Few people have the gift to live a celibate life.~The Augsburg Confession 23:5
Grace to you and peace from the Triune God,
Gay marriage. Or, even better put, marriage—is a gift from God. That is the assertion I make with confidence in God’s mercy. I understand that this puts me in the minority of Christian thought and history. Some would even say I am a false teacher for coming to this affirming conclusion. Last year, I did get an angry email upon the publication of my “LGBTQ Affirmation” article for SweetwaterNOW. Somehow the angry words didn’t stick because here I am again doing what I do.
Every June I theme this monthly devotion on something related to Pride month and faith. So let’s get into a bit of basic marriage theology. Why does marriage matter? What is its purpose? And, how can it be applied to the LGBTQ community?
First off, I’ll again assert that marriage is a gift of God. It is an almost universal practice among all the cultures of human beings through place and time. Yet, it is not a human invention. The married walk of life has God’s word behind it. For indeed, it is a divine institution. As such, it is meant to promote life in the most positive sense of the word. Above I quoted from the Augsburg Confession from the article pertaining to the “Marriage of Priests.” That was a major change brought about in the Reformation. At this time the medieval church had imposed celibacy upon any who were called to the public ministry. They would break up existing marriages to do it. The reformers argued that such requirements ran against all divine, ecclesiastical, and civil law. In other words, the prohibition of marriage was contrary to all precedent. Marriage was instituted by God as an outlet for sexual relations. It is meant to be a place in which sexual relations enjoy a safe context, and is undergirded with public accountability and the promise of mutual recognition of human dignity. Which is why one-night stand culture is to be rejected.
In history, the prohibition of marriage to the priests led to great abuses, which is as evident today as it was then. Forced imposition of celibacy doesn’t work because few have the ability to live a celibate life. For those who do have this, it is a divine gift that can be used for much profit. But such is the case that the great majority of people, whether straight or gay or what have you, are not suited for a life completely cut off from their sexuality. And to impose celibacy upon such people does much damage to them. Inclusion of same-gender couples in marriage gives dignity to a people who are often not given any dignity. You cannot force someone into celibacy if God has not given them that gift.
Another consideration is the very human need to love and be loved by someone. And I’m not simply talking about friendship. There are things that friendship does not do. And God himself knows this. That is why he said that it is not good that a person should be alone (Gen. 2:18) and he provided a suitable companion. When I was in high school and college this was where I struggled the most. Being told I had to lead a celibate life free of any romantic love, I was weighed down by loneliness and depression. I truly did my best to fit into that box, but I found my life waning away. I’m one of those who doesn’t want to be alone all my life. I want someone to love and to be loved by. Like Adam, I look forward to the day I can sing from my heart that I have found the one whom my heart cherishes, that I can say “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). If someone has it built in them that they desire love, even if it be love for someone of the same gender, it does fundamental harm to tell them to bottle that up. Lifelong, monogamous, same-gender, married relationships can be God’s precious gift as any straight version of it.
I know there are many objections that people would raise to this affirming conclusion. Most sharply is it that people will wield bible verses to condemn anything about gay people. The temptation, as some affirming Christians have done, is to dismiss such charges out of hand claiming that the bible “is just like any other book and its words don’t hold any special standing.” As a confessional Christian who takes theology very seriously, this cannot be done. I have come to the point in my faith that I am willing to let the scripture stand as it is. I do not wish to elevate myself above the scriptures. The key here in interpreting the scriptures is that we do not interpret them, but they interpret us. To properly understand this one must understand the proper distinction between law and gospel. These are the “two words within the word.” Law, that which condemns, breaks down. Gospel, that which gives God’s favor, builds up.
Both are scriptural realities that have authority. And so, I’ll say to anyone who holds up the law to me about being a gay man who wishes to be in a gay marriage: you got me. I have no righteousness of my own. But as you hold up that law, realize that it is also a mirror to you. The law condemns you just as much, as it does all people. You also have no righteousness of your own. Straight people are no more holy than gay people. Same goes for straight relationships and same gender relationships. Neither is more righteous, neither is better. I know no couple who is without need of God’s mercy. My only hope is through faith in Christ. He is my righteousness. He is the one who redeems me. His Spirit is the one who makes me holy.
I stand firmly in this promise: “But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5, emphasis added). It is Jesus Christ who has come that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). I leave with my detractors the words of our Lord, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). It is only in Christ that we have a gracious God. One who does not count our trespasses against us. This is the faith of the new testament in his blood. God’s mercy and God’s gracious heart leads me to affirm that marriage is also God’s gift for gay people. In light of this, even to be gay (or LGBTQ in anyway) is God’s gift. Depend on this, dear LGBTQ siblings— “I desire mercy.” And then, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Peace and joy,
Pastor Levi Powers