Editorial: The SCOTUS Decision #2

This post continues ideas I began a week ago.

The SCOTUS decision regarding same-sex marriage will not end disagreement.  But it does exist as a landmark decision that will now influence subsequent conversations.

The conversations will revolve around whether covenant is the defining element, or not.  In last week’s post, I showed how the covenental concept shaped the Court’s decision, albeit in a judicial rather than a religious way.

Now, it falls to religion in general and Christianity in particular to engage in holy conversation and find its voice into the soul as the Court has found its voice into the State.  The rest of this post is within the Christian context.

As I wrote last week, covenant is the defining concept for the God-human, human-human relationship in the Bible.  It began in original righteousness in Eden, survived the original sin (egotism) that arose there, and then served as the basis to re-construct life as God intends for it to be, progressing (we Christians believe) from the First Testament into the Second Testament.

Those who continue to maintain that creation is the paradigm for marriage (i.e. opposite-sex marriage) equate definitiveness and normativeness.  Those who advocate a covenental paradigm distinguish between the two.  This point is significant.

In Eden, opposite-sex marriage (between Adam and Eve) was normative, if for no other reason that procreation was essential in the beginning for the continuation of humanity.  After Eden, opposite-sex marriage continued as normative, and it continues to be so today as the vast majority of marriages are opposite-sex ones.  This is to be expected when approximately 90-95% of humanity is heterosexual.

But normative and definitive are not synonymous. Something can be normative without being definitive. One example:  football.  Eleven-man football is normative, but it is not definitive.  Some schools play six-man football.  Some kids play football in their yards and on playgrounds with various sized teams.  Football is not defined by the makeup of the team, but by the principles of the game.

Similarly, marriage is not defined by the makeup of the couple, but by the principles of the relationship–by covenant:  sacredness, monogamy, fidelity, and permanency, predicated on love and the willingness of couples to make vows which reveal their commitment to God, to each other and to the values of marriage.

Because covenant is definitive, marriage can be entered into by any couple willing to celebrate the opportunity and accept the responsibility.  Opposite-sex marriages will remain normative (given global statistics), but they are not definitive.  Covenant is definitive, and within it, marriage can be offered to same-sex couples as well.  The SCOTUS decision reflects this in matters of law; may God help us to use covenant to make it so in matters of faith.


About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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