What God Has Joined Together by David G. Myers, PhD and Letha Dawson Scanzoni by David G. Myers, PhD and Letha Dawson Scanzoni - Read Online

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What God Has Joined Together?

A Christian Case for Gay Marriage

DAVID G. MYERS AND LETHA DAWSON SCANZONI

Contents

In Appreciation

Acknowledgments

Credits: Bible Versions

A Personal Letter to Our Readers

1    THE GREAT DIVIDE

2    THE LONGING FOR BELONGING

3    THE STATE OF OUR UNIONS

4    A NEWER WORLD

5    UNDERSTANDING SEXUAL ORIENTATION

6    CHANGING SEXUAL ORIENTATION

7    WHAT THE BIBLE DOES AND DOESN’T SAY

8    WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER?

9    GAY MARRIAGE

Epilogue

Appendix A    WHY MARRIAGE MATTERS

Appendix B    ATTITUDES ARE CHANGING

Appendix C    DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Notes

Index

About the Authors

Also by

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

In Appreciation

IF IT IS TRUE THAT whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, then we are wiser for all the wisdom and advice received from our colleagues and friends. Although none of those to whom we are indebted bears any responsibility for what we have written, and most have differing views at one point or another, we are grateful for their guidance, correction, and encouragement. To Linda Bieze, Ralph Blair, Elizabeth S. Bowman, James Brownson, Kathryn Brownson, Philip M. Coons, Anne Eggebroten, Nancy Hardesty, Steven Hoogerwerf, Norman Kansfield, Rebecca Kiser, Heather Looy, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Carol Myers, Laura Myers, Kathryn Pigg, Martin Pigg, Alena Amato Ruggerio, David Scanzoni, Stephen Scanzoni, Suzannah Tilton, Barbara Timmer, David Van Heest, Allen Verhey, Clifford Williams, and Linda Williams, thank you.

Special thanks are due Kathryn Brownson for her wisdom, research, and assistance in manuscript preparation; to our agent, Susan Arellano, for connecting us to HarperSanFrancisco and being our occasional sounding board; to our discerning, patient, and supportive editor, Eric Brandt; and to Elaine Merrill and Carl Walesa for helping transform our work into a published book.

In Appreciation

IF IT IS TRUE THAT whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, then we are wiser for all the wisdom and advice received from our colleagues and friends. Although none of those to whom we are indebted bears any responsibility for what we have written, and most have differing views at one point or another, we are grateful for their guidance, correction, and encouragement. To Linda Bieze, Ralph Blair, Elizabeth S. Bowman, James Brownson, Kathryn Brownson, Philip M. Coons, Anne Eggebroten, Nancy Hardesty, Steven Hoogerwerf, Norman Kansfield, Rebecca Kiser, Heather Looy, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Carol Myers, Laura Myers, Kathryn Pigg, Martin Pigg, Alena Amato Ruggerio, David Scanzoni, Stephen Scanzoni, Suzannah Tilton, Barbara Timmer, David Van Heest, Allen Verhey, Clifford Williams, and Linda Williams, thank you.

Special thanks are due Kathryn Brownson for her wisdom, research, and assistance in manuscript preparation; to our agent, Susan Arellano, for connecting us to HarperSanFrancisco and being our occasional sounding board; to our discerning, patient, and supportive editor, Eric Brandt; and to Elaine Merrill and Carl Walesa for helping transform our work into a published book.

Credits

Bible Versions

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Scripture quotations identified as CEV are from the Contemporary English Version, © American Bible Society, 1995, 1999.

Scripture quotations identified as NIV are from the New International Version, © 1973 by the New York Bible Society International. Published by Zondervan.

Scripture quotations identified as TEV are from Today’s English Version (sometimes called the Good News Bible), © American Bible Society, 1966, 1971, 1976.

Scripture quotations identified as NLT are from the New Living Translation, © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL 60189. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations identified as TNIV are from Today’s New International Version, © 2001 by the International Bible Society. Published by Zondervan.

Scripture quotations identified as KJV are from the authorized King James Version of the Holy Bible, 1611.

Scripture quotations identified as NJB are from the New Jerusalem Bible, which was copyrighted 1985 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

A Personal Letter to Our Readers

THIS IS A BOOK about marriage. We believe in marriage. We want to see it strengthened. Knowing that strong, healthy, loving relationships are beneficial to the individuals involved and to any children they might have, we want to see couples flourish. We also believe that society, by supporting marriage, benefits as well.

In other words, we take marriage seriously. We affirm the solemn words of the traditional wedding ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer (1892), which asserts that marriage is holy and honorable and should not be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.

The ceremony tells us that marriage is a holy estate into which these two persons present come now to be joined. From this time forward, they will be united in life’s closest relationship. When they are asked, Who is your nearest relative? they will no longer give the name of mother, father, sister, or brother, but the name of this person, their spouse. They are now kin. They have made a commitment to love, support, comfort, encourage, and respect each other, helping each other to learn and grow and be all that they can be—separately and together. They will be there for each other in happy times, in hard times, and in the in-between ordinary everyday moments. They will have a partner in making decisions and sharing in the many pressures and responsibilities of modern life as well as in simply enjoying each other’s companionship. In short, they are no longer alone. Ideally, this is what it means to be joined together by God in marriage.

And yet some who have yearned for such public commitment have been denied it. Over history, some couples have been barred from marriage for reasons of social class, race, or ethnicity. The burning question in our day is whether persons of the same sex should be prevented from sealing their love commitment in socially recognized marriage.

Many people have strong reservations about opening marriage to gays and lesbians. The reasons vary and may be rooted in politics, religion, ideas about gender, misinformation about sexual orientation, fear of societal change, or prejudice and bigotry. There may be other reasons as well. Voices have been raised to suggest that permitting persons of the same sex to marry will destroy the institution. We think not. We believe that opening marriage for gay and lesbian people could actually strengthen the institution for all people. In this book we will show why we believe that.

We not only take marriage seriously, we also take our Christian faith seriously. Among other things, this means that we approach this topic in a spirit of humility, knowing that we see through a glass darkly and that none of us has all the answers on this or any other subject. And we speak in a spirit of love, even toward those who vehemently disagree with us. We believe that since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11), and we believe that this means respecting one another, even when we differ in how we interpret Scripture and understand God’s working in the world.

The discussion we propose is not about winning arguments, nor is it about some abstract concept. It is about human beings, our brothers and sisters who are loved by God, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. We bring to the discussion the conclusions we have reached, asking only that our readers be open to listening and to considering what we ourselves have been learning—and continue to learn.

And so we send out this book as an attempt to promote understanding and dialogue in the spirit of Jesus, who not only spoke of the oneness of two persons joined in marriage, but also prayed for oneness in the family of God: I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:23).

One

The Great Divide

How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony!

—Psalm 133:1, TEV

A LONG-AGO SERMON recalled a time when the village church was burning. At the front of the bucket brigade was the town’s atheist. Why come now? Because the only time anything exciting happens here is when the church is on fire.¹

Today’s church is on fire, and the spectacle is agonizingly exciting. From across the battle lines, advocates and opponents of gay marriage and of gay ordination are throwing flames. Headlines express the passions: 180 Arrested in Protest over Church’s Gay Policies; Fury As Church Appoints Gay Canon as New Dean of St. Albans; Church Gay Rift Widens; Conservative Methodists Propose Schism over Gay Rights; Presbyterian Battle over Homosexuality Still Unresolved.

The Reformed Church in America’s general secretary, Wesley Granberg-Michaelsen, speaks for many denominational leaders when he says, No issue today has as much potential to spawn divisiveness, mistrust, gossip, suspicion, and conflict in the church as this one. No issue has more capacity to confuse our focus, drain our energy, injure our fellowship, and divert our mission than this one. No current issue can so easily demoralize our meetings, paralyze our process, fuel our anxiety, and cripple our confidence as this one.²

Battles over ordaining gay and lesbian elders, deacons, ministers, priests, and bishops are but one front of this culture war. Advocates for marriage renewal and advocates for same-sex unions clash with passions that rival those surrounding the tax-policy war, the job-outsourcing war, and even the war war. In 2004, eleven American states passed amendments banning gay marriage. With more such amendments in the draft stage, and with voices shouting both for and against a federal anti-gay-marriage amendment, the passions are not subsiding.

Barring a miracle, the family as it has been known for more than five millennia will crumble, presaging the fall of Western civilization itself, observes an alarmed James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. For more than 40 years, the homosexual activist movement has sought to implement a master plan that has had as its centerpiece the utter destruction of the family.³ The approval of same-sex marriage by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is not just about homosexual rights, concurs Charles Colson, Prison Fellowship founder. It is even more importantly about the death of marriage and family as we have known it for thousands of years.⁴ Colson calls the battle over the definition of marriage the Armageddon of the culture war.⁵ Same-sex unions degrade marriage, claimed Pope John Paul II.⁶ Legal recognition of homosexual unions [would] obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity, contends a pope-approved statement by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.⁷

No one is waging war on marriage, responds New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. It’s just the opposite. This is all about people who are longing to embrace it.⁸ Gay-marriage advocates also point to a justice issue. We have been together for 43 years, notes a gay letter writer to the New York Times. Britney Spears was married for 55 hours and had more legal rights than we ever had.

The fire that now is ripping through Catholicism and mainline Protestant denominations likely will spread as attitudes change. In but a thin slice of recent history, younger Americans’ attitudes have done an about-face. In 1978, 53 percent of entering collegians agreed that it is important to have laws prohibiting homosexual relationships; but among their 2004 counterparts, only 30 percent agreed with that statement.¹⁰ Most Americans over age sixty-five oppose same-sex marriage, but most under thirty support it (see appendix B, Attitudes Are Changing), and from them will come tomorrow’s church leaders. Sooner than you might expect, even conservative faith communities such as Southern Baptists may find themselves aflame. Generational succession is destiny.

Could it be that today’s Holland, Belgium, and Canada—each of which now allows same-sex marriages—give us a glimpse of tomorrow’s America? Are Vermont’s civil unions and Massachusetts’s legal same-sex marriages just the first beachhead of a social transformation that will sweep the nation as did the civil rights and women’s rights movements in earlier decades?

James Dobson fears it. He writes that gay activist goals that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago have largely been achieved or are now within reach…. We in North America and Europe are not simply ‘slouching towards Gomorrah,’ as Judge Robert Bork warned in his best-selling book; we are hurtling toward it.¹¹ On the other side of the divide, New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan finds himself so surprised by such conservative resistance. Allowing homosexual persons such as himself to marry is the most pro-family measure imaginable—keeping families together, building new ones…[which] is why some elements of the old left once opposed such a measure.¹²

Bridging the Divide

Across the polarized church and nation, the debate rages. On one side are those who vigorously support marriage and marriage renewal. On the other are those who vigorously support everyone’s right, regardless of sexual orientation, to seal love with commitment and to fully participate in the life of church and society.

We propose a third way, one that affirms, with evidence and conviction, both views. First, we aim to show why pro-marriage voices are right. Massive evidence reveals that children, adults, and communities thrive where marriage abounds. Liberals need to appreciate that conservatives such as Dobson have good reason for worrying that the implications for children in a world of decaying families are profound.¹³ Without insensitivity to the four in ten American adults who are unmarried, we need to step back and ask how we might create a more marriage-supporting social ecology—and, with it, happier and healthier people and flourishing neighborhoods.

Second, we aim to show why we marriage supporters can at the same time comfortably join many other heterosexual Christians in supporting the aspirations of gay and lesbian persons—and why we can do so not despite, but because of, our eagerness to renew marriage. We will, therefore, articulate the human need to belong. We will identify the benefits of secure, covenantal commitments. And we will offer a case for how gay marriage could help elevate the institution of marriage. (Actually, this book doesn’t advocate a special type of marriage—gay marriage; it advocates strengthening marriage, and extending it as an option for another 3 percent or so of the population.) By so doing we hope to offer a bridge across the divide.* Family values and a biblically rooted faith can, we believe, happily coexist with supporting gay and lesbian persons’ full participation in the culture and the church.

Along the way, we will offer a synopsis of what scientists have learned about sexual orientation (ours, yours, and everyone’s). Is sexual orientation a chosen lifestyle? Aided by willpower, faith, or therapy, is it changeable? In attempting to answer such questions, we will aim to identify the emerging common ground shared by informed traditionalists and progressives. And we will highlight lingering issues that merit further research and dialogue.

This is not another book about homosexuals written by heterosexuals. (Gay and lesbian people don’t need us to tell their stories.) Rather, in this book written by and for heterosexuals, we offer faith-informed and behavioral-science-informed reflections on sexual orientation, the human need to belong, and Christian sexual ethics. We will, for example, consider whether proposed state and federal amendments banning gay marriages would likely serve to strengthen or weaken support for heterosexual marriage.

We also will ask why passions about these issues run so strong. What’s the big deal? we often hear. Why, for example, do the American Family Association and the Family Research Council argue so vigorously that supporting heterosexual marriage requires keeping homosexuals unmarried? Why do organizations that claim to be devoted to family issues disproportionately single out homosexuality for attention? Our February 2005 searches of the Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and American Family Association Web sites revealed that each offers many more pages mentioning the word homosexuality or homosexual than mentioning divorce. By contrast, the more marriage-focused National Marriage