Toward a Gender-Inclusive Understanding of “One Flesh”

In the comments below my last post, Simon, a lay reader in the Church of England who describes himself as a conservative Christian, asks:

How do you feel the doctrine of ‘one flesh’ applies (or not) to gay marriage? Eve was taken out from Adam’s side and in heterosexual marriage the circle is closed as genders are reunited, but how does this work for gay couples? I have concluded that most apparently anti-gay proof texts have been wrongly translated and wrongly interpreted by sincere but mistaken homophobic cultures, but can’t get my head around a gay interpretation of ‘one flesh’. Can you help?

In addition to my response that you can read in the comments box, I put the question out to some Facebook friends. The poet Karen Braucher suggested, “I think the answer lies in the fact that we all have both masculine and feminine sides to our personality. So all those sides are joining, in gay and in hetero couples.”

Another poet and mutual friend, Carolyn Moore, observed, “I always have trouble with the line between the Biblical literal and the Biblical parable. We seem to know when we are in parable in the New Testament but are so rigid in the Old Testament about what is literal and what may not be. We never allow for something there functioning as a Fatherly parable to help us grasp a spiritual concept….[In the Garden of Eden] some knowledge was forbidden and we are to trust God to keep it to God’s self, right?…Well, isn’t it vain of us to assume we were told ALL of God’s plans? Why was he obligated to tell us if he was also trying out life on other planets? Why is he obligated to tell us why he created some people who are attracted to their own gender? Aren’t we to have faith that God knows best and we are here to help one another towards peace and light and not appropriate his power of final judgment?”

I also sought advice from Pastor Romell Weekly, an evangelical minister who runs the Gay Christian Fellowship website. He’s given me permission to reprint his thorough and Bible-based analysis below.

Pastor Weekly writes:

“What you’re ultimately referring to is called Complementarity. It’s a theory that male and female complement one another in a way that two people of the same sex cannot. As you have indicated, the primary basis for this theory is the Creation narrative. However, there are a few major problems with this theory.

“1) The theory is not in Scripture. It’s derived from conclusions based off of the biblical narrative; but nowhere does Scripture actually teach this theory as a principle.

“2) The theory REQUIRES all humans to get married, lest they live a lifetime incomplete. If the male is incomplete until his missing rib returns in the person of his wife, then no man without a wife is complete… and it would CERTAINLY mean that no woman is complete without a husband, as she only represents the rib, while he represents the rest of the body.

“3) The theory indicts all single people as not being whole, including Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, John the apostle, Paul, and, dare I say, Jesus Himself. All of these mighty men of God were single. Can we say that they were incomplete because they were not married, especially considering point #1–that Scripture doesn’t actually teach this theory?

“4) We have to ask what the point of the Genesis narrative is in relation to marriage. Is it that woman completes man, or is it that marriage provides a means for two people to become as one? I think the latter.

“I believe that the creation narrative shows a beautiful picture of two distinct people coming together in both body and soul and becoming as one through the joining of the heart and of the body. This principle certainly does not contain a mechanism that prevents it from being applied to people of the same sex in precisely the way that it’s applied to people of the opposite sex. They can, indeed, unite in soul (through emotional intercourse). They can, indeed, unite in body (through sexual intercourse).

“I think about David and Jonathan. God told Eve that she would “cling” to her husband. The Bible tells us that Jonathan’s soul was “knit” to David. There was, indeed, a clinging involved. In fact, the two Hebrew words used in both passages are synonyms of one another. Did the fact that Jonathan was a man prevent his soul from clinging or being knit to David? And, even more important, does it matter to God?

“When God created Adam and realized that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, what did He do? Most people immediately state that He created Eve; but this isn’t true. He first brought every animal He’d already created and presented it before Adam in order for Adam to do to things: 1) name the animal, and 2) determine whether the animal was a suitable companion for him. After going through every animal life, “there was not found a companion suitable for him” (Gen. 2:20).

“This doesn’t mean that God would have been perfectly fine if Adam wanted a giraffe. But, God went through this process to demonstrate a principle to us. The point is that He allowed Adam to determine suitability. It wasn’t determined by the Divine, but my the human perspective. It was only after Adam found nothing suitable that God put him to sleep and took his rib to create Eve.

“But, even then, God brought Eve and presented her to Adam, much as He did with the other animal lifeforms. God didn’t pronounce her suitable. It was ADAM who said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh…” It was Adam who basically said, “Alright now, God. THIS one works!”

“The suitable companion for Adam was Eve. But, the suitable companion for Doug might be Jason, while the suitable companion for Danielle might be Elise. We each determine suitability. We each determine the person that complements us, and allows our soul to join together in the way that Eve’s joined Adam’s, and Jonathan’s joined David’s. This is not determined in Heaven. It’s very much determined in the heart of each human being.

“So, I don’t think the doctrine of “one flesh” precludes same-sex couples at all. It’s not at all about whether the one has a penis and the other has a vagina. It’s much more about whether the soul is knit together in love. This certainly can be the case with same-sex homosexual couples, exactly as it can be with opposite-sex heterosexual couples. Contrarily, it CANNOT take place with opposite-sex homosexual or mixed-orientation couples.

“So, if love truly is what God is after, and if He truly looks upon the heart, while man looks at the outward appearance (1Sa. 16:7)–e.g. whether one has a penis and the other has a vagina–then gay couples absolutely fit into the paradigm of one flesh.”

3 comments on “Toward a Gender-Inclusive Understanding of “One Flesh”

  1. JoanlW says:

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  2. Maree says:

    Hi there, just to give you some advice about homosexuality and lesbianism; is that the purpose of sex is to produce, and not for pleasureable things: which would be adultery right? It is good for everyone to come together as one, and love one another greatly as God loves us, but not in lustfullness or pleasureable things. If God didn’t want us to produce then he would have not made it possible for us to have sex. It is even better, as it says in the bible, to be single (of course if you can, if not then that’s where marriage comes in) for it means that you then take care of things just for God, and think only of Him and His requirements instead of the husband/wife and their earthly requirements 🙂
    Hope this helps!

  3. Jendi Reiter says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Maree. Please see my discussion with Simon about procreation, infertility, and other purposes for marriage, in the comments under my Sara Miles book review. You might also be interested in the book Sacred Unions by Thomas Breidenthal.

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