Editor’s note: The Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC), the publisher of The Layman and The Layman Online, does not support same-sex marriage. Instead, the PLC “believes with Scripture that God ordained the lifelong marriage of a man and a woman in the very order of creation and that Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, blessed and sanctified this relationship. The article here was posted as a news story about the Covenant Network’s 2013 conference on “Marriage Matters.”
CHICAGO, Ill. – When asked, “why should Christians support marriage equality?,” Amy Planting Pauw says, “Because it’s time.”
Speaking to the Covenant Network of Presbyterians “Marriage Matters” national event at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Ill., Pauw acknowledged that although she doesn’t teach about marriage in her role as professor of doctrinal theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, “Here I am because it’s time that I give public support to my LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] brothers and sisters who believe in marriage;” it’s time “I think theologically about” it and “it’s time that I acknowledge my queer colleagues in history and theology.” She also believes “it’s time that I help my church, the PCUSA, think about marriage in a way that aligns with our ordination standards.”
Pauw said that “marriage has always been a work in progress for Christians” and “happy marriages can take many forms, but there is no static blueprint for marriage dictated by gender.”
Dismissing both the arguments for natural marriage that appeal to the complementary reality of male/female creation and the unique ability of male/female couples to procreate, Pauw said that whereas “biological procreation was critical” to earlier cultures, they “are all ways of thinking about sexuality and marriage that are no longer considered normative today.”
Pauw, whose teaching includes Christology, ecclesiology, feminist and womanist ethics described Jesus as the character “at the center of the New Testament,” noted that He was unmarried and that “according to Jesus marriage belongs to this age, not the age to come.”
The house of straight is out of order
Pointing to the rate of divorce among heterosexuals, Pauw said, “We can’t pretend that all is in order in the house of straight.”
The marriage debate in church and culture, said Pauw, “is not a matter of the straight majority inviting LGBT people into a healthy well-functioning institution.” Rather, Pauw said, it is a matter of rethinking marriage entirely.
Pauw asked, “What does a healthy marriage look like? It’s time we all think this thing through.”
She noted that “when it comes to marriage equality the church has a big image problem.” She said the perception is that “the church is actively pursuing the denial of rights and benefits to others that it enjoys itself.”
That “sends a terrible message to those outside the church and even a worse message to LGBT people inside the church,” Pauw concluded.
Improvisation over time
Making the argument for same-sex marriage Pauw said that:
- Reformed Christians have not seen marriage as a sacrament
- It is not an anticipation of our eschatological union with God
- It is one of many examples of covenant relationships
- It is an earthly ordinance that aims at the creative flourishing of earthly life
That “creative flourishing,” Pauw contended allows for roles to be improvised over time, “not defined as one spouse ruling over the other but the peace of Christ ruling in both hearts.”
As a mother of three, Pauw affirmed that “fruitfulness in heterosexual marriage, understood as biological procreation — fill the earth and subdue it — is a wonderful thing.” Then she asked, “but is that the only way marriage can be fruitful?”
Naming a litany of her peers in the world of theological education who argue for the inherent procreative nature of marriage, Pauw disagreed with them all, declaring that “the capacity for biological procreation is not the defining attribute of marriage.” She says that is “too narrow and confining for all couples — placing a stigma on infertility and childlessness.” She then challenged, “Are marriages that fail to produce children not marriages?”
She said we need a “broader Christian understanding of fruitfulness” that she describes as “a vision of fruitfulness that all Christians can aim for regardless of marital status.”
Pauw believed that the “strange arithmetic of marriage: 1+1=2 holds true” for couples regardless of their genders as long as their “love for each other creates space for more love to flourish.”
“How silly to think that this multiplying is the purview of straight Christians,” Pauw declared.
Pauw conceded that “certainly woman/man companionship is central to human story” but saw it as a foundational principle not a boundary.
She said, that “Genesis describes an order in which a generative relationship between man and woman plays a central role … but not to the exclusion of other kinds of relationships.”
Pauw said that although “a good marriage can serve as an intensive curriculum in loving our neighbor” and is, therefore, “like other earthly ordinances, marriage can be a school of discipleship,” she made the point that marriage “is not essential to Christian life.”
Pauw acknowledged that while marriage may be “a pillar of the earthly city, it’s not where we’re headed.” She pointed out that it is not marriage that “ultimately defines us” but our “communion with God.”