is a good thing; it means, however, that we do need to honestly access it as an appropriation. Are we indeed basing our concept of marriage on core biblical principles of family… or are we simply finding places where the Bible reinforces concepts we have appropriated from outside of the Christian faith.

I want to take a few minutes to reflect on this in the midst of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This document is easily argued to be one of the earliest, probably the second, sections of the New Testament. In the opening paragraphs of Galatians we come across a poignant question: “Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ”.[1] Now this verse is normally used to advocate for what is considered “traditional” and “biblical” marriage. The concept being that those individuals who seek to allow same gender couples to marry are wanting the approval of the age and are moving away from God’s desires. What I think is critical to point out, however, is that the “traditional” concept of marriage does indeed please a certain group of people and any change is inherently unpleasing to them. This verse is not meant as means to stop changes in understanding but to make any reader question how much what they are seeking is a matter of pleasing themselves, and not a matter of seeking God.

I can say this with a great level of certainty. We have to realize that the majority of the letter is around the issue of circumcision. A point on which Paul was decidedly on the radical liberal agenda in defiance of those seeing to uphold traditional understandings about genitalia and their place in the rites of the church. The question at his time was whether or not the rite of initiation in the Church, baptism, had expectations in regards to genitalia. The question in our time is whether or not the rite of recognizing a family in the Church, marriage, has expectations in regards to genitalia.

Paul’s core argument in this conversation is that “we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ”.[2] Inherently, that the rite of initiation in the church is not justified by what is occurring with the genitalia of the individual but what is occurring in regards to their faith in Jesus Christ. I do not think that it is too bold of a jump to say that the rite of making family in the church is not justified by what is occurring with the genitalia of the individuals but what is occurring in regards to their faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s argument around Christian initiation continues “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor circumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love… For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’”.[3] What those of us seeking marriage equality are advocating for is the idea that “for in Christ Jesus neither vagina nor penis counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love…”. And before we are told this is an unbiblical concept it is important to realize that just shortly before making the above statements Paul writes, “there is no longer male nor female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.[4]

The argument that is quickly put forward is that any relationship that is not based upon the right types of genitalia is inherently about “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealous, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these”. No one is suggesting that relationships involving these sinful components are not inherently against Christianity. What is being argued is that these components do not depend on the genitalia involved but whether or not the relationship under scrutiny is based on “faith working in love” or not.

Further the argument is that it is only “faith working in love” that can bring about the fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control”.[5] That the Holy Spirit’s action is neither ensured by, nor detracted by, the genitalia involved but by the couple being open to Her on account of “faith working in love”. That the important question is not “what genitalia are involved” but indeed “does the relationship involve the fruit of the Spirit”.

Paul’s point is that if the fruit of the Spirit is present then “there is no law against such things”.[6] That the law cannot inhibit a person from initiation into Christianity on account of genitalia, if the fruit of the Spirit are present in that person as they have “faith working through love”. Similarly that the law cannot inhibit a couple from the rite of making a family within Christianity on account of genitalia, if the fruit of the Spirit are present in that couple on account that they have “faith working in love”.

Paul’s admonition at the end of Chapter 5 is as useful and meaningful today as it was in his day: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the spirit let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”[7] At the time his call was to all of the Christian groups around the place of genitalia in the midst of Christian initiation. He inherently called the focus on the law as to what it considered appropriate genitalia for the rite of initiation a conceit. In so doing he automatically denied the authority of a faction of the church to have its way unilaterally. He did not deny the validity of Christian initiation that had requirements for genitalia, he did, however, deny the universality of such requirements. He allowed for full and complete Christian initiation without them.

My position on Sacramental Marriage, in regards to genitalia, is thus basically equivalent to Paul’s position on Sacramental Initiation, in regards to genitalia. That with Jesus the only thing that counts for anything “is faith working through love”.


[1] Gal 1:10
[2] Gal 2:16a
[3] Gal 5:6, 14
[4] Gal 3:28 b,c
[5] Gal 5:22-23 a
[6] Gal 5:23b
[7] Gal 5:24-26

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