On the church, marriage, and sexuality

In light of the recent CA Supreme Court decision to overturn the state
ban on gay marriage, I thought it’d be worthwhile to post this
interview response by Stanley Hauerwas, the liberal ethicist and law
professor from Duke, on the issue of gay marriage in the church. 

Talking about the unity
of the church, how might that apply to the current debates concerning
homosexuality in the United Methodist Church, in the Presbyterian
USA church, and the Reconciling Congregations movement within the
United Methodist Church?

The problem with debates about homosexuality is they have been
devoid of any linguistic discipline that might give you some indication
what is at stake. Methodism, for example, is more concerned with
being inclusive than being the church. We do not have the slightest
idea what we mean by being inclusive other than some vague idea
that inclusivity has something to do with being accepting and loving.
Inclusivity is, of course, a necessary strategy for survival in
what is religiously a buyers’ market. Even worse, the inclusive
church is captured by romantic notions of marriage. Combine inclusivity
and romanticism and you have no reason to deny marriage between
gay people.

When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies,
ministers think it’s interesting to ask if they love one another.
What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage
isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is giving
you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look
back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline
over many years.

The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach
this issue, no longer know what marriage is. For centuries, Christians
married people who didn’t know one another until the marriage ceremony,
and we knew they were going to have sex that night. They didn’t
know one another. Where does all this love stuff come from? They
could have sex because they were married.

Now, when marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until
something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual
marriages. If marriage is a calling that makes promises of lifelong
monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed, then we’ve got
a problem. But we can’t even get to a discussion there, because
Christians no longer practice Christian marriage.

What has made it particularly hard is that the divorce culture
has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters–and many
of you know, I’m divorced and remarried. It has made it impossible
for us to talk about these matters with an honesty and candor that
is required if you are not to indulge in self-deceptive, sentimental

For gay Christians who I know and love, I wish we as Christians
could come up with some way to help them, like we need to help one
another, to avoid the sexual wilderness in which we live. That’s
a worthy task. I probably sound like a conservative on these matters,
not because I’ve got some deep animosity toward gay people, but
because I don’t know how to go forward given the current marriage
practices of our culture.

(from http://www.dukemagazine.duke.edu/dukemag/issues/050602/depfor.html)

2 thoughts on “On the church, marriage, and sexuality”

  1. I don’t think two strangers getting married and having sex on the wedding night is particularly Christian either. The Chinese had done that for ages and was there a less Christian race?Is there even such a thing as “Christian marriage”? I would say no, not in the sense that the marriage of Christians is of a different sort than that of unbelievers. The Bible itself makes clear that marriage was instituted for Adam and Eve and by extension for all humanity. Yes, there are peculiar Christian beliefs regarding marriage, one of which I just mentioned. Another is that the institution has its apotheosis in the wedding of the Lamb and the Church. But again, this is an ideal that the marriage of believers and the marriage of unbelievers have both fallen short of.Thus it makes no sense to speak of a “Christian marriage”, unless one merely means the way Christians tend to practice marriage. And if one does that, there’s no need to get nostalgic about how things were done in the past. Whatever Christians do is “Christian marriage”, and if it’s not very good, it’s not because it doesn’t measure up to the past; it’s because it doesn’t measure up to Marriage. In fact, I think the past left a lot to be desired, and progress is possible. There’s no question that the Bible teaches that marriage is an institution designed for comfort, companionship, and rearing children. Tossing two people together on the wedding night isn’t always the best way to accomplish this. Affection and even long acquaintance may increase the odds of a successful marriage, if success is defined by these goals.The advocates of gay marriage would argue that these goals are served as well by a gay union as a straight one. To me, this is a good reason that a gay union could be understood as marriage. This at least honors the part of the Bible that I understand. I frankly do not understand exactly why St Paul equated homosexuality with depravity (except perhaps in the context of the Gay Pride Parade, which I dread). And I’m certain that Paul did not understand the biological element in homosexuality. Indeed, I am trying to be reasonable, but in a way that deals earnestly with Scripture, which incidentally advises:Don’t say, “Why were the old days were better?” — that is not wise.

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