Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

By Mark D. Jordan; Meghan T. Sweeney et al. | Go to book overview

FAMILIAR IDOLATRY AND THE CHRISTIAN CASE
AGAINST MARRIAGE

Dale B. Martin

Contemporary Christianity in the United States—whether Protestant or Catholic, liberal or conservative—has so closely aligned the basic message of Christianity with the family and “traditional family values” that it is currently in a state of idolatry.1 Increasingly, whether they are religious or not, people in America tend to equate Christianity with the family and “family values.” It is not just that gay and lesbian people have largely left their churches; single people in general often feel out of place in churches. And other people in non-“traditional” family structures—whether divorced, cohabiting, or in partial nuclear families—tend to be much less active in churches. The reason is that American churches have so identified themselves with the modern, heterosexual, nuclear family that people without such families feel less at home in most churches.2 The religious term for the identification of anything but God at the center of Christian faith is idolatry. And the idolatry of contemporary American Christianity is the familiar idolatry of the church's current focus on the family.

Not only is contemporary Christianity idolatrous in its focus on the family and marriage; it is also hypocritical. It either explicitly states or assumes that its current values are the obvious expression of Christian scripture and tradition. Though most Christians assume that the current centrality of marriage and family represents a long tradition in Christianity, it is actually only about 150 years old. One could even make the argument that the current focus on the heterosexual nuclear family dates back only to the 1950s.3 In this essay I pass over the long tradition of Christianity, although it also provides little support for the modern family. Rather, I concentrate mainly on the New Testament and the writings of the early church. Contrary to most contemporary opinion—Christian as well as non-Christian—there are many more resources in Christian scripture and tradition to criticize the modern family than to promote it.


The Historical Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth was not a family man. Though we could debate the construction of the historical Jesus—and all “historical Jesuses” are in fact

-17-

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