Is gay marriage an acceptable Christian development?
Is gay marriage a primary issue?
We seek answers to both these questions through
Listening to Jesus
One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. `Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ` “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Matthew 22:35-40 NRSV
These two Great Commandments must be borne in mind as we begin. All the Law and Prophets derive from them. They are the Primary words of our Primary authority.
Loving God means that we are devoted to him to all that he is, and does and says. Loving God is often contrasted with loving the world. We love God more than we love popularity. We love God, the God and Father of Jesus, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even if this means derision and ostracism from people who do not share this love. We love everything that God has said, firstly in His Son, His Word made flesh, and also in all the other communications which have been agreed to come authentically from him. We love the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit communicates to us in his own distinct and complex ways, not as an afterthought, but as part of the foundation of our lives as God’s people.
It is clear from much debate, not least as summarised with great erudition and sympathy in Some Issues in Human Sexuality, that the weight of Scripture, especially from the 6 texts, points to the unacceptability for gay marriage for Christians. It could be that our love for God means that we hold to this truth even and especially when it goes against the culture in which we live, and against our own preferences for accommodation.
At the same time, as already mentioned, we must not place ‘love of what God has said in the past’ over love for God himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are people among us who are saying that the Holy Spirit is leading us into a truth which we have not been able to bear before now. Our love for God means that we must make every effort to weigh this claim. If this is indeed God leading us into a new aspect of ‘all truth’ we will grieve him severely if we do not listen very carefully to what he might be saying to us. We must be very clear that this he is not in this development. Otherwise we may be ignoring him, far from loving Him.
Our love of our neighbour, similarly, does not give us a clear answer to our first question. Godly love for the neighbour, as expressed in the commendation of the true friend in Proverbs, is a love that sometimes speaks the hard truth. We would like others gently but clearly to point out to us a dangerous path on which we are set. We must therefore do the same for others. It could be that gay people will, in the end, suffer because of the restrictions and oppression they place on themselves through entering a gay marriage. If this is true, it is not, ultimately, loving to give a different message.
Godly love for neighbour can also be argued to support gay marriage, removing an unjust and unequal distinction between neighbours. Some of us are predominantly attracted to the opposite sex. Some of us are predominately attracted to the same sex. Loving our neighbour as ourself entails all of us helping each other to enjoy the benefits that we enjoy, including helping gay people to enjoy all the benefits of marriage. This is a very simple argument which has been used in support of gay marriage and which has been criticised by some Christians as ‘unbiblical.’ By placing Jesus’ Great Commands in the proper, primary, place, we see that this is, rather, a very Biblical, simple, argument.
The Great Commands do not give an answer to our first question but they do give a first pointer to our second question. Gay marriage is an issue in which we can conceivably love God and love our neighbour in different ways. It is hard to see, therefore, that gay marriage can be a primary issue. People on both sides of the debate can authentically obey the Great Commands. There are no grounds here for rejecting either position, and, therefore, we may find ourselves, at least for now, honouring both.
The blank space indicates simply that Jesus said nothing directly about the acceptability of gay marriage. It has been demonstrated that in first century Palestine, especially with its strong Graeco-Roman influence, the phenomenon of loving same-sex attraction, with a desire to emulate heterosexual marriage, was known, as well as the more frequently cited knowledge of cultic homosexual rites or pederasty. It also difficult to believe that, if homosexual attractions (of varying strengths) are as widespread as commonly now accepted, there would not have been people around Jesus who wanted a loving, settled, same-sex relationship. Jesus could easily have said something clear about such desires and relationships but he did not. This could be that he believed that there was enough in Leviticus already and he needed say no more. It could also be that he deemed this one of the things which those around him could not bear, and which the Holy Spirit would reveal later.
The blank space also reminds of the lack of sexual activity of any kind by Jesus. He lived a full human life, indeed he was the epitome of human life in all its fullness, and yet was not sexually active. This is a challenge to our culture, which idolises sexual relationships and activity (not least because of their commercial power) and an example to all of us.
The blank space does indicate, like the Great Commands, that gay marriage is not an issue on which the Church has to be built, is not fundamental to the nature of the Church, is not obviously a primary issue. If the fullest human life has no sexual activity, sexuality is not intrinsic to the recipe to good human living and cannot therefore be deemed primary in Christian doctrine and living.
`Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
Matthew 23:23, 24 NRSV
Jesus’ stress on justice, mercy and faith (or ‘justice and the love of God’ in the parallel verse, Luke 11:42) as weightier matters is similar to the emphasis on loving our neighbour as ourselves. As with the Second Command, good arguments in favour of gay marriage have been made on the grounds of justice and mercy. It is unjust and unkind to insist that gay people lead lives of isolation, rather than of intimate partnership, that they remain prey to all the sexual temptations of short term liaisons without the ‘remedy’ of a stable, exclusive life-long sexual partnership. These arguments have been deemed ‘unbiblical’ because the Bible does not specifically argue for gay marriage in these terms, rather arguing against them. Arguments from justice and mercy, however, are strong Jesus arguments and therefore must be given considerable weight – towards the acceptability of gay marriage.
We recognise that there are verses in our Scriptures which weight matters in the other direction, but if the practice of justice and mercy are indeed weightier, the overall balance comes down on the side of gay marriage. A gay marriage as a vehicle for and developer of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control seems to be very much in line with Jesus’ words.
Here we also see a clear teaching that we must consider the question of primary and secondary, weightier and other, matters. This is not an artificial or contrived distinction, but one which Jesus makes and commends. Arguments for gay marriage on the basis of justice and mercy can also be seen, on these verses alone, as making this a primary issue, an integral part of paying attention to the weightier matters of justice and mercy in our day.
`Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
Matthew 7:1-5 NRSV
Many in our society, especially the young, see conservative Christian teaching on homosexuality as coming to a negative conclusion about practising gay people, i.e. judging them. From what Jesus said, we do indeed need to be very careful about making assessments of the virtues or the behaviour of others. We may not understand same sex attraction, nor the deep need of gay people to express this attraction in a faithful committed sexual relationship. Even so, it is more in tune with Jesus that we allow them to make the decisions which seem best to them, with their Christian conscience. If they are not following the leading of the Holy Spirit, their judgement will come from Jesus eventually, and must not come from his followers. A stricter attitude will not only appear to be judging but could well be judging, for which we, in turn will have to answer at the Final Judgement. This, also, weights the balance towards the acceptability of gay marriage.
If we are not to judge, we must be wary of coming to any conclusions which exclude others, which separate ourselves from others. Deeming something a primary issue is not itself judging those who hold another view on that issue, but it can easily lead to such judging. This caution means that we should not deem gay marriage a primary issue unless it is very clear that it is such an issue.
How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure.
I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
Matthew 12:34-37 NRSV
Here Jesus points to the primacy of what is in our hearts. What we do with our bodies is not as important as what we hold in our hearts. What we do with our bodies, including specifically the speech we make, should be an expression of the good that we hold in our hearts. It is possible that the speech we make with our bodies can appear to be good, while our heart has ‘an evil treasure.’ In another place Jesus likens the Pharisees to tombs which appear clean and upright but on the inside are full of rottenness.
The primacy of what we hold in our hearts over what we do with our bodies gives weight towards the acceptability of gay marriage. Gay marriage can be argued to be a development of Jesus’ principle of the primacy of the heart, stressing love, faithfulness, self-control, over the particular gender of the person to whom these qualities are expressed. Gay marriage is indeed a development beyond what is strictly written, applying the principle to sexuality as well as to speech, but this could be a development guided by the Holy Spirit, taking the words of Jesus and leading the Church into a truth for which we have not, before now, been ready.
As with Jesus’ teaching on judging, these verses provide a warning not quickly to deem gay marriage a primary issue. What is in our hearts when we deem this matter a primary issue? Is it love of God and neighbour, or love of cultural acceptability and fear of neighbour? We do well to heed Jesus’ warning and refrain from deeming gay marriage a primary issue.
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, `Listen and understand:
it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’
Then the disciples approached and said to him, `Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ He answered, `Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’
But Peter said to him, `Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, `Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’
Matthew 15:10-20 NRSV
Here too Jesus states the general principle of the primacy of the heart, this time in the context of teaching about food. If it is generally true that it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles, then what is done by the genitals would appear not to defile. Yet Jesus goes on specifically to include evil intentions towards adultery and fornication as part of what defiles. We do not have a clear definition from Jesus of what exactly constitutes fornication. If fornication is seen as primarily the urge towards self-gratifying, casual, uncommitted sexual relationships, it can be argued that gay marriage is a development away from this urge in gay people towards an other-affirming, faithful, committed sexual relationship. If fornication is seen to include the urge towards same sex sexual expression of any kind, the opposite is the case and gay marriage is a development outside of the foundation set by Jesus.
Again, uncertainty of how Jesus’ words apply to gay marriage leads us to deem this not a primary issue.
Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, `Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’
He answered, `Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’
Matthew 19:3-6 NRSV
Marriage is the expression of the physical complementarity of men and women as God made us and intended us to be. This fleshly oneness is said by Jesus to be the fundamental definition of marriage. Jesus points to Genesis 2 as the source of this definition, thus upholding this ‘old’ definition, and, possibly by implication, all the ‘old’ teaching on marriage, except where he specifically goes beyond it. Jesus could have used other terms. He could have talked about the more general union of a man and a woman, or stressed the union in heart and mind more than the union of bodies. But the phrase ‘one flesh’ is clearly physical. Marriage depends on two people being able to become one flesh as only a man and a woman can. This weights the balance of argument against the acceptability of gay marriage.
Rowan Williams has written ‘the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about mutual complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.’ Most people, on the other hand, understand the phrase ‘one flesh’ to highlight the physical bringing together of male-female differentiation. Williams seems to be arguing against Jesus. Jeffery John has written: ‘It seems significant that Paul, and Jesus himself, while referring to the creation story, never mention procreation of physical sexual difference in their teaching about marriage, but rather the spiritual meaning of two people becoming “one flesh.” ‘ Bizarrely, John gives the word ‘flesh’ a spiritual meaning, when its common meaning is very physical. Jesus could have said that man and woman become ‘one spirit’ but he, clearly and specifically, said something very different.
Marriage, according to Jesus, is meant from the Creation, to be a physical union of a man and a woman. Part of this union is the attraction to form the union, also, therefore part of the creation which God deems ‘good.’ An attraction to form a different, same-sex, union is not wholly ‘good’ in the same way. Jesus also stressed the singularity – one man and one woman while they are both alive. This was against the practice and assumption of polygamy described as acceptable in the Scriptures. Jesus showed that he was able to define marriage in his own terms, drawing on the Scriptures he chose. He chose not to define marriage in terms that could easily include gay marriage. Gay marriage seems very much out of tune with these words of Jesus.
From these verses it can also be argued that gay marriage is against the fundamental nature of marriage as taught by Jesus and is, therefore, a primary issue in Christian ethics.
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
Matthew 22:30 NRSV
Jesus taught that marriage is for this present age, not for the age to come, the age of the resurrection. There are people, including Jesus himself, who live so in tune with the age to come that they do not marry. Hence celibacy is a Christian virtue. Although some people have argued that gay people are among those called to celibacy, it is hard to see how this can be argued from what Jesus said. Rather Jesus is saying that the impetus to enjoy sexual expression and companionship can be put into the shade by the impetus to enjoy the everlasting love of God now, as we will enjoy it forever after the resurrection. Such sexual expression and companionship can be both heterosexual and homosexual. These words of Jesus give no weight to either answer to our first question.
For the second question, again, these words indicate again that gay marriage is not primary. If all marriage is for this age only, and whether we are married or not has no bearing in itself on the next age, other matters which do affect our life in the next age are more important.
For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’
Matthew 19:12 NRSV
These words about some people being eunuchs have also been taken to include those attracted to the same sex, but as with the previous verses quoted, this reads something into the text. Eunuchs are people who are not able to engage in sexual intercourse, and do not include those who are able to engage in sexual intercourse with the opposite sex, but find themselves attracted instead to people of the same sex. These words indicate no answers to the two questions.
His disciples asked him, `Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, `Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’
John 9:2-5 NRSV
In this account, and others, we see that Jesus has the capacity to change people into what God always intended them to be, including changing characteristics at birth. Jesus demonstrates that ‘God’s works’ do not include creating people who are blind. Religious people often assume that the way we are at birth is the way that God has made us to be. Not always so, says Jesus. God’s works are the creation of human beings with all the faculties and abilities which God in Genesis describes as ‘good.’ If someone is born blind, this means that God’s works have not been fully done. Jesus demonstrates this by healing the blind man, dramatically mixing the dust of the earth with his own body fluid in an echo of the original creation. Jesus thereby demonstrates, reveals, that we should not see disability from birth as part of God’s works.
The Church followed Jesus by giving special care and attention to those born with disabilities, in contrast to the prevailing culture which saw these people as cursed by God. The Church has not, generally, continued to expect people born blind to be healed by Jesus. Although it is clear that Jesus has the ability, it seems that, mostly, this healing was limited to his earthly ministry. Jesus pointed to this in saying that his being the light of the world, giving sight to those born blind, was for the short time when he was in the world. Similar healing, though, did come through the ministry of the apostles. Peter, with John, brought healing in the name of Jesus to a man born lame (Acts 3). The Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, can and does work through his Church to bring healing, re-creation, to those born with less-than-ideal bodies. We recognise also that this is rare, and the possibility of healing for those born blind or lame is not the first element in the church’s attitude to them.
There has been debate as to whether same sex attraction can be akin to a disability such as being born blind or lame. Some gay people strongly refuse such a correlation. Many, however, describe their sense of their sexual attraction as something given, something they were born with, and something more or less unwanted, especially at first. It can be argued that the unwantedness of same sex attraction is due entirely to the cultural stigma against such attraction, but this places the responsibility entirely on ‘nurture’ rather than ‘nature’ whereas the influence of both nurture and nature is generally accepted. So although there is an element of nurture in the sense of the unwantedness of same sex attraction, there is very likely also an element of nature. People sense that they are born with an attraction which is not entirely natural, or normal, in a way similar to someone born blind or lame. Life can still be enjoyable and fulfilling, but, in Christian terms, life without sight or with same sex attraction is not the ‘good’ life of creation before the fall.
Jeffrey John writes that a same-sex couple is ‘closely, if not exactly, analogous to a childless marriage.’ Some people are born without the God-intended physical ability to procreate. The Church recognises that this is less than ideal and, following Jesus, that this is not one of the works of God. The Church maintains the possibility of a ‘re-creative miracle’, a work of God such as done for the blind man in John 9. The Church also recognises that such a miracle is very unlikely and the focus of ministry is to help the couple live an enjoyable and fulfilling life in their unchanged childlessness.
Jeffery John argues that gay marriage is at least as acceptable as a childless marriage. The Church should therefore help gay people to lead the full life of committed, exclusive, life-long partnership. It can also be argued that, unlike with a childless couple, gay marriage works against the possibility of a re-creative ‘work of God.’ If such a work is done for a childless couple, their marriage is enhanced. If such a work is done for a gay couple their marriage is undone. On this argument, the Church should not tie people into life-long relationships which not only give no room for the re-creative works of God, but mitigate against them. A less permanent partnership than marriage may be more appropriate for gay people.
As for whether gay marriage is a primary issue, these verses, and the implications of them, give no weight.
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.
Matthew 10:14,15 NRSV
The relevance of the story of Sodom for gay marriage, and all gay sexual practice, has been much debated Some argue that the story in Genesis reflects a warning against same-sex sexual practice, alongside a warning against disobeying the laws and customs of hospitality. Others argue that the emphasis is on the severe lack of hospitality, and that this story cannot properly be used as part of any condemnation of same-sex sexual practice. Jesus also emphasises Sodom and Gomorrah’s lack of hospitality. It cannot be argued that Jesus thereby disallows any inference about same-sex sexuality – this would be going beyond what he said. But the primary sin of Sodom was indeed a complete disregard of hospitality.
Jesus here gives instructions to his disciples about how they relate to people who are not disciples. There are no implications of ‘shaking off the dust of your feet as you ‘leave’ fellow Christians on the grounds of division over an issue deemed primary. Rather, there is here a reminder to leave judgements to God.
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, `Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, `I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Matthew 8:1-3 NRSV
`You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (gehenna – in footnote).
Matthew 5:27-29 NRSV
It is often argued by those in favour of gay marriage that in Jesus we see a determined movement in the direction of greater openness to and inclusion of others who had previously been excluded. Jesus’ stretching out his hand and touching someone who was ritually unclean and probably physically infectious demonstrates his wide embrace. Jesus’ touch was not in accord with the law of Moses about such people. It is good and right for Jesus’ followers to continue in the direction of openness and inclusion and to include people in gay marriages. Steve Chalke has recently argued strongly along these lines.
It can also be argued that in Jesus we see a determined movement in the direction of greater holiness of life, especially in areas of sexual morality. Not only does Jesus institute a much stricter understanding of divorce, he widens the definition of adultery to include looking lustfully. It is good and right for Jesus’ followers to continue in the direction of sexual holiness, the direction set not only by Jesus but by Leviticus and Paul, which cannot include any same-sex sexual expression.
Yet it could also be argued that here is another example of the emphasis on what is in the heart over what is done by the body. The important thing is that we recognise and control the driving impetus of our heart. Jesus is, in effect, saying ‘If you say that your eye causes you to sin, if you think the problem is with your eye, over which you have no control, then tear it out. Better not to say that your eye causes you to sin, better to acknowledge that your heart is causing you to sin and to seek the cleansing and renewal of your heart.’ If gay marriage helps homosexuals not to look at anyone with lust, it could be a development in tune with Jesus.
The strong implication that lust and sexual immorality lead to people going to hell (gehenna) could be taken as an indication that these are primary matters. Yet Jesus also says that calling a brother ‘you fool’ makes someone liable to the same gehenna. (Mth. 5:22) Jesus is breaking down a normal human distinction between sins which are ‘really bad’ and ‘not that bad’ by deeming things mostly regarded as ‘not that bad’ as ‘really bad’ – ie punishable by being thrown into gehenna. Hence the assertion by Paul and Christians generally that we are all sinners, without distinction. This is an argument against deeming gay marriage a primary issue and cohabitation and divorce, for instance, not primary issues.
All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. `I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,
that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 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 17:10-23 NRSV
These words of Jesus underline what was written earlier about loving God first. As followers of Jesus we are not of this world. We must not expect necessarily to accommodate with the culture we live in. Faithfulness to God, holiness according to God’s word, can and does sometimes lead to hatred by others. This does not in itself give weight one way or another to the acceptability of gay marriage, but does remind us of the need to be guided by Jesus, his Spirit and the Scriptures and not by our culture.
As followers of Jesus our unity is of primary importance. Following this, Paul urges to ‘make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ (Ephs. 4:3) Deeming an issue about which we disagree a primary issue is a divisive step, preparing the way for schism rather than doing all we can to build and maintain unity. Before we deem something a primary issue we must be certain that there is no better category. With gay marriage we do not have this certainty. Our care for unity means that we deem gay marriage not a primary issue.
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.
John 15:26 NRSV
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:13,14 NRSV
Listening to Jesus gives no clear indication of the acceptability of gay marriage as a Christian development. Other people may find other sayings of Jesus relevant to gay marriage, but, everyone agrees that there is nothing in what Jesus said which is decisive.
(Keith Sharpe has argued that Jesus’ relationship with the beloved disciple was a gay sexual relationship and that the Centurion with the servant healed by Jesus were a gay couple. Sharpe’s arguments are based on much speculation, repeated until, in his view, it becomes likelihood. Sharpe also has no use for Occam’s Razor, preferring more complex, unlikely, explanations to the simpler. The beloved disciple is more likely to have stressed his own lack of status in the Church by preferring to be known as one loved by Jesus, rather than appointed by Jesus to any apostolic role or ministry. The Centurion’s affection for his servant is more likely to have been a familial affection common between domestic servants and their masters.)
Writing about the Arminian / Calvinist controversy Charles Simeon wrote ‘If it is extremes you want, I am your man. But remember that it is not one extreme we are to go to but both. Then, in the estimate of the world and of moderate Christians, we shall be fitted for Bedlam together.’ With regard to gay marriage it is hard to see how we can hold to all that Jesus said, to both extremes. But the exercise of listening to Jesus clarifies the issues and our thinking and attunes us, we hope, to listening to the Holy Spirit to whom Jesus points as the one who will lead us into all truth.
Listening to Jesus does, overall, indicate that gay marriage is not a primary issue. It is clear that not only did Jesus say nothing direct about gay marriage, but that what he did say that bears upon gay marriage does not point us definitely in any one direction. If there is flexibility of understanding and interpretation from Jesus, there should also be flexibility of understanding and interpretation in the Church.