The article below is published in today's edition of the Church of England Newspaper:
In The Church of England Newspaper on March 4, the Rev Benny Hazlehurst, the Secretary of ‘Accepting Evangelicals’, set out his proposals for a ‘theology of gay marriage’. In the pages of the Church Times this would have been unremarkable, and letters of support would equally come as no surprise. This, however, was in ‘Britain’s leading evangelical newspaper’, and the many letters agreeing with him came, no doubt, from people who would describe themselves as evangelical.
That such a thing would have been unthinkable amongst the generation that gave us the 1967 Keele Congress, or the even bigger NEAC at Nottingham in 1977 is a measure of how far we have come in a few decades.
We must therefore ask, does this growing acceptance of same-sex relationships amongst evangelicals mark a stepping away from our earlier unconscious Pharisaism, as Hazlehurst suggests, or is it a declension from evangelical truth, as our forebears would doubtless have thought?
As we reflect on Hazlehurst’s article, one thing which particularly stands out is that the understanding of marriage he puts forward has no need for gender as such.
This alone surely raises difficult questions! Hazlehurst refers early on to the slogan that “God made Adam and Eve — not Adam and Steve”, and many of us would agree this is a bit too slick. Yet a few paragraphs later he has reached the conclusion that God might as well have done just that.
“Is it not possible,” he asks rhetorically, “that the yearning to find the one who ‘completes’ us is the same for everyone — gay straight, bi, or transgendered?” And he continues: “Is it not possible that God’s response to that yearning is also the same for everyone irrespective of their sexuality — the opportunity of marriage for all, with the person who ‘completes’ them, no matter what sex they are?”
Hazlehurst’s argument is thus that the need marriage addresses — the thing that prompted God to say, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) — is the need for someone to be, as we might say, our ‘other half’. And it is that arrangement which meets this felt need which ought to be defined as ‘marriage’.
It is an appealing argument, but the ‘genderless’ notion of marriage that emerges from this proposal is utterly unlike anything found in Scripture, or indeed in virtually any human society until the present time.
Hazlehurst claims that marriage is not fundamentally about procreation. Sexual attraction is fundamental to the desire, but sexual function is irrelevant to the definition.
Yet just what Hazlehurst rejects is actually intrinsic to the traditional Christian understanding of marriage, regardless of age or ability. “First,” says the BCP marriage service to everyone, “It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name”, even though, as the rubric notes later, “the Woman is past child-bearing”.
Admittedly that is not Scripture, but it is surely the BCP keeping the scriptures of Genesis 1:28 and 2:18 together, not dividing them as Hazlehurst does.
The biggest problem with Hazlehurst’s thesis, however, is not the ‘variable geometry’ of marriage that will result, but the fact that it is simply not theological enough.
Hazlehurst writes that, “In the account of Adam and Eve we find our paradigm for marriage.” Yet that is not true, as the Apostle Paul makes abundantly clear in Ephesians 5.
In verse 28, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 — a verse central to Hazlehurst’s argument. Yet he refers it not to Adam and Eve, as might be expected, but to Christ and the Church. And this is why he can say to husbands in v 25, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.”
He emphatically does not say, “Christ loves the Church as you husbands love your wives”, which he would have done if this were simply an analogy between a loving marriage and God’s love for his people. The application is ‘top down’, not ‘bottom up’.
Thus it is ‘Christ and the Church’ which is the paradigm for Adam and Eve, and for all married couples to follow. And the fact that the love between Adam and Eve was imperfect is no more a barrier to the Apostle than the fact that the husbands he addresses are imperfect. It is the paradigm, not its outworking, which counts.
Just how significant this is in Paul’s thinking, however, is indicated at the end of chapter 1: “And God placed all things under [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way,” (Ephesians 1:22-23, NIV).
To understand this, we must look again at Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth ...” (NIV, emphasis added).
In the LXX of the Old Testament, the verb for “filling” is the same as applies to Christ in the New — Christ is the one who truly ‘fills the earth and subdues it’. But he does not do it ‘alone’. Rather, as Eve was presented to Adam, so Christ presents the Church to himself (Eph 5:27) so that, as ‘one body’ with the Church, he may fill and rule over all things.
Theologically, then, Genesis 1:28 (sexuality for procreation) and 2:24 (sexuality for companionship) are held together, just as they point forward to Ephesians 1:23 and 5:27. It is no wonder Paul calls this a “mystery” (Eph 5:32), but it indicates that our understanding of sexuality in bodily union needs to be held together with our understanding of mutuality in marriage.
Thus human sexuality, according to Scripture, is not simply procreative, but neither is it simply relational. Rather, behind it lies God’s plans both for creation and redemption.
What, then of Adam and Steve? The modern world has coined the notion of ‘sexual orientation’ to explain the attraction between people of the same gender. In truth, however, we ought to speak of sexual dis-orientation, for such an attraction can never achieve a fully ‘sexual’ relationship.
In theological terms, however, the endorsement of ‘gay marriage’ would require us to say that ‘Christ and the Church’ can just as equally be modelled by two ‘Christs’ or two ‘Churches’, or indeed some other combination, since Benny Hazlehurst also refers to the bisexual and transgendered.
At that point we would certainly have left behind the traditional understanding of marriage. But I would contend that we would also have left behind the biblical understanding of Christian theology. And that we must certainly not do.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted.