by Scott Stiegemeyer
For the last couple of decades, mainline Protestant churches in Europe and North America have been wrestling with massive cultural shifts surrounding sexuality and marriage. Most recently, the United Methodist General Conference, meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, voted to affirm the understanding that had been nearly universal until very recent times: that men and women are made for one another in a unique and exclusive sense in marriage. As we know well in the LCMS, sometimes church bodies vote one way, sometimes another. Not everything should be put to a vote, but it happens — and this time, the votes were in favor of honoring the integrity of the Biblical teaching. This time, you could say, love won.
For thousands of years, in thousands of cultures, human beings have recognized marriage to be the special union of a man and a woman. To be sure, from time to time, there has been confusion about whether a man can have multiple wives, or how men should treat their wives, and whether divorce is acceptable or not and under what circumstances. But Jesus points us directly to the Garden of Eden in his teaching on marriage (Matt. 19). God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone, so he made him a complementary companion in Eve. When that happened, love won.
The Christian vision of marriage, beginning at the beginning, sees one man and one woman joined in a comprehensive life-long tie that is oriented towards having children. The companionship that can exist between two men, two women, or groups of three or more is not comprehensive in the way that it can be between one man and woman. Traditional conjugal marriage can do things that no other association, no matter how emotionally close, can do. It is characteristic of selfless love to spread, to focus on the other and move beyond the self. When we give ourselves to our beloved, it is quite natural for new life to be born. Certainly, there are many couples who are unable to conceive children, and their marriages are no less a divine representation — but in most cases, children are the fruit of the marital bond. Everyone knows that a man and a woman are uniquely designed for one another in a way that cannot be said of other kinds of arrangements. They complete each other. The two become one flesh. New life begins. Love wins.
Furthermore, conjugal marriage represents a divine mystery that nothing else in all creation can match. Man/woman marriage is an embodied representation of the self-giving fellowship Christ has with His Bride, the Church. When a man and woman give their lives in faithful life-long service to one another, they portray a heavenly truth. This is why the evil one works so hard to undermine marriage and degrade human sexuality. The sexual revolution has pulverized millions. Conjugal marriage is natural revelation that echoes the Gospel itself. When a man and a woman pledge their faithful devotion to one another, this demonstrates the way God selflessly serves His beloved people in Christ. When Jesus calls us out of darkness into light, when He reconciles sinners to God by His death, when He washes us in His blood, love wins. When Jesus laid down His life for His friends, love won and continues to win in the communion of the Church.
Without doubt, the traditionalists in the United Methodist Church know that now is not a time to gloat over their narrow victory. Instead, this is a time for all Christians everywhere to confess the primordial meaning of sex and marriage, to embrace not revisionism but faithfulness. Why? Because it is good for humanity. We have too long been catechized by the world on these questions. We must not be timid. We can teach our children about chastity without being legalistic. Husbands and wives can exemplify grace in their relationships as they bear one another’s burdens. We can bless human relations that honor God’s creation and mercifully decline to take part in those that do not. That is one way love wins, by steering sinful humans in the way to go so we may not harm ourselves by following the flesh, and then by absolving the penitents and proclaiming the Savior’s love to all. The cross can unite us and heal us and restore us when we fail and falter. That is chiefly how love wins.
These reflections are not an exhaustive response to same-sex behavior — many questions remain unaddressed — but it is a call for the Church once again to sit up and pay attention to marriage. Marriage matters. The Bible begins and ends with a wedding, after all — and we ought never to forget that God brought each one of us into this world through the physical union of a man and a woman.
We speak of love. What does love look like? A bridegroom and a bride who deny themselves and lay down their lives for the other. Male and Female living in the image of God. Christ on the cross, dying to redeem His Bride.
Be of good cheer. One day, the fog will clear. Someday soon we will be glorified; we will be lifted up. The cords of death which entangle us will be loosed forever. Can you hear the wedding bells? Fix your eyes on the Bridegroom who is coming to retrieve His beloved and tell the world: Love does win.
The Rev. Professor Scott Stiegemeyer teaches bioethics and theology at Concordia University, Irvine, Calif.