Mutual Support in Marriage and in the Church
I have continued to reflect this week on the parallels between marriage and life in the Body of Christ drawn by the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage.
Their Preliminary Report outlines four purposes for marriage in the Old Testament: procreation, companionship or mutual support, economic partnership and political alliance. In connection with the purpose of companionship, two Scripture passages are cited: Genesis 2:18-24, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and 1 Samuel 1:1-28. It is with sadness that I note just how apt a comparison the story of Hannah is for the relationship between the GLBT faithful and our church.
You remember the story. Elkanah is a faithful man who has two wives, Peninnah, who has given him many children, and Hannah, who is barren. He takes the whole family each year to worship at the altar in Shiloh. One year when he finds Hannah weeping, he asks, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8). He knew Hannah was weeping because of the humiliating treatment she received from Peninnah because of her barrenness. And his response suggests that companionship with him should be sufficient consolation for her. It is said that Elkanah loved Hannah.
Meanwhile, Hannah continues to grieve, praying so fervently for a child that she draws the attention of Eli, the priest, who mistakes her silent prayers for drunkenness. While Elkanah may believe he is providing mutual support or companionship, Hannah knows she is reckoned inferior to Penninah. Elkanah’s feelings are no consolation to her.
Herein lies the sad parallel between Hannah and our GLBT brothers and sisters within the church. The church may say all of God’s children are loved and welcome here, while at the same time treating the GLBT faithful differently from everyone else.
Mutual support in marriage is a modern idea. And it is a good idea. If the Body of Christ is like a marriage, we would do very well to nurture companionship, especially among those who disagree in the church. For me, the story of Hannah is less about spousal support and more about desperate yearning for respect, a thirty-five year prayer on the part of GLBT Presbyterians and their loved ones.