1. In the current discussion, there are people on both sides who seriously wrestle with the issue. Premature convictions from both sides are, in any case, inappropriate. Where there is simplified and judgmental argumentation (in the style of “can love be a sin”? or “but the Bible says”), one does not do justice to the seriousness of reflection on the other side.
Church-political-populism tends to discredit the church as a whole among the population. Neither “liberals” nor “conservatives” can thereby score points with such populism. Instead, everyone gets harmed. An honest and serious discussion must take place and must attempt to win over especially those who have difficulties with the one or the other position. With this goal in mind, I will attempt to formulate some deficiencies in the discussion and some of the arguments.
2. In the current discourse, the impression arises that the question about “homosexual marriage” is a central point of Christian thought. It never was and it is not. Fundamental and central is the gospel, the message of Christ crucified, who is our salvation. Everything else is subordinate to it and classified with reference to it. If we agree in our confession of this gospel, there are many remaining questions for which different positions will have to be endured. The Protestant (Die evangelische Kirche) as a church of the people must endure coexistence of different styles of piety as well as different theological and ethical positions. This is precisely what distinguishes it from free churches (Freikirchen) and associations, wherein – sometimes with more or less force (and sometimes also with severe mercilessness) – only one attitude, only one style is tolerated, and deviations from it have no place.
3.It is true that for a Protestant church (eine evangelische Kirche), the Holy Scripture should be the measure and norm for teaching and living. Admittedly, understanding of Scripture is controversial in many places, and it requires expert knowledge and competence. Simple, transference and legal application of Old or New Testament words to today’s situation are just as inappropriate as a quick “wipe off the table,” disregarding what stands upon it, under the motto “one can no longer do _____ (fill in the blank) today.” Instead, Scripture should fundamentally be read in its historical context, and that means that it must be read critically. Those who do not do this make it too easy for themselves and deceive themselves (and possibly others as well). At the same time, our reading must also be self-critical, aware of the danger (to which we are all exposed) that we would be all too happy to read our own prejudices and desires into the Bible.
4. Questions of lifestyle, ethics, and here specifically sexual ethics form the center of identity (and of one’s doctrine of sin) within certain evangelical circles. Everything seems to revolve around sex. How to deal with it seems to be of utmost concern. But even in the New Testament’s discussions about sin and sins (e.g., in the vice catalogs), sexual sins are no more emphasized than, for example, social or economic sins. Hate, greed, avarice, and a life of lies are considered of no less “bad” than adultery, unchastity, and the like. But why doesn’t one hear from the conservative corner just as strong a protest when questions of justice are at stake, where people perish under the damaging consequences of economic practices? Should God care only about coitus, should he be indifferent to consumption and the service of mammon? This is an unbiblical shift of emphasis and a darkening of the gospel.
5. The opinion that there is a specific biblical understanding of marriage cannot be upheld upon a closer inspection. In the Bible (OT and NT), there is a multitude of different family structures throughout time, from multi-woman marriages among patriarchs to clans and extended families, to precarious alliances of people who simply had to stick together to survive. The fact that questions of “sexual practice” are only rarely addressed shows that this was not the primary focus. At the same time, the Bible speaks of friendships among men (e.g., David and Jonathan), about which much is speculated, however a positive mention of a sexual relationship between them cannot be obtained from the text either (as much as some wish that this were possible).
Marriages in biblical Israel were often arranged by parents/fathers, women were widely regarded as the “property” of the husband (father or husband). At the time of marriage, women were often still underage girls (and one must ask oneself whether today one would have to talk about forced marriages, child marriages, and even child abuse). Marriages often lasted only a short time because of mortality rates, especially those of women. Children grew up in very different contexts, with living parents, with second mothers, with relatives, or within a larger family context. That is to say, “patchwork families” were more frequent in this time, if not even the norm. Therefore, we should not idealize the conditions of the biblical era.
It is not acceptable to speak of biblical relations in light of the modern “bourgeois marriage” or of the classic family, with (only) husband, wife, and their biological children.
6. Nowhere in the Bible is marriage associated in any way with a religious celebration. Marriage was a public, social act, a celebration for an entire village. It addressed issues such as property and economic conditions – just as in the case of divorce it had to be clarified who owned the property (estates, moveable objects). Moreover, nowhere in the Bible is there an order for a special blessing over a marriage or a special blessing on the occasion of a marriage. That is why (for Protestants) marriage, unlike baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is not a sacrament, but instead a “worldly thing” (welchtlich Ding). The “sacramentalization” of marriage in evangelical circles is unbiblical! The blessing (in the Old Testament, for example, over the work of creation, in the narratives about the fathers) aims at increasing life, progeny, and earthly prosperity. The primordial blessing on man, created male and female, is not a blessing on “marital status” (Ehestand). It is, therefore, a bold transformation when these words are used in ecclesiastical liturgies in this sense.
7. It would be naïve to transfer biblical statements simply as “law” to the present. Whoever does this in view of the Old Testament sexual taboos would also have to demand, for example, that a woman marry her brother-in-law when her husband dies or that she has to conceive a child from him. One would also have to regard pork as an abomination, declare mixed fabrics as forbidden, or (according to the NT) walk around without a purse, for example. For all these statements, it has to be clarified out of which interest and in which cultural context they are formulated. None of them is simply transferable. In order to determine transferability, criteria are needed, and these criteria would have to be precisely reflected.
What can these criteria be? Different models have been discussed here in the history of theology in order to justify why some commandments and statements should remain valid, while others should not: A differentiation in the history of salvation could justify why certain circumstances (e.g., the polygamy of the patriarchal period or the cultic laws of the Old Testament period) could be regarded as dismissed. Others have argued from the point of view of the reception of the Old Testament in the New Testament, that for the Christian congregation precisely those statements which are taken up in the New Testament or formulated by Christ are more binding. Martin Luther taught that one must recognize and distinguish “law” and “gospel” (both found in the Old Testament and the New Testament) in their dialectics in order to counteract the “legalization” of the gospel, which muffles the gospel and makes it inaudible. Later theologians attempted to ask which provisions can only be explained by contemporary history. Other criteria could be added to these. But above all, it is a theological matter to ask about what is in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ. What does it mean to think about God from the knowledge of his love in Christ and in the cross? These questions cannot be answered with a general “list to be ticked off.” Instead, everyone must find individually a theologically justified position.
8. With regard to the biblical statements on “homosexuality” (if one is allowed to summarize the statements in this way at all), it can be stated that they are formulated from certain cultural contexts and interests:
(A) Certain sexual norms, especially in the Old Testament, have to do with concepts of purity, because emissions—emission of semen as well as menstruation—ritualistically polluted those affected and therefore had to be avoided in certain situations.
(B) In the background of other statements, there is the view that an Israelite must have offspring no matter the circumstances, or must sire offspring, which is why, for example, male homosexual marriage was forbidden.
(C) Moreover, in the Greek and Roman cultures, specific ideals of masculinity were widespread, and all forms of “effeminacy,” but also emotionality, were regarded – unlike today – as unmanly, disgraceful. Interestingly enough, the Bible speaks almost exclusively of male homosexual behavior; analogous behavior among women is hardly discussed.
The New Testament authors such as Paul focused on forms of sexual behavior in the Hellenistic world that were mostly exercised in relationships of dependency (with slaves), with a substantial age discrepancy (“catamites”), and were highly promiscuous. By contrast, a relationship between two same-sex partners based on stability and mutual assumption of responsibility is nowhere in view in the New Testament. If one considers this, then the simple transfer of the statements of New Testament vice catalogs to today’s homosexual ways and styles of life is not possible.
9. Today, when a state privileges and promotes marriage (which interestingly enough is not the case in Switzerland because of the “marriage penalty” [Heiratsstrafe] tax), then the reason is a decidedly secular and economic one: Here, a mutual assumption of responsibility takes place, including emergencies, which makes the intervention of society superfluous. This is the reason that motivates state authorities to open up this legal form and the privileges associated with it to other forms of cohabitation.
Since, in our legal system, the church can only hold a marriage ceremony if the state marriage has already taken place (in other legal systems this is different), the question of “marriage” (Ehe) for same-sex couples only arises if such a legal basis exists in the state (as is already the case in Germany, though not in Switzerland). A blessing in special life situations is of course possible in cases where there is pastoral justification, even without this basis (and thus already now). The pastoral considerations that need to be taken into account are analogous in both cases.
10. To ask for God’s blessing for others and to grant them this blessing is incumbent upon all followers of Jesus. This mission is not limited to pastors, even though they are especially called to it within the framework of their pastoral vocation. But it’s always persons who are blessed – not things, circumstances, attitudes, or actions.
With regard to church blessings, what is essential is what happens in a Protestant wedding (in einer evangelischen Trauung), what is blessed here/or what it is that God’s blessing is requested for. First of all, it is clear that there is no “joining together” here, neither by people nor by God. That would be a gross misunderstanding. Instead, those who come to be “married” at the church wedding have already come together. This also applies with respect to the blessing: People are blessed, not things (e.g., rings); God’s blessing is petitioned for their relationship with one another, others, and to God, for the responsible task of being together and being for one another. The blessing is also not a signing off (Absegnen) or a validation of the circumstances, the living conditions, certain attitudes, or sexual practices of the individuals. No judgement is made on any of these issues (not even in a conventional, heterosexual marriage).
For these reasons, I personally consider the opening up of church practice to be theologically justifiable in the “line of alignment” (Fluchtlinie) of the gospel and on the basis of pastoral care for people in the diversity of today’s life situations. It is indispensable, however, that no one be forced to act against his or her conscience. This applies very generally to official church acts, and especially here, with respect to this matter, where it is still possible to be constrained by a different decision of conscience. Even here, a coexistence of different conscience-based judgements must be possible in a Protestant (in einer evangelischen Kirche), if indeed it desires to remain Protestant.
I’ll let you decide if you agree or disagree.