How Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-9 Inform My Faith: How My Uncles Help Me Live It


On December 16, 2012 my Uncle John died. It is only recently that I have slid comfortably into calling John “uncle.” John was, from before I was born, the beloved “friend” of my father’s oldest brother, my Uncle George. Uncle George passed away in 2000 at the age of 89. They lived in California, so growing up, I knew them only from visits to Pittsburgh – mostly in the fall to enjoy the change of seasons. I have spoken of them often, but not by name. As they have both gone on to Jesus, I think I can now.

All that was ever said of them in the family was that John was my uncle’s friend and my grandmother adored him. Granny made sure Johnny sat beside her at family dinners and during long afternoons gabbing. After Uncle George died, I found out Uncle John was a great ‘go-to’ guy for details of family heritage. When my brother and I visited him a few years back, he had a large stack of family pictures, including years of our family Christmas card pictures he and Uncle George had saved.

I figured out they were gay about the time I was in college.

Only when they were all in their seventies did my aunt share with me that Uncle George had been rejected from service in World War II for being gay. After he was taken twice to a Massachusetts sanatorium for shock treatment – a tragic and common “treatment” for gay people at the time – he moved to California and soon after met John. By all accounts and my own observation, Uncle George and Uncle John lived a long, contented life together for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as they both lived.

I honor their courageous fidelity each year when, in my morning devotions, I come to Matthew 19:3-9 and then Mark 10:2-12. These passages tell of Jesus’ encounter with a group of Pharisees who come to trip Him up with a question about the legality of divorce. Jesus is stricter than Moses, adamant in His conclusion, “What therefore God has joined let no one put asunder (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9).”

From Sunday school to this day, Jesus has taught me through Matthew and Mark that fidelity is expected in marriage. What Uncle John and Uncle George did was show me how to be faithful. One of my cousins commented to me a few years ago that their long love and commitment was among the best models of marriage in our parents’ generation. It was.

I am certain that Uncle John and Uncle George knew these Gospel passages. John was a faithful Catholic who attended Mass until late in life, in and out on Sunday, as many do. George grew up in the Presbyterian Church; his father, my grandfather, was a trustee for decades of their neighborhood Presbyterian congregation. George preferred watching Robert Schuler on TV, according to John. I never talked with Uncle George about this. I expect he did not feel comfortable in the local Presbyterian church, But they both knew their Bible and clearly tried to live by it.

And they did this without the strong supports of civil law or faith communities, giving us a measure of how deep and rich their love was to sustain them so long and well. It is our terrible loss that they were so tenuously tied to my family, yet unknown to the church. I especially admire their courage and integrity to be faithful in an era when their love was, at best, ignored—the way my family just spoke of them as “friends” —and, at worst, was vilified and threatened. I am very glad there is a better chance now than when I was growing up for couples like George and John to show us the way to do marriage well.

Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-9 inform my faith by sealing for me that fidelity in marriage is God’s law. When I need help living by Jesus’ teaching, I look to the long love and commitment of Uncles George and John. Though their journey in this world is now ended, I can always draw strength from their example of faithfulness in marriage and give thanks.

May the peace of Christ be always with you,

Reverend Janet Edwards

7 Responses
  • Laurence Charles Ringo on January 27, 2013

    Greetings,Ms.Edwards.When I read your letter inre the relationship with your uncle and his”friend”,I admit I was intrigued by your glosses of the two passages you used.Such a blatant disregard of Scripture always leaves me speechless regardless of who does it;when those who champion the”alternate”lifestyle,so to speak,does it,do you honestly think it aids their cause before either God or man? Granted you didn’ actually alter the passages,but to imply that these passages somehow apply(or ought to)to same-sex marriage has the same effect,an altering of Jesus’ clear and plain reading of God’s Word from what it is to what you wish it to be.But no matter. My question is a simple one:Since you decided to go there,let me go there as well and ask this question:Which uncle was the wife,and which the husband? Which one would Jesus had so designated,had the idea of same-sex marriage existed in 1st Century Palestine? From a Biblical perspective,s ince same-sex marriage is not a Biblical concept,the question is irrelevent,and such a”marriage”has no validity,so…there it is.

  • Janet Edwards on January 28, 2013

    Dear Laurence Charles Ringo,

    Thank you very much for raising the questions that came to your mind as you read about my experience growing up with the love my Uncles George and John had for one another and my reading of Matthew and Mark. I am glad to have this opportunity to answer them.

    I need to speak to your first question with a question of my own: How do you see me disregarding the point Jesus is making to the Pharisees and the audience listening, including us, in these passages? You acknowledge that I make no claim to doing a full blown exegesis and interpretation of the texts. I am lifting up what Jesus does–the heart of marriage is the fidelity of the couple to one another–so how can that be problematic to God?

    As I know Jesus, He has long recognized the loving fidelity between my uncles and honored them for it by blessing them with long life and happiness together. Most of my gay friends call their married spouse “husband” and my lesbian friends call their married spouse “wife.” Jesus chose not to bring this reality up in the exchange with the Pharisees in Mark and Matthew because He knew all the people there at that time only knew marriage as a man taking a woman to be his wife. As fidelity was His point, He chose not to introduce a completely foreign idea into the mix.

    It is not a foreign idea to us, however, because of the inspired witness of couples like my uncles whose lives have opened our eyes to the love and commitment of two men or two women where we recognize all the qualities of marriage. As I understand it, this kind of new perception in our time is an example of exactly what Jesus was talking about when He said He was sending the Holy Spirit to teach us many other things. Why can’t same-sex marriage be one of those things?

    I encourage you to read the new book by Retired Bishop Gene Robinson called God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage. It will, I know, answer many of your questions. And you are very welcome to respond to my questions or ask me more of your own. I hope you do.

    Peace be with you, Janet

  • Dee on February 23, 2013

    Reverend Janet,

    Thank you for responding so lovingly and diplomatically to Mr. Ringo. Mature, appropriate engagement rather than hostility is a true witness. I am in the process of sharing my orientation with those I love and your uncles’ story, shared from your perspective, is genuinely inspiring. Becoming informed about the beauty of committed, long-term union encourages my heart.

    Continued blessings and peace,

  • Janet Edwards on February 24, 2013

    Dear Dee,

    You are very welcome, Dee, and all best wishes in your courageous willingness to be fully yourself with those you love. That my sharing some of my story is sustaining for you is truly a blessing for me.

    Peace, Janet

  • Thomas Fultz, Elder on March 21, 2013

    Rev. Edwards: I disagree with your interpretation of the passages in which Jesus speaks of a man and a woman being joined in marriage. Had Jesus wanted to only speak to fidelity between two persons, he would NOT have based his discussion on the God created gender differences – the “physicality’s of complimentary features”. Jesus could have spoken a new Word and addressed the question on divorce in a manner to affirm that fidelity between two persons was God’s desire with God having no regard to gender. But given the chance, he did not endorse same-gender, covenanted sexual relationships.

    You asked why this was not one of the things Jesus said the Holy Spirit would teach us. To which I say, the Holy Spirit will not contradict the teaching of Jesus.

    I take the passages on divorce to address the necessity of sexual relations being of different gender (two persons) and you take then to address fidelity between two persons, so the primary point to you is that only two persons can make a life-long covenant before God. I challenge that view because if fidelity within a covenant is Jesus’ message and he was disregarding gender, then the number of persons in the covenant would need not be restricted to two as if only two can live in fidelity. So then his use of two is figurative not restrictive, if you adopt your expansive view of the passages.

    The practice of the New Testament church would support the view I hold rather than the expanded viewed you suggest is appropriate. Your view disregards the actual words reported as spoken by Jesus, rejecting any restriction on gender, while seeking to make the words restrictive as to the number in a covenant. I just cannot stretch those passages to that degree – expanding one feature and restricting another.

  • Janet Edwards on April 10, 2013

    Dear Thomas,

    Please forgive my slow response. I confess I did not see your comment until I picked up the automated advertisement that just came.

    I really appreciate the honest expression of your interpretation of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees. You have prompted a few thoughts and I look forward to your response to them.

    It strikes me that an important difference between you and me is our understanding of what Jesus is doing with his reference to Genesis. Perhaps we can agree that he was seeking something that was familiar to them all and certainly the Creation story was. In the context of a discussion of divorce, the fidelity of Adam and Eve was a natural choice for that. Clearly what I see is Jesus’ emphasis on fidelity (not that they happen to be man and woman) and that seems fully appropriate to me.

    I agree that Jesus could have taken this moment to endorse marriage of same-sex couples but I want to ask you, Thomas, why would He? It is something that was not familiar to His listeners (It is to us). It was not the topic at hand. It would have been completely nonsensical to the people of His time. It would have distracted from the answer He was offering to the question the Pharisees posed.

    Given the way I see fidelity as the center of Jesus’ point here, I am sure you are not surprised that I find no contradiction between Jesus’ teaching here and the present blowing of the Holy Spirit that has opened our eyes to the love and commitment that lesbian and gay couples have for one another so that we see it for what it is: marriage. I don’t see a contradiction between straight and gay couples because what I see is their love and the beautiful lives and families they create together.

    You make a good point that it could then be about fidelity among more than two people. I don’t deny that and the Hebrew culture was comfortable with multiple wives if the man could afford it. Adultery was an offense against the property rights of the husband. It was the Romans who brought the custom of two into Hebrew and Christian practice as I understand it. One of the reasons Paul emphasizes one wife for church leaders was that polygamy was still common.

    But I am not pleading the case for a group. I am faithful to my husband and commend fidelity to others partly based on these passages. Making the case for polyamory is something that I leave to other people.

    That’s a lot. As I say, I am eager for your response.

    Peace, Janet

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