What does it mean to be made in God’s image, male and female? In conversations about LGBTQ people in the church, a lot hangs on the answer to that question.
After our LGBTQ Study Team looked carefully at how the early church handled disagreements about inclusion from Acts 15 we tackled Genesis 1-2. Both traditionalists and progressives talk a lot about Creation in their arguments, so we figured we’d face that head on and early in the process.
Since we’d done a bunch of prep beforehand, we jumped into the conversation – and EVERYONE (the Study Team is made up of traditionalists and progressives and a spectrum of those in between) had to participate in each exercise. We started with summarizing the best arguments from the traditional position on LGBTQ issues based on Genesis 1-2 (these will be brief summaries – you can look at the Syllabus to read the material for yourself).
The 5 Best Traditionalist Arguments
These five arguments from Genesis 1-2 are used as support for the overall traditionalist approach that God’s design in creation is for male-female marriage and that sexual behavior outside of male-female marriage is therefore not God’s design.
1. Male and female are complementary, and complementarity is required for marriage. Traditionalists point out markers in the text that show how men and women were intentionally designed by God to be complementary. As one scholar put it, “the sexes are complementary: the true partnership is expounded by the terms that are used [a helper fit for him, 2:18, 20; literally ‘a help as opposite him’]” (Derek Kidner, Genesis).
2. Procreation is essential in marriage, so same-sex couples cannot be married. Since the second century AD, traditionalists have argued for procreation as the chief goal of marriage, which then rules out couples where that is not an option. While not as popular of an argument today, many traditionalists still rely heavily on it. For example, “In Christian belief and practice, procreation is the proper end of marriage. A relationship that is not ordered towards procreation may be good and right and holy, but it is not a marriage” (Stephen Holmes, Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church).
3. God designed the bond between male and female to be a sexual bond, suggesting that sex should only be in a male-female marriage. Traditionalists argue because being ‘one flesh’ is inherently a sexual bond and a male-female bond, then God designed marriage only for male and female together. One author writes, “The nature of the one-flesh union presupposes two persons of the opposite sex. The phrase “one flesh” points to sexual intimacy, as suggested by the reference to nakedness in verse 25” (Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?).
4. The biological fit of sex organs emphasizes that marriage is only between male and female. Basically, the argument here is that the penis fits in the vagina, which is an observable fact of God’s intended design for intercourse. “The act of sexual intercourse brings a man and a woman together as one relationally and organically. The sameness of the parts in same-sex activity does not allow for the two to become one in the same way.” (Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?).
5. Male and female together reflect the Trinity in ways that same-sex couples cannot. Traditionalists argue that the unity of the man and the woman in marriage demonstrates a unity in difference that is reflective of the Trinity, where there is a unity of different persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). As one book puts it, “In an amazing, creaturely way, the husband-wife one-flesh union reflects the light of God’s eternal community, the Trinity” (Adam T. Barr and Ron Citlau, Compassion without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth).
The 5 Best Progressive Arguments
After we summarized the best traditional arguments, we worked together on the best progressive arguments from Genesis 1-2. Interestingly, we found that these five were mirrors of the preceding five arguments – the progressives saw the scriptures differently or highlighted different pieces of the text, but the areas of argument were the same. Those progressive arguments are as follows.
1. The creation story primarily emphasizes that the man and the woman were similar, so complementary sexes are not required for marriage. Instead of the complementarity view above, progressives point out that the text mostly highlights the sameness of the man and the woman. For example, “God made the man (adam) from the dust of the ground (adamah). Then later it uses a word which means man, a male human being: ish and a word which means woman, a female human being: ishshah. The similarity underlines the connection between the two.” (William Loader, Making Sense of Sex: Attitudes towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature). Since the sameness of Adam and Eve as human is what matters, the difference of male and female becomes less important.
2. Companionship, not procreation, is the core thrust of Genesis 2. Progressives argue that the modern church has largely adopted a view of marriage that should allow room for same-sex couples because procreation has been de-emphasized and companionship has risen as the main image of Genesis 2. One scholar put it like this, “Beyond the good of procreation, marriage makes the conditions for companionship and friendship that God intends both for mutual joy and for the sanctification and maturation of the individuals within it” (Eugene Rogers, A Theology of Marriage including Same-Sex Couples).
3. “They shall become one flesh” is primarily an expression of a kinship bond, not a sexual bond. Progressives highlight other parallel passages that reflect a family bond in marriage, which they see as being open to those of the same sex. As one scholar points out, when Adam says “ ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,’ on the surface of it, this appears to be a discovery of sameness, not difference. Furthermore, if one looks elsewhere in Scripture for similar language, one discovers that this language is always used to express kinship [Gen. 29:14; Judg. 9:2; 2 Sam. 5:1; 19:12-13; 1 Chron. 11:1]” (James Brownson, The Bible, Gender and Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships).
4. The exceptions to strictly male/female biology suggest that God’s creational diversity should be celebrated. The 32 types of intersex conditions suggest that not all sexual relationships are designed to be only male-female. The question is, “If we argue that sex difference – male and female – is necessary for marriage and sexual relations, then what about intersex persons who aren’t clearly male or female?” (Megan DeFranza, Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church).
5. Individually male and female each reflect God, so complementarity in marriage is not required for humans to be the imago dei. As one author put it, “In each human, regardless of the direction of their sexual attractions, there is the vibrant and beautiful potential that comes from being created in the image of God” (Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church).
Below are two excerpts from the reading we did – roughly the same length, covering essentially the same material, both looking at the bible, and very different in their conclusions. We’re working on sorting out these differences – and it’s not easy.
We concluded our conversation with a greater appreciation of each side’s arguments and with a sense of anticipation – and perhaps pressure – knowing that we would be looking at Romans 1 next.