Did Jesus Really Condemn Same-Sex Marriage?

It is a claim I’ve run into often in church debates. Earnest opponents of marriage equality stand up and declare, “Jesus condemns same-sex marriage in Matthew 19, and so as a committed Christian I couldn’t possibly support it.”

I am all for Christians following the Bible, but in this particular case, peoples’ good intentions are leading them astray. The claim that Jesus condemns same-sex marriage is a false one.

Matthew 19 in fact records an occasion when Jesus references the Bible story about God’s creation of Adam and Eve. Quoting Genesis, Jesus says,

Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. (Mat. 19:4-6, New Revised Standard Translation)

Opponents of marriage equality claim that Jesus here confers his own stamp of approval on marriage between a man and a woman, and in so doing rules out the possibility of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships among his followers.

There are multiple problems with this claim.

In the first place, the claim is based on a logical fallacy. Jesus without question speaks approvingly of heterosexual marriage. But does that mean he automatically condemns same-sex relationships? If I go to a restaurant with a group of friends and speak approvingly of the Bavarian triple-chocolate layer cake, does that mean I automatically condemn anyone who orders the cherry cheesecake for dessert instead? Of course it doesn’t!

It makes no sense to say that because Jesus approves of heterosexual marriage, he necessarily condemns alternative patterns of life. If that logic were true, we would also have to say that Jesus condemns people who choose to remain single, which is yet another alternative to heterosexual marriage. But in that case Jesus would be condemning himself, because Jesus chose to remain unmarried!

The problems with the anti-equality interpretation of this passage don’t end there. If we read the passage in context, we discover that Jesus isn’t discussing sexual orientation here at all; he is talking about divorce. The whole point of his Genesis quote is that God wants married people to stay together: “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

It is highly ironic that people use this passage to condemn same-sex marriage, because in doing so they completely ignore the strict teaching against divorce which the passage does contain, and instead read into it a condemnation of same-sex marriage that it does not contain.

This hesitancy to embrace the actual message of the passage is understandable. Jesus’ uncompromising teaching about divorce here can be a bit alarming. A false interpretation that condemns people who are different from me is much more comfortable than an accurate interpretation that might call my own life into question!

If we take the time to read further in the passage’s context, however, we discover we are not alone in our discomfort with Jesus’ teaching about divorce. Jesus’ own disciples found the teaching disturbing, too. Hearing him speak, they responded that getting married wouldn’t be worth the risk if divorce resulted in our automatic alienation from God (v. 10). Jesus responds by softening the application of his teaching. He says, “Not everyone can accept this teaching… Let anyone accept this who can” (vv. 11, 12).

This combination of a strict teaching and a softened application actually makes good sense. No loving parent wants to see a beloved child go through the pain of a divorce. I have been part of the wedding celebrations for my two daughters, and I fervently hope and pray that their marriages will be happy, fulfilling and lasting. This is the strict part of my own feelings about divorce — I care about my children deeply, and this means I absolutely despise the thought that they would have to go through a divorce one day. But if disaster were to strike and one of their marriages should fail, that same deep caring means I would continue to love and support my children. The “application” of my fervent desire that they not have to experience a divorce is softened by my love for them, which continues through good times and bad. So it is with God’s love for us.

But this combination of a strict teaching and a softened application disappears from the Matthew 19 passage entirely when people use it to condemn same-sex relationships. The anti-equality interpretation falsely portrays Jesus as condemning same-sex marriage strictly and without qualification. The softening effects of divine love vanish from the scene.

In sum, the claim that Jesus condemns same-sex marriage in Matthew 19 fails on at least three counts:

• It depends on a logical fallacy

• It ignores the actual subject of Jesus’ teaching in favor of a foreign agenda.

• It contradicts Jesus’ own direction on how his teaching should be applied.

This damaging and misguided interpretation vividly illustrates of how our understanding of Scripture can go astray when we read biblical fragments out of context and without any reference to the Bible’s overall message of God’s love.

Unfortunately such errors of interpretation are more than a mere academic problem; they are doing positive harm in the lives of a great many people. It is time for committed Christians to set aside the errors and misinterpretations that lead LGBT people to feel like second-class citizens in the household of God. In my recent book I show how a faithful and responsible reading of the Bible’s message reveals God’s fervent desire to bless everyone’s marriages, both gay and straight alike.


10 Political Things You CAN’T DO If You Are Following Jesus

Jesus didn’t worry much about stepping on political toes, and the Bible insists that governments be just toward the least of these (the books of the prophets alone make this point very clear). Frequently, people who are the most vocal about not making Jesus political are the same people who want prayer in school and laws based on their own religious perspectives. By a happy little circumstance that brings us to this list of the TEN POLITICAL THINGS YOU CAN’T DO IF YOU ARE FOLLOWING JESUS:

10) Force your religious beliefs and practices on others.

One of the strengths of the faith Jesus taught was in its meekness. The faith he taught valued free will over compulsion – because that’s how love works. Compelling people to follow any religion, more or less your personal religion, stands over and against the way Jesus practiced his faith. If you are using the government to compel people to practice your spiritual beliefs, you might be the reason baby Jesus is crying. This does get tricky. There is a difference in letting your beliefs inform your political choices and letting your politics enforce your religion. This article is about the first part.

9) Advocate for war.

There’s a reason why he was called the Prince of Peace. Sure, you can quote, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” and even two or three other verses, but they don’t hold a candle to the more than fifty-some verses where Jesus speaks about peace and peacemaking. It’s funny how things keep coming back to love but it needs to be said, it is way far away from loving a person to kill them. I guess there’s a reason why we say, “God is love.” In the end, love wins.

8) Favor the rich over the poor.

This is actually related to #4. Favoring the rich over the poor is a slap in the face of Jesus, his life, and his teachings. In terms of the teachings of Jesus, it is bad enough when we allow the rich to take advantage of the poor, but when we create laws that not only encourage the behavior but also protect it? Well, let’s just say it becomes crystal clear how ironic it is that we print, “In God We Trust,” on our money.

7) Cut funding that hurts the least of these.

To some degree, this is the inverse of #8. Favoring the rich is despicable. We Jesus minions should avoid it. Hurting the poor? Well, that’s just …  just … um, something a whole lot worse than despicable. Despicabler? Über-despicable? When Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me,” he meant it. When you cut funding and it hurts people, according to Jesus, you are hurting him.

6) Let people go hungry.

It is a political issue. Spiritually, Gandhi said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Politically, hunger causes problems with education, production, and civil behavior that are all necessary for a successful nation. More importantly for Christians, Jesus said when we feed the hungry, we are feeding him. So, yes, this item is on both lists – and I’m going to do it again.

5) Withhold healthcare from people.

Did you ever play the game “Follow the Leader?” If you don’t do what the leader does, you are out. Following means you should imitate as closely as possible. When people who were sick needed care, Jesus gave it to them. If we are following Jesus, we will imitate him as closely as possible. No, the government can’t repeat the miracles he did but I’ve seen modern medicine do things that are about as close to a miracle as I expect to get. While the government can’t do miracles, it can supply modern medicine. Every year, 45,000 people die in the U.S. because of the lack of healthcare. We Christians like to talk about “saving” people. Well, I know of about 45,000 people who’d love for us to do it and we should – because that’s how love works.

4) Limit the rights of a select group of people.

Jesus loves everybody – but he loves me best. Kind of sits the wrong way with you, doesn’t it? Well, it should and with good reason. If you spend any time reading the Bible you know that we all were made in God’s image. Exactly which part of us is in God’s image is less clear, but what is clear is that we were equally made in the image of God. Any law that doesn’t treat people equally is as good as thumbing your nose at God. Even worse? Doing it in the name of God or based on religious beliefs (see #10).

3) Turn away immigrants.

Christian heritage runs through Judaism. We are an immigrant people. Even our religion began somewhere else. Our spiritual ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, were told by God to pick up what they had and start traveling. Moses, Miriam, and Aaron led a nation out of Egypt, into the desert and ultimately to new lands. Even Jesus spent part of his childhood as a foreigner in a foreign land. As Exodus says, we know how it feels to be foreigners in a foreign land. If you don’t think being foreigners in a foreign land is still our story, ask the Native Americans. At best, turning away immigrants makes us hypocrites; at worst, it makes us betrayers of our ancestors and our God.

2) Devalue education.

We learn in Proverbs that wisdom is something in which God delights daily. As a matter of fact, according to Proverbs, wisdom is better than gold. When you look at the percentage of our budget that goes to education and at what Congress is trying to do to student loans, it’s pretty clear that delighting in wisdom is something our government no longer does.

1) Support capital punishment — execution.

Jesus died by execution. He was an innocent man. Every year, innocent people die by execution in our nation. It’s time to be a shining city on a hill. It’s time to express the fullness of love, to express the value of life. It’s time to stop the government-sanctioned killing.