Gospel demands marriage equality, Johnson tells Covenant Network

Church is risking its relevance by being ‘stingy,’ Princeton theologian says

November 2, 2013


The gospel demands that the church open marriage to all people and the church risks becoming irrelevant if it doesn’t “get with the program,” systematic theologian William Stacy Johnson told the Covenant Network of Presbyterians at its national conference Nov. 1 here.

Echoing the Covenant Network’s theme, Johnson said, “Marriage matters and it matters that we have this conversation because marriage is an entrance ramp into the church or an exit ramp out of it.”

Religious researcher Robert Wuthnow says that the one sociological factor in predicting whether a person will become a church member is whether he or she is married, Johnson said. Even conservative attorney Ted Olson says, Johnson said, “Marriage is the most important relationship in life and we’re going to deprive same-gender couples of that?”

Citing polls showing exponential growth in the number of Americans who support marriage equality, Johnson ― a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law and Politics ― said, “People are not  stupid. They know what’s going on and the church’s refusal to extend marriage to same-sex couples is one factor in the absence of young people.”

They sense, Johnson added, “that something’s not right, which tells you that they know the gospel somewhere down deep inside, and the sooner we know it, the sooner we’ll build the church up rather than shoot each other in this battle ― its insanity.”

Christians have to come to the marriage equality discussion from the Bible, Johnson insisted. “Marriage matters when we talk about the gospel,” he said. “All of Reformed theology and liturgy assumes that gospel is a task, a journey. Resurrection means that God isn’t finished with us, that the gospel hasn’t come into complete fruition. It informs us that God is for us, Jesus is with us and the Holy Spirit is among us. Marriage is one place where that truth can be recognized and exhibited despite our flaws and failures.”

The gospel message is one of acceptance and inclusion, Johnson said. “I know because I’ve looked at the life of Jesus, who engaged in radical solidarity with everyone, he said. “If we don’t stand the same way, we can’t call ourselves Christian.”

Theologians and church leaders have taken similar stances on other issues throughout history, Johnson said. “Karl Barth stood up in Nazi Germany and said, ‘if you’re not preaching against the concentration camps you’re not preaching the gospel.’ Black South African leaders said the same about apartheid with Barmen De, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches with the Accra Declaration [on the economic and environmental impact of globalization]. How could people worship God and not speak against these things with the gospel at stake?”

The tide is turning and the arguments have shifted, noted Johnson. In the recent trial in California that led to marriage equality in that state, “opponents had no evidence to present and produced only one witness … who admitted on cross-examination that {marriage equality] would help couples and their children. When asked to produce evidence that same-sex marriage is a bad thing, they couldn’t.”

Johnson said: “The burden of proof used to be on LGBTQs (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer persons) to prove their worth. The burden of proof is now on the church to explain why we were so stingy for so long. The situation is so bad that now the burden of proof is on the church to prove it really matters, that it’s relevant in the real world.”

The fact is, Johnson said, “There is no such thing as gay marriage. There is simply marriage. And gay and lesbian people want theirs’ recognized. And people get it. They’re not stupid.”

  1. Johnson says the Bible demands marriage equality.I say his statement is politically correct rubbish to fill the pews.

    by Bill Scheiderer

    February 28, 2015

  2. I hear gay Christians agreeing about repentance (the need to turn from sin to Christ, but sexual orientation is not something that changes - no more then we can change left or right handedness). And relationships are more than sex; they are companionships of life support. But we straight Christians have expected them to live in closets, not being real & genuine (a form of mask wearing, of forcing conformity into what makes us comfortable). Videos by Dr Cynthia Chappell at link helps explain the Biology & Science of sexual orientation. http://www.pflaghouston.org/vidindex.html

    by Kay

    November 16, 2013

  3. I don't understand. Johnson states, "The Gospel demands..." but instead of the Gospel, he references polls, court cases, turning tides and shifting arguments. When he writes, "The gospel message is one of acceptance and inclusion," I have to wonder about the Gospel that I read which includes wheat and chaff, goats and sheep and especially the wedding guest who, because he had not the proper garment, was cast "into the outer darkness." The Gospel hardly presents an image of wholesale, unrepentant acceptance. And how is it possible to reconcile this view of marriage with Jesus' understanding in Matthew 19:4-6? Regarding the church becoming irrelevant, is it the church's job to seek relevance or to follow Christ? Isn't God capable of taking care of the relevance part?

    by David Westbrook

    November 11, 2013

  4. I respectfully disagree. The Bible does not demand that we open marriage to everyone. Please referred to Dr. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and his academical work on this matter. (See www.robgagnon.net) He is also a PC USA ordained elder. As someone who struggled with gender identity issues and gay confusion, I can honestly say I understand the struggle of same sex couples. However, God is in the business of transformation and I am a witness of that amazing grace. Please allow other voices on this matter as well, especially since the PC USA prides itself on being inclusive of all voices.

    by Coenraad Brand

    November 11, 2013

  5. The reason I am looking at PCUSA is because it is having this conversation. After viewing Dr Cynthia Chappell's videos on the Biology & Science of sexual orientation & hearing Matthew Vines & Jeff Chu & other Christians in need of understanding, I am a straight christian who realizes I have been in error (stingy). Too many pushed out of church & too many gay youth disowned by religious parents.

    by Kay

    November 10, 2013

  6. Reading the presentations at the Covenant Network conference I am amazed at the extreme differences among the advocates of revising the definition of marriage which the PC(USA) currently uses. Some revisionists say “marriage equality”, by which they mean marriage restricted to couples, either same- or different-gendered. Princeton professor William Stacy Johnson presented that view. “Marriage is the most important relationship in life and we’re going to deprive same-gender couples of that?” Those who advocate the status quo definition ask, “Isn’t it rather, God in Scripture who restricts marriages to different-gendered couples?” Others like Brian Ellison suggest no restrictions on the number or genders involved as that would be “…daring to keep any away from what God might do.” Ellison issues a call to the Westminster Catechism’s masterfully constructed answer “glorify God” in all things, along with 1 Corinthians 7; offers from Ellison’s view an open approach defining marriage as whatever folks have a calling. Now that means marriage matters so much that it must not be defined with any limits but to glorify God. I wonder why the teaching on marriage in the Westminster Confession and from Jesus have no bearing on what behavior glorifies God? Other revisionists, like Pauw, define marriage as you and your “favorite person.” As a pastor friend of mine discussed: “Sex has been disconnected from reproduction. Marriage has been disconnected from both sex and reproduction. Now it is not about children, society, or anything larger than myself. Marriage is only about making me happy.” He concluded that from his reading of scripture and pastoral experience, he was sure a union based on selfishness is destined to fail. Another approach by Sharon K. Youngs, first suggests couples only for marriage, but using her reading of Ruth, the point is Ruth could have been married to Naomi in one coupled relationship; and to Boaz in another. Others have offered that marriage is an earthly matter, which distracts Jesus’ followers from Kingdom building, and therefore all the effort being expended on its definition is not glorifying God. These folks suggest that marriage does NOT matter enough for a few hundred Presbyterians to gather and explain why it matters enough to redefine it. Among marriage revisionists there are those who are “restrictive” (demanding “equality” for couples) and there are preachers for “no restrictions” (any grouping seeking to glorify God is potentially a marriage); with variations along the way. How will vastly divergent approaches find common ground to revise marriage’s definition in the culturally relevant sense Professor Johnson indicates is required?

    by Thomas L. Fultz, Ruling Elder

    November 8, 2013

  7. All people are loved in our church, but not all behavior can be affirmed. We must be guided by what is in the holy scripture. We have nothing else but the scripture and the holy spirit to guide us! Will we affirm adultery? We love those who choose to commit adultery, but we cannot affirm adultery. God gave us boundaries.

    by Carol Robinson

    November 4, 2013

  8. If Johnson sees the facts as"There is no such thing as gay marriage. There is simply marriage." How can he support restrictions on marriage to a couple? Why does any limit to the number in a marriage seem equitable? What constitutes equality in marriage? What does Jonson propose be changed in PCUSA Constitution? How does Jesus' teaching on marriage and divorce fit into Johnson's view of the Gospel? How is it that the Christian Church is "stingy" and not all the other religions and cultures of all history until the past few decades that agree marriage is a union of different-gendered persons?

    by Thomas L Fultz

    November 3, 2013

  9. Well, next summer in Detroit the PC(USA) will have the opportunity to accelerate the decline into irrelevance. You can bet the 34 page study published in June will have NO effect on discernment. When was the last time anyone read Romans 12:1-2.

    by dana gilmour

    November 2, 2013

  10. Have any of them READ the gospel....

    by Nick

    November 2, 2013