by Kendra Perry
Previous Articles in the Series:
Sabbath and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 1 Introduction
Sabbath and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 2 Separation of Church and State
Sabbath and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 3 Gays and the Church
Interlude: Galileo’s Uncertainty
Dear Church Who Walks With Each Other,
We are gathered today in this space to prayerfully consider marriage and sexuality in Scripture and in the lives of our friends who find themselves attracted to the same sex. Please join me in pausing for a prayer.
God, we come to you through the blood of Christ, keenly aware that only through him do ANY of us dare to approach your throne. As we seek your face today, give us Spirit-filled wisdom and clarity as we think, Christ’s heart as we love, and a sense of the Father’s everlasting arms holding us all together. Amen.
Let’s review briefly. My original article in this series linked the Sabbath and same-sex marriage through the lens of religious liberty: As Adventists, we do not want others’ religious beliefs to either dictate or limit our civil right to keep Sabbath according to the dictates of our own conscience. I proposed that, in this vein, we should also discourage religious involvement in the civil matter of marriage, letting those of many faiths (or no faith) marry according to the laws of our land as they see fit.
A subsequent article clarified that religious liberty should also mean that no church should be obligated to perform same-sex marriages if it takes a conscientious position against them.
My next installment invited readers to move out of the civil arena and consider how our LGBT brothers and sisters fit into the body of Christ. Discussion raged hot on all the columns, leading me to my most recent installment, a brief despairing plea for us to Walk With one another in the love of Christ as we puzzle out this difficult topic.
Today I would like to look briefly at marriage and sexuality in the Bible, propose an approach for straight Adventists (or any Christian, for that matter) toward our LGBT friends, family, and neighbors, and then move on to other topics in my next column.
In addition to being linked by the potential religious liberty issue I mentioned in my first column, Sabbath and marriage also share the distinction of being institutions established in Eden before our first parents fell into sin.
Advocates of a traditional definition of marriage look to this Edenic ideal to point out that God established and sanctified marriage between one man and one woman. This IS true, and we must honor Scripture by noting this. However, we must also honor Scripture by taking it as a whole — not piecemeal. And so we must also note that, in Eden, God clearly declared that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). In other words, the companionship of marriage — not only the sexuality — is an essential piece of our ideal way of being in the world.
If we would take Paul seriously in his exhortations against same-sex intercourse (none of which, actually, in the original language, probably refer to the type of same-sex relationships we see most commonly today), we must also take him seriously when he says that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).
God did not ORIGINALLY design us to be in same-sex relationships. Nor did he ORIGINALLY design us to live in permanent single celibacy. Both are a violation of his Edenic ideal for humanity.
And for me as a heterosexual married woman to claim that I know whether a committed, monogamous [consensual] same-sex relationship [with a peer] or life-long celibacy is closer to that Edenic ideal for another person? Well, that’s just the height of arrogance. I don’t go to God with my conscience about this because I am happily married to a person of the opposite sex. My only interest in the question is somewhat academic and theoretical, and because I wish to support my LGBT friends in their walk with Christ.
In other words, I DO NOT HAVE A HORSE IN THAT RACE. I can say for certain that a promiscuous lifestyle of either orientation is outside of God’s will. Beyond that, I trust my LGBT friends to get right with God on their own and follow his leading in their hearts and lives. And I will support them in that. Some feel that he is leading them to celibacy. For them, I (and the church) must do a better job of providing a social support network and a substitute family. Some feel that he is leading them to a committed, monogamous relationship with someone of the same sex. For them, I (and the church) must do a better job of reflecting God’s love and acceptance in the same way we would toward a straight couple living outside of God’s Edenic ideal (say, in a premarital cohabitation or divorce/remarriage situation). No, it’s not ideal — BUT GOD STILL LOVES THEM.
Speaking of straight couples living outside God’s Edenic ideal, let’s talk about heterosexual privilege for a moment. Please look around in your own home church. Chances are good that you have someone in leadership who has been divorced, or even divorced and remarried, and possibly even divorced and remarried NOT on biblical grounds. In other words, you probably have church leaders who are living in serial polygamy. Most churches have come to terms with this. The thing is, no matter how scandalous the circumstances leading to divorce and remarriage, after a while a divorced and remarried heterosexual couple starts to look just like all those other heterosexual couples who have been married the whole time. Meanwhile, the gay couple who were virgins when they got together and never have strayed from each other will get singled out every time JUST BECAUSE THEY LOOK DIFFERENT.
What’s very interesting to me is how Ellen White handled these divorce and remarriage situations. If you look at Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Divorce, and Adultery, chapters 31-34 cover how to deal with unbiblical marriages. Basically, Ellen White says that once the unbiblical marriage has taken place, no one should try to undo it because it usually makes the situation worse. Meanwhile, she said, “I advise that these unfortunate ones be left to God and their own consciences, and that the church shall not treat them as sinners until they have evidence that they are such in the sight of the holy God. He reads hearts as an open book. He will not judge as man judgeth” (p. 218). Under this advice, there is certainly room to accept people in same-sex marriages into membership in the church, even if the church declines to actually perform such marriages.
These chapters offer example after example of Sister White telling the zealous “make it right!” factions to LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE and let them work it out on their own with God. She advocated accepting people into the church even in disastrous and clearly wrong marriage and parenting situations because God accepts them that way. She repeatedly rejects attempts to undo the marriages and somehow repair the damage in that way, stating that undoing the present marriage will in fact cause more harm than it could ever possibly repair. I think much of this advice can be adapted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in the church and who come into the church. We can point them to Christ and otherwise LET THEM ALONE with our meddling ideas of how to make their situation “better.”
And speaking of undoing marriages and causing harm — do we not cause harm when we urge our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters to deny their real identity and enter into a straight marriage? I know several families in which the mother or father later acknowledged an LGBT orientation and then had not only self and spouse to deal with BUT ALSO CHILDREN! How much better if the actual orientation had been acknowledged and dealt honestly with from the outset, rather than repressed? For this reason alone, we must create a safer environment in which teens and young adults can feel free to be honest about their sexuality within the church.
So here is the standard I hope to reach in relating to my LGBT brothers and sisters, and which I invite you to consider adopting as well. I will always display God’s love and respect for them. I will always refer to them with love and respect, in both their presence and their absence. I will get to know them as people, not just as their orientation or gender identity. I will strive to make myself known as a safe person to talk to, so that young people who are questioning will have someone in church to whom they might feel they could turn. I will recognize the limits of what I can offer counsel on and find appropriate resources for topics I can’t legitimately help with. I will point them to Christ and respect their walk with him enough not to judge the conclusions they reach with undue harshness. And I will always, always seek to portray the everlasting love and unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3) with which God draws us to himself.
Because that is what I would want someone to do for me if I found myself in such a difficult and heart wrenching life situation. And I believe that is what Jesus would do (except he would have all the answers!). And it is time that we made a significant effort to reach this largely unreached people group with the message of the love and grace of our soon-returning Lord.