Bill McFarland

July 11, 2004 (PM)

As you know, there are great debates going in right now with regard to the nature of marriage. Many of these questions that are being kicked around as if they were only political footballs have to do with an institution which has always been at the basis of civilization. It is astonishing at times how easily we will take something which has been at the base of all other relationships of our existence and treat it as if it were merely a matter of political preference.

You may be aware that on August 3rd in our state we will go to the polls, and one of the ballot questions will read like this: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that to be valid and recognized in this state a marriage shall exists only between a man and a woman?" In the early 1990s the state of Hawaii passed a definition of marriage which allowed for same sex marriage. In the time from then until now, there have been people who have suggested, "Well, this will go away. State courts will deal with it and it will not be a matter of national concern at all." But, as you know, just a few months ago, a state court in Massachusetts by a one-judge margin passed a decree which decided, without people having voted on it or without it being a matter that society decided together, that it would be wrong to not allow for same-sex marriages in that state. There is pressure to move from state to state to accomplish a definition of marriage which has not been accepted until now.

You may be also aware that besides the debate in our state, there is in progress a debate in the United States Senate. The question is whether there needs to be or should be enacted a federal marriage amendment which simply says that marriage is the civil union of a man and a woman. That is causing a great amount of argument among officials and it has entered now even into the presidential election for this fall. It is something that will continue no doubt to be debated. There will be a vote in the Senate, I understand, this Wednesday, and the report is there are not enough votes to pass by a two-thirds margin such an amendment as this for the consideration of the states. And so, there is the situation.

Do we as Christians remain silent and allow such to be the law of our land or what do we do? That question is something that has roots that are deeper than just marriage. There is a battle of spiritual principles that has always been going on in this world, and now it shows up in this way with regard to our most precious institution, which is marriage and the home.

What Has Jesus Said?

As Christians, we always with any kind of question would want to ask first "What does Jesus say?" We believe that Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. It has nothing to do with looking at any other human being or with evaluating anybody else. It is just that we believe there is nobody like Jesus. If he is the Son of God and if he has been given all power in heaven and on earth, if he rules his kingdom from the right hand of the throne of God, then our first question in evaluating anything is "What does the Lord say?".

There is a time in the Lord's public ministry when he is faced with questions about the nature of the relationship of marriage. Now it is true the question he was being asked is different from the one that is being debated in our society right now. But, at the same time, the way Jesus answered that question was to deal with basic principles about what the nature of the marriage relationship is.

I want to call your attention to three things we learn from what the Lord says in Matthew 19. Remember that at verse 3 the Pharisees raised the question about whether it is lawful for a person just to divorce his mate for just any and every reason. And in verse 4 and the first part of verse 5, the Lord answers, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, 'Therefore shall a man leave to his father and mother and hold fast t his wife.'" Notice carefully that the "therefore" of the beginning of verse 5 is based on the fact that marriage is rooted in the creation of God. The reason that a man can leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two of them can become one is that God created that possibility. Jesus is saying in this passage that the whole concept of marriage is possible because of God's design and of God's wisdom in creating man and woman. They quite obviously correspond to each other as far as physical anatomy is concerned. There is male and female. The Bible's teaching is that they are also created to correspond to each other emotionally and socially and spiritually, and that together because of God's creation, a man and a woman as husband and wife create a very special kind of unity - a building block of life.

A second principle that stands out in what the Lord said is that marriage involves a covenant between a man and a woman. Back to our passage again: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh, so they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (or as the KJ put it, let not man put asunder)." The idea that I am getting at in reading that statement is that here is a relationship which involves leaving all other relationships. Once we enter this one, there is not another one like it - no competition to this one. And then the two are to hold fast to each other. There is a nature of permanence there. And then these two become one. It is a joining together that God accomplishes. The reason I say that it involves a covenant is because God is involved. Biblical marriage is not merely a civil contract in which two people enter because the state grants them that right. Biblical marriage is that, but it is also a covenant in which God is involved. There are three partners in marriage as we read about it in the scriptures.

And then in the third place observe that marriage is to be guided by the commandment of the Lord. This passage goes ahead to say that they questioned Jesus further about what Moses allowed, and then the Lord said "it is because of your hardness of heart that Moses allowed this but from the beginning it was not so." And then observe carefully, "And I say unto you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery." Now the crucial thing I want you to observe is that "and I say unto you." Jesus assumed for himself there the authority to speak to this issue. And in so doing, he is claiming that the entire marriage relationship is subject to the Lord and his word. And that he has the right to define what loving behavior is in a family relationship; and that he has the power to hold us responsible or accountable for our behavior in this way. Remember that in Hebrews 13:4 the Hebrew writer said that marriage is to be held in honor among all, but that those who are sexually immoral or adulterers, God will judge. And that is what we are getting at here. Marriage is a relationship rooted in creation which is involves a holy covenant between two people and God and which is then guided by what the Lord has said.

The Foundation For Society

Now with that background consider just for a moment what this relationship means to a society, and what scripturally marriage has always meant for a society. Marriage is, first of all, the foundation of a society because it provides a structure within which some other extremely important things can occur. First, marriage provides a structure within which the emotional and physical health of adults can be provided. Remember that God looked over what he had made and then became concerned about what is good for us. The faith of a Christian is that what the Lord provides and what he said in his word is best for people overall, and that what God is trying to do is to provide for our wholeness, our health, our well-being, all of us in the long run. And so scripture is saying that marriage between a man and a woman provides what is good for us.

Secondly, marriage provides a relationship for the reproduction of the human race. It is an extremely important principle that Biblically the nature of marriage is such that it is what makes possible the being fruitful and replenishing the earth. We could call any other relationship marriage, and if it did not have this capability, it would not be what the Bible calls marriage. That is not looking down on anybody or calling anybody any names. It is just stating a fact. It takes a man and a woman for the reproduction of the human race. Therefore, marriage can't be something else besides that.

In the third place, marriage is the foundation of society because it provides a setting for the bringing up of children. Children need a mamma and a daddy. There is something contributed by each of those to a child's identity which is crucially important. Someone may argue that here is a situation where a child has been brought up by two individuals who are of the same sex, and that child did well. That may be the case. But remember that overall and long term, there is the question of what is involved in the right setting for the bringing up of a child. What does it take for that child to feel secure and to learn who he is and to be able to form lasting and stable relationships in a marriage of his own someday? The Bible's answer is a mamma and a daddy.

The Present Debate

Now with in our minds what Jesus says about this and with in our minds what it means to society, I need to do something that I don't like to do in trying to preach. I don't like to take a straw man and then show what is wrong with it. But the clearest way I know to try to illustrate the Christian viewpoint on some of the debates that are going on in our society is just to offer to you some of the things that are said by people who believe that this new kind of union should be the law of the land and that Christians shouldn't say anything against it. So what I have done as nearly as I can is just to bring statements that sum up the argument on the one side of this debate as accurately as I know to do.

The first one of these statements is: "This kind of relationship ought to be allowed because the traditional definition of marriage has been so corrupted that its meaning has become subjective, and if the definition of marriage is only subjectively our opinions and what we like, and if we are going to act like we are free to live together or to marry and divorce or however we want to do it, then to keep two people of the same sex from getting a license and getting married could only have as its basis our not liking them or our liking our opinion more than theirs." The bases of that argument is, to say it another way that I have heard it said, "You straight people have messed things up so badly that you have no business talking to anybody else about what marriage is." You have heard that. You know it is a part of the discussion.

I want to say something also that we all know. We sure have made a mess of marriage in a lot of ways. But, that does not resolve the question about what is right or wrong. How do you know that we have messed up marriage? Because there is a standard in scripture that speaks to what the Lord wanted marriage to be. Take any of the passages in the New Testament that deal with the problem or the moral nature of homosexual behavior. There are some passages that address that question. I Cor. 6:9-11 and Romans 1 are scriptures that address that question. Notice in all those places that particular behavior is surrounded by other things - things like stealing or lying or slandering. Now what if we were to take the argument here that is being made about gay marriage and applying that to any of those other behaviors? What if we were to say, "Well, you folks have been so greedy that you have no business saying that no one should be ruled by greed. You have told enough little white lies that you have no right to say that lying is immoral." You see what I am getting at? Simply because flaws and faults among people in their behavior can be identified does not justify the conclusion that we therefore ought to ignore all standards of scripture and history in this relationship.

A second statement that you will hear said sometimes is: "But two people who love each other ought to be allowed to get married." Did you know that is not even a wise statement when those two people are a man and a woman. I have seen some people who said they loved each other but who, if they got married, were headed for misery. I have seen some people who sat before my desk and I asked them "Why do you want to get married?" and they said "Because we love each other so much." And a few months later they were back in there saying, "We made an awful mistake." One of the reasons why we have such a high divorce rate in our society is that we have developed the thought that if you fall in love, you ought to get married. That is nonsense. You ought to think about it. You ought to decide whether you are in a situation where you have a chance of making marriage successful before you take a step like that. What if two people are already married and they are married to other people, but at work or somewhere they develop an attraction for each other and they love each other. Should they do a terribly unloving thing and break their promises to the mates they already have because they love each other? Now whatever else you can say about that kind of behavior, you have to admit that is not what the Lord wanted of us. And to argue this about the supposed marriage of two people of the same sex is again insufficient reasoning. To set aside all of the years of the history of human relationships because two people now say they love each other is to be so self-centered that it is unimaginable in some ways.

Thirdly, this kind of statement would be made (and I have adapted this to make it short enough, but only barely have I adapted it. I can almost show it to you in today's paper.): "Not allowing homosexual couples to get married is discriminating against persons just because of how they were created." This is made into a matter of civil rights, and that is all it is in some people's view and in some people's mind. And the idea is that it is not fair, it is not just for people to not be allowed to get married just because they both happen to be men or they both happen to be women. My response to that would be, first of all, that it has nothing to do with who those persons are. It has to do with what marriage is. Don't let this be turned into a question of discrimination or not. This is a question of what marriage is. And just as I can reason from scripture and just talk about what scripture says of the right or wrong of something without attacking some person, I can talk about marriage without attacking some person. When I talk about how a wife ought to be treated from scripture, I am often hi-lighting my own faults in not treating Kay better than I do. That doesn't mean that I have decided to attack myself. When we describe how a husband ought to treat his wife, we are not attacking husbands. We are talking about what the Bible says on that theme or that subject. In this matter it is not a point of personal discrimination at all.

A second point on this statement, I believe, is more important. We may have already lost the battle with this, just because we have allowed a situation to exist where we have to be so politically correct that we cannot challenge an assumption. The assumption that people are just born either homosexual or not has been allowed to get such a firm footing in our thinking that this question is not being discussed.

On Wednesday, May 9, 2001, I copied an article out of the local paper. This article had to do with something discovered in the research of Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University. Now here is something about Dr. Spitzer that you need to be aware of. Dr. Spitzer spearheaded the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders that it had up to that time. He is not an enemy of people who describe themselves as homosexuals. And yet this article says, "An explosive new study says some highly motivated gay people can turn straight." And then it describes the awful clashes that have occurred over this study between major mental health organizations and then gay rights activists, both of those challenging Dr. Spitzer in his report. But it reports that he says of his study that it shows some people can change from gay to straight and that we ought to acknowledge that. To act like it is not possible is dishonest. But if people were completely born either one of the other, this change would not be possible, and that is why the activists groups have to challenge it so forcefully. Here is what Dr. Spitzer did. He did 45 minute telephone interviews with 200 people - 143 of them men - who claimed that they had changed their sexual orientation from gay to heterosexual. The average age of the people he interviewed was 43. His study included 60 questions in this interview and a process that took people who had been living this new life an average of 14 years for the men and 12 for the women. Spitzer concluded that 66% of the men and 44% of the women had arrived at what he called "good heterosexual functioning." Eighty-nine percent of the men and 95% of the women said they were bothered only slightly or not at all by unwanted homosexual feelings. I challenge the idea that this is just how people are created and that saying that we should not move in the direction of this kind of union is discriminatory. I don't believe it is at all.

Here is another statement. "You should take a look over your shoulder to see who supports your position of hate." Now this one I do want to read from today's paper. Listen to this reasoning. "Who supports the idea that we should not legislate about this? Biblical scholars and theologians who teach at all the Ivy League schools. Union, Vanderbilt, and Chicago, along with all main line seminaries teach tolerance of the gay community and they have for more than a generation." We do, too. We teach tolerance of people as individuals. We taught this just a few weeks ago in a lesson on what the Bible says about homosexual behavior itself. "Who supports continued discrimination against homosexuals? Some right-wing politicians, conservative religious leaders, and schools associated with fundamentalist churches. It may be uncomfortable to mention, but it is nonetheless true that they share this prejudice with the neo Nazi party, the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacist groups, and various Christian militias, all of whom are fond of quoting scripture." You see the implication, don't you? "Unless you believe that this ought to be recognized by society and made legal in terms of licensing, etc. , then you are one with those hate groups. So, before assuming that I and most of the Biblical, theological, medical and psychology scholars in the world are wrong, you should take at least a moment to look over your shoulder and see who supports your position of prejudice. The God who stands behind prejudice is one everyone should abandon."

None of us believes in prejudice of individual people. But we have to be asking ourselves, "What does the Bible say about this?" Suppose that in the first century world that approach had been taken with which behaviors would be acceptable and which wouldn't in the kingdom of God. Would Paul have ever spoken to things like this? This was practiced in religious temples in those days. This was practiced by heathen religion as a religious right. And when Paul spoke to it, he was dealing with things that were sacred to some people. What if you took the approach that the majority of some scholars would be right? You know that gets folks into trouble and always has.

Another statement here: "Heterosexual marriage is not harmed one bit by permitting gay couples who love each other to get married." Again, that misses the point about what marriage is. But it raises the question of whether it is not true that one of the things that has been pursued by these activist organizations in recent years is to do away with what has traditionally been regarded as marriage. Marriage gets in the way, and it is so strange that the same groups who are often saying that traditional marriage is not necessary are insisting on licensed unions for themselves. What a paradox!

Then one other statement. "If you don't believe in same-sex marriage, then teach your convictions to your church, but don't enact legislation that will have a damaging effect on the same-sex couple down the street." That is another way of saying this: This has been the principle that has been pursued with things like abortion for a number of years in our society. "I don't believe in it but I don't want to do anything that would keep somebody else from doing it." Of course, I am left questioning then, "Well, how much does it really matter to you?" I am not saying that everybody present has to assume whatever I think about the remedy to something like this. The remedy certainly does involve more effective teaching from scripture. The church has to do its work and we have to love people while we are trying to help them. All of that is true. And yet if we have the ability to have an influence on what kind of society this will be, we ought not to let only other people express their convictions religiously in the public square about something so precious as the nature of marriage.

It is a wonderful thing that the Lord always has, does now, and always will love us anyhow. The wonderful truth of the gospel is that the Lord in his love has provided a way to take us and to save us from our flaws and weaknesses and to remake us in the image of his Son, and to finally glorify us with his Son. That is what the gospel offers to us. It may be that you are here tonight and you would like to become one of God's children. Maybe you want to confess your belief in Jesus and be baptized into him. If that is the case and we can help you tonight, please indicate so by stepping forward right now while we stand and sing together.