As I write, the rights of gay and lesbian people to marry and have the same rights, relationship and responsibilities as heterosexual couples is being argued in the U.S. Supreme Court. Hidden in that argument is the matter of the “blessing” of same-sex unions.
In Genesis 12, God says to Abraham, “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing.” It has been a traditional understanding that all “blessings” emanate from God, and as with all blessings, this one has many facets.
First, we as Christians discern God’s grace in a couples. We ask for God’s continuing presence and grace to ensure the continuing creativity and mutual affection they share. We ask God for the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit in the couple’s lives (same-sex or not) to bear witness to the Gospel of love and generosity to the world.
For many, though, the sticking point in this debate is Scripture.
Some Christians believe Scripture emanates from God directly to the pen of the writer. This is the basic fundamental quality of Scripture: It comes directly from God. Otherwise known loosely as “fundamentalists,” they consider the Word of God to be just that. Period.
For others, known as “progressive/liberal” interpreters (some would even say “revisionists”), Scripture comes from the experience of God, both historical and contemporaneous, and has inspired many to write about that experience. Over time, these writings have become the canon of the Christian Church.
Both sides have been at war for centuries and will not likely end it any time soon.
This leads to parsing Scripture for the written evidence against same-sex relationships. It’s easy to find in Genesis (19:1-16), Leviticus (18:22-23 etc.), Deuteronomy (23:17) and others. There also is positive scriptural evidence for same-sex unions: I Samuel (18:20), Daniel (1:9), Matthew (19:10-12), Matthew (8:5-13), Luke (7:1-10) Ruth (1:6-17) and Acts (8:38).
What seems to count more in Scripture through a more “liberal” lens seems not to be procreation (hotly disputed between conservative fundamentalists and more progressive and liberal biblical scholars) but rather godly association.
Procreation can include many experiences, including not having children, adoption and, more deeply and passionately, as the Rev. David Cox has written, “the sharing of body, the emotions and the spirit ... including the ability to be wounded and vulnerable” within a relationship steeped in loyalty and trust.
This is a steep hill to climb for all couples, same-sex or not.
Our society has evolved greatly since the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is unclear that God would condemn loving relations between people of the same sex today.
Perhaps the question will be: Is God asking Christians to consider that he is doing a new thing? Are we being asked to alter our understanding of human sexuality in favor of extending God’s love toward humanity beyond the more conservative structures of our current religious cultures?
It is important to honor disagreements over this issue. There is honor and integrity on both sides. Episcopalians cling to our concept of Scripture being mediated by Tradition and Reason. This “three-legged stool” allows for continuing dialogue, as painful as it might be.
The issue won’t be settled by the Supreme Court but rather by the churches. So the ball is in our court. We can only hope that God will grant us the grace to be courageous and steadfast to allow all Christian people, heterosexual or homosexual, to have relationships graced by rites and rituals of our churches.
The Rev. David A. Williams, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Charleston