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The contemporary debate about same sex marriage has created a wonderful opportunity for all Christians – whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or straight – to think about why we celebrate marriage. Only when we are clear about what it is that Christian couples do when they marry can we address the question of whether the church should continue to bless only heterosexual partnerships. Ultimately all decisions about the form(s) marriage should take hinge decisively on foundational judgments about the purpose(s) of marriage. For Christians, such normative claims about the purpose(s) of marriage are deeply embedded in our faith convictions about God’s designs for and work in the world. So at bottom our question is really quite clear: from a Christian theological perspective, what is marriage for?
I begin this inquiry by examining what Christians believe life in this world is really like. A review of the Christian outlook on human embodiment in general, and sexuality in particular, helps set the stage for understanding what is it that God is doing in the world. As God sanctifies what sin has rendered ambiguous, the faithful join in the work of transforming the world. The moral life from a Christian point of view amounts to sanctifying all our broken relationships by living in loving communion with each other and the earth with God’s gracious help. The model for these friendships is found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Just like Christ, everyone is called to live chastely. Spouses sanctify the sexual dimensions of their relationship by promising to be steadfast and sexually exclusive, and thereby to give their beloved the attention he or she deserves. Such fidelity serves their efforts to learn how to love one another, to serve life, and to embody God’s love for the world. When the church’s long-standing emphasis on the significance of procreativity to marriage is critically analyzed, it becomes clear that both the church and society should encourage all those so called – whether queer or straight – to wed.
Setting the Stage
It is important to place our inquiry into the purposes of marriage in the context of its roots among Christian convictions about life overall. Basically, Christians believe that God is drawing all creation away from sin and death and toward the fullness of life. That is what God is doing in the world. Jesus put it this way: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Christians believe that in Christ God inaugurated a “new creation,” wherein people are invited to enjoy a loving communion with God, with each other, and indeed, with all that is. The faithful are called to embody God’s sanctifying activity in the world by working here and now to transform their relationships with other people and the earth. The realities of sin and grace make the human existential experience of embodiment and sexuality ambiguous. Thus, the Christian tradition is ambivalent about the body in general and sexual desire in particular.
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