- 5 years ago
- Wedding: July 2013 - UK
Got this email from a US based preacher the other day. Thought it might be of interest because he makes some excellent points… (NB, this is very, very long, so if you aren’t interested in this bit, and want to get to the real point of the post, please skip to the bit after the dashed lines)
“Biblical marriage was a very different thing from modern marriage. Prior to the Law of Moses, religion didn’t regulate marriage at all. Forms of marriage were solely determined by a society. It existed in four basic forms, all of which still exist somewhere today, those being monogamy, polygamy, polyandry and same-sex.
Restrictions in the Law of Moses primarily had to do with issues of adultery. The only prohibition on type of marriage was that polygamy was forbidden to the priests. It was not forbidden to anyone else, and was quite common. Basically, a man could have as many spouses as he could support. This usually meant a poor man had one spouse, whereas a wealthy man or king would have several, as well as concubines.
Scriptures that speak about marriage and speak of a man and wife are not addressing the subject of type of marriage. Rather, they are dealing with the concepts of divorce and adultery. Those same “rules” apply to polygamous, polyandrous and same-sex marriages. But rather than state the rule again for each possible kind of marriage, the verses simply address the most common form at the time, which for most people was one man and one woman. (Most common in the middle east. Not necessarily the most common elsewhere. In some parts of the Amazon, the majority of marriages are polyandrous… one woman with multiple husbands.) Sometimes we simply need to understand that the mention of only one type of anything does not automatically exclude others. For example, Mark 16:16 – the KJV words this as “He that believeth and is baptized…” The actual Greek says “The one who believes and is baptized…” but the word for “the one” is masculine. But neither that masculine word nor the translation “he that believeth” would be construed to exclude women. But there was no need to include the statement a second time with feminine pronouns; it was understood that the statement applied to all people. The phrase “good will toward men” is worded in Greek to mean males. But that doesn’t mean good will wasn’t also extended to women. Similarly, reference to one form of marriage doesn’t negate the validity of other forms.
David and Jonathan were the first same-sex couple recorded in scripture. David was a man after God’s own heart. And when David sinned, the prophets weren’t shy about confronting him. But David’s marriage to Jonathan raised only the eyebrows of Saul, and that was only because David threatened the royal succession. There was no complaint from Samuel or Nathan or any other prophet. On the other hand, when David arranged for Uriah to be killed so that he could marry Uriah’s wife, a prophet confronted him with his sin quite forcefully.
Daniel and Ashpenaz are the only other same-sex couple in scripture, to the best of my knowledge. Although their marriage is only mentioned in passing, and not recorded in the same detail as that of David and Jonathan, it does tell us something extremely important about the relationship between these two men: God put them into it. God’s laws forbid fornication, so there is no way he would put a man He called “greatly beloved” into an unlawful sexual relationship. But the choice of words used in Dan. 1:9 does indicate the relationship included love expressed sexually. So if God put Daniel and Ashpenaz into a loving sexual relationship, it had to be a marriage.
There was no such thing as a marriage ceremony as we know it in biblical times. The Roman Catholic Church created the marriage ceremony and made it a sacrament long after the Bible was finished. This gave them some control over marriages. Previously, any two unrelated, consenting adults could form a covenant and be considered married. They needed only to promise each other that they would live their lives together in faithfulness and love. No license, no ceremony, no permission from clergy. Among the Jews, there was and is the custom of the K’tubah, a written contract the couple would sign at their marriage feast outlining what they had already promised each other. Although their marriage was considered valid and binding from the moment they made their verbal covenant, they did not live together or engage in intimate behavior until after the k’tubah was signed. But the k’tubah was a Jewish custom, not a law.
There is no place in scripture where a culture is forbidden to define marriage for itself. Even the New Testament only makes the same restrictions the Old Testament did: Polygamy was forbidden to clergy. It never extends that prohibition to anyone else, and polygamous marriages would have been common among wealthy persons in the first century, including wealthy Christians. The church gradually steered the people toward monogamy over the following centuries, but it was a not law or rule until much later.
Since cultures are free to define marriage as they see fit, Christians in those cultures are only obligated to keep their marriages within the confines dictated by scripture. So if a culture allows same-sex marriage, Christians may participate… but particularly for clergy, only one spouse. (While we have no scriptural authority to ban polygamy or polyandry to everyone, it just seems that for most people in western society, one spouse is more than enough, and the church would be justified in encouraging one spouse marriages. But in a culture where polygamy or polyandry are the norm, such encouragement might not be appropriate.)
There is historical evidence that same-sex marriage existed, and was fully accepted, in most of the world at one time. Europe itself has a history of same-sex marriages, sanctioned by both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. During the Moorish occupation of portions of Europe, certain notions from Islam were introduced to European society. One of these was the idea that Sodom was destroyed because of homosexuality. That teaching, foreign to scripture and to ancient Bible commentaries, took hold in Europe, and the sentiment we now know as homophobia took root. Slowly, western Europe stopped performing same-sex weddings. As the sentiment spread eastward, the Orthodox churches began to follow suit, although in some areas, like Albania, such marriages took place as late as the 19th century. According to one Russian Orthodox priest, there are actually places that never stopped performing same-sex weddings. (He would not identify those places, knowing that if he did, the Orthodox authorities would put a stop to it.) Today, despite the evidence, both the Catholic and Orthodox churches officially deny that such weddings ever took place.
By the time the Reformation took place, same-sex marriages had vanished from most of Europe, and the church had begun to persecute homosexuals. The pejorative term “faggots” applied to homosexual men derived from a time in European history when homosexual men were burned at the stake with witches: some believed that unless homosexuals were also burned, the fire would not be hot enough to kill a witch. Thus the term faggots, which means a bundle of sticks for kindling a fire, came to be used to refer to homosexual men.
It was during the Reformation that vernacular translations of the Bible were made. These were all sponsored by churches. The translators fully understood that if their work blatantly contradicted the teachings of the sponsoring church, it would be rejected. Thus the KJV was altered to reflect Anglican teaching, the Douay to reflect Catholic teaching, the German Bible to reflect Lutheran teaching, etc. Since by now all the churches of western Europe and part of eastern Europe were homophobic, they had no qualms about altering scripture to support their prejudice. And as Europeans set out to colonize the rest of the world, they brought their homophobia with them. In most parts of the world, their homophobia was accepted and adopted, even in places that did not at first accept Christianity (such as Japan). But a few places rejected it, including Polynesian societies. Even today, guidebooks to Tahiti warn that anti-homosexual attitudes have no place there. As for North American, where same-sex marriage had existed for thousands of years, much of the original culture of the native societies was destroyed. For the tribes that survived, it became necessary to adhere to the white man’s definitions of things. That included marriage. Only now are some of the tribes returning to their ancestral roots and restoring same-sex marriage.
But a marriage ceremony, biblically, is not required. Neither is a license. Biblically, only a covenant is needed. But both the marriage ceremony and the license serve important purposes in our society. Without a license, a couple is not eligible for the more than 1000 rights that automatically come with marriage. (Even with a license, same-sex couples still don’t have most of those rights due to DOMA.) The ceremony, whether religious or civil, is a means of having a marriage recognized by family and friends, by one’s community. There is no legitimate reason to deny such things to same-sex couples.
So… multiple forms of marriage are valid under Biblical Christianity, but that doesn’t mean that we would accept them in modern society… for example, we don’t accept the marriage of minors, or polygamy, in most countries.
BUT… we usually think if marriage, in Western society, as being defined Biblically. If this is not the case, and it is defined historically and socially, we need to consider how to define marriage. For example, for those to whom marriage is religious, how do we reconcile this with the fact that our definition of religious marriage is so greatly influenced by social norms?
Point 2: in the UK we have civil partnerships, and marriages. Both confer the same legal benefits, including pension rights, adoption and childcare rights, tax breaks, and inheritance and next of kin rights. Recently, there was a change in the law… same sex couples could now be married, and opposite sex couples could now have civil partnerships.
There were quite a few opposite sex couples who were interviewed who said that they wanted to have a civil partnership in order to escape the historical and religious baggage which came with the term “marriage”. Would anyone here be one of those? If so, would you care to elaborate on your argument? Why should marriage be simply a legal matter, in your opinion?
Interested to hear people’s views…