The sex theme has two ideas behind it – permanence and difference.
The idea is that you when two become one, God joins. And what God joins shouldn’t be seperated. That’s the permanence part.
The second idea is that sex represents the maleness and femaleness of God (Genesis 1:27, and something that Jesus alludes to in Matthew 19). That’s the difference idea.
The reason that Paul gets so bothered about same-sex in Romans 1 is that it no longer points to God. It doesn’t have enough difference.
The end of Romans 1 is about people no longer pointing to God. They no longer worship the creator, but the creation. We distort our relationship with creation, so it somehow becomes god. That’s the problem in Romans 1 – people are having sex that doesn’t point to God.
Most of the time the love theme and the sex theme are in harmony with each other. This is no surprise. They have the same composer.
But what happens when they pull in opposite directions?
That’s what this whole discussion is about.
The first answer is that love always wins. It’s the theme that trumps all other themes. So when a relationship has broken down, when people are harming each other by being together, then the love theme says “split”. The sex theme says “let no man cast asunder”. But the love theme wins, because it’s the bigger theme.
There’s an American writer called Lehmann who says that rules are like buoys that mark out the swimming area off a beach. You would be a fool to swim outside the area – it’s unsafe, there are currents that we don’t understand, and we could drown. It’s the same way with rules. Don’t swm outside the buoys.
But sometimes you have to go outside the buoys. Sometimes there might be a shark that has broken into the swimming area, or a slick of oil. Then you swim out the buoys, but you only do it when existence has become so disordered, when what once was safe has become poison, only in dangerous places do you swim outside the buoys.
Divorce is a bit like that. Sometimes you have to swim outside the permanence buoys. You do it, because the love theme is played with louder notes. Sometimes the demand for permanence has to make way to love (love being the opposite of harm).
The Bible seems to go along with that. That’s why divorce is almost always spoken against, but very occasionally, in odd circumstances, when there is a shark in the water (in Matthew 19 the shark is called “sexual immorality”), it is allowed.
The Bible might yield on the permanence part of the sex theme. It yields very reluctantly and very occasionally. Jesus’ strong words on divorce suggest that for him, the themes of love and sex were not often in conflict.
But the Bible never yields on the question of difference.
All the texts – Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, Jude, Matthew, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy. They all point the same way. They are all somehow about the difference theme. And they always say the same thing. The difference thing stays. Sex must always point to God. It needs to be male and female, because God is male and female.
But what about the love theme. Why did the Bible never let the love theme play louder than the difference theme. It did with permanence. Why not with difference?
The first possible answer is that the Bible never knew that love and difference could pull apart. The Bible didn’t know what we now know: that same-sex could also be love. The Bible only knew about pagan orgies. It had never seen Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.
The second answer is that the Bible did know something like this. It did know that gay men and women could make commitments to each other, but it still stayed firm. It still insisted that the sex theme shouldn’t yield to the love theme.
It couldn’t yield because love and sex were never were in fact pulling each other apart. They are always in harmony. Though a thing calls itself “love” and looks like love, perhaps it isn’t always love. Our ears are not sensitive enough to all the notes. Love is a bigger mystery than we can fathom.
We don’t always know best what love is. Sometimes the folk inside the relationship have a better idea. Sometimes they are blinded, and the folk outside spot something that folk inside can’t see or don’t want to know.
So what’s it like here, when lesbian and gay people talk about being in love?
Is it like two parents who were distraught when their 19 year old daughter got married, but twenty years down the line, eventually coming to see in their son-in-law what their daughter had always known, they gladly concede that they were wrong?
Or is it like a wedding where the couple make speeches and vows about love, but one or two discerning friends have been concerned by a flaw at the heart of the relationship, they hear love, but fear that something in future is going to unravel with painful consequences?
Which is it?
That’s what we need time to answer: to ask if we really have understood love.
We need time to let the love theme and the sex theme run alongside each other. To see if there is ever dissonance between them. If there is dissonance then love must always win (as Smedes argues here).
We need to ask if celibacy is always the best option, or if sometimes the love theme demands that difference is not insisted upon. Do we sometimes have to swim outside the buoys, or on this do we, like the texts of the Bible, always swim within them. If the sex is same, can it really be love?
Do the grand Biblical themes of Love and Sex ever pull in opposite directions?
That, I think, is the question.