“Marriage Equality”?

The discussion/debate/fight about proposals that homosexual couples should be allowed to marry continues to provoke heat, rhetorical flourishes, opinion polls and petitions, but little light. Many people seem to have made up their minds, or at least to know where they stand on the issue,1 but for those of us who would like to think things through there is little food for our thought. Two articles provoked my thinking (from different directions) today.

First, David Instone-Brewer’s visual sermon “Jesus likes Children” with its visual from the Warren Cup2 was a harsh reminder of the brutal sexual cruelty Graeco-Roman culture took for granted. David wrote (only exaggerating a little?):

Here is a picture of a boy Jesus may have played with. I mean that quite literally.
– it comes from a silver goblet which was made near Bethlehem in about 10 AD
– so the model for this artist was born about the same time as Jesus
– he is dressed in the rags of a slave, but perhaps the model wasn’t a slave
– it is a cute picture, but you can’t see here what he is looking so worried about

It comes from the Warren Cup, which is on exhibit in the British Museum
– other museums had refused to buy it and the USA even refused it entry
– the USA customs considered it too pornographic to allow into the country
– but by the 1960’s when the British Museum bought it, attitudes had changed
– it shows two graphic scenes of adult male homosexual acts in progress
– and in the middle, is this door and the little boy worried by what he sees
– he is worried, probably, because he has been sent to service one of the men

Multitudes of children like him were victimised throughout the Roman empire
– Roman morality didn’t think that this was wrong, especially for slaves
– but Jesus thought this was wrong, and was incensed by it.

Detail from the Warren Cup, from Wikimedia


Whatever our “modern” liberal culture believes sexuality is dangerous and left without social and legal controls will cause untold harm. (This recognition could be used to argue either side of the “debate”, but for me it instantly disposes of the trite claim that the decision is a small one.)

The second food for thought came from an article with the off-putting title “Those kinky Hebrews: marriage in the Judeo-Christian scriptures“. I expected the usual simplistic Abraham, Isaaand Jacob (not to mention the Hebrew kings) had decidedly dodgy family structures, so anything goes. However, though Alan Austin does descend to such depths often he works at a more sophisticated level. Not least he points out clearly how the laws of the Pentateuch attempt to legislate (and mitigate?) some decidedly odd sexual and family practices.

The better parts of his article are a sharp reminder that simplistic arguments from Scripture do not work. All in all I thoroughly recommend to those in or near Auckland the forthcoming Carey Conversation on Same Sex Marriage.

  1. Which is not always the same things at all, for many seem to simply accept their community’s understanding as “obvious” without thought. []
  2. David and the British Museum assume it to be genuine, I’m more sceptical of such dubiously provenanced “antiquities” of great value, but actually  it does not matter for my point here, since the genuineness of the artifact is not germane. []

One comment on ““Marriage Equality”?

  1. Bob MacDonald

    When language is wrenched from its familiar moorings, it is a disturbing time. I first gave up on the word gay, then I allowed for women teachers, now I have yielded to redefining marriage, a word that is frequently used metaphorically in any case. What led me, or even forced me to move was the distortion of tenderness caused by our laws against same-sex relationships in the first part of the 20th century, the time that formed my earliest assumptions. Sexual desire easily turns to violence and hatred (the Biblical example is Amnon – 2 Sam 13). I suppose that there is a reality to same-sex attraction that is God-given, and that when consecrated, as all sexuality must be, it remains what it is. God works also in and through such people – at least so I understand it. It is not my situation, but I understand it nonetheless. Canada allows same-sex couples and adoption, and all financial aspects of the law of the land, tax law, inheritance, etc apply equally to couples of all types. I know several such couples, one of whom has raised two difficult to raise children and done so with as much responsibility or more than I have seen generally. Some may be called to the charism of celibacy and some may not, but no one is called to the domination model of sex, or violence or destruction of others.

    It seems to me that society has an opportunity here to encourage commitment and maturity and to enable growth.