The apostle Paul placed his famous “love chapter” in the middle of his teaching about how the Holy Spirit gives life to the body of Christ. He did not directly connect it to his chapter on marriage. This is important because love is not just about our personal connections and desires, it is an expression of our truest selves in Christ, found in his body, the community of believers.
We may think love is all about finding a soul mate and having great sex. But that is not the deepest place love lives. Paul respects marriage as a part of life in the Body of Christ, but because of his urgency for service to the body’s good-newsing work, he actually advises that no one marry at all unless we are aflame with passion. His primary teaching, however, starts with new creation. If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Our life as the new creation is all about faith working itself out through love.
Seeing everyone as partners, or as potential partners in this new creation is how we make sense of everything. So we also see through that lens when we think about human sexuality: our own and that of others. When people are finding their way sexually and otherwise, we say with Paul:
“From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.
Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone, the new is here!”
When we get married we come together as partners in the new creation before we are sexual partners. Marriage is a secondary matter to Jesus when he affirms some of the teachings in the scripture about marriage. He even offers a reordering of the old law, which makes space for people of other genders. Along with the other Bible writers, Jesus assumes marriage should be honored by all, lifelong, and exclusive. But none of the Bible writers understood marriage through our contemporary understanding of gender and sexual identity; they did not have a context for marriage between two people who were not male and female. So we have a new task in our context to understand marriage in the new creation from our context with people of all genders and sexuality.
None of the writers of the Bible think of marriage as the ultimate expression of love and commitment. Married people are not more holy than single people. Holiness comes from obedience to Jesus and connection with him who gives us the ultimate example of self giving love as a model for our lives: his death on the cross. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life of self-giving love fully realized in the body of Christ. Within that inspired and diverse body, composed of everyone who names Jesus as Lord, “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” Every Jesus-follower is honored because each is given “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
How people approach sexual expression is fluid throughout history. The church has oppressed and injured many people because of their gender and sexuality. The church, including ours, has oppressed and injured many people because of their gender and sexuality. We grieve this injustice and repent of it. We follow Jesus in welcoming and affirming LGBTQIA folks. We are committed to provide a place for everyone to find fullness as one’s true self by becoming an honored member of the body of Christ. Each person is infinitely valued by the other members of the body in the pattern demonstrated to us by Jesus on the cross, dying for all and revealing a new humanity in himself, in which all humans can now share by trusting his word about who they are.
Journeying like this on the way of Jesus requires a great deal of love and commitment. Building community in love calls on all of us to exercise faith. It requires our best and demands respect for each other as we journey together. The Lord relates to us with grace, hospitality, and love. We are following in his steps, heart-to-heart into eternity. We are helping each other along the way.
We want to maintain our ongoing dialogue of discernment, but we also want to provide some clarity as to where it has brought us. Hopefully this teaching helps people who are searching. We are all hoping we will find some mutual understanding for how we feel and for how we act. So here is how we see human sexuality in the context of the Body of Christ in our present world.
Generally, sexual expression should happen within a relationship founded in marriage, which we will bless anyone with regardless of their gender or sexuality. A legal marriage contract is secondary to a personal and communal covenant in Christ. Couples who cohabit as sexual partners without a public ceremony should consider themselves married. Likewise, if they break up, they should consider themselves divorced.
We honor and affirm LGBTQIA folks as beloved siblings. We can faithfully work out our sexuality in a variety of ways, as we are convicted and gifted. Some will choose celibacy alongside Jesus and Paul. Some may marry someone of the same gender, some may marry another gender. Our job as the church is to help discern and affirm the Spirit’s direction for each of us.
We are called to a life of joy in the new creation. So we will train our loves according to our deepest held convictions and covenants. We are diverse and we are growing. We hope to create enough mutuality in this teaching to foster a baseline for our ongoing dialogue. Too often these conversations are excluded from conversations in church because the church is notorious for moral policing and not an open dialogue of love no matter what. We are committed to the latter. We need God’s help to keep walking faithfully together as a community of many kinds of people united by our common calling and purpose in Christ.