Reproductive freedom has been gutted, but gay rights, too, are threatened by the Supreme Court. You would think good Christians would applaud couples who promise eternal fidelity to each other, as gay couples want to be able to do, in keeping with universal marriage values. That’s how I always felt. If two people come to me to bless their intention to live together in a permanent, sexually exclusive relationship, that’s what the church has always been in business for! There are plenty of heterosexual couples who promise the same thing and are either not able to keep those promises or never intended to from the outset. Why in heaven or on earth would a minister or priest deny either the wish or the opportunity for the most fulfilling of relationships to anyone? This is a point of bitter contention between and among Christian denominations.
It all depends on how you look at the Bible. There are big differences between the various churches on this score. First, many hold with the literal inerrancy of the Bible–one of the four fundamentals of fundamentalism. Second, many view the Bible as a blueprint for society, which it isn’t and couldn’t be. It is written in our Eliot Church covenant, “we accept the Holy Scriptures as our rule of faith and practice.” But the Bible is like the US Constitution–it needs interpretation. Basically, there are only two Christianities: one in which the Bible is God, and the other in which the Bible points to God. We belong to the latter.
And it depends on where you look in the Bible. If the Church really wanted to promote satisfying, long lasting, and sexually exclusive relationships, there needed to have been a basic understanding of and respect for human sexuality, but the Church couldn’t handle it. It is hard to find such in the Bible, but there is a place to look, the Song of Solomon. The Church included this unique book in the Bible, but only grudgingly, without knowing really what to do with it.
It’s a short book of 8 chapters, made up of what seem to be bursts of 31 intense lyrics between two lovers, identified in some translations as the Bride and Bridegroom. This engaged couple are profoundly, almost painfully in love–they address each other in superlatives of tenderness and yearning. They are clearly in the throes of the “carnal consummation of love,” as Robert Alter put it. Yet their “unholy” love is sanctified, made holy, by the presence of the Spirit.
Prof Renita Weems, emerita professor of Old Testament at Vanderbilt, herself a womanist Christian theologian, identifies this as a countercultural book. It is the only book of the Bible in which the female voice predominates, she is anonymous and she is black-skinned. Her speech is bold and un-self-censored, and perfectly reciprocated by her lover. This leads Prof Weems to observe that this book is a protest against crass materialism–it honors the body, it honors woman and women’s sexual experience and men’s. Their sexual identity is outshined by the power of love at once human and divine. Their gender identity pales in significance compared to their humanity. This sexual drama reveals a snapshot of divine possibility in the human sphere–the intimate bonding of love is the incarnation of the Spirit. Their sexual orientation reflects cultural norms of that time, of course, but the Bible is making a more fundamental point about sexual love–the body is the Temple of the Spirit. Spirits unite when bodies unite–this is the miracle of human loving.
This is why divorce is so painful, and I have been through that, or the dissolution of any intimate relationship. The Bible declares that this love is the birthright of any two people who give themselves to each other in this way–person to person, person seeking person, person serving person. These love lyrics between a heterosexual couple are just as relevant to same-sex couples.
So, as I said at the outset, you would think good Christians would applaud couples who promise eternal fidelity to each other, as gay couples want to be able to do, in keeping with universal marriage values. Let’s just ask, what is marriage for? Theories abound–for the protection of progeny, being the principal one. Another is to secure property rights over females.
What if we turned the question around and asked, why do people get married? The fact is, “as studies show,” people consistently find that same-partner sex is most fulfilling. In fact, the spiritual union that results from sexual union is indelible and wants celebrating. The two become one flesh, as the Bible itself says, amazingly affirming the pleasure bond. You could just say that marriage is a need, a fundamental human need. As the marriage liturgy inveighs, “Let no one put asunder whom God hath joined together.” The point we celebrate every Sunday here is the reality of the Incarnation, the mystery of spirit in flesh.
The great story of Jesus’ at the wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine is a fitting symbol and summary of the Bible–there is more than meets the eye to human life. Water miraculously gives life to flesh. But we are also a volatile mix of flesh and spirit, and wine symbolizes the indissolubility of flesh and spirit. Ultimately, we are persons seeking persons.
We sometimes start in unholy ways, but everyone’s birthright is to be sanctified in a relationship made holy by God.