It is not uncommon to hear some Christians, including some evangelicals, argue that the current gay marriage issue should not concern us much, as it is a secondary issue. As such, the outcome of the legislation and Christians conducting same sex marriages is not one of those issues we should make a big deal of. In this blog-piece I want to take this on. I believe that marriage and sexual immorality is not a secondary issue, but is primary and very much so. In fact, I would argue it lies at the heart of a Christian theology.
1. Heterosexual Marriage is Essential to a Christian View of the World
The Christian story is not merely about one nation Israel and the church. It is a story of a whole world and all its people. It is a human story which begins well before Israel or the church is mentioned with Adam, Eve, and all the nations. God’s plan is for a people inhabiting his wonderfully crafted world who live out their humanness well. Marriage and heterosexual sex producing offspring is essential to the story.
In Gen 1:26–27 human identity is stated—we are image bearers. This is a statement of our identity as bearers of God’s likeness. Both men and women are created in his image. Indeed, our complementary gender appears to reflect two dimensions of God’s person—the male and female. The two complementary sexes coming together is the centre of what it means to be human.
At the heart of image bearing is that we are created for relationship, men and women. Together, we are granted sovereignty, to rule. The first command is to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). This presupposes that the male and female image-bearers will come together in relationship in line with God’s agapē character and have children. Heterosexual relationships are required for this as in all animals.
In the following chapter, God forms a man, states it is not good for him to be alone, and forms for him a partner. This is then the basis for marriage, “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). God thus endorses a particular type of committed relationship at the core of human anthropology—heterosexual marriage. Gay marriage is completely foreign to God’s vision of human anthropology.
Now we humans are not only unique in our image-bearing and all that it entails, but we are also an animal species. We are mammals. We are mortal. Like all animals, our existence depends on sexual relationships between the male and female and the kids they produce. Propagation is essential to our survival as a species. As such, biologically the coming together of male and female is basic to our anthropology. This entails more than merely sperm fertilizing ovum; it is the full relationship of a man and woman and the raising of the household, the basic unit for human life.
These two passages and common sense place heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage at the centre of a Christian anthropology. Human ontology is premised on our coming together and multiplying, an essentially heterosexual activity. As such, it can hardly be seen as secondary any more than image bearing can be secondary. It is essential to image bearing. It is ontological. It is at the very heart of what it means to be truly human. It is central to theology. And when Christ came as a human, he came to restore us from brokenness to true humanness.
2. Jesus and Paul Endorsed This View
Our Lord Jesus, the incarnation of God, the basis of Christian faith, endorsed the Jewish view of marriage enshrined specifically in Gen 2:24. He cited Gen 2:24 in his discussion on divorce with the Jewish leaders (Mark 10:7; Matt 19:5). He repudiated divorce, absolutely if we accept Mark’s version of his teaching, or in all cases except marital unfaithfulness if we prefer Matthew’s version. He rejected sexual immorality (Marr 5:32; 15:19; 19:9; Mark 7:21) and adultery (Matt 5:27, 28, 32; 19:9; Luke 16:18), which for a Jewish teacher in the first century would be nicely summed up as “everything other than heterosexual marriage” and “any violent non-loving acts against one’s spouse within marriage.”
Paul also endorsed the Genesis picture, citing Gen 2:24 twice (1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31). More strongly than Jesus, likely because he was writing to a Greco-Roman world where sexual immorality was rife, Paul repudiated sexual immorality including homosexuality (esp. Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 5–7; 1 Thess 4:1–8). As with Jesus, he considered any sexual expressions outside marriage sin.
The endorsement of the view of marriage found in the creation account indicates that Jesus and Paul sanctioned the notion that at the centre of human anthropology was marriage. Paul also gave further instructions on marriage in 1 Cor 7 and his household codes. It was important that the Christians lived out their gospel call in marriages and families that sought to please God.
3. A False Dualism
Considering marriage a secondary issue is born of a false understanding of the scope of Christian theology and concern for humanity. There is a tendency to believe that if something relates to Christian salvation, it is central. So, things like, the universality of sin, the atonement, the resurrection, Jesus’ true humanity and divinity, salvation in Christ, the life-giving work of the Spirit, the return of Christ, etc., are primary. Other things, like marriage and sexuality are secondary. This is a false dualism based on a narrow view of what God is doing in the world. He is restoring a whole world and came to restore humanity—including marriage.
Sexual immorality is important for the NT writers because it violates the central unity of human life, the marriage. We Christians are first human born of the coming together of male and female. We can’t isolate spirituality from our humanness. From sexual relationships between men and women, humans are born into the world and are image bearers. Murder is evil, because it cuts short life, a gift from God. Humans, like all creatures, must procreate. The species depends on it. Salvation depends on it, because one must live before one can have a relationship with God. It is spurious to drive a wedge between salvation issues and the foundation of life itself! Heterosexuality is basic to being human. Gay marriage cuts at the core of a Christian anthropology. It violates our ontological image bearing. It corrupts the ideal of the basis for human life; a man and woman coming together as one in community and love, having and raising children. The male and female elements are not secondary, they are crucial. The complementarity of male and female is central to God’s vision for healthy humans to fill his world and continue his work. Through this, the species goes on.
I suggest that those Christians who see it as a secondary issue are incorrect. They have not thought through the implications of the full extent of what God is doing on the planet. He has formed all humans in his image, male and female, and he has called us to come together and become one flesh. They are to fill his world with their kids, and so the human story goes on. Some are indeed called to singleness, and they are complete people. As Paul teaches, not everyone has to marry and he prefers singleness himself (1 Cor 7). However, in the broader biblical story, the basic unit of humanity is not the individual, but the marriage. In marriages, men and women come together, form one flesh, and have children. In this way, humanity goes on. Where Christian faith is concerned, these children are to be bought up in the Lord in a context of agape and the faith grows and carries on.
In terms of the wider question of gay marriage, in NZ at least, for now, bible-honoring Christians have lost the public debate. However, within the church we must not compromise the anthropological centre of the gospel to what wider society in its “wisdom” has chosen to do. Marriage is a foundational doctrine that lies at the very core of Christian theology and anthropology. If we compromise on this issue, it is heresy.