Adam and Steve

I hate that “joke” that goes something like, “if God had wanted gay marriage, he would have made Adam and Steve instead of Adam and Eve.” There are, of course, more nuanced approaches to saying what it is getting at: God’s design is for heterosexual marriage. Even one of my favourite scholars, N.T. Wright, would support something like this. I used to think that this was an absolutely terrible argument, even when I did think that homosexual activity was outside the bounds of ethical living for a Christian, probably mainly because of the bad joke that oversimplified it. I find it slightly, but not much, more reasonable now since I’ve looked at more nuanced arguing for it. There’s two lines of argumentation I want to visit here in looking at how reasonable that conclusion is from what we see in the creation story’s text.

Not Ideal but Allowed?

I first want to entertain an idea many may not consider: even if I did accept that it isn’t the ideal, there is a big difference between that and what is allowed post-Fall. I personally don’t take this approach, but I think it is an important question.

For example, we also see in the Garden (Gen 1:29-31) – and up to Noah actually – that people were not to eat meat. Occasionally we hear Christians choose to become vegetarians out of a personal sense of calling to live out that ideal, largely encouraged by the poor animal treatment of factory farming. Sometimes we even hear Christians trying to encourage other Christians to do the same, although that is very rare and I’ve never encountered it being a rule for belonging within a fellowship. But it is definitely not just assumed by anybody I know that being a Christian means abstaining from meat in the same way that many assume that being a Christian means abstaining from gay sex.

Or how about another example I’ll probably be looking at more soon in this series: nudity. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed, all the time. So why don’t Christians cite Adam and Eve to insist on nudity the way we do to insist that there is something wrong with same sex relationships? Probably mainly because we (straight Christians) usually don’t want to walk around naked but also don’t want take part in a same sex relationship. That lets us be selective about which parts of the Genesis story to see as prescriptive and which to see as descriptive.

Prescriptive or Descriptive?

So that gets us to the real question in my mind: why do we assume that the genders of the first couple were meant to be prescriptive of all couples for all times? As with last week’s gender discussion, there is no indication that the genders of these first two people were relevant within the point it was trying to make. We see that it is not good to be alone. We see that we are equals, mutually building each other up. Those seem to be clear in the text. But by assuming that since Adam and Eve were male/female means that all romantic involvement must be male/female just seems to me to be adding something that isn’t there. We don’t assume that we need to be naked or have a vegetarian diet. On perhaps taking it to the more ridiculous level of this logic, we don’t assume we need to move to a garden in the Middle East and name animals.

Similarly, some would cite Matthew 19 as evidence that Jesus also upheld only heterosexual marriage. As above, I think it is a stretch and putting something in the text that just isn’t there. The context is divorce and the gender inequality present in their current laws which allowed a man to divorce a woman on a whim. It is that whimsical approach to marriage that Jesus is critiquing. Nobody was asking anything about same-sex relationships. If anything, in our context same-sex marriages tend to last longer  – less divorce, therefore less likely to exhibit the problem Jesus is criticizing – because they still realize what a gift it is while we take it for granted. If anybody is destroying the sanctity of marriage, according to what I think are the more fair readings of these texts, it is heterosexuals who are leading the charge. Before you worry too much about the supposed speck in your brother’s eye, try dislodging the plank from your own, especially when you’re reading your prejudices into a text that does not say that on its own.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Jay DuSold

    ryan,
    after what do you believe human sexuality is designed?
    how do you leave all of your preunderstandings out of your interpretive endeavors?

    • Not sure what you’re looking for in the first question. I believe that God designed sexuality to be one important part (but not nearly the only part) of humanity. It does definitely help bring us together as one flesh. That vulnerability and emotional/spiritual union is at the heart of a healthy sexuality, I think. I’m not sure I can say anymore without knowing what you meant by the question.

      As for the second, it is clearly a hard one but an absolutely essential one. We all inevitably bring in a lot of bias to our interpretations. I think that a community hermeneutic is very important for this, where the community is not comprised only of people like me. By engaging with people who don’t necessarily have the same biases, it helps break down my own biases (and helps them break down theirs). I’m a straight white middle-class Canadian male, so that makes it all the more important to me to listen to others because my biases also line up with the biases of traditional power holders.

      I know for me on this question I had just always assumed that homosexuality was a sin, if not the worst sin, for two simple reasons: I’m straight and most of the people I know making decisions for the church are straight. My pre-understandings for a while kept me from actually investigating the issue. What prompted me to try to look at it a bit more fairly was meeting gay Christians. If it was so blatantly obvious that being gay and being a Christian was contradictory, as I had been told and as my natural hetero sex drive seemed to confirm, I didn’t understand how otherwise smart and devoted people could think otherwise. So I investigated and learned that the Bible doesn’t really say anything either way about committed same-sex relationships, science/sociology has found nothing harmful about it and in fact has confirmed it as natural and even having a place in other animal species, and even church history is not as clear-cut as I had been led to believe.

      • Jay DuSold

        thanks for the reply brother.

        i have tinkering with the idea of human sexuality being designed after the very nature of god . . . as a reflection of the trinity. if the blueprint for human sexuality transcended the human realm and was an intentional refection of god would you consider it to be prescriptive?

        like you, i am committed to prayerfully trying to discern the preunderstandings I bring to the text and believe that a communal hermeneutic is a critical practice. i have been training one of my disciples on this for the last few weeks!

        i am looking forward to the ongoing conversation .

        shalom

        • I will tentatively say yes to that question, but it would take a pretty radical jump away from the usual Christian understanding of God for it to be relevant. It is relevant to say that since the Trinity is inherently relational at the core, we are too; to me that includes sexuality although is also more than that. Whether sexuality in and of itself is modelled after the Trinity, though, would require that the Trinity be sexualized, and Christians have always affirmed the non-physicality and non-gendered nature (outside of the Incarnation) of God.

          For the example of the topic here, aside from fighting the standard understanding of God and lacking Biblical support, it would get really absurd really fast. We’d need for one member of the Trinity to have a penis and another to have a vagina and that they be having sex in the full physical sense. And what is the third doing in this process, because if s/he is also involved – as necessary to maintain an equality amongst the three – then we’ve reintroduced a same-sex relationship as well as polyamory.

          • Jay DuSold

            i am with you on the absurd thing . . the whole penis/vagina/trinity is just a wee bit weird . . . definitely out of the box (maybe not for everyone though).

            perhaps sexuality can be modeled after god without sexualizing the trinity.

            our triune god is characterized by distinction (father, son, spirit) and union/unity (god). suppose god intended to use these characteristics of himself as a blueprint for humans . . . distinction and union/unity.

            if this was the case, we would need to see distinction and union/unity at the creation of mankind. i think we do.

            mankind in the image of god = male and female (this is the distinction the reflects the distinction within the trinity)

            man united to his wife become one flesh = this reflects the union/unity within the trinity

            we could further develop the reflection of god in human sexuality by noting that in genesis 1 this triune god (characterized by distinction and union/unity) is creating and his blessing upon the pinnacle of his creation, humankind, (male/female in union/unity) is associated with procreation (sexual union between the distinct entities that comprise humanity)

            it seems like there is a whole lot more going on with god’s choice to provide a female for adam than a mere solution to a solitary life. a partner suitable for procreation not just recreation probably needs to be considered and thus, we are back to a trinity reflective plan for human sexuality . . . distinction in union procreating.

            what are your thoughts?

          • Ok, I definitely understand what you’re saying a bit better now. I think where I would differ is the jump equating the relationality of the Trinity with specific gendered sexuality of humanity. I have no problem saying that we, like the Trinity, are designed for unity despite our distinction. I’m just not willing to say that this is specifically referring to sexual unity only when there is genital distinction. Can two men also experience unity despite difference? It isn’t genital difference, but yes, I have seen same-sex relationships that are modelling the one-flesh dynamic far better than a lot of opposite-sex ones.

            Regarding the procreation argument, I would probably buy into it a lot more if Jesus and Paul weren’t so blunt that procreation is not a requirement of good life. The “go forth and multiply” command is there in the Hebrew Bible, but Jesus and Paul make it clear that it is no longer a requirement and in fact that in many ways singleness is preferred. Are single people missing out on being the design of God since they aren’t procreating? Jesus and Paul don’t seem to think so. I wouldn’t have any problem extending that to same-sex couples either, or to people who can’t have children, or who plan to adopt instead of having their own because of the great need around us.