In the contemporary culture of sexual partnerships, both homosexual and heterosexual, it is considered intolerable that the Word of God should deny consenting adults the gratification of their emotional and erotic drives, which are identified as “civil rights”. To non-Christians, of course, the teaching of the Bible and the Christian tradition is irrelevant; but to many Christians the idea that the Word of God and the contemporary culture are in contradiction is simply too painful to contemplate. It must be explained away, or denied outright. The theological difficulties, however, remain and are not abstract unless the Word of God and the will of God are mere abstractions. To treat any of them as though they were is to be cut off from the doctrinal core of one’s religion.
That is not to say that there are not real difficulties in the current understanding and practice of Christian marriage, even among “conservatives”. The advance of a “liberal” moral agenda in matters sexual has been made on the basis of a persistent and unaddressed weakness in the understanding and practice of Christian marriage. A legalistic crackdown will get us nowhere. There will be no real progress on this front, and nothing to be expected but continuing impasse both in the churches and in society in general, until there is a theological and practical recovery of the institution.
–The Rev. Gavin Dunbar is rector Saint John’s, Savannah, and this appeared in a recent parish newsletter.