The root of homophobia is misogyny, and this is true within the Christian tradition as without it. Sometimes that is easy to see, and sometimes it appears more benign. In church, one way expresses itself as remorse that we ever let women be pastors or allowed divorce people to marry in the church because these are the things that lead to gay marriage.
And to some extent this is true. In the Mennonite church, it was women pastors who performed many of the earliest same-sex marriage ceremonies. If we hadn’t recognized that Paul meant it when he said that in Christ there is no male or female in relation to pastoring, we might not have recognized it in terms of marriage, either.
Another way we link misogyny and homophobia is by claiming that being gay is like being divorced. Three letters in the recent issue of The Mennonite address this issue via the “Grace and Truth Statement,” an effort in the Virginia Conference to allow congregations to welcome (to the extent they see fit) same-sex couples while still “upholding” opposite-sex marriage as God’s design for humanity. The statement says:
We as congregations will walk patiently with those who choose to follow Jesus and yet find it difficult to live out God’s design for wholeness.
It’s an effort to allow churches that oppose the inclusion of queer people to avoid being called homophobic by rooting their choice to limit the church in “grace and truth” rather than personal animus toward queer people. One letter in The Mennonite defends the statement say that “grace and truth”–allowing gay people in, to some extent, but also saying that their relationships are not God blessed–is “analogous to how Scripture considers such issues as divorce…” an accommodation for our imperfection but not God’s ideal.” Another reminds us that Jesus “did welcome all, but he did call out their sin.”
That’s not loving at all. It sets up a hierarchy of marriages. And let’s really be blunt about what that hierarchy is: at the top, those between virgins who were Christians when they got married, gay marriage at the bottom. It’s a system that is killing churches. It’s invalidating for queer people.
I also believes it injures people who have gone through a divorce.
Even when divorce is the best choice available from a person’s realistic options, it hurts, and it hurts for generations. It raises the risk of poverty tremendously for women and children. It raises the risk of child abuse, including child sexual abuse. It creates legal, financial, and social burdens for people.
Again, that doesn’t mean it’s not the smartest and even most loving choice for individuals. Few people rush to divorce, and by the time they get there, they’ve endured a lot, so the end of their marriage (and the beginning of being divorced, which never really ends, especially if you have children) is a better choice than continuing it. Given that the majority of divorces are initiated by women and that women, in general, are happier (though poorer) after divorce whereas men, in contrast, are more likely to fall into addiction, we can infer that women, in particular, suffer more from bad marriages. (This is also supported by the fact that single women have longer life spans than married ones but that married men have longer lifespans than single ones. If you are a heterosexual married man, tell your wife thank you–she’s probably shortening her life span to increase yours.)
This means that calling divorce a “sin”–rather than naming abuse within marriage as a sin or rectifying the structural inequalities that make some marriages more likely to fail–has sexist consequences. Women continue to be held responsible for marital health and preserving marriage–from doing the emotional work of relationship maintenance and earning enough money to keep a family out of poverty to “preventing” men’s infidelity to enduring abuse. In this way, viewing divorce as an inherently bad thing is harmful to women. It says that we’d rather have women hurting in bad marriages than divorce.
All of that–the pain of divorce, the fact that women, in particular, are hurt in bad marriages and women, in particular, are held responsible for divorce–is very, very different from same-sex marriage.
Above, Saint Sergio and Saint Bacchus by artist Tony de Carlo. In the traditions in which they are revered, Sergio and Bacchus were members of the Roman military in the fourth century. When it was discovered that they were Christians, they were tortured and killed. The close relationship between the two has made them special to queer Christians.
Same-sex marriages face the same struggles as opposite-sex marriages, plus homophobia. But two people committing to love and care for each other isn’t at all like a divorce. A divorce is almost always the opposite of that: at least one person recognizing that the other is not willing to or capable of living out that commitment. Divorce is releasing them from an obligation they can’t or won’t keep. A divorce is something to mourn not because of what it is but of the brokenness in relationship that it reflects. If we define sin as that which breaks our bonds of love, then it’s not divorce that is the sin but all the reasons for divorce: infidelity, abuse, refusal to address an addiction, failure to treat your partner like an equal.
When conservative churches conflate the end of an opposite-sex marriage via divorce and the start of a marriage for a same-sex couple, they are saying that the same-sex marriage is irredeemable (because divorce is the legal recognition that a marital relationship cannot be redeemed), and that’s just not true. It’s insulting to same-sex couples, and it arrogantly says that God’s protective love somehow just won’t cover queer couples.
But it’s also hurtful to divorced people because it minimizes the pain they have suffered.