on covananted same gender relationships
BY Drew Tatusko
Originally Posted at Notes From Off Center on July 28, 2009
The Civil Union and Christian Marriage Committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has asked for responses pursuant to their mandate to study “the history of the laws governing marriage and civil union, including current policy debates; how the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed and broader Christian tradition; the relationship between civil union and Christian marriage; the effects of current laws on same-gender partners and their children, and the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.”
Responses are due no later than August 16, 2009. Click here for more information. What follows below is my response.
Civil Union and Christian Marriage Committee
Office of the General Assembly, Room 4621
100 Witherspoon Street
Louisville, KY 40202-1396
Members of the Committee,
It is a Christian obligation to acknowledge, affirm, welcome, and create an environment in which the love between two persons, regardless of sexual identity or preference, is fully invited and held to a high standard of mutual obligation between partners. I believe this because those who have struggled within the closet often cannot receive the love of God and proclaim it until they emerge as the person that God has intended them to be.
The closet is not a euphemistic metaphor to which we can casually refer in some derogatory or humorous manner. The closet is a prison cell that society has constructed for those who are not heterosexual. Yet as the witness of countless persons who have struggled within the closet and emerged alive attests, it was Christ who released their soul from captivity, and it was only out of the closet that Christ could fully be received. For it is the emergence of the person from out of the closet that attests to the power of the Gospel to liberate the lonely, the oppressed, the outcast, and the sinner to a new life in Christ irrespective of sexual identity.
Christian theology needs to be tempered with a pragmatic realism that understands one consistent feature in the map of Christian history: its functional social mutability. How Christian theology and scripture functions among people is constrained by the cultural boundaries a given society constructs. In this regard the notion of sin is a socially constructed understanding of biblical rules and mandates for conduct. What we truly believe to be absolute sin today is not the same as it was ages ago, regardless in some cases of what scripture actually says. The meaning of scripture mutates with each culture and civilization as different peoples construct different meanings of the text to communicate and reveal the risen Christ in their midst.
Many who claim authoritative interpretations of scripture maintain that women ought not hold offices of teaching men theology or holding any position of authority over men in the church or in the home. Women are commanded by God to inhabit specific social roles. The social equality of women in the West is a recent development after centuries of what we now assert were poor interpretations of the role of women as revealed in scripture. That women have a vital function in the ministry and can indeed hold offices of authority over men in theological matters is far more normative than ever and will continue to be more normative with succeeding generations. This is certainly the case within the PCUSA. The same discussions about the role of women, slaves, and people of color have taken place within the PCUSA as we are now discussing concerning homosexuality. We need to observe this from a rational perspective lest we fold into some irrational progressivism where we simply assume that our age is more enlightened than previous ages.
One reading is to assert what Paul or Jesus would have said in our current context. Such assertions inevitably take the shape of whoever is doing the arguing for a given position. As one assertion runs, Paul would have not supported even benevolent slavery today. However it is quite clear from the text that benevolent slavery was something he with Jesus most likely accepted. Such a supposed trajectory does not change the fact that there is good reason to believe that Paul supported an owner’s authority over a slave who works for no wage at all other than a forced exchange of shelter and food. This sort of authoritarian situation does not justify benevolence no matter how familial it is rendered. Most sovereign states have laws that are binding to prevent this sort of economic exchange. Yet many Christian traditions, PCUSA notwithstanding, would oppose a repeal of slavery laws or the equal treatment of women or people of other races on moral grounds rooted in scripture – the same scripture that once justified slavery. This is reasoned through how a particular social structure mediates what it believes to be the revealed Word in scripture for them at a given moment in time.
The point is that we make assumptions on how we read these texts based on variability of contextual matters. I have been on several sides of the debate regarding those in relationships other than traditional, monogamous, heterosexual relationships and the turning point was not in how I understood sin, but in how I understood love and what healthy and up-building relatedness looks like. Our society and psychology mediate our relatedness to God in often intractable ways. We can only relate to God through the media of our experience with the world. If we regulate behaviors in ways that reinforce disordered relationships between non-heterosexuals such as forbidding marriage among other things, our systems of purity and social constructs function as media that will inevitably reinforce disordered relationships with God, or altogether kill off any such possibility. Sin as something prohibitive of behavior is not the issue as much as what kind of relationships serve to mediate the ability of one to receive what is good from God and what relationships fail in that capacity. The assertion that all same gendered relationships are inherently disordered is at stake.
Can a non-heterosexual couple receive the love of Christ in their relationship more fully than outside that relationship? The evidence from same gender relationships tells us that we should affirm this claim and reject that same-gender relationships are inherently disordered. It is clear that any form of slavery is unjust and ultimately dehumanizing; and women in places of theological and biblical authority over men is up-building and not destructive to the church. Likewise we are obligated to affirm where the love of Christ is being revealed, experienced, expressed, and witnessed among those who happen to have found Him in a place that the church currently rejects as legitimate. Not to respond to this revelation of Christ is to grieve the same Spirit that gives life to the church universal.
Andrew Tatusko is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (1999, 2000) from which he earned an M.Div. and Th.M. There he focused on philosophical theology, philosophy of education, and postmodern theory. From there he was a senior instructional designer at Seton Hall University where he worked on initiatives to integrate technology into teaching and learning. Currently he is the program activity director for a Title III grant to integrate technology into teaching, learning, retention and advising at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA. Drew blogs at Notes From Off Center.