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Your author has spent most of his adult life in South Bend, Indiana, a city that has been known for many things. One of those things is the strong Catholic influence in the community. University of Notre Dame is a significant part of South Bend. So also are St. Mary's University, Holy Cross College, and two large Catholic high schools. South Bend has traditionally had mayors who were Polish and Catholic, and political celebrations were frequently intertwined with major Catholic holidays. The West Side Democratic Club promoted Dyngus Day (the day after Easter), and if you were a Democrat, a Catholic, and had a Slavic last name, you were almost sure to be elected mayor.
In 2019 this all changed as Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, who is not Catholic, married his gay live-in partner named Chasten. Then he announced he was running for President of the United States. Most people seemed to believe that Buttigieg was a good mayor. He is well educated, served in the military, is very personable, and speaks well. He was elected mayor before his sexual orientation was made very public, and did not marry his male partner until late in his second term. The Catholic community has had a hard time knowing what to do with this homosexual mayor, who is well-liked and is a capable politician.
We mention all this to try to focus on the issue of whether Mayor Pete and Chasten are a family. Is their union compatible with biblical teaching? How has “family” changed from the time of Adam and Eve through the Patriarchal and Mosaic age and into the Christian era? What does this tell us about God's design for the family and his relationship to the church — referred to as “the bride of Christ” in the New Testament?
FAMILY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
No word in the Old Testament corresponds precisely to the modern English term “family” as consisting of father, mother, and children (The New Bible Dictionary, page 415). There is a word which some translations render as family, but the Hebrew term refers to those sheltering under one roof (see Exodus 12:4). In Isaiah 5:7, the word refers to the whole nation of Israel.
The major problem in the Old Testament was the roles of the male and the female. The male was the “master” (baal in Hebrew) and “lord” (adfon) of the wife. The woman's primary role was to bear and care for children. There is no word for “bachelor” in the Old Testament. If a man died before producing offspring, his brother was obligated to marry his widow (Deuteronomy 25:5) and produce offspring that would bear the dead man's name. In Genesis 38:9-10, a man named Onan refused to fulfill that responsibility and was struck down by God.
Genesis 2:20-25 gives the plan of God for the human family relationship. Genesis 2:20 uses the word ezer, translated “help.” When coupled with the word “meet” in English it indicates a unique need of man being met by the woman who was taken out of his side. Verse 20 tells us that nothing else God created met a need that was a part of man's design.
Genesis 2:24 summarizes this explanation of the relationship between man and woman: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The Hebrew word translated “cleave” is dabaq meaning to adhere to. The reference is not primarily sexual but instead refers to a spiritual desire built into humans not to be alone.
FAMILY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
When Jesus discussed the relationship between men and women, he indicated that God tolerated humans violating God's intent for husband and wife to remain together “because of the hardness of your hearts” (Matthew 19:8). He went on to say, “from the beginning it was not so.” Genesis 4:19 records the first case of polygamy by Lamech and marks the beginning of humans veering away from God, resulting in Noah's flood.
We see the complexity of the family relationship between men and women in the rest of what Jesus said in Matthew 19. His disciples had questioned whether or not marriage was a good thing. Jesus responded with: All men cannot receive this saying, but it is for those to whom the capacity has been given. Some men have always been unsuited for marriage, having been born that way, while others have been made so by men, and there are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake (Matthew 19:11-12).
Before sin entered the world, God planned that the family would consist of a man and a woman who adhered to one another. Throughout the Bible, the words for bride and bridegroom encompass the adhering that God intended in Genesis 2. The word “bride” in Hebrew is kallah and in Greek is numphe meaning “the complete or perfect one.” The word “bridegroom” in Hebrew is chathan and in Greek is numphios meaning “one who contracts affinity.” The relationship of Christ and the church is portrayed throughout the New Testament as a marriage, with the church being the bride of Christ (see Matthew 9:15; 25:1-10; John 3:28-29; Revelation 21:1-3, 9).
Romans 1:20-32 describes what humans have done to corrupt the initial plan of man and woman relationships. The description in these verses is of people who have left God and sunk into substitutes for the worship of God (Romans 1:23). Those described have turned their complete attention to satisfying their physical needs (Romans 1:24-32) and totally ignore their spiritual needs. Romans 2:1-8 lets us know that there are consequences to making choices that violate God's plan. Those consequences are not just what happens when our lives are over, but also what happens in our lives here on Earth.
How we deal with our sexual needs is different from how we deal with our spiritual needs. There are people of the same sex who can live together in a platonic relationship and not engage in the destructive behaviors listed in Romans 1. Jesus made that clear in Matthew 19 mentioned earlier. Some people can live alone and find spiritual help outside of the family, as Jesus also said. We suggest that adhering to something other than what God has created for us, does not bring the level of happiness we all want. Those who wish to change their sexual identity find themselves on a cocktail of drugs for their entire life, and the data shows their life expectancy is reduced. Data on the stability of gay marriages and the effects on children of being raised in a quasi-family environment is just beginning to accumulate, but the early data is discouraging.
THE BEST ALTERNATIVE FOR FAMILY
The apologetic value of this discussion is essential. When humans try to change what God has designed us for and instructed us to do, the result is always catastrophic. We live in a culture in which people are trying all kinds of alternatives to God's plan of one man and one woman in a nuclear family. We have same-sex marriages, polygamy, polyandry, and perhaps soon marriages with animals and group marriages. Sadly, we have children being raised in the middle of these experiments. In America, we treasure the freedom to discuss the alternatives and to practice our choices. What Christians must do is to follow God's design and plan for us, while encouraging others to do the same for their greatest happiness.
Cover photo: © paprika. Image from BigStock.com.
© paprika. Image from BigStock.com.
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Next three photos: © Rido81. Images from BigStock.com.
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Scripture links/references are from BibleGateway.com. Unhighlighted scriptures can be looked up at their website.