On Monday, legacy media outlets expressed confusion and outrage when the Vatican refused to recommend official Roman Catholic blessings for same-sex unions. It seems a growing coalition of LGBT activists and their allies in Hollywood, academia, the media, and elsewhere cannot fathom the idea that Christians are committed to defining marriage as one man and one woman, for life. Many of them attribute this to “hate” or bigotry, but there are very good theological reasons behind this stubbornness.
The Bible could not be more plain: both the Old and New Testaments condemn homosexual activity as a sin (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:10; Romans 1:26-27). The Bible does not condemn same-sex attraction, commonly referred to as “being gay,” as a sin, although encouraging and acting on this attraction would be considered sinful.
Yet these passages do not sum up Christian doctrine on marriage, nor do they explain why the biblical view of marriage as between one man and one woman for life is so essential to Christianity.
In Christianity, marriage isn’t just the central building block of society — producing and rearing the next generation — but the essential symbol of the Church’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament, God the Father often portrays Himself as the faithful husband of an unfaithful bride, His chosen people Israel. Although God chose Israel and remained faithful to her, she abandoned him, seeking pagan idols or putting her trust in other nations to save her from her enemies.
This metaphor becomes even more explicit in the New Testament. Jesus often compared the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14; Matthew 15:1-13) and Revelation looks forward to “the wedding feast of the lamb” where the bride is the Christian Church and the groom is Jesus (Revelation 19-21).
When exhorting husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” Paul explicitly ties Genesis 2:24 — the passage about man and woman becoming “one flesh” in marriage that Jesus cited — to the relationship between Jesus and the Church.
“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church,” Paul wrote (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Jesus stresses the importance of fidelity in marriage, which is a symbol of God’s faithfulness for His people. When asked about divorce, Jesus cited Genesis 2:24, adding, “They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5-9).
Marriage is about more than just social convention for Christians — it is a symbol of God’s faithfulness to His people and Christ’s selfless love for the Church. In marriage, men and women take part in a small echo of God’s perfect love.
Christians do not pretend to understand exactly how marriage echoes God’s love for humankind or Jesus’ love for the Church. These are grand mysteries that hint at the heart of God, not human conventions we can alter at whim.
When the world asks Christians to redefine marriage, it isn’t just asking them to alter social convention. It’s asking them to reject God’s design for marriage, to celebrate sexual activity the Bible condemns as sinful, and to twist a symbol of God’s unshakeable love for redeemed humanity. When laws trample on religious freedom and attempt to force Christians to violate their consciences on this issue, they aren’t fighting “bigotry,” they’re attempting to twist Christianity into something unrecognizable.
The world should not be surprised when Christians fight for something as central to our faith as marriage. In fact, Christians arguably fight too hard about the “one man and one woman” part without fighting hard enough to protect marriage as a lifelong relationship, echoing God’s steadfast love. Christians have long regarded divorce with suspicion for good reason.
All that said, Christianity is about redemption for fallen humanity. Every person besides Jesus Christ is sinful and deserves damnation — only the grace and mercy of Christ can save us. That means Christians should be the last people to judge others as irredeemable. We know our own sin, and that should make us extremely humble when dealing with other people.
It is vitally important for Christians to love our enemies and to listen to the deep pain that LGBT people feel, even though we must steadfastly resist LGBT ideology. We must also reject the pride of looking down on people who are tempted in different ways than we are. Opposite-sex attraction is not a virtue, and the experience of same-sex attraction is not a sin.
“But in your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you. Yet do so with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.