Why marriage matters

by Charlie Bell

This article was written in response to an article by Andrew Bunt in Premier Christianity magazine which opposed equal marriage. Premier accepted Charlie Bell’s offer to write a reply, but when they received it they said they were unable to publish it owing to ‘website issues’. It has since been published on Charlie’s blog ‘For whom the Bell tolls‘ and elsewhere.

I’m a gay guy who loves what the Bible teaches about sex and marriage.

So began an article on Premier a couple of weeks ago. And whilst the author and I come from rather different theological stables, I’m also proud to say exactly the same. I’m gay, I love what the Bible teaches about sex and marriage – and I profoundly disagree that biblical teaching is anti-gay.

Of course, that’s probably where Mr Bunt and I diverge. The thing is, the idea that there is one single ‘biblical view’ about anything at all, let alone sex and marriage, is fundamentally disingenuous and is ultimately an attempt to limit the overflowing and generous nature of God. That’s not the same as saying ‘anything goes’ – a cheap, and ultimately fallacious, jibe at ‘liberal’ theologies that seek to bring all into the flock of Christ. As a student of theology, I seek to take the Bible extremely seriously indeed – but to do so does not mean that I ask it to do what it cannot and will not do.

I agree entirely that we should ‘properly understand and apply the Bible’s teaching’ – the problem is that seeing the Bible as an instruction manual or an encyclopaedia is quite simply unbiblical and denies the power of the Holy Spirit’s working through history and in the present day. The Word of God is Jesus Christ – revealed in the Bible and present throughout all ages. Witness to the Lord Jesus is found in the pages of scripture, but He is not constrained by it – the idea that changes in contemporary society and developments in science can tell us nothing of God is quite simply absurd. Dare I say, there are a number of instances in human history where God was making Godself known well outside the bounds of a ‘Bible-believing church’, and it is quite wrong to ignore the Christian bedrock on which our society – and so many of the insights it offers – is based. The Lord is alive, as we proclaim – alleluia!

In his article, Mr Bunt offers a beautiful and inspiring vision of marriage as an imperfect picture of the love of Christ and our desire for him. What strikes me as very odd is the idea that such a vision should be denied to people of the same sex, who can model the self-sacrificial, deep lasting unions that he describes. His initial conclusion, that ‘this makes sense of the Bible’s restriction of both [sex and marriage] to unions of one man and one woman’ comes rather out of the blue – it’s just not clear why the sex of the two individuals in such a union matters. It is somewhat odd to suggest that only a man can model Christ in such a relationship – yet there appears to be no other conclusion to draw that might lead to the ‘restriction’ he outlines. This is not a glorious vision of marriage – it is a restricted and rather impoverished one.

Indeed, given his description of sexual desire as ‘a picture of the longing that Christ has for us and that he wants us to have for him’, it is deeply strange that same-sex attraction, as many refer to it, might be described as wrong and disordered. If same-sex attraction is, in fact, a picture of our relationship with the Lord that points us beyond ourselves, then there appears to be no reason that God would then restrict the, albeit imperfect, fulfilment of this desire in one group of people and permit it in others. That sounds awfully like humans telling God that He made a dreadful mistake.

Proponents of equal marriage are not, as the article suggests, rubbishing singleness or suggesting that lives cannot be fulfilled without sex and marriage. Indeed, in opposing same-sex couples the church has on occasion deified the heterosexual nuclear family, a major error which rather ignores the biblical teaching of St Paul. What proponents are arguing is that to restrict marriage arbitrarily restricts the love and grace of God. Many, both straight and gay, may not be called to marriage, and the church needs to do a lot more to recognise their sincere, freely chosen commitment to celibacy and the gifts they bring. Others may wish for but never find someone with whom to enter a union, and their sadness and erasure by the church must also be recognised and held. The key insight that proponents of opening marriage to those of the same sex bring is that the sex and sexuality of the couple is not the key thing – the anchor and guiding light is Christ. Celibacy freely chosen is beautiful; celibacy humanly imposed is sinful.

Proponents of equal marriage don’t demand that everyone get married – they simply want to enable those who wish to, to do so. The Bible reveals the living God; we would do well to let Him live and seek Him where He may be found.