Should We Support Gay Marriage? NO

By Wolfhart Pannenberg


Good News Magazine

November 2004


Can love ever be sinful? The entire tradition of Christian doctrine teaches

that there is such a thing as inverted, perverted love. Human beings are

created for love, as creatures of the God who is Love. And yet that divine

appointment is corrupted whenever people turn away from God or love other

things more than God.


Jesus said, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of

me..." (Matt. 10:37, NRSV). Love for God must take precedence over love for

our parents, even though love for parents is commanded by the fourth



The will of God be the guiding star of our identity and self- determination.

What this means for sexual behavior can be seen in Jesus' teaching about

divorce. In order to answer the Pharisees' question about the admissibility of divorce,

Jesus refers to the creation of human beings. Here he sees God expressing

his purpose for his creatures: Creation confirms that God has created human

beings as male and female. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to be

united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.


Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship

between husband and wife is the Creator's will for human beings. The

indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation

as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9).


Since on this principle the Bible is not time bound, Jesus' word is the

foundation and criterion for all Christian pronouncement on sexuality, not

just marriage in particular, but our entire creaturely identities as sexual

beings. According to Jesus' teaching, human sexuality as male and as female

is intended for the indissoluble fellowship of marriage.


This standard informs Christian teaching about the entire domain of sexual



Jesus' perspective, by and large, corresponds to Jewish tradition, even

though his stress on the indissolubility of marriage goes beyond the

provision for divorce within Jewish law (Deut. 24:1). It was a shared Jewish

conviction that men and women in their sexual identity are intended for the

community of marriage. This also accounts for the Old Testament assessment

of sexual behaviors that depart from this norm, including fornication,

adultery, and homosexual relations.


The biblical assessments of homosexual practice are unambiguous in their

rejection, and all its statements on this subject agree without exception.

The Holiness Code of Leviticus incontrovertibly affirms, "You shall not lie

with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Lev. 18:22 NRSV).

Leviticus 20 includes homosexual behavior among the crimes meriting capital

punishment (Lev. 20:13; it is significant that the same applies to adultery

in verse 10). On these matters, Judaism always knew itself to be distinct

from other nations.


This same distinctiveness continued to determine the New Testament statement

about homosexuality, in contrast to the Hellenistic culture that took no

offense at homosexual relations. In Romans, Paul includes homosexual

behavior among the consequences of turning away from God (1:27). In 1

Corinthians, homosexual practice belongs with fornication, adultery,

idolatry, greed, drunkenness, theft, and robbery as behaviors that preclude

participation in the kingdom of God (6:9 10); Paul affirms that through

baptism Christians have become free from their entanglement in all these

practices (6:11).


The New Testament contains not a single passage that might indicate a more

positive assessment of homosexual activity to counterbalance these Pauline

statements. Thus, the entire biblical witness includes practicing

homosexuality, without exception among the kinds of behavior that give

particularly striking expression to humanity's turning away from God. This

exegetical result places very narrow boundaries around the view of

homosexuality in any church that is under the authority of Scripture.


What is more, the biblical statements on this subject merely represent the

negative corollary to the Bible's positive views on the creational purpose

of men and women in their sexuality.


These texts that are negative toward homosexual behavior are not merely

dealing with marginal opinions that could be neglected without detriment to

the Christian message as a whole.


Moreover, the biblical statements about homosexuality cannot be relativized

as the expressions of a cultural situation that today is simply outdated.

The biblical witness from the outset deliberately opposed the assumptions of

their cultural environment in the name of faith in the God of Israel, who in

Creation appointed men and women for a particular identity.


Contemporary advocates for a change in the church's view of homosexuality

commonly point out that the biblical statements were unaware of important

modern anthropological evidence. This new evidence, it is said, suggests

that homosexuality must be regarded as a given constituent of the

psychosomatic identity of homosexual persons, entirely prior to any

corresponding sexual expression. (For the sake of clarity it is better to

speak here of a homophile inclination as distant from homosexual practice.)

Such phenomena occur not only in people who are homosexually active.


But inclination need not dictate practice. It is characteristic of human

beings that our sexual impulses are not confined to a separate realm of

behavior; they permeate our behavior in every area of life. This, of course,

includes relationships with persons of the same sex. However, precisely

because erotic motives are involved in all aspects of human behavior, we are

faced with the task of integrating them into the whole of our life and



The mere existence of homophile inclinations does not automatically lead to

homosexual practice. Rather, these inclinations can be integrated into a

life in which they are subordinated to the relationship with the opposite

sex where, in fact, the subject of sexual activity should not be the

all-determining center of human life and vocation. As the sociologist Helmut

Schelsky has rightly pointed out, one of the primary achievements of

marriage as an institution is its enrollment of human sexuality in the

service of ulterior tasks and goals.


The reality of homophile inclinations, therefore, need not be denied and

must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such

inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior.

This is the real problem; and it is here that we must deal with the

conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual

behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the

church this is the case not only for homosexual, but for any sexual activity

that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife particular,



The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in

others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and

widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and

understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the

distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.


Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound

by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm

of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If

a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat

homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized

homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage,

such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the

unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease

to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.


Wolfhart Pannenberg, arguably the preeminent contemporary theologian,

recently retired after 27 years as professor of systematic theology at the

University of Munich, Germany, and director of the Institute of Ecumenical

Theology. Translated by Markus Bockmuehl for publication in the Church

Times; copyright Wolfhart Pannenberg.


Same-sex blessings