Feb 01, 2018Loving as Christ Loved the Church: An Apologia for Gay Marriage

Loving as Christ Loved the Church: An Apologia for Gay Marriage

Fr. David argues that the Good News of Christ Jesus — Good News for all people, gay and straight — makes no distinction between them when it comes to monogamous lifelong committed relationships.

The Very Rev. David Kendrick Eight-minute read.   Resources
Lanora and Gates kneel at the Altar rail at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Springfield.
Image: Facebook

On Saturday, January 20th, I celebrated and blessed my first same-sex marriage, which was also the first at St. John’s. If you had told me I would have done this 10 years ago when I was first ordained I would have had a hard time believing you. If you had told me 20 years ago that as a layperson I would even have attended a same-sex wedding, I would not have believed you. And yet I have done just that.

The vast majority of my parishioners are either supportive or at least accepting of this. But a few have questioned whether, to paraphrase Richard Niebuhr, I’m putting Culture above Christ by linking the Church to a social movement for gay rights rather than standing for the truth. This article is an adaptation of a longer pastoral letter in which I tried to explain why that is not the case. But justifying this to my local parish alone is not enough. I promised at my ordination to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel (from the Old English God-Spell—Good News) of Jesus Christ. And so, I here proclaim that the Good News of Christ Jesus—Good News for all people, gay and straight—makes no distinction between them when it comes to monogamous lifelong committed relationships.

Twenty years ago, it seemed to me that Holy Scripture commanded two righteous ways of sexual expression. One was a lifelong marriage between a man and woman. The other was more a sublimation of that sexuality, namely lifelong celibacy in anticipation of that day when there will be no need for exclusive relationships because, standing in God’s glory, we shall all love each other equally. That was how I read Jesus’ teaching on marriage and celibacy in Matthew 19:1-12.

I deceived myself and others by my supposed compassion for those whom I took at their word that their attraction to the same gender was as much an instinct as mine to the opposite gender. By no means was their attraction a sin, I insisted, just their acting on it.

But the more I studied Jesus’ teaching, in Education for Ministry before Seminary, in Seminary, and after Seminary, the deeper and deeper understanding I was given of Jesus’ teaching on human sexuality. And the more and more convicted I became over the chains I was willing to place on my gay brothers and sisters. Jesus was being asked about marriage at a time when it was only between men and women, but his words should not be fixed to the cultural presumptions of that audience, time and place.

Having just heard Jesus say that they can’t divorce their wives at will, his male disciples then ask if they should be like Jesus,

1910His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Matthew 19:10

In other words, must we be celibate like you Jesus? To this Jesus answers,

1911“Not everybody can accept this teaching, but only those who have received the ability to accept it.” Matthew 19:11a

Quite obviously, no human being can possibly give such a gift to another human being or impose it. Only God can give the ability to accept lifelong celibacy, and only “those who can accept it should accept it,” (Matthew 19:12) Jesus concludes.

While he may have been speaking to straight males, I concluded that Jesus’ teaching should be applied equally to those whose desire for union with the same gender is as much an instinct as the instinctive desire of heterosexual persons. I was also convicted of my cruelty in presuming to impose an obligation of lifelong celibacy on a certain group of people when I would never have considered imposing that burden on myself or those like me. If anyone, heterosexual or homosexual, discerns the gift and call of celibacy from God, who am I to judge? But who am I also to judge those who have not discerned from God the ability within themselves to abandon the worldly hope of an exclusive loving relationship?

Lanora and Gates are Married, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Springfield.
Image: Facebook

And so, I came to believe that Jesus would no more impose lifelong celibacy on homosexual persons than he did on heterosexual males. And I came to this belief not by ignoring the words of the Gospel, but by reading more deeply, the Word made flesh (John 1:14) speaking through the human authors of Holy Scripture.

But marriage? One might pastorally accept and even bless a monogamous gay relationship. But marriage as the outward and visible sign of God’s grace and Christ’s personal presence? Gay marriage a sacrament? What would I say to a gay couple asking not just for a blessing (which I and most priests are rather profligate about giving) but for the public celebration of their commitment as sacramental, a sign and vehicle of God’s grace and Christ’s presence?

More than once since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in July of 2015, homosexual couples have asked to be married at my parish church. Each time I explained the longstanding rule in my parish that at least one of them must be an active member of the parish. Thus, as with any other couple, a gay couple would need to visit us, get to know us, kneel before the Bishop and be either confirmed or received before I could consider their request. Gates Wagner and Lanora Samaniego fitted that description perfectly.

In May of 2016, the St. John’s Evangelism Committee proposed that we participate as a sponsor of the Greater Ozarks Gay Pride Festival, and the Vestry voted to do. So, on Saturday, June 18th, just one week after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, we went to our gay brothers and sisters rather than wait for them to risk coming to us on any given Sunday not knowing how they would be received. And it was there that I met Lanora and Gates.

Soon after we met at Pridefest, Gates and Lanora made their first visit. Coming from the Roman Catholic tradition, they took to our Anglo-Catholic parish like fish to water. They were received into The Episcopal Church by Bishop Field that November. They are both active in the Outreach Ministry Group, and the Evangelism Committee. And their Friday yoga class has helped parishioners and others in pain. In short, Lanora and Gates fully committed themselves to this parish before asking me to officiate at their marriage.

I agreed to do the same premarital counseling with them as I do with other couples. Once they had completed that counseling and I was convinced of their mature commitment to each other, I found myself with Saint Philip the Deacon on that wilderness road with the Ethiopian Eunuch who asked in so many words — What is to keep me from the Sacrament of Baptism? (Acts 8:26-40). Simply because he had been picked as a newborn to serve the Ethiopian Queen, and his testicles crushed with a stone, this Eunuch could be drawn to the One and only God of Israel, and even go to Jerusalem as a religious pilgrim. But as a disfigured eunuch (and not of his own choice) he could never be a Jew by the Law of Moses. As that eunuch asked Philip, so I heard Gates and Lanora asking me — What is to keep us from the Sacrament of Marriage?

What exactly makes marriage a sacrament of God’s infinite grace? “[Marriage] signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church,” the Priest says in the opening declaration of the Marriage ceremony. Underpinning this teaching are the words of Saint Paul to the Ephesians:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:25, 32.

In the patriarchal society of Paul’s time, it makes sense that these words were directed to husbands, whom prevailing culture said should assert authority over their wives (an idea Paul paid lip service to while emphasizing much more the husband’s obligation to sacrifice himself for his wife if necessary). Understanding more fully the equality of male and female, the Church today calls both people in a marriage to love each other as Christ loved the Church and died for that Church. That is what makes a marriage Christian, not the gender or orientation of the two persons involved.

Seeing that Christ-like love in Lanora and Gates for each other, and their commitment to that part of Christ’s Body the Church called Episcopal, I was able to look at Paul’s words to the Ephesians about the “mystery” (in Latin, sacramentum) of marriage more deeply than the culture in which they were written, the same way I had looked at Jesus’ words in Matthew. And I could see no reason why something that no person chooses determined whether their love for each other was sacramental. And so today, they are Lanora and Gates Samaniego.

None of this has been about surrendering to the Culture. It has been about hearing the Word of God who is with God and is God speaking eternal truth through the human words of Holy Scripture across the millennia. It has also been about God the Holy Spirit opening our minds to a new interpretation of those human words.

1612“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:12-13

I believe that same-sex marriage is one of those things that has come. And I cannot say no to those whose monogamous love is no different based simply on their gender. To God’s grace and truth through Jesus Christ I offer my mind, and my heart, and those in my care whose love for God is at least equal to mine.

The Very Rev. David Kendrick is Southern Dean and Rector at St. John’s, Springfield.

1 thought on “Loving as Christ Loved the Church: An Apologia for Gay Marriage”

  1. Nicely written David. Thank you for blessing us with a tangible perspective to better understand the love relationship between human beings.

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