Some weeks ago I was asked to give my reasoning for opposing same-sex marriage. Sometimes procrastination can turn out for the best. As I mentioned in my ealier post on the One-China policy, I am a member of the Reformed Church in America (website link) and a delegate to this summer's annual meeting which we call General Synod. At this meeting we will be asked to approve a resolution to send the study guide "Human Sexuality and Marriage" to our congregations. I think it is a fantastic document. In this post I will give a few paragraphs as "teasers" to encourage you to read the whole thing. Then I will summarize the argument. Finally, I'll give the link to the document.

In 2004 the General Synod adopted R-92 amended (MGS 2004, R-92 amended, p. 333), in response to an overture from the Classis of the Canadian Prairies. Recommendation 92 included the following statement:

i To affirm that marriage is properly defined as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

In addition, based on a new motion from the advisory committee, the same General Synod approved R-93:ii

To instruct the Commission on Theology to provide a study paper on “human sexuality and marriage” and to bring a progress report to the 2005 General Synod.

. . .

Sexuality: Following Jesus as Sexual Beings
When speaking of “sexuality,” one must recognize, first of all, that we are dealing with a somewhat abstract modern category that is not found within Scripture itself. Scripture does not reflect abstractly on human sexuality; it instead speaks concretely about human life in various dimensions that people today recognize and organize under the broad rubric of “sexuality.” It speaks of our bodies and the resurrection of the body. It addresses the longings and desires that arise out of our maleness and femaleness. It celebrates and seeks to regulate the economic, social, physical, spiritual, and emotional bonds that hold us together in our most intimate relationships. It addresses the mystery and complexity of our maleness and femaleness, and the wondrous capacity of love to overflow in fruitfulness. This section explores human sexuality in these five dimensions: embodiment, desire, bonding, gender, and fruitfulness.

To speak of human sexuality is to acknowledge that human beings have bodies. To be more precise, it is not that we have bodies; we are bodies. Human life is embodied life. Indeed, so important are bodies to our existence that the gospel proclaims the resurrection of the body. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ offers us his own body. The New Testament always envisions human existence as bodily existence. In the resurrection, our bodies are transformed, to be sure (see 1 Cor. 15), but the New Testament proclamation of the resurrection concerns not only our souls, but our bodies as well. Humans are, to use more technical theological language, a psychosomatic unity, a union of body and soul. The Christian hope of eternal life is based not on the immortality of the soul—as if a part of us were inherently indestructible. Nowhere does Scripture speak of the immortality of the soul. Instead, Christian hope is based on the resurrection of the body. We believe that just as Christ’s body was raised from the dead, so our bodies will be raised, and we will thus enjoy eternal bodily life in God’s presence.

. . .

So, this discussion of desire concludes with these observations: desiring that which is not God nor God’s gift, and failure to give thanks to God, represent the heart of human sinfulness(Rom. 1:21). A large part of our sanctification and healing as Christians, then, consists in the reordering of our desires—our learning to order them in such a way that they are in tune with the deepest desire of our hearts, and so that they always lead us back to glorify and give thanks to God: “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving.”

Sexual desire is a powerful desire—one of the most powerful desires human beings experience. Precisely because it is so powerful, it can lose its proper focus, and can be the place where our alienation from God manifests itself most destructively. Our desires can easily lead us into self-deception and can cloud our moral judgment. The Bible has much to say about the destructive power of lust (the Bible’s word for desire that will not discipline itself to receive only what God gives). But when Christians can obediently receive the object of their sexual desire as God’s gift, and return to God their grateful thanksgiving, sexual desire becomes a powerful means of deepening our praise and gratitude to God.

. . .

There are thus many important values that marriage shares with other expressions of Christian faith and life. But the historic and biblical values of procreation, fidelity, and permanence do assist us more particularly in the task of defining marriage. Each of these values speaks of aspects that are unique to marriage, and are not attributed in Scripture or the Christian tradition in the same way to any other relationship. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God intends children to be conceived and born only within the covenant of marriage.xiv In God’s design and intention, marriage alone exists for the purpose of procreation. Even though not all marriages bear children, marriage is uniquely intended in Scripture for childbearing. But procreation is not the only good that is uniquely intended for marriage. The fidelity required by God of married couples is also unique to the institution of marriage. The Bible envisions many different partnerships, alliances, and covenants that human beings make with each other. But none of these, apart from marriage, brings with it the same universal requirement for exclusive fidelity of one person to another. Similarly, no other alliance, partnership, or covenant between people is always expected to be permanent until dissolved by death. Thus the classical categories of procreation, fidelity, and permanence assist us in defining marriage, by focusing on those aspects of marriage that distinguish marriage from all other partnerships, covenants, or alliances. To define marriage in this way does not mean that marriages which fail fully to fulfill these purposes cease to be marriages. According to Scripture, a childless marriage is still a marriage. Unfaithfulness does not necessarily and inherently destroy a marriage, even though it is a legitimate ground for divorce in the teaching of Jesus (Matt. 5:32, 19:9). If a couple divorces, it does not mean that there never was a marriage in the first place. Thus the Reformed tradition has never sought to develop an elaborate case law surrounding the annulment of marriages. Human life in this world is always lived on the path from human brokenness, frailty, and sin, toward the purposes of God. Yet if Christians are to keep their bearings, they need to keep a clear focus on the divine purposes for which marriage exists, even if those purposes may not always be fulfilled in any specific marriage. This is why the question of the definition of marriage is such an important one. The church’s definition of marriage needs to function as a kind of North Star, enabling it to keep its bearings in the midst of human wandering and failure. In the midst of a culture in which children are increasingly marginalized, and in which increasing numbers of children suffer in unstable and fragmented homes, the church needs to hold fast to the good of marriage as the safe haven for the birth and nurture of children. In a culture where promiscuity and “serial monogamy” destroy long-term wholeness and capacity for intimacy, the church needs to hold to its vision for marriage as a place of exclusive fidelity. In a culture (and church) in which almost half of all marriages end in divorce, the church must be a place where the vision and hope is sustained, that the lifelong commitment of marriage is a great and worthy good, worth struggling for, and suffering for, and working to strengthen, with all our might and will. The church must never allow marriage to be defined by opinion polls or demographic surveys. Instead, it must proclaim God’s redemptive and gracious purposes for marriage, and graciously summon all people to walk more faithfully toward God’s purposes for their lives. It makes this proclamation, not out of a sense of superiority, nor from the moralistic posture of those who have already “arrived,” but as a witness of love, in the clear conviction that God’s purposes are always for our good, for the flourishing of human life.

. . .

But the loss of procreation as an inherent good of gay/lesbian marriage is problematic, not only because it is linked with other trends in our society that marginalize children and parenting. At an even more basic level, redefining marriage to include gay and lesbian unions radically alters the fundamental reason why society has an interest at all in the institution of marriage. Marriage is an institution of society, and the interest of society as a whole in marriage centers upon the protection of children, the most vulnerable and most precious resource for which society is responsible. The protection of children is not the only interest society has in the institution of marriage, but it is the central and most important concern of society in maintaining the institution of marriage. This is why, for example, modern society extends insurance benefits to families. Regardless of popular assumptions, from a Christian perspective, the institution of marriage is not sustained by society primarily for the well-being of husbands and wives; it is centrally for the nurture and protection of children. To redefine marriage to include gay and lesbian unions is further to obscure this central reason for society’s interest in marriage in the first place.

Advocates of gay and lesbian marriage, of course, disagree. They note that reproductive technology (already used extensively by heterosexual couples) and adoption provide many valuable opportunities for gay and lesbian couples to nurture children, and that there is nothing that inherently prevents gay or lesbian marriages from fulfilling all the traditional goods of marriage. Indeed, not all heterosexual marriages are even capable of childbearing, but they are recognized as marriages nonetheless. Yet no child is ever brought into this world without the active involvement of both a man and a woman. The fact that technology has abstracted and at times distanced reproduction from this simple fact does not alter its universality and relevance. The General Synod’s statement on marriage reflects its conviction that God’s intention for procreation is the union of one male and one female. When exceptions to this norm are used to define marriage, the end result is a diminishment of clarity in our understanding of marriage in the first place.

(An Okie Gardener again) OK. Yes, I did get carried away. The crux of the argument is that there are three "goods" unique to marriage--procreation, fidelity, and permanence--and these unique goods must serve as the standards for definition. Society takes an interest in marriage for the well-being of children. While the RCA recognizes the justice of full civil rights for gays and lesbians, the ability to marry anyone one chooses is not a civil right. Some tension between these affirmations is here acknowledged by the document, but, one's civil rights are not infringed by legislation barring minors from marriage, or barring mothers from marrying their sons. Full text of the document is found here beginning on page 192. (The document is not that long, pagination refers to the entire workbook.)