Whatever one feels about organized religion or Christianity writ large, Jesus remains a highly favored cultural icon of compassion, charity, and love. Even most atheists and avowed non-Christians will acknowledge that Jesus is someone worth admiring and imitating.
Because of his enduring attraction, Jesus is continually summoned to support causes, regardless of how rooted those causes are in the words and deeds of Jesus himself. So there’s “Take Back America for God” Jesus; pro-universal healthcare Jesus; free market Jesus. With the ascendancy of same-sex marriage, a recent and popular incarnation is the pro-same-sex marriage Jesus. Proponents of same-sex marriage have wisely attached their cause to the Son of God.
Some, like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, are working from within progressive evangelical circles to change Christians’ views towards same-sex marriage. Even the far-left Human Rights Campaign, no ally of evangelicals, has launched an initiative aimed at making inroads within the Christian community, where support for same-sex marriage is still low.
Jesus is a useful endorser for activists who need opinion from all sectors of society to shift in their favor in order to secure a lasting cultural consensus—one where marriage is no longer based on the complementarity of the sexes oriented towards children, but instead on the emotional intensity of consenting adults.
To undo the norms of marriage as the union of a man and woman, marriage revisionists need Jesus on their side. They must recast the narrative of biblical Christianity, one that begins with a solitary man and woman comprehensively uniting to each other (Gen. 2:24) and culminates with Christ preparing a wedding feast for his Bride, the Church (Rev. 19-7-9). The attempt to redefine Christianity, particularly its sexual ethics, are well under way with Dan Savage’s NALT Project, as in, Not All Christians are Like That.
I don’t mean to impugn the motives of those Christians who desire to wield Jesus in the cause célèbre of same-sex marriage. Individuals like Rob Bell are right to protest against dogmatic rigidity if such rigidity is wielded ungracefully and deemed unworkable in our conversations with our gay or lesbian neighbors. “Homosexuality” isn’t just an issue; it’s a subset of people who’ve felt alienated from the embrace of a church or from fellow Christians who’ve lacked the proper sensitivity when discussing this highly personal issue.
The problem, however, is that the presentation given by the likes of Bell and other Christians looking for a way to bend the Christian narrative toward same-sex marriage, is its revisionist arc. It’s a telling of the Christian story that chafes against “traditional” teachings but also against repentance.
Revisionists detest, decry, and dispute the so-called “clobber passages” of Scripture that speak of homosexual acts as categorically sinful and immoral behavior. It’s these passages, found in the Old Testament and New Testament that make revisionists prioritize the words of gentle Jesus over the words of pugilist Paul. Using any means possible to justify their position, revisionists advance exegetically implausible interpretations.
Perhaps the most common argument issues from silence: Jesus never mentions homosexuality or same-sex marriage; therefore, he must be for it. But this argument from silence presents another set of troubling conclusions. Namely, that whatever Jesus didn’t specifically address, he must endorse.
If we accept this contorted logic, Jesus must also support human trafficking because he never spoke out against it. Failing to withstand even a modicum of scrutiny, we know such an argument is absurd and even harmful, but that doesn’t stop individuals wishing to re-cast Jesus into a same-sex marriage activist from suspending logic and proceeding with bad arguments.
The irony is that Jesus’ silence on gay marriage is against a backdrop that assumes and celebrates the picture of marriage as a major storyline of Scripture—a storyline that leads to Christ.
Marriage doesn’t just make an appearance in Scripture and Christian theology. Marriage is central to making sense of the gospel. The Scriptures speak of marriage as an embodied mystery that somehow manifests the gospel of Christ (Eph. 5:31-32). Neither is marriage’s purpose unimportant to our ability in forming bonds that cultivate civil society. Marriage is its own good, and that’s why one of Jesus’ only statements on marriage speaks to its universal nature.
Consider one such passage in Matthew 19. In verses 4-6, Jesus determines the content, duration, and purpose of marriage. In this episode, Jesus responds to a question about divorce by asking “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.”
In this one passage, Jesus affirms the norms of marriage. By stating that it is man and woman who enter a marriage, Jesus affirms the content and complementarity of the sexes in marriage.
By insisting only one man and one woman enter a marriage, not one man and two women, Jesus affirms the exclusivity of marriage where two marital partners are to be sexually bound and exclusive to one another.
When Jesus insists that marriage is for life, he affirms the duration of marriage, which is permanent.
Finally, by echoing the “one flesh” union of Genesis 2, Jesus is putting the purpose of marriage on full display: That men and women would unite comprehensively together in marriage through a physical, spiritual, and emotional bond that is oriented to and fulfilled by the creation and rearing of children.
Complementarity; exclusivity; permanency; orientation towards children—these are the norms of marriage that see a man and woman come together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. Each norm comes from Jesus himself and confirms the timeless principle that if marriage is to be based on principle, it must conform to the demands of sound logic. If you remove the complementarity of the sexes in marriage, the entire structure that gives marriage its shape collapses with it. If marriage is no longer based on the complementarity of the sexes, what principle limits marriage to two? Why not three? These are questions that marriage revisionists refuse to answer.
If Christians are to support same-sex marriage, they should do so by way of intellectual honesty and acknowledge their abandonment of biblical authority, for there is no reasonable way to deduce from Scripture an exegetical case for same-sex marriage.
Jesus never spoke about the political controversies that ail and plague modern America. What Jesus does do, however, is invoke a view of the Kingdom of God that is at once both inclusive, but also holy.
But the radical inclusiveness that makes Jesus so attractive to prodigals like you and me is the same Jesus who calls for radical holiness—so much so that he suggests plucking out your eyes and cutting off your hand if sexual sin constantly besets you (Matt. 5:27-30). It isn’t that Jesus came to loosen the moral standards set down by Mosaic Law. He elevated them, but also provided in Himself the redeeming power of grace to fulfill them.
A plain reading of Scripture accompanied by two thousand years of church history affirm the teaching of Scripture that upholds the view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, but the Scriptures also speak plainly of another truth: that no sin is wider than Christ’s mercy if one will only repent and believe.
Andrew Walker serves the ERLC as Director of Policy Studies.