By Janine Warrington
Not long ago, I had a meeting with the pastoral staff at my church about our differing opinions regarding homosexuality. Later, I applied to lead a discipleship group, and after years of serving in the church, I was informed that they no longer felt comfortable allowing me to lead in this capacity. I felt completely betrayed. I expressed my hurt and asked why they felt this way.
“In our last meeting, when we asked whether you would be willing to commit to celibacy, you said…,” my pastor left off the end of the sentence, waiting for me to fill it in.
“Right. And you know our church’s policy about extramarital sex. We can’t have someone leading a group who isn’t setting an example of chastity.”
My jaw dropped. I had not anticipated such a comment.
Previously, I wrote that many Christian churches teach that being gay is not a sin, but that acting on it is. My church falls into that category. They also teach that gay marriage goes against the natural order of creation, and this teaching is where the confusion in this conversation largely stemmed from.
To my ears, the question about celibacy had been, “Would you require gay Christians to commit to life-long abstinence from all sex, even within the context of marriage?” I said no, because married couples should certainly partake in the marriage bed – this is a gift from God. My pastors, however, did not understand this question in the same way because they don’t see marriage as an option for gay Christians. So, when I said that I would not commit to celibacy, they misinterpreted that as a confession that I was actively engaging in extramarital gay sex.
I attempted to compose myself well enough to articulate that that was not the case, and that I agreed with my pastors’ teachings in all but one way: our definition of marriage. My pastors understand marriage as a mutual and exclusive life-long commitment between one man and one woman. I understand marriage as a mutual and exclusive life-long commitment between two people.
Many Christian leaders point to the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 as evidence that marriage was instituted with the intention of being between one man and one woman. I would argue, though, that to extrapolate a universal doctrine from the experiences of a couple of people is irresponsible. God creates Eve to be a companion for Adam because he is lonely, and some argue that this first couple is a model of how God designed romance and marriage to be – one man and one woman. But the image of marriage that God gives us in this account – life-long companionship and intimacy – is not dependent upon complementarity of genders.
Some point to God’s command to “be fruitful and increase in number” (v. 1:28) as evidence that procreation is central to the purpose of marriage. I see this as a commission given to the species, not specifically to Adam and Eve as individuals. Even if this command to be fruitful is intended for every married couple, fruitfulness can be expressed in more ways than bearing children.
Sister Margaret Farley writes in her book Just Love, “For those who object to same-sex relationships because they cannot be procreative, their objections represent either a failure of imagination or a narrowness of experience that disallows an appreciation of all the ways in which humans bring life into the world, and all the ways that the world needs new life from those to whom the gift of love has been given.” (p. 290) Every married couple, regardless of the sex of the members, have something to contribute to society, whether it be bearing kids, adopting kids, mentoring others, providing goods or services, or something else. There is not any single way to be fruitful, and God has blessed each couple to do so in different ways.
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