What does marriage really mean?

This is an op-ed I wrote for a class on public theology, taught by Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite. It is the culmination of much thinking about marriage, specifically with regards to my personal experience and also in broader terms relating to greater society as well.

What does marriage really mean?

I waited patiently behind the counter as the DMV clerk asked his supervisor for advice. The supervisor needed to call the state office to be sure proper procedure was followed. I glanced over at my wife, whose own application for an Illinois driver’s license had already been accepted, despite both of us being helped at the same time. You see, it comes as no surprise when a woman changes her name following marriage. For the husband to do the same however, is so odd as to arouse suspicion.

In combining our last names, we had confronted one of the many vestiges of ancient sexism in contemporary America: when a man and a woman get married, it is the woman – not the man – who changes her name. Somebody long ago decided that patriarchal lines must be maintained, at the expense of matriarchal names, which are in turn all but forgotten. Even what we tend to think of as “matriarchal names” – a woman’s “maiden name,” for example – are simply the names of men in her family.

It seems odd, when you stop to think about it, that a union of two people from two different families is so often symbolized by one seemingly joining the other’s family – at least, as far as her name is concerned. Today, we tend to be believe that marriage is supposed to be a mutual joining, yet we overwhelmingly cling to symbols, such as the woman’s name change, that evoke archaic applications of marriage.

For thousands of years, the historical understanding of marriage has been that of a property transfer. The property (the bride) goes from one man (her father) to another (the would-be groom). When she is born, the daughter is given her father’s name, as he is the head of the household. When she is married, she is placed under the authority of another man and joins his household, and she now takes his last name. The children will too. That is because both wife and children are members of the man’s household, and they derive both their name and social status from their association with him.

The Bible, particularly Old Testament law, was written from the perspective of marriage as a property arrangement. For example, according to Leveticus, adultery was not defined in terms of marital unfaithfulness, but as a man having sexual relations with the wife or daughter of another man. The problem with adultery in this case is the grave insult to the other man, by wrongfully using his property – perhaps akin to stealing someone’s car – not unfaithfulness, which would be considered the major sin by today’s standards. Though we have clearly evolved from these assumptions of 2,500 years ago, some of the remnants of these ideas remain. Consider the wedding tradition of the father of the bride who “gives away” his daughter to the groom, and the groom symbolically assimilates her into his household, with the changing of her name (and identity).

It is true that in this day and age, a simple name change upon marriage does not necessarily amount to a couple’s endorsement of the historical implications thereof. It is also true that there are many reasons that newly married people may decide to change, merge, hyphenate, keep their original names, or none of the above. I do not mean to suggest that one can or should make assumptions about the relationships of married couples based upon how they handled the question of what to do with their last names.

Nonetheless, it is clear that marriage, at least as far as it is understood by greater society, is about more than a simple commitment between a woman and a man. Conservatives who oppose same sex marriage, claim that marriage has been a cornerstone institution of our society. To a certain degree, they are right, though not only for the commonly-cited reasons of supporting and promoting families. Rather, it is clear that the institution of marriage has allowed men to retain economic dominance throughout the centuries, by maintaining the position of men as heads of their households. Models of marriage that subvert this paradigm threaten this power structure from which men have historically benefited. This offers at least a partial explanation for the reluctance of some to endorse an understanding of marriage that is less concerned with maintaining a power structure, than about supporting the love between two people.

It is clear that in the ongoing debate about marriage in our society, we must be honest when we consider what marriage has meant throughout time, and what it means today. Going into the future, will our institution of marriage continue to be defined by power and control, or about the public recognition and support of love between two people?

33 Responses to “What does marriage really mean?”

  1. Russ Says:

    Marriage was created by God and He alone has the authority to define it.

    Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

  2. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Hi Russ,

    Thanks for visiting. It sounds as if you agree with me that it is the church and not the government’s role to determine who may be married. I believe that the government should provide equal protection under the law in the form of civil unions for everybody. Since marriage is a religious institution, those who would be married in the church could have their union ‘upgraded,’ so to speak, by the church.

    On your specific point, I have indeed read the passage you cite. I certainly do not advocate the separation of those whom God has joined together. To the contrary, this is precisely why I advocate marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples. Who are humans, or even government, to stand in the way?

    Remember that there is more criteria to the Christian marriage ethic than simply whether there is one man and one woman. For example, a marriage predicated on abuse or destructive behaviors is not God-ordained. We need to open up to the possibility that God is calling us to unite not only in terms of gender, but perhaps more relevantly, in terms of a relationship that is spiritually fulfilling, mutual, monogamous and wholesome. I know many gay and lesbian Christians whose relationships meet the criteria of the Christian marriage ethic as well or better than many straight couples I know.

    Finally, we need to stop assuming that God is somehow in error in creating people to be gay or lesbian. Who are we to question God’s creation, simply because aspects of it transcend our understanding? To be sure: we need to address sin where we encounter it, but the biological fact of sexual orientation is no sin–and it’s not an accident! Humans need to get out of the way and embrace that which the Creator has made good.

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  4. Cody Says:

    Marriage is about love, not gender.

  5. Russ Says:

    God has forbidden homosexuality is His word. This is what I meant when I said that God alone has the right to define marriage.

    I will be honest; I do not know what it is like to be attracted to someone of the same sex. I do know, however, what it is like to be tempted by other evils. The Bible says that covetousness is as the sin of idolatry. Covetousness is a condition of the heart. It is not external, but internal and yet according to the word of God, it is evil.

    So what am I to do? Do I just convince myself that God created me with the desire to covet therefore it is o. k., or even good, even though it goes against the word of God?

    The reason we struggle with sin is because we are a fallen people, not a holy people. Yes, we were born in sin. Some struggle with certain sins while others may struggle with completely different sins but we are all in the same boat.

    Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

    If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

    If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:10)

  6. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Russ, thanks for taking the time to elaborate on your position.

    If I may, let me ask you a quick question. You write that you do not know what it is like to be attracted to someone of the same sex. Can I assume that you do know the feeling of being attracted to someone of the opposite gender? My question is, how would you characterize that attraction that you have experienced? Would you describe it as a simple question of doing right or doing wrong? Something you could take or leave depending on what the Bible says? Or is there something deeper, perhaps biological or God-given about the attraction that you’ve personally experienced?

    For me, I believe that the physical attraction I have towards women is biological, God-given, and innate–part of my physical hard-wiring. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to better understand how you view yourself in this matter.

  7. Russ Says:

    My attraction toward women is hard wired. It is part of who I am. But so are my covetous desires which I have experienced from my youth. Sometimes my attraction toward women is directed toward my wife while at other times, it could be toward a complete stranger. In the first case, my attraction is not a problem but in the second case, if left unchecked, is sin. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. (Rom 6:12).

    Unlike heterosexual attraction, however, homosexual attraction is always sinful even as covetousness is also always sinful.

    When my desires are evil, I am not to allow them to have authority over me. Rather, I am to bring, “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5)

    The fact that we have desires does not mean that those desires are “God given”. In fact, all of my desires proceed from my heart and the Bible says that the heart of man is, “deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it”.

    Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

  8. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Where we diverge, Russ, is on the question of whether or not homosexuality, in and of itself, is “always sinful” as you contend. I do not agree that sexual orientation is something that is “sinful” for gay people but “hard-wired” for straight people.

    You write: Unlike heterosexual attraction, however, homosexual attraction is always sinful even as covetousness is also always sinful.

    This statement cannot be corroborated by the Bible. There are no biblical references that address homosexuality as a sinful sexual orientation. There are indeed biblical references to sexual behavior between men or between women that are clear instances of un-Christian, immoral behavior. But we cannot conclude that un-Christian, immoral behavior from these passages means that homosexuality in and of itself is a sin, because these passages do not refer to homosexuality itself – rather, they reference specific types of behavior that are always wrong, such as rape, abuse, orgies, etc. There are no biblical passages that specifically address homosexuality as it is experienced today – by people who lead spiritually fulfilling, mutual, monogamous and wholesome relationships, as I mentioned earlier.

    Obviously, not every gay or lesbian person intends to embrace the Christian ethics of marriage and sexuality. However, churches should embrace people who are ready to share in these values, rather than marginalizing them.

  9. Russ Says:

    The word of God condemns homosexuality. ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.’ (Lev 18:22) It could not be more clear.

    The idea that a homosexual relationship somehow becomes holy because it is fulfilling, mutual, monogamous, etc. has no Biblical basis.

    As human beings we experience ungodly desires every day. The question is, what do I do with those desires? I have two choices. I can deceive myself into thinking that God has changed His mind, or, I can repent and agree with God that He is holy and has authority over my life and I am His servant for He purchased me with His own blood.

    For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor 6:20)

    Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

    Notice that covetousness is also in the list above. If I am to repent of covetousness, then the homosexual must also repent of their homosexuality.

  10. FranIAm Says:

    I can’t even start in on the theological points here, but I can and I will say that you Tom have done a great service with this post.

    I don’t think you have posted on Street Prophets much lately, but this might be a worthy addition there, if you are inclined.

    This is so well put and you have the knowledge and the faith to really be able to look at this in a unique way.

    Peace brother. Keep on writing.

  11. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Russ,

    You write: The word of God condemns homosexuality. ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.’ (Lev 18:22) It could not be more clear.

    Let’s stop right there, since this is the scripture on which you build your subsequent argument. This is a quote that, on its surface, does indeed seem to condemn anal sex between two men. It certainly does not condemn homosexual orientation, but before we get into that, I want to understand your position on how literally we are supposed to practice the ancient laws and practices found in the Old Testament.

    Do you strive to follow every directive that can be found in the Old Testament? Even the crazy ones? (And believe me, there are some crazy ones, like this do-it-yourself abortion procedure…)

    If you do not choose to follow every law, on what basis do you choose to apply some but not others?


    Incidentally, I try to follow Jesus on the question of what should inform our approach to the Law. Jesus said to love God first, then cited Leviticus 19:33 – Love the alien as yourself – second, and even said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

    Go here for more on the subject.

  12. Russ Says:

    Are you truly interested in knowing the will of God for your life or are you more interested in making the Bible say what you want it to say?

    You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. (Lev 18:22)

    Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion. (Lev 18:23)

    Whatever argument you can make to justify why verse 22 no longer applies to you, you can also make for verse 23.

    I can clearly show you from Bible where God ordains marriage between a man and woman. Can you show me from the Bible where God ordains the same for two men or two women?

  13. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Actually, Russ, I do not believe that the Bible is the only source by which we can come to know the will of God. I believe that God is also present in our very lives and experiences, as well as that of those around us.

    Much of our human experience of God is corroborated and informed by the Bible, but that does not mean that everything that can be found in the Bible should necessarily be applied to our contemporary context. Case in point: the abortion procedure that I mentioned previously. It’s garish–and yet, God supposedly commanded it, so we should do it, right? Or should we instead consider the more contemporary understandings we have regarding such matters?

    Since we cannot look exclusively to the Bible to inform our present day decisions, we must look to other sources for the revelation of God’s will regarding particular issues. On the issue of same sex marriage, I have repeatedly cited both biblical evidence and personal experience of the Emanuel, Christ with us, as manifested through godly lesbian and gay people I know. On the other hand, you seem to have constructed your position by looking exclusively to selective quotes from an antiquated Law, large parts of which we do not feel the need to apply directly to our lives today. (Or do you also avoid cotton/polyester blended clothing?)

    If you are going to look to some, but not all of the Bible’s laws for application today, please tell me: by which standard do you choose which laws to keep and which ones no longer apply? Selective literalism doesn’t work for me.

    Regarding your reference to Lev 18:23, I do not believe that one must either take everything in the Bible or leave everything in the Bible, as you seem to suggest. Just because Leviticus gets it right on some issues but not others does not put us in a position of having to accept or reject everything categorically. But it does mean that we cannot assume that every verse we find must be applied today. Thus, we must look to additional sources. I choose the God I know personally as a source, and I also choose the life, teachings, and salvation of Jesus, and also science, among other sources.

    Finally, I do not believe that just because there is no statement by God on gay marriage in the Bible means that no marriage between two men or two women could be ordained by God. As I’ve argued, I believe that the sanctity of marriage has more to do with the nature of the relationship than it does gender. Wouldn’t you agree?

  14. Russ Says:

    “…by which standard do you choose which laws to keep and which ones no longer apply?”

    The Bible clearly teaches that there two covenants by which God has related to man. The first, the covenant of law, was given by Moses. The second, the New Covenant of the grace of God, was given by Jesus Christ.

    For the law was given through Moses, [but] grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

    The covenant of Law ended on the day of Pentecost, the birth of the church. No longer does the believer relate to God through the law but now through the grace of God, the New Covenant.

    However, homosexuality is prohibited in both the old and the new covenants.

    But most important, when a person turns from their sin asks God to forgive them, God transforms their lives by the power of His Holy Spirit. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor 5:17)

    God loves the sinner, myself included, but He hates the sin because He is holy. He sent His Son to pay the debt for your sin and rebellion against God and whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

    Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mat 11:26)

  15. FranIAm Says:

    Maybe it is because I am Catholic, but I am really confused about any 100% literal attempt to read, interpret and live out the Bible.

    Tom you certainly make a most interesting point about Leviticus.

    Russ, I can appreciate your own desire to live the will of God as you understand that. However, given that we live in a democracy, I am not sure that I want or need your assistance in how to do the same thing in my life. How can you be so sure that you have all the answers?

    I know I don’t have all the answers, I live with a lot of questions and mystery, trying to be true to my faith.

    Peace unto all.

  16. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Russ, before I go on, I’d like to take a moment and say how much I appreciate this discussion. I mean, this is my blog, so I have a vested interest in continuing to post on it, but you’ve been generous with your spare time and have raised good counterpoint to what I’m saying. I appreciate that you’ve stuck with it.

  17. Russ Says:

    The primary way that I understand a person is by what that person says. I may be able to guess some traits about a person by something they may have painted or designed but primarily, I can only come to know who you truly are if you choose to reveal yourself by your words.

    Like us, the God of the Bible claims to be a “Person” with a distinct personality. The Bible claims to be the word of that personality. It claims that God has chosen to reveal Himself primary through His word.

    All scripture is given by inspiration of God… (2 Tim 3:16)

    A man is only as good as his word. If I cannot trust the Bible, then I cannot trust the God of the Bible for the Bible claims to be His word.

    Not only does the Bible claim to be the word of God but it also claims that God, by His word, confuses the proud but reveals Himself to the humble. Inn other words, God chooses reveal Himself to some and not to others.

    God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (Jam 4:6)

    You might insist that that is not fair but if you look honestly at your own life you will discover that you do the same. Each of us choose to reveal ourselves to some and not to others.

    The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ. God has every right to choose who will be His bride even as you have the freewill to choose for yourself.

    When a person turns from their sin and receives Jesus as their savoir, the Bible say they are “born again”. New life. New desires, new priorities, new everything because God removes our sinful desires and replaces them with His Holy desires by His Spirit..

    When Jesus was arrested and crucified, He was not crucified for His own sin, but for yours and mine. He had no sin but He willingly went to the cross to pay the debt of your sin and mine. The sacrifice of the cross is sufficient to pay the price for the sin of mankind because Jesus was the sinless, perfect sacrifice.

    But most important, you cannot work your way to God, you can only receive this salvation as a free gift. In fact, if you attempt to add any of your own works to your salvation, you insult God by declaring that the sacrifice of Jesus was not sufficient and you “fall from grace”.

    God has made a way that you can be saved and have eternal life. That way is by receiving Jesus as you savior.

    .Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

  18. FranIAm Says:

    Tom – you words in the comment above really humbled me. Thank you.

  19. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Russ,

    If I may bring this all in, it seems to me that that the point where we diverge on this issue comes down to whether homosexuality is a sin or not. You seem to be using a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible as the basis for your view that it is sin, while I am primarily relying on science, personal experience, and Jesus’ commandment to love my neighbor as myself. To me, each of these outweigh Old Testament laws that have been stripped of their original context, particularly when we clearly do not and cannot apply many such laws in our world today.

    On the other hand, science, personal experience, and the love of Jesus cause me to view homosexuality not as sin, but as an inherent part of the human experience for some. Therefore, just as Jesus served, welcomed, and defended those who were persecuted in his time, we are called to serve, welcome and defend gay people, and others, who are unjustly persecuted in our time.

    I don’t expect that you and I will agree on this issue as long as we come to a different understanding on whether or not homosexuality is sin, but I believe this dialogue has been very valuable; certainly it has been to me. As I alluded to before, I appreciate your time, sincerity, and the respectful nature in which you’ve stated your case here. I don’t feel I have anything left to add, but please feel free to respond further in this same spirit.

    Peace,
    Tom

  20. Russ Says:

    Tom,

    The New Testament, which was written after Jesus was resurrected, also condemns homosexuality.

    For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality,[fn3] wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving,[fn4] unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom 1:24-32)

  21. Tom Ryberg Says:

    It’s interesting to read this discussion now 10 months later. I wish I had been a little more concise at places, and taken a little more time to think through what I was saying in other spots. Suffice to say, it is a very useful exercise to be challenged on issues such as these, as I attempt to wrap words around my amorphous views. Thanks, Russ and Fran.

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  23. Bernard Says:

    Tom, I am reading this almost a year to the day later. I am not even sure if you are monitoring this blog anymore.

    I enjoyed reading the discussion between you and Russ; I also am glad you were able to discuss without getting angry; many people cannot. The one thing I do wish you had brought out to Russ was regarding his condemnation of homosexuality in the New Testament. Paul did mention men lying with men and the fact they gave up their “natural” desires for “unnatural” desires.

    If their natural desires were for women, it is understandable why he condemned it. They were not being true to who they were as God created them. BUT if their natural desires were for men, as we have come to relate to homosexuality, then he was not referring to gay men and women but rather straight men and women who were going against their hard wiring.

    And a big fact that many opponents of gay marriage and homosexuality fail to mention, and probably do not realize, is that Jesus never spoke one word on the subject of homoesuality as recorded by the Bible. He spoke on greed, drunkenness, adultery, usury, corruption, and everything else under the sun. But not one word on homosexuality even though his travels would have brought him into many situations where he would have seen it.

    As Christian, we are to follow the teachings of Christ, the one who fullfilled The Law. CHrist often condemned the Pharisees and the saducees for their know-it-all attitudes and beliefs, but never said a word about anyone attracted to someone of the same sex. Not one word.

  24. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Thank you, Bernard, for a thoughtful follow-up, and for pointing out that even the oft-cited Romans segment does not mean what it is often claimed to mean. As I’ve noted elsewhere and should have pointed out here:

    …I have not studied Romans at length.[Note: still true.] But even a cursory read reveals that in the context of what the passage itself is talking about, this is not a passage about homosexuality, but rather the harsh circumstances of punishment brought onto a group wicked, idolatrous people. This passage has nothing to do with homosexual people – that is, people who were created gay and lesbian from birth – but in fact it states explicitly that these are people whose prior wickedness caused them to suffer through sexual degradation.

    I appreciate your words about Jesus’ priorities as well, Bernard. It is quite clear to me from reading the Gospels that Jesus came to liberate those who are oppressed, to free us from the chains of sin from others and that which we put upon ourselves. To be Christian to me means I must love God and embrace Christ’s liberation for myself, and then love my neighbors as myself by seeking and affirming their liberation as well.

    Peace,
    Tom

  25. Russ Says:

    To say that Romans is not speaking of all homosexuality but only an “unnatural” homosexuality among straight people is not an honest reading of the text in my opinion. Actually, what Paul is saying in Romans is that homosexuality is plainly contrary to the “natural use”. His point is this: Even if God had never said a word against homosexuality it is still plainly clear that the man is physically designed for the woman and the woman for man. Need I say more?

    Secondly, nature plainly teaches us that sexual relations between a man and woman produces life but relations between homosexuals can never produce life. These are the obvious facts that nature teaches and Paul’s point is that all who engage in homosexual activities do so against plain and obvious teaching nature itself.

    The fact that some men are attracted to other men is not an argument that homosexuality is pleasing to God. All of the desires within a man must be brought into check by the truth that is in the word of God. God says that covetousness is sin and yet I am always tempted with this unnatural, sinful desire. Am I to conclude that because I have this desire within myself that it is therefore good and holy? If God made me with this desire, why then does He condemn me when I am covetous?

    God did not create me to be covetous. I am covetous because sin has entered the human race. Sin has perverted the natural desires that God placed in the heart of men and women and changed them into unnatural desires. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I must fight against the sinful desires that reside in me for the flesh wars against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh and these two are contrary to each other. (See Gal 5:17)

    God did not create you to be homosexual. You are filled with this desire because sin has entered the human race and perverted the natural holy desires that God designed for men and women.

    Jesus died to pay the price for the sin of all mankind. If we confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus, we will be saved. To confess with my mouth the Lord Jesus means that I am to agree with God. If I am disagreeing with God, I am not confessing the Lord Jesus. If I confess that the desires within me are sinful, I am agreeing with the word of God but if I claim that the desires that are within me are good and holy, I am not confessing Christ.

    Within the human race are all types of sinful desires. …out of the heart (of man) proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Mat 5:19) The fact that man has desires within himself, no matter how strong or right those desires may seem, does not mean that those desires are pleasing to God.

  26. Tom Ryberg Says:

    To say that Romans is not speaking of all homosexuality but only an “unnatural” homosexuality among straight people is not an honest reading of the text in my opinion.

    Paul isn’t talking about homosexuality. This particular instance of same-sex behavior is not the same thing as homosexuality at all. In this text, Paul describes the specific sexual behavior of a group of wicked people who are being punished by God. This has no bearing on contemporary same-sex relationships or even homosexual orientation, for that matter, just as descriptions of biblical heterosexual rape have nothing to do with heterosexual relations.

    Actually, what Paul is saying in Romans is that homosexuality is plainly contrary to the “natural use”. His point is this: Even if God had never said a word against homosexuality it is still plainly clear that the man is physically designed for the woman and the woman for man.

    This is very problematic. People are born who deviate from being the same as everyone else all the time. Some are born without the “natural use” (a concept I thoroughly disagree with, see below***) of certain aspects of their bodies; others have intelligence or ability levels that are not average. The Christian response should not be to condemn such people but to respond to them according to their unique needs in the spirit of Christian servitude.

    The fact that some men are attracted to other men is not an argument that homosexuality is pleasing to God. All of the desires within a man must be brought into check by the truth that is in the word of God. God says that covetousness is sin and yet I am always tempted with this unnatural, sinful desire. Am I to conclude that because I have this desire within myself that it is therefore good and holy? If God made me with this desire, why then does He condemn me when I am covetous?

    This is not an apt analogy. Covetousness in its very definition is wrongdoing. Sexual orientation is not wrongdoing – it simply is.

    God did not create you to be homosexual. You are filled with this desire because sin has entered the human race and perverted the natural holy desires that God designed for men and women.

    Neither you nor the Bible itself are able to substantiate either of these claims. God creates how God creates, and only God truly understands that process. But God’s visible creation clearly reflects diversity, not uniformity, in how we have been created to be, including multiple sexual orientations.

    Peace,
    Tom

    *** P.S. I highly disagree with the notion of “natural” and “unnatural” people, bodies, abilities, intelligence, etc. in the first place. However anybody is born is 100% natural to their own circumstances.

  27. Russ Says:

    If God created some to be heterosexual and some homosexual, why do we only see life proceeding from heterosexual relationships? If God were the author of both, both would produce life.

    To argue against nature is to be truly “given over” even as Paul said. However, if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, you will be saved.

  28. Tom Ryberg Says:

    If God created some to be heterosexual and some homosexual, why do we only see life proceeding from heterosexual relationships? If God were the author of both, both would produce life.

    Does God not create heterosexual individuals who are infertile? As with gay and lesbian couples, life cannot directly proceed from them, and yet they are no less God’s creation. If God is not the author of homosexuality in people, to what do you attribute homosexuality in animals?

    We humans often want to attribute ‘rules’ for God which may be consistent and comprehensible for our comparatively small understanding, but God is unbound by our expectations.

    To argue against nature is to be truly “given over” even as Paul said. However, if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, you will be saved.

    I do not argue against nature, I argue that God is the author of nature, and that we must not call profane that which God has made clean. If all those who confess the Lord Jesus are saved, that includes everybody who will do so, not only those who are similar to you and I.

  29. Annette Says:

    I don’t believe that God “created” homosexuality.” He “allowed” it to manifest itself, as He did with Cain and Abel: to demonstrate the temptations of sin and His displeasure for the tempted. If we believe people are born homosexuals, then it must be true for murderers, robbers, and adulterers as well. Simply put, we are all born with (temptation) sin and (strength) choice. Homosexuality is a sin. Just because there is a strong temptation that makes it feel “natural,” as if you were “born” that way, doesn’t change that fact that you are given a choice. It’s an example of how we attempt to rationalize the selfishness of our sinning and our wanting to sin, just as having society “accept” it, because “everybody’s doing it.” Fine. But, you’re still going to hell. I do not view people by their sexual preference–but, It’s not me that you have to convince. I read the story of Jesus on the mountain with satan–a lesson in temptation and strength.

    • Tom Ryberg Says:

      Homosexuality, as previously noted, manifests in animals. If this is true (and it is), then we must accept that homosexuality is part of God’s inherent creation.

      The question then becomes, what will we do in the face of God’s reality of homosexuality? Will we try to make gay folks among us adhere to a double-standard that we straight people would never accept ourselves: only celibacy for you, or sex to those with whom you are not sexually attracted? What hypocrisy. It is grievously unfair for Christians to insist that sex outside of wedlock is a sin, while simultaneously preventing some segments of people from being able to get married.

      I disagree with your likening God’s “permission” of homosexuality to that of an act of premeditated murder. I also dispute that homosexuality is “temptation.” Is heterosexuality “temptation?” God created sexual desire; it is not “temptation.” If you are arguing that “bad” sexual desire might be a manifestation of temptation, fine. But God-given sexual desire inherent to one’s creation is not temptation in and of itself.

      And, for what it’s worth, I read the story of Jesus on the mountain with Satan as a lesson in temptation and strength too. But that is in no way related to the topic at hand.

  30. Annette Says:

    God states that lust (sexual desire) is a sin when the one desired is not your spouse, regardless of your acting upon it on simply thinking about it. I have sinned. I sin. We are born in sin. Because we act upon it or that “we all do it; therefore, it should be accepted” does not change the fact that we have sinned, and by insisting that it should be accepted is really a selfish attempt to alleviate our guilt, and promote sin. I can’t swim like a fish or fly like a bird, so why would I compare my behavior to those of an animal?? God told me how I should act; what is expected of me. I don’t know what he expects of animals, as I was pushed out “of the loop” when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, forfeiting my “right to know” AND gave satan the right AND freedom to tempt man with sin. Don’t shoot the messenger: Although you say that Christians are unfair, you really mean God, because they are simply relaying God’s message–albiet, oftentimes taken out of context and somewhat misinterpreted. When there is something that we want to do, feel strongly about, but unfortunately is a sin, we, like the children we are have a tantrum about the unfairness of it, stating how everyone’s doing it. How predictable we are to rationalize, justify, and blame! Jesus and satan on the mountain is a story of temptation; how satan tempts each us–only with those things that we (individually) desperately want and/or truly value; our weaknesses. God gives us the strength and choice to resist. The greater our strength, the greater the temptation. How we play it out is on us. Satan knows our strength and our ignorance. The point of that story is the same point made in the story of Job; Abraham and his son; Lot and his daughters; even the weakness of the woman who couldn’t resist the temption to not look back or else be turned into a pillar of salt–how hard was that?? When as individuals fail in resisting, we are suppose to make ourselves accountable for our actions, not carry out satan’s wish by promoting it “because everyone is doing it.” By doing so, we, once again complete the cycle of Adam and Eve and our birthright: shifting the blame and persuading others to sin with us.

    • Tom Ryberg Says:

      Hi Annette,

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to you. I am busy wrapping up school these days. I didn’t want you to assume that your arguments have rendered me speechless or anything. ;)

      I wanted to simply point out that if you have interpreted my arguments about homosexuality boil down to “everyone else is doing it” — which you say three times here and above as well — you are mistaken. I have never made that argument. You are attacking a caricature of your own making when you bring that up.

      There are many points (and some fundamental assumptions) on which you and I disagree, but I want to particularly point out this one. You write:

      Don’t shoot the messenger: Although you say that Christians are unfair, you really mean God, because they are simply relaying God’s message–albiet, oftentimes taken out of context and somewhat misinterpreted.

      No, when I say that some self-identified Christians are unfair, I’m talking about them, not about God. Such Christians should not confuse their idolatrous self-righteousness with the Word or will of God.

      The problem with “simply relaying God’s message” as you call it, is that God’s message didn’t insert itself into the Bible yesterday, and it doesn’t interpret itself today. These tasks have been and must be attended to by humans, who as you well know are perfectly capable of error when it comes to discerning the Word and will of God.

      In peace,
      TR

  31. Crystal Says:

    Tom, I have been perusing your blog for some time this morning, and have enjoyed the rich food for thought offered here. I am very late to this party, but would like to add a comment about the New Testament and homosexuality.

    It always amazes me when people cite Romans and 1 Corinthians as viable commentary on homosexuality. Paul’s worldview was that of a first century Jewish theologian, not that of a scientist or doctor. (Our CURRENT scientists and doctors don’t even fully understand homosexuality. How much more confounded must Paul have been?) It shocks me that modern Christians still view Paul as a man who had all the answers. He was a human being with biases and shortcomings. He had limited access to information and was certainly not able to comprehend the impact that his letters would someday have on societies to come.

    What many literalists are afraid to admit is that the Bible (while important) is written from an ancient perspective. It contains primitive ideas that are often obscene, inaccurate, and unscientific. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consult scripture for information on how others have lived out the faith experience– but the ideas therein are just that. Ideas. Paul’s ideas about sexuality were heavily influenced by Old Testament principles, even if he really was trying to enforce the spirit of the law instead of the letter. But his letters are only ideas. They weren’t designed to be interpreted literally for the rest of eternity.

    Finally, Jesus demonstrated over and over again that scripture should not be interpreted literally. He protected the adulterous woman from stoning, touched lepers, and repeatedly broke the laws about the Sabbath. We are to imitate Christ, fully understanding that there are times when the letter of the law killeth, but the spirit giveth life.


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