Marriage Roundup

While the majority of voices here are from single and celibate same-sex attracted Christians, it remains important to maintain heterosexual marriage as a viable vocation for some who are attracted to the same sex. As Ron Belgau notes, the narrative of orientation change has often been over-sold in Christian circles. However, as a response, many have dismissed heterosexual marriage as a impossibility for any same-sex attracted Christians (be those attractions closer the gay or bi portion of the spectrum). In the face of these extremes, we have sought to offer a more nuanced approach to the possibility of heterosexual marriage.

Wedding_rings

This post provides a roundup of some of the ideas writers at Spiritual Friendship have shared as we have reflected on what is sometimes known as mixed-orientation marriage (MoM).

Kyle Keating shares some of his own story of marriage, arguing that, in between the dual narratives of marriage as orientation change and marriage as a betrayal of your true self, there is a place for healthy heterosexual relationships that value honesty and communication. He also pushes back a bit on the language of “mixed-orientation marriage”, especially when it’s used condescendingly instead of descriptively.

Melinda Selmys offers her thoughts on the distinction between orientation-change and mixed-orientation marriage, saying that mixed-orientation marriage “opens up the possibility of creating a model for conjugal relationships between gay people and opposite sex partners that is positive, appealing and that retains everything that is really authentic and important about queer identities.” You can find more of her thoughts on marriage and a smattering of other topics in her two books: Sexual Authenticity and Sexual Authenticity: More Reflections.

Another story run by Christianity Today of a man in a mixed-orientation marriage displays the diversity of stories that fall under the blanket term of MoM as well as the critical question: “What does discipleship look like for me as a married man who experiences ongoing same-sex attractions?”

Additional insight can be found in the personal stories of writers like Mike Allen and Nate and Sara Collins, who have reflected on different aspects of their marriage. These stories help to illustrate that there is no single script that all couples will follow. (Mike also offered this clarification for those who thought his initial post offered a too pessimistic view of mixed orientation marriage.)

But amid this diversity of experience, what principles should guide same-sex attracted folks thinking about marriage? Surely it’s not appropriate to simply tell gay people to “just get married” as a way of avoiding the problem of single people in the church, as Chris Damian notes. Rather, we should consider good and bad reasons to get married, as well as clearly saying that heterosexual marriage is not the answer for all, or even most gay people. Finally, Kyle again offers his thoughts on the types of attraction needed for a healthy marriage.

While marriage is not the only vocation for same-sex attracted Christians, marriage can provide a viable and even flourishing context in which to live life coram deo. However,

Marriage is not an easy calling. Everyone called to marriage, regardless of their sexual attractions, must be willing to die to their own desires and expectations, in order to be transformed by their calling to marriage. This dying to self is not empty sacrifice, however: it is in the service of true love, a love which has the power to transform us so that we look more truly human (read: like Christ) than ever before.

Kyle KeatingKyle Keating is a M.Div. candidate at Covenant Theological Seminary and teacher of Bible and Theology at a small Christian school in St. Louis, Missouri where he lives with his wonderful wife Christy. He can be followed on Twitter: @KyleAKeating.

42 thoughts on “Marriage Roundup

  1. One, if not the major, concern with mixed orientation marriages is the (possibly/probably) other-sex attracted spouse. If the spouse goes into the marriage knowing that her/his partner is gay, that’s one thing. But I have known several women who have discovered late in their marriage that their husband has never truly been sexually attracted to them, and this is a grievous loss. Lots of communication and soul-searching would necessary.

    • I don’t think anyone here would defend marrying a person without telling them about your attraction to the same sex. Moreover, I’m guessing most people in “mixed-orientation marriages” are genuinely attracted to their spouse, unlike the people you mentioned.

  2. Kyle – thanks for this post and for your own story. I’ve been a long-time lurker here, but somehow I missed that post from last year.

    I think Melinda Selmys is on to something, but I would like to see it pushed a bit more. As a Christian sex therapist, I can attest to the tragedy that the vast majority of Western Christian marriages have a very sharp, very deadly defect: lust. Normally, I think the average heterosexual American male is particularly prone to this sin, and most of them are unable to even identify it as a “sin” because they have been told (even by those within the Church) that it is normal human sexuality they are experiencing.

    Most people have no inkling how to have a marriage without lust as a crucial centre-piece to it. This lust is often even encouraged by popular Christian marriage specialists and theologians. (I am not here referring to “lust” which even seeks immoral sexual behaviour, but “lust” meaning a utilitarian, de-personifying use of another human being, including one’s own spouse): Heterosexual husbands often use lust as the primary means of relating to and connecting with their wives. Heterosexual wives often use their husbands’ lust as a means of control or, more insidious (and more damaging long-term), as a means to feel loved and desired.

    Against that backdrop, “mixed orientation marriages” present the opportunity for American Christians to understand what a marriage without lust as an integral ingredient could mean. In addition, they fulfill the sacramental nature of dying to oneself and living wholly devoted to the other – something that is sorely neglected in modern theology regarding the husband’s sexuality – in the sexual area of marriage, something with which most heterosexual men are completely out of touch.

    Most Christian arguments against “mixed orientation marriages” are usually arguments against dishonesty (which I applaud) or arguments that see sexual fulfillment as a “right” that ought to be pursued rather than something which must be put to death (this perspective is deeply held in both liberal mainline theology and conservative Evangelical theology). Gay Christians seeking to enter marriage can offer the Church a corrective perspective on the latter while seeking to honour Christ and their spouses by incorporating the concerns of the former. As such, I think mixed-orientation marriages could be one of God’s greatest gifts to Christian heterosexual marriages.

    • Thanks for this comment Joshua. I agree that mixed-orientation marriages could be a helpful means by which the pendulum might swing away from the emphasis where marriage=sex—hopefully toward a more holistic view that has a real place for dying to oneself. I think your observations about lust in marriage have a lot of merit, and are probably aggrevated by living in a porn-saturated culture. I do think marriage offers real fulfillment—including sexual fulfillment—but certainly not apart from the dying to self.

    • Hi Josh,

      Nice to have a sex therapist taking part in the conversation…

      A question to you: where does healthy desired ends and lust begins? It is a tough question but it is also an honest question from my part. I really would like your input…

      Thanks

      • Rosa – That is a tough question! One to which I, as a product of post-Sexual Revolution culture (both the liberties and the conservative reactions against), media/visual saturated culture, and my own grievous engagements with porn, I’m not sure I’m qualified to give a definite answer.

        I can say that a deep and meaningful soul conversation is usually the best way to reveal where lust begins. That is probably best conducted by a trained priest (or pastor) or therapist and requires a lot of painful honesty.

        That said, I think there may be some “red flags” that indicate the presence of lust (though their absence does not indicate the absence of it). Here are some that I’ve seen as clear indicators of lust or other pathology (though this list is not exhaustive).

        1) Thinking of sex in terms of “needs”: Now this word (“need”) gets thrown around a lot – some people are using it but do not truly mean “need”. Others truly believe that sex, or sexual outlet, is an inborn need. The later category, I believe, are living a lifestyle of lust.

        2) Manipulation: Is it possible for one partner to use sex as a bartering tool to get her (or his) way in nonsexual areas (finances, parenting, planning, relationships, etc)? If so, I think we are again in the realm of lust.1

        3) Extreme emotions to frustrated sexual activity. Whether in general, just the possibility, or because the sex act must be paused (or halted altogether) mid-way through.

        4) Extreme emotions to the possibility of conception occurring. As with #3, I want to clarify that I’m not here talking about mild frustration, annoyances, anxiety, or sadness – I’m talking about depression, anger/wrath, intense anxiety, etc.

        5) Is sex the primary means by which one partner (or both) relate to one another? Are they capable of having emotional, social, or intellectual intimacy? If the relationship is centred around sex, it is probably centred around lust.

    • Joshua,

      Thanks. I appreciate this comment. I’ve attempted to discuss MoM within my church context, but have received a lot of resistance. People can’t seem to come up with cogent reasons for opposing it, but they’re not comfortable with it either.

      I sense that the discomfort with MoM springs from the fact that it challenges the notion that true marriage is based on a kind of “natural” lust. Scripture teaches that all lust is sinful, even when the object is one’s legal spouse. But because we haven’t really spent much time thinking through what Christian marriage ought to look like, we just adopt the view that’s espoused in the popular culture.

      I recently asked an evangelical family therapist what text he recommends to people going through marital difficulties. He said that he starts with Gary Becker’s article, “A Theory of Marriage.” He admitted that it’s sad when a secular economist has more practical advice to proffer on marriage than is available from most Christian authors put together.

      I also think that folks are hesitant when it comes to MoM because it tends to challenge the positions that Christians have staked out in the Culture War. After all, if marriage can be about a variety of factors besides “natural lust,” then opposing same-sex marriage requires more nuanced arguments than those generally relied on these days.

      • Bobby – I’m right there with you. I can’t believe how much push-back there is to MoM… with absolutely no intellectual reasoning behind it. But, to be blunt, almost every argument currently being made by Christian leaders in America against same-sex marriage is untenable and inconsistent with their own theology or other practice, which is why we are seeing ever-increasing numbers of young Evangelicals either refuse to talk about this issue or completely embrace “pro-gay” theology and why those who DO continue to hold an orthodox view of this particular slice of sexual ethics come across as mean-spirited and hateful. The root of the shallowness of their national arguments is that their theology of Marriage itself is, as you pointed out, deeply, deeply flawed.

        That said, my degree is in Marriage & Family Therapy from a conservative seminary… There actually ARE a lot of good books out there which are MUCH better than the utilitarian view proffered by Dr. Becker. Dr. Becker’s article works because the “market place” concept of marriage is the practical theology of most Evangelicals seeking marriage therapy, but it’s far, far from a Christian worldview.

        I think the result of where we are in the Western world is a direct result of the Christian churches losing a strong theology (both systematic and practical) of marriage. The “gay issue” gives us the chance to fix errors that go back decades and centuries and rediscover a life-giving theology of sex and marriage. I’m frustrated by how few church leaders are willing to take the opportunity.

      • @Joshua

        Agreed. Certainly, Christians ought to think about marriage in ways that move beyond Becker’s pragmatic approach. That being said, Becker’s approach is probably preferable to the shallow view of marriage that largely prevails in evangelical circles.

        I’m an evangelical Christian who also worked for a number of years as an associate at a large DC law firm. To be honest, the marriages of my non-Christian work colleagues, which were based largely on pragmatic concerns akin to those proposed by Becker, were more stable and winsome than the marriages of the couples I met at my evangelical church. Something doesn’t seem right about that. The church is clearly doing something wrong when non-Christian secularists have a better sense of what makes a marriage work than most Christians do. I suspect that that failure also has something to do with the church’s inability to come to terms with things like MoM.

      • Bobby – That makes sense. I would pinpoint one of the major problems in many of the Christian marriages you described to be a practical theology of marriage more in-line with the secular world’s (Becker’s perspective) *mixed with* the verbage of something which, while not exactly orthodox Christianity, is closer in meaning to a traditional Christian perspective. The problem is that these two approaches, while either may “work” for a “successful marriage” (which is defined differently in both systems), are inherently opposed to one another and simply cannot be combined. This results in picking and choosing what we like from both systems, which in reality ends up in one or both spouses attempting to use Scripture and Christian theology as a means of thwarting and manipulating Becker’s market system (which is the real under-girding of the marital contract in question). The reason why marital therapy using Becker’s model works is because we basically tell the couple to stop attempting to destabilize the system by inserting their “Christian” demands. “Marriage” can either work as a business contract OR a sacramental covenant, but not both.

        I agree that this is related to the the church’s general discomfort with MOM inasmuch as it reveals that our theology of marriage and our practice of marriage are not really compatible, something which, as you pointed out, is also the end result of allowing there to be a true intellectual discussion of MOM. The reality is that we want to live just like Becker’s definition of marriage – a reality which permits and encourages sex to be seen as a commodity. But Becker’s definition of marriage has no qualms with homosexual marriage and believes that they can be just as workable and healthy as long as they are based on an economical marketplace of needs/wants. But we don’t want to allow for the legitimizing of gay marriage *just yet*, so we use random Scripture verses to attempt to set boundaries around Becker’s economical marriage.

        The result is that our marriages are worse off than most secularists’ and we appear bullish on the topic of gay marriage yet without any means of actually halting its eventual acceptance – both within our culture and within our churches.

        “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Money.”

      • @Joshua

        Great point. I agree completely. In the evangelical circles where I move, most marriages follow Becker’s rubric, but without expressly acknowledging it. Instead, the church repackages Becker’s principles as resells them as spiritual principles. When Becker’s model leads to conclusions that strike us as outliers, we make an ad hoc correction that’s largely foreign to the internal logic of the system. When people question the legitimacy of such ad hoc corrections, we write them off as people who lack a proper “Christian worldview.”

        So, I agree that Becker’s rubric is utterly incompatible with a covenantal view of marriage. But if Christians are going to enter into marriages based on reasons more akin to Becker’s model, it’s probably far better for them to use Becker’s language instead of the spiritualized variants of it. If we don’t have a commitment to covenantal marriage (and I suspect that evangelicals don’t), then we’re better off if we just admit that and acknowledge openly the economic logic that we’re relying on.

    • Hi Joshua! Your comments on MOM are really intriguing to me, as a gay man who is currently in a relationship with a heterosexual woman. She has known my orientation from the start of our relationship, and if I may say so, we are both willing to die to ourselves in self-sacrifice and love each other. That being said, she regularly notes the lack of passion in our relationship — she knows that I am committed to her, and I do my best to love her, but I just don’t have “feelings” for her as I would another man, and the lack of this kind of “feeling” that is (my guess) a normal, healthy, God-designed element of relationships/marriages really causes her many difficulties.

      I am wondering if there was any way to discuss this with you further?

      • Kudos to you both for trying something hard! I don’t know the rules, but the site administrators may give you my email address if they like.

    • What would a healthy Christian sexuality look like? For me? What does Godly, biblical sexuality look like? How can I/we free ourselves from the religious dogmas and rules of the past? The childhood do’s and don’ts that we received… Here I am, in a sexless marriage to an asexual lesbian, who can and does feel no feel no desire for me at all. So what outlets can I have? Masturbation? Is that OK? Pornography? Is that OK? What does chastity in marriage entail? How can I accept myself, as a whole, sexual male being, and accept my situation? Why have I never even come close to breaking my marriage vows? Why have I never seriously flirted or started to create a relationship with another woman? Is it my virtue or more cowardice and fear? Will my libido lie down and die one day? So can I hope for peace at last?

      Can I find a peace and plenitude in the certainty that my first, most important identity is as a beloved child of a loving heavenly father? Can this come before my identity as a man, a sexual being, a sexually frustrated husband of a lesbian?

  3. When people use the term “marriage” here I assume they are referring to opposite-sex marriage? Is that correct?

  4. Hi Josh!

    I hope your read this. I really like all of your comments in this thread! You strike me as down to earth and knowledgeable. (I’m not trying to flatter you. I don’t flatter people unless I really mean what I say). So, I have another tough question for you. I’ve been thinking with a friend (liberal friend) about marriage and we both feel that maybe society should not have marriages “under the law” but each couple should make their own marriage contracts as they see fit. We feel this will keep people honest and will force them to mature. The contracts would be enforceable, meaning penalties will be applied if one of the partners fails to comply. The idea is that marriage, as it is currently under the law, is a failed institution. In reality one can get married and divorce just a couple of hours later! If we were to do without marriage as it is and allow for “custom made contracts”, we might be finally facing reality. But I, on the other hand, have mix feelings about this because I’m not sure it would be a good idea. What do you think? Can you imagine a something like this?

    • Hello Rosa –

      Whether you meant to or no, I am flattered. 🙂

      This is a tough question, one which is outside of my specialized training unfortunately. I think your question really requires a discussion on whether Christendom is (and should be) dead. Your recommendation seems to imply a surrender to that point as we sweep away any vestiges of Christian ideals being honoured in our laws (in this case marriage, but 75 years ago the question could have been Sabbath laws). In reality, you’re probably right as divorce is, as you say, all too common and marriage means very little anyway.

      Still, there’s a part of me that is just too nostalgic and traditionalist to give in to the point where I think this is a “good” solution. It’s a pity to watch Western Civilisation fall further and further away from Christendom.

    • @Rosa

      Under the civil law, “marriage” is little more than a collection of default rules for determining property ownership between two parties. In general, these are merely default rules, and can be freely modified by contract. There is nothing that stops a couple from entering into a custom-made contract along the lines that you describe. In that sense, the institution of “marriage” is merely a collection of rules that are generally consistent with the provisions that most couples would elect if they were to design a custom-made contract.

      It’s a bit different when it comes to things like child custody. But, in the absence of children, it’s fair to think of “marriage” as a kind of form contract, where the provisions are already provided and the parties just sign.

      • Right. I (potentially) want to do away with the default contract all together. I believe that there is an underlying requirement of monogamy and an assumption on permanence that goes with the default contract but there are no penalties that go along with it. I, thus, want to do away with it (the default). This means that the couple must think and determine what their relationship is about and the contract must be enforceable.

      • @Rosa

        In the US at least, the default rules for civil marriage do not include requirements of monogamy or permanence.

        I agree that too many people enter marriage without giving much thought as to the legal duties and obligations that attach to that action. Even so, I doubt that eliminating default rules will change that.

      • Hi Bobby!

        I know there are not such requirements but they are expectations. In fact there is law against polygamy or bigamy, which is a clear indicator that we expect monogamy.

        I think that marriage as a civil institution is not working. I hope would be that if each couple were able to clearly state how their relationship was to be understood we would be able to fully enforce these contracts. People would be made accountable. That’s what I would like to see: accountability.

    • You’re welcome. I’m interested in your thoughts as they occur. I’m aware my own luke-warm position on this is based more on nostalgia than anything else.

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