FRAMING MISSIONAL RESPONSE TO 21ST CENTURY CHALLENGES
By Bishop David Kendall
The Challenges of Same-Sex Marriage
Biblical, Theological, Historical Framework
We will respond to the proponents of same sex marriage and our friends who experience same sex attraction out of the larger historical and theological framework of the biblical story. According to our scriptural story, God created all that is and is committed to redeem the whole of creation. God calls a people through whom he chooses to work for the world’s well-being, in continuity with God’s original creation-design to entrust the world to the care, keeping, and developing of the human beings who bear God’s image. Through the people of Abraham, Israel, Judah, Messiah, and the Church (a renewed and expanded “Israel”) God offers grace and power to redeem the world and its peoples.
As part of the Church, therefore, we are on mission with Jesus to accomplish the plans of God for his world. That mission is revealed in the Scriptures, grounded in the historical ministry of Jesus, and will consummate in partnership with all Jesus’ followers who continue with his power and authority what he began until the end of the age.
Accordingly, we understand our identity and calling in continuity with the historic and kingdom agency of God’s people. The primary trajectories for mission trace to the fulfillment brought in Jesus. We understand our calling to be that of followers, of continuing with Jesus to bring his kingdom work to fullness of expression in our world today.
The fall and brokenness of creation provides the context for understanding the nature of reality and the remedy our Lord Jesus offers. We take seriously that nothing “natural” is as God intended, but is fallen and broken and in need of transforming grace. In Jesus’ person and ministry—his ministry of teaching and healing, his dying and rising, and his gift of the Holy Spirit—that transforming grace of God works in the world today. We depend upon the Word and Spirit of Jesus to guide us into the way of Jesus, and in companionship with Jesus we become part of Jesus’ healing and restoring work in the world.
As God’s people, we remember that we are first part of the problem before we may become part of the solution. If we are agents of resolution it is not because we are superior or more able or worthy than anyone else. Whatever part we play in bringing God’s restoring grace, we do so with awareness of our own brokenness and fallenness, for which Jesus remains our redeeming resource. We do not share good news except from the humble confession of our own need which Jesus alone is meeting. We point to Jesus and invite others to Jesus. In following Jesus the hope of the world and all peoples comes within reach. This is the good news.
We depend upon God’s word for the most accurate assessment of human need, God’s will, and God’s grace for meeting that need. We will respond to human need with grace and truth, not in balance, but in the proportion and relationship appropriate for the given situation.
In Response to Same Sex Marriage:
We begin not by naming what is “wrong,” but naming what is “right.” In the beginning, God created the human beings male and female. In both creation accounts (Gen. 1:1-2:3; 2:4-25), the unique and mutually responsible relationships between the male and female are emphasized and celebrated. Indeed, God called this created design “very good” in the first account of creation (1:31) and, in the second account, God brought the especially created female to the male to become one flesh in order to correct what was “not good” (see 2:18 and following).
That this very good, creative design of God is “normative” finds support in the unfolding story of God’s relationship with the People of God. Throughout the history of God’s people, as broken and fallen as it may be, the union of male and female is the plan of God for human life and families according to our Scriptures. Moreover, Jesus’ positive affirmations and teachings (e.g., Matt. 19:4-6), as well as the teachings of the earliest communities of Jesus’ followers (e.g., Eph. 5:31-33 in context), bear the same witness. Of particular note, this “very good” creation-design for male and female becoming one flesh becomes a primary image used by Israel’s prophets to describe God’s relationship with Israel (e.g., Hosea; Isa. 50:1,2; 54:4-8; Jer. 3; 31; Ezek. 16). The early church, in turn, embraced this imagery to describe the relationship between God and God’s people in Christ, the Church (Eph. 5:22-33). Throughout the story, how a transcendent God who is not like humanity or anything else created (see the many passages that stress the incomparable nature of God), may still be one with the people, one in love and communion, finds illustration in God’s creation-design of the male and female becoming one flesh (Eph. 5). Finally, this same imagery inspires the Revelation’s finale when, again, two become one, when God and humankind become one as celebrated at the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride (Rev. 19:1-9).
We begin by naming what is “right,” indeed “very good,” throughout the entire scriptural story; namely, that God intends marriage as the union of one male and one female in a bond that endures throughout their lives. To be sure, human sin has damaged and destroyed the good God intended in creation. Yet, in response to human sin God has committed through covenant to restore, redeem, renew, and thus to bring creation-design to its fullest expression. With respect to sexual being and behavior then, we begin with the very good creation of humanity in the divine image as male and female. In response to the damage and destruction sin brings, we seek the redemption and renewal of God’s plan for human sexuality.
We affirm that same-sex relationships are outside the creation design of God, and for that reason we cannot support them, including same-sex marriage, as an acceptable alternate plan for human relationships. When we affirm this, however, we must do so in the context of all the ways in which human beings have sought and embraced plans other than God’s plans. Given what God intended, all diversions from God’s intention are named as contrary to God’s plan, and if chosen, preferred and embraced then sinful in relation to that plan. Such sins would make a very long list. In responding to any one of them, we must not name one sin as the only one, or the worst one, when much in scripture indicates a full range of sexual sin that God names as wrong (sexual relationships outside of marriage, with family members, with children, and with animals).
The Church’s response to the challenges of same-sex relationships and marriage flows from the message of the gospel —that we are saved by grace through faith, that we will be judged finally on the basis of how we have responded to Jesus, not according to the particular forms of sin we have chosen compared with others.
The message of the gospel is that Jesus saves, that he does so in his own time, by the convicting work and transforming power of the Spirit, and most often in the community of others who are also being saved from their sins and the impact of sin upon their lives.
We will proclaim the good news in Jesus as the remedy God offers us, whatever particular sin grips us most firmly—all in the spirit of Jesus’ person and ministry. We can be “correct” but then corrupt or counter the impact of the truth by a spirit contrary to Jesus’ spirit.
We will trust the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin, to enliven hope of transforming possibilities, and then to lead people to God’s best for their lives.
We will be a people who offer ourselves as agents of Jesus’ grace and the Spirit’s work of grace within people. We must reach out and welcome people in the Spirit of Jesus, in faith, that Jesus knows how to deal with his children and to bring them to his best. Indeed, in reaching out we must follow Jesus to the margins and boundaries where people often find themselves alienated, not least at times through words and actions of those who profess to follow Jesus. As we reach out and welcome, we must not give up when we do not see the results and responses we hope to see on the time table we desire. Even when we do not “see” the transformation when or how we anticipated still we hope—and confidently wait— for the wholeness Jesus promised and will surely effect.
In the meantime, we will be people of such faith, hope and love individually and corporately with relentless passion. Therefore, we will evaluate ourselves against the welcome and grace of Jesus for others, and will not give up on others, even if we never see all the “results” we hoped to see.