Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D.: Religion and Gay Marriage: The Amazing Grace of Same-Sex Marriage

Published June 28, 2012 by Tjchase

What is the strongest theological argument in favor of same-sex marriage? The answer, I contend, is that such relationships are visible signs of God’s grace — an amazing kind of one-way love that is a pure gift and cannot be earned. I’ve come to this realization based upon over 20 years of being together with my husband Michael, through our ups and downs, and for better or for worse.

Same-sex marriages are sacramental because they are a reflection of the larger grace-filled relationship between God and humanity. The classical theological definition of a sacrament — including baptism, eucharist and marriage — is that it is a visible and external sign of God’s invisible grace. Same-sex marriages are holy because they are vehicles in which we can experience and gain a deeper understanding of God’s unearned and unmerited love for us.

Michael and I have experienced a healthy dose of grace in our relationship over the last two decades. First of all, falling in love itself is an act of grace. As most of us have discovered, one simply cannot force another person to fall in love with her or him (that is, outside of the world of Shakespearean comedies and magic love potions). Love — whether same-sex or opposite-sex — is a manifestation of God’s amazing grace precisely because it cannot be planned or earned. Love is not just a matter of works, but rather of grace.

More importantly, however, my marriage with Michael has survived (and grown!) because of the grace, or unmerited gift, of forgiveness. Over the last two decades, we have both forgiven each other for transgressions big and small, despite the fact that the other might actually be at fault and not “deserve” to be forgiven. I believe these graced moments of forgiveness are a reflection of the larger grace that marks the fundamental relationship between God and humanity.

Indeed, as Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther have reminded us, grace is the central theme of the Bible, and, for that matter, of Christian theology. The parable of the prodigal son — who is accepted unconditionally by his father with open arms, despite leaving home, squandering his inheritance, and living with pigs — is all about grace. Similarly, God’s gift to us of making human flesh divine in the incarnation — despite our propensity to turn our backs on God, from the Garden of Eden to the present — is also about grace.

As a queer theologian, seminary professor, and ordained minister, I have witnessed the gift of God’s amazing grace reflected in countless same-sex marriages and relationships over the years. These marriages — some of which have lasted decades longer than mine — are nothing short of miraculous in light of the hatred and rejection that many same-sex couples have experienced from their families, churches, work colleagues, and local communities.

It’s surprising to me that the leaders of the religious right — including Protestant fundamentalists, Roman Catholic bishops, and Mormon leaders — have overlooked (or ignored) the centrality of grace in their reflections upon same-sex marriage. Their narrow definition of marriage, based upon procreation and the complementarity of sexual organs, is an insult to the larger Christian message about God’s extravagant grace-filled relationship with humanity. By focusing so closely upon the trees, they lose sight of the larger forest that is God’s amazing grace.

Ironically, by restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples, the religious right is acting just like the narrow-minded zealots who were condemned by St. Paul in his New Testament letters. (Such zealots insisted that Christians had to follow specific religious rules like circumcision in order to attain salvation.) The religious right is proclaiming a gospel of works and not of grace. Its myopic view of marriage is a failure of not only the theological imagination, but also of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

It is time that we challenge the false dichotomy that same-sex marriage can only be supported on the basis of legal arguments, and that same-sex marriage must be opposed on the basis of the Christian faith. In my view, the strongest argument in support of same-sex marriage is that it is a visible and external sign of God’s amazing grace — that is, a one-way love that is pure gift and cannot be earned — that flows extravagantly from God to humanity.

Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D.: Religion and Gay Marriage: The Amazing Grace of Same-Sex Marriage.

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