A week or so ago I shared a link on Facebook to the Coalition for Marriage Petition. Its aim is to preserve the ‘traditional’ marriage unit of one man and one woman. It’s a cause I support, and many of my Facebook friends oppose. I wanted to write this article is to outline in more detail my reasons for doing so.
Firstly, I don’t like the term ‘traditional’. ‘Traditional’ marriage means polygamy to someone living in Saudi Arabia. Nor is tradition always right; it should be subject to scrutiny. Secondly, there are lots of arguments in support of marriage that I won’t go into here, for example, the benefit it affords children and its role in procreation. I broadly agree with these views, but they have already had considerable airtime.
My primary reason for wanting to preserve marriage stems from my Christian convictions. I became a Christian when I was 23, after much investigation. I didn’t do it lightly. Sexual ethics were a sticking point. I myself had had sexual relationships. And yet I concluded Jesus must be who he says he is – God incarnate and Saviour – and therefore his teaching on sex and marriage was authoritative (though I didn’t like it much at the time.)
Jesus’ identity is of critical significance. If he is God and Saviour of the world, what he says matters profoundly to all of society. If that is not true, then what Jesus says is irrelevant. Perhaps not irrelevant. But no more relevant than your and my opinions, and the opinions of psychologists, campaigners and politicians.
Here is Jesus on the subject of marriage:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’, and said ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
Marriage is exclusive
He asserts the complementarity of both genders: ‘male and female’, ‘mother and father’, ‘man’, ‘wife’. Sex today is considered an appetite or a function, but Jesus highlights the profound bond it creates: “no longer two, but one flesh.” This bond is for life: “what God has joined together, man must not separate.” If Jesus’ blueprint for marriage sounds exclusive, that’s because it is exclusive. It excludes all pre-marital and extra-marital sex, co-habitation, bigamy, polygamy, as well as homosexual relationships. It demands absolute chastity without and absolute faithfulness within.
Tough call? Absolutely.
Jesus himself says marriage is a calling not everyone can accept. (Mt 19:11) God is also referred to throughout. “The Creator made them male and female”; “what God has joined together, man must not separate.” So it is not just a calling, but a sacrament; a gift from God.
In the UK, our concept of marriage stems from our Judeo-Christian heritage. Some atheists decide not to marry on the grounds that it is in origin, a religious institution. Now you don’t have to believe to get married: both marriage (religious and non) and civil partnerships come with exactly the same rights and responsibilities. They are equal in the eyes of the law (which I think is fair and right) but for reformers, this is not enough.
A new definition?
People recognise that “I’m married” has a different ring to “I’m in a civil partnership.” (“I didn’t ask her to ‘civil union’ me” reads a placard from oneUSdemonstration.) Why not re-define it so no-one feels left out? Because then it would not be marriage according to how Jesus defined it.
Is Jesus a killjoy and out of date on sexual ethics?
In all this we need to consider the person who spoke these words as well as what he said. Although his teaching underpins much of our society and culture, Jesus wasn’t a holier-than-thou moralist. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. No-one is beyond reach of his transformation and forgiveness. And I know from experience, he is trustworthy.
Lizzie Schofield used to work with Jon Kuhrt at the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint about a hundred years ago. She is married to Rob and is currently looking after their three daughters aged 7, 6 and 4.