Too often religious or social conservatives who hold passionate anti-LGBT views or attitudes rely on select Bible passages to justify why gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people should be treated as second-class citizens or non-persons. Among the passages I would like to respond to as a transgender woman is Hebrews 13:4.
Hebrews 13:4 (NIV)
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
Seems cut and dry and pretty obvious why someone opposed to same-sex marriage or gay and lesbian or bisexual relationships would cite this passage. If we understand though the context and place this passage where it came from historically and culturally and theologically, we actually get a more accurate and honest picture of what it is that is being asked of us.
The religious definition of marriage according to the Orthodox Jewish tradition defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. How that man and woman form that union was defined by the cultural practices and societal norms of their day. If you look back in some of the Old Testament stories, a man could actually conceivably rape an unwed girl under the age of 18, pay her father 30 shekels, and buy her as his bride. A man could take up a slave-girl from a conquered tribe and take her against her will to be his concubine and later his wife if he so chose–she would have the “luxury” of mourning for a month and shedding the clothing and trappings of slavery. And her father, if he could be approached or if he still lived, would receive payment of course. She would have no say in the matter but at least she wouldn’t be treated as a slave, per se. Women as property is an age old institution enabled and supported by a culture that valued women as child bearers.
Progeny was the priority. Having large families to tend to family businesses, flocks, farms, extended family relatives who were elderly… kids were the social security network of the age. It was practical imperative for marriage to lead to procreation. And for the sake of morality, it was important for procreation to be confined to the marriage bed between two bound individuals who are committed to each other under the sight of God.
But the passage here puts emphasis on adultery and sexual immorality.
The intended readers are presumed to be heterosexuals–possibly some homosexuals were intended as well… but as mentioned, culturally speaking and religiously speaking, homosexuals would not have been allowed to marry under Orthodox Jewish traditions.
So heterosexuals are being warned against cheating and having sex with others outside of marriage. They are being warned against fornication. Sex for purposes outside of procreation within the framework of marriage is viewed as immoral.
So where does this leave homosexuals and same-sex marriage today?
There is a religious definition of marriage that has been shaped according to Orthodox Jewish tradition. Yet there are examples of committed relationships between same sex partners in the Bible as well, where oaths are exchanged. Look at the relationship between Ruth and Naomi for example and the vows they shared– vows, incidentally, that are repeated in marriages today! Love in all its forms has never been condemned by the Bible. Commitments of love between two people have never been condemned either.
The conflict arises when society of the 21st century tries to judge itself and hold itself to the standards of pre-1st century societal standards according to Mosaic Law. It makes no practical sense for people of today to try and live by the Mosaic Law and rituals and codes of conduct found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. We have evolved past all that and besides that, Jesus had already established a new law, and new covenant and rendered the old laws obsolete! We are not saved by the laws– we are saved by God’s grace!
Now in our society we have civil unions– unions outside the Judeo-Christian traditional definition of marriage–that can accommodate the legal and hopefully spiritual needs of two committed partners of the same sex. But does it mean the same thing as a “marriage?” I believe that it can! I believe that anytime two people regardless of gender exchange vows and oaths of love and dedication to each other under the eyes of God, whether they are in an open and affirming church or not, they have an obligation to each other and a bond with each other that must be taken seriously.
The same standards of monogamy and dedication you would have for heterosexuals would equally apply to homosexuals.
In terms of marriage as furthering the priority of procreation, society has again, evolved their thinking and views and attitudes about family planning and family size. A married couple does not need to have children let alone large families. In fact, in this day and age, under most economic situations, it is simply impractical to have large families and many children. The costs associated with having children have steadily increased and become astronomically high when one considers the later costs of putting kids through college!
So if procreation is not the overwhelming priority that it once was, what then?
Sexual pleasure between two committed individuals in a union or marriage is permissible. Intimacy within a committed relationship is expected! Two souls becoming as one is as about as natural as you can get.
What seems unnatural is the effort people make to try and live according to cultural norms and standards that are thousands of years distant and entirely foreign. Many of the laws and warnings had very practical roots and reasons in their day… and some still hold value for us today, actually. However, as intelligent beings with God-given brains, we have to recognize that as time passes, culture adapts, societies develop, people’s needs and wants and understandings of things change… nothing remains entirely static.
What does remain static and solid is the value of love, compassion, patience, kindness, and reverence for powers beyond us. Go back to Hebrews 13:1 for the over-arching guide in how to conduct yourselves!
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.”
If we can at least do that much, figuring out the definition of marriage should be an extension of that love–focused on a specific person we would wish to live out the rest of ours days with.
But if you are going to love someone deeply enough to commit to them wholly in a marriage or civil union, make the relationship sacred between you. Make intimacy between you and your spouse or partner something sacred and special.
Now someone might quote me Deuteronomy again and say that a man who sleeps with another man as he would a woman is an abomination…
Well consider this:
Two homosexual men in a relationship are not seeking to procreate. They can be committed and dedicated to each other and only each other, and could have exchanged vows much in the same way Naomi and Ruth exchanged vows of love and loyalty. Is it reasonable then to think that one of these two men would suddenly see their partner not as a man but as a woman? No. A homosexual man is still a man and still perceives himself as a man. He may be feminine in expression, possibly, but he is still a man and he is attracted to his partner because his partner is also a man– not a woman. His expectations and desires for his partner are entirely different than those of a heterosexual man who desires a woman and expects to have intimacy with a woman.
It would be an abomination if a heterosexual man chose to sleep with another heterosexual man with the expectation that somehow the partner would behave as a woman and be expected to procreate.
It would be an abomination for two heterosexuals to engage in a dishonest and insincere act of homosexuality outside of and aside from their own private married relationships. Basically for two men to conspire to commit adultery with their wives and pursue a false homosexual relationship.
Homosexual relations in tribute to some pagan god (as the Egyptians and early Canaanites had apparently) would also be considered an abomination.
Any relationship that involves two males expecting their partner to mimic the properties of the female gender and societal norms of a woman’s presumed gender roles in the course of intimacy would be creating a falsehood and that would be considered an abomination as well.
In terms of transgender relationships, it is simple. Any relationship not based in sincerity or honesty that is aligned to a person’s gender identity within their soul, would be the abomination.
But in an earlier post on this Deuteronomy passage, it was clear that the context there was a condemnation against pagan rituals involving sexual activity to priests and priestesses for favors from false gods. Mimicry of these sexual rituals to false gods would be abomination.