Marriage, Divorce, Adultery and LGBT
In this essay I wish to examine some traditional and current viewpoints about the practice of marriage, as well as its dissolution and interpretations of what it is and is not.
Professor Kenneth L. Pike, long-time president of SIL International and former Professor of Linguistics at the University of Michigan, used to say “You don’t know what something is until you know what it is not”.
With Pike’s maxim in mind, let me try to define what traditional marriage is not:
- It is not between members of the same sex
- It is not simply a civil (as opposed to religious) ceremony
- It is not “forever” (there is no marriage in heaven)
I will now take each of these negative aspects of marriage and discuss them; later I will focus on what marriage is, or what I understand that it is supposed to be. My perspective is a Christian one and should be considered in that light.
Throughout history, until quite recently, the word ‘marriage’ did not apply to members of the same sex. There were, of course, relationships between members of the same sex but, across cultures around the world, these were different in kind and purpose than traditional marriage.
Marriage, in the historical and traditional definition of the word, meant that a man and a woman were joined together in a union that was sanctified by a religious person or someone with cultural authority to perform or acknowledge the union. Among the Kewa people of PNG, for example, clan members would formalize the union between a man and a woman by having their respective clans trade gifts.
In many cultures young women or men are ‘promised’ to each other by means of their elders and families. The actual union or marriage of the two may take place much later, but there is always some ritual by which to formalize and celebrate the action.
One of the purposes of marriage is, of course, to perpetuate the lineage of the marriage partners. Children are necessary and desired to carry on the family name and to have children a man and a woman must engage in sexual intercourse. There is no other natural way to bear children and it is the woman who carries and then births them. The male may engage in phantom or pseudo labor pains, but it is the woman who endures them.
Secondly, traditional marriage is not a simple act of “let’s get married”, or “let’s elope”, although both may occur. Nevertheless, it is generally one in which the culture and society are also engaged. Such marriages are recognized and documented by some means within a culture and society and become “official” and binding. The couple may then be counted in a census, engage in various activities that authenticate their standing, and in other ways have their status established.
From a Christian perspective, marriage is sacred and simple—instituted by God in Genesis 2:18-24. It is honorable because it was ordained and blessed by Him (Hebrews 13:4). It is a simple intimate bond between male and female individuals that is meant to be permanent (Matthew 19:5,6). It is true, however, that in some cultures, including the Hebrew, a man could have more than one wife (and, more rarely, in other cultures, a woman more than one husband).
For this reason churches and denominations have particular rites and rituals with which to observe a marriage. The adornment of the bride, festivities, the attire of the guests, gifts, the parental blessing and the consummation of the wedding are all covered in the Bible (see, for example, Genesis 24:65; Matthew 22:1-12; John 2:8-10; Psalm 45:12; and Genesis 29:23).
In many societies, close friends of the bride and groom (both gender indications) may “stand” with them as observers and witnesses to the occasion. Civil ceremonies also have legal statements and documents formalizing the wedding and prohibiting certain actions, such as divorce. Some aspects of a civil marriage should not be considered sacred because they are not included in a vow before God. They couple intends the marriage to be secular, even irreligious, perhaps sometimes deliberately profane.
The legal separation of a man and woman, generally ending in their divorce, was recognized as a feature of marriage, even a so-called Christian marriage. Moses gave such permission and Jesus clarified the acquiescence by adding “because of the hardness of your heart” (Matthew 19:8).
When women and men were divorced in the Kewa society of PNG (and in many other places), the woman would return to her place of birth and the man would, in many cases, be required to return some share of the bridal price. This was often problematic because the goods would have been distributed to clan members and recalling them would be difficult, if not impossible.
In our modern Western society, divorce may be legally granted for all kinds of reasons, not simply because of sexual immorality (adultery), as was the permissible reason for Christians (again see Matthew 19:8).
For some further Biblical comments on divorce, see: Leviticus 14:1-4; Mark 16:2-9; Romans 7:2,3; Luke 16:18. Reconciliation was always recommended, rather than divorce: 1 Corinthians 7:10-17.
The ten commandments given to Moses specifically state that adultery is wrong and unacceptable (Exodus 20:14). It is therefore grounds for divorce and Proverbs 6:23 states that “a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself.”
There are many sexual sins besides adultery, but it is specifically mentioned as a cause for divorce and is given some additional perspective by Jesus, who says that a man who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28). It therefore seems to be one of the more grievous sins that a man can knowingly commit.
The homosexual and lesbian community have conscripted the word “marriage” to mean a union of a male with a male or a female with a female. This kind of union is forbidden in both the Old and New Testaments (see, for example, 1 Timothy 1:10). It is allowed by our government, which claims that it is the right of “minority groups” and to forbid it would be a violation of personal rights (and the constitution).
By granting the LGBT the term “marriage”, the courts now must grant everything that goes with marriage, such as divorce, joint tax returns, and any other privileges and rights that the traditional marriage partners has. The courts do not rule that same-sex marriage is a “sin” or sexually impure, nor do many churches now.
It follows that Christians must interpret what the Bible says about LGBT “marriage” and how they view it, quite apart from the courts. Some Christians feel it is wrong to treat LGBT people like they are “different” from “normal” (i.e. traditional or “straight”) couples. They do not interpret the Scriptures, if they are Christians, as prohibiting homosexual relationships. They want to be “loving” and embrace any such person who comes to the church and they would not see them as “sinners”.
Some church members who accept “gay marriages” point to the divorced and remarried people in the church and claim that such people are also sinners.
The comparison of homosexuality and gay marriage with traditionally divorced and remarried couples is not valid for a number of reasons:
- Divorced opposite sex people are heterosexual
- Divorced people who remarry may do so if one of the partnership has been sexually unfaithful
- Divorced people often have borne children during their marriage (and in this way achieved their union)
- LGBT people cannot bear children—it is only accomplished (by natural means) between male with female partners
- LGBT people are already living in a sexually impure (according to Scripture) union
- LGBT people cannot commit adultery in the traditional sense, which is between a man and a woman
Summary and Conclusion
Christians are misled if they believe that LGBT “marriage” is the same, or similar to, the traditional marriage of a man and a woman. Christian marriage may result in divorce, but this is not what God intended when he made man and woman and united them as one in marriage.
The LGBT movement has conscripted the word “marriage” to now mean the union of same sex partners. They now wish to have their “marriages” observed in the traditional Christian church, and some churches and denominations are allowing the arrangement. Nevertheless, the traditional Christian church, the commandments of God, and the words of Jesus prohibit such an interpretation.
Pike, Kenneth L., with Hugh Steven. 1989. Pike’s perspectives: An anthology of thought, insight and moral purpose. Langley, British Colombia: Credo Publishing Corporation.
 I thought I would find the quote in Pike’s Perspectives (1989), but I haven’t. I first heard him say this in 1962 when he came to Papua New Guinea (PNG) to hold a linguistics workshop. My wife, Joice, and I were in the workshop and I was also being trained as a consultant.