Sex, marriage and social change

A sermon by Rod Benson

It’s fair to say that, around the world, marriage is in a mess. Many couples today cohabit for years before marrying, or never marry. Married people divorce, as I have done, and some go on to remarry. Same sex couples want to marry each other, and there is strong political pressure to change the law to enable this.

In 2004 the French President approved Christelle Demichel’s ‘wedding’ to her deceased boyfriend. In the same year former soldier Erika La Tour, fell in love with the Eiffel Tower and, after her ‘wedding,’ took Eiffel as her surname.

In 2013 another French woman ‘married’ a mediaeval bridge. In 2009 Amy Wolfe Weber announced that she would ‘marry’ a rollercoaster ride.

In 2012 a Seattle woman, Baylonia Aivaz, was ‘wed’ to a building set for demolition; she called it a ‘gay marriage’ because she believed the building had a feminine personality.

The following year Florida woman, Linda Ducharme, took a more masculine ferris wheel for her husband.

In 2010 the Daily Telegraph reported that a Korean man had married his pillow.

Earlier this year Yasimin Eleby of Houston, having failed to find a husband by age 40, decided to ‘marry’ herself in a ceremony conducted by three ministers of religion.

And, lest you think this sort of thing only happens overseas, in 2010 a young Toowoomba man, Joseph Guiso, took part in an emotional wedding ceremony with his labrador in the presence of family and friends.

As Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher observed, “it goes without saying that some of these people should be seeing a doctor rather than a wedding celebrant and that there is much more to a marriage than a wedding ceremony.”[1]

But this is the world in which we live.

Announcing his intention to introduce a private members bill into Federal Parliament in May to legalise same sex marriage, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten summed up the “yes” case in these words:

It’s time for our laws to reflect the values of modern Australia and to include everyone as equals … It’s time for marriage equality. Whatever our religious views about marriage … I believe we have to change this law which discriminates against adult couples on the basis of who they love.[2]

Over the past eight weeks, countless thousands of words have been said and written on the subject, adding to the tens of millions of words expressed since the turn of the century, when the fashion for marriage between two people of the same sex began to take off.

Why is it that churches and church leaders, with a few notable exceptions, oppose the expansion of the legal definition of marriage to include same sex couples?

For this address, I examined what I regard as some of the best new contributions to the “no” case by leading Australian Christians – Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal and Baptist – noting what they said about sex and marriage.

Not the politics and strategy, not the criticism of opponents’ positions – just what representative Christian leaders positively argued about sex and marriage, anchored by Scripture and Christian tradition, in the context of the debate raging back and forth over whether to legalise same sex marriage.

There are four clear arguments for not changing the meaning of marriage. The Catholic[3] and Anglican[4] contributions, all Sydney-based, were by far the best.

  1. Biology

Sex may be one-tenth physical pleasure and nine-tenths mental pleasure, but it is also much more than an opportunity for mutual pleasure or self-expression.

According to Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher, by its nature marriage is exclusively intended for people of opposite sex: “The difference and complementarity of man and woman is the anthropological reality at the foundation of marriage and the family.”

Or as Sydney Anglican minister Michael Jensen writes:

To remove the sexual specificity from the notion of marriage makes marriage not a realisation of the bodily difference between male and female that protects and dignifies each, but simply a matter of choice.[5]

Dr Mark Thompson, Principal of Moore Theological College, suggests that neither sexuality nor work are to be the core of our personal identity, but rather how we bear the image of God, which in part involves a distinction (or “polarity”) between male and female, with implications for sexual union.

He says:

[God’s] intention is a joyful, shame-free expression of that sexual polarity in the context of marriage. Such marriage, as the basis of the family and a picture of the union between Christ and his church, is to be honoured by all.

Any behaviour that repudiates or undermines this exceedingly good gift that God has given both dishonours him and harms his creatures. That is why the Bible’s language in condemning homosexual behaviour is so consistent and so strong.

  1. The welfare of children

Some couples are unable to have children; others choose not to have children. But most couples, especially married couples, bring children into the world.

Archbishop Fisher argues that

the ‘marital acts’ that bring children into the world also seal and express the ‘marital unions’ that provide for the long-term nurture of those children. Marriage binds those whose love-making was life-making both to each other as husband and wife and to those children as mother and father.

He says this aspect of marriage, the nurture and welfare of the next generation of citizens, is the sole reason for the state to have an interest in marriage.

Mark Thompson agrees, adding that:

There are, of course, many children who develop well despite, through tragic circumstances, being deprived of one or both of their biological parents. However, it is a different thing altogether for the definition of marriage to consider these critical relationships incidental and dispensable.

Men and women parent differently and both contributions are ideal for the development of children who are confident in their own identity and sexuality and who respect the opposite sex.

  1. Concern for the common good

In his long paper released earlier this month, Mark Thompson refers to Jeremiah 29:7, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

He says that, in evaluating proposals for social change, “sometimes it is more loving to say ‘no’ than to say ‘yes’,” and a same sex marriage bill is one such case.

Archbishop Fisher makes a stronger case for opposing marriage law reform for the common good:

Our ability to live marriage well is itself much affected by whether there is a healthy marriage culture around us. As marriage has been unpicked in various ways over the past few decades, Catholics and other believers have not been immune to the effects.

What’s more, our vocation is to be in and for the world, like leaven helping it rise up to God …

At a time when so many people are so confused about marriage, when many are afraid or uninspired to marry at all, or find sustaining a marriage difficult, or grow up without ever knowing a stable marriage-based family, this would be the worst time for Christians to silent about marriage.

With humility and compassion, never hatred or holier-than-thou-ness, we must propose true marriage not just for our sake but for everyone’s.

This includes the hard work of shaping and modelling good Christian marriages, as well as defending the principle by way of tactical argument.

  1. The theological significance of marriage

One final argument for not changing the meaning of marriage is offered by Mark Thompson, echoing one of the points articulated in a paper I co-edited on the subject in 2011, and published on the ABC Religion and Ethics website.[6]

This relates to Paul’s use of the concept of marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph 5:25-32).

Dr Thompson says (and I will quote him at length):

In Genesis 2 a woman is brought to a man to be united to him. In Revelation 19.9 we are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb. The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven adorned as a bride for her husband (Rev 21.2).

At neither extremity of the Bible’s overarching story is this imagery merely incidental. The union of a man and a woman in a life-long exclusive sexual partnership pictures something both profound and consistent in the purposes of God.

The deep, personal giving and receiving of each other, the delight in what makes us different as well as what unites us, the orientation to new life and an open generosity towards others, all point back to God.

Of course the explanatory centre is Christ — the relation of husband and wife is brought into the closest connection with the relation of Christ and the church in Ephesians 5. All things are made by him, through him and for him (Col 1.16), including marriage.

Redefining marriage is not just a matter of tinkering with interchangeable or even dispensable details; it is tampering with something deeply woven into the fabric of reality and necessary for human flourishing.

What happens to the Bible’s teaching about Christ and the church if marriage is no longer the relation of a husband and a wife?


Jesus told us that marriage and sex are for this world only (Mk 12:25), but while we are in the world, in view of the impending Day of Judgment, and the reward and bliss to follow for those whom Jesus finds faithful, we are responsible to understand, model and commend the practice of marriage as God intended.

This is often done badly. There are those who speak the truth, but without love. There are others who don’t speak, but tolerate everything in order to appear winsome.

In everything, let us genuinely be people of faith, seeking understanding, building peace, loving our neighbours as we love ourselves (Mt 22:37-40), living by the Golden Rule as Jesus taught us: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7:12).

Sermon 628 copyright © 2015 Rod Benson. Preached at Frenchs Forest Baptist Church, Sydney, Australia, on Sunday 26 July 2015. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).


[1] Archbishop Anthony Fisher, “Same-Sex ‘Marriage’: Evolution or Deconstruction of Marriage and the Family?”, transcript of a Defence of the Faith Lecture, Order of Malta NSW Branch, St Mary’s Cathedral Hall, Sydney, 22 July 2015 (accessed 24 Jul 2015).

[2] Quoted in Michael Jensen, “I oppose same-sex marriage (and no, I’m not a bigot),” ABC The Drum, 28 May 2015, (accessed 20 July 2015).

[3] Archbishop Anthony Fisher, “Same-Sex ‘Marriage’” (see footnote 1 for link).

[4] Dr Mark Thompson, “Same-sex intimate unions,”, 6 July 2015 (accessed 20 July 2015).

[5] Michael Jensen, “I oppose same-sex marriage (and no, I’m not a bigot)” (see footnote 2 for link).

[6] (accessed 20 July 2015).

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