The Manhattan Declaration on Marriage
In my last post responding to the Manhattan Declaration, I emphasized the need for progressives to reclaim our Christian heritage and values. So it is interesting to note that one of the key Bible passages cited in the declaration’s section on marriage is the story of the wedding at Cana — the very same story captured in the beautiful painting on the homepage of my blog.
Again, it seems, we each find different meanings in our common Christian heritage.
The writers of the Manhattan Declaration cite Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana as evidence that “God Himself blesses and holds marriage in the highest esteem.” One might argue whether that is indeed the central message of this story (due to the lack of details about the wedding, I believe Jesus’ miracle of turning the water into wine is much more important than the occasion for the banquet) — but let’s assume for the moment that it is a story about the importance of marriage. If that’s so, then one must also remember that the couple is never mentioned, and could be any two partners — a man and a woman, two women or two men. If Jesus is indeed blessing their marriage by his presence, there is no evidence that the gender of the partners is of any significance to Him.
Other key facts and Bible passages also contradict the Manhattan Declaration’s claims about God’s intentions for marriage.
In opening their argument on marriage, the writers claim that marriage between a man and a woman “is the crowning achievement of God’s creation.” The problem with this argument is that — while you can find a Bible verse somewhere to support almost any point of view you can think of — when one really studies the Bible and Jesus’ life as a whole, it is far from clear that marriage between one man and one woman is the primary path blessed by God.
For centuries, Christians have struggled with the fact that marriage and family were not important to Jesus or to the first believers. In fact, in the early days of Christianity, any earthly marriage at all was considered a distraction from God. Jesus was not married, whatever we may enjoy fantasizing about with Dan Brown. Matthew and Luke both report Jesus saying, “He who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son and daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Mt 10:37, Lk 14:26).” Paul followed Jesus’ example and commended singleness rather than marriage to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:1). After honest study of Christian history and Scripture, how can one claim that marriage, much less one narrow definition of marriage, is the only path to holiness?
Instead, let us place our faith in Jesus’ standard for goodness: “By their fruits ye shall know them (Mt 7:20, Lk 44). Let us commit ourselves to nuture those fruits as Paul so beautifully spells them out: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5;22)” And let everyone of us admit that we have known GLBT people whose relationships exemplify these virtues inspired by the Holy Spirit and cited by Jesus as the test for goodness in the world.
I, too, value the role of marriage in our culture. But the rate of divorce and single-parenthood cited by the declaration’s writers brings me to a different conclusion: that it is the covenantal union–the true heart of marriage–that our culture has devalued. I believe that our “marriage culture” will only turn toward health when we focus upon this central truth about marriage as a covenant rooted in love and commitment, and commit ourselves to the support of all loving, committed couples.