If you’ve heard arguments or debates about gay marriage, you have likely listened to the procreation angle from those who oppose gay marriage. The idea connects to a broader view of gender complementarianism. The perspective goes something like this. God created humanity, male and female. He gave them gender components that complement one another to be fruitful and multiply the earth, which means having children biologically through sexual intercourse. For many, procreation is a mandate (The Cultural Mandate) from God and can only happen by God-given complementary parts that both males and females have. Some have even called procreation the actual purpose of marriage. More or less, this is essentially the argument that is often us against gay marriage.
The response from those who are for gay marriage goes something like this. If procreation is a requirement for God-glorifying monogamous marriages, then what does that mean for people who should be able to have children but cannot? Is the Church going to deny people who are physically past the age of a pregnancy from getting married? None of these people can pro-create, so does God not recognize their marriage? These are varying responses people use to push back against the procreation argument. These aren’t necessarily strong responses either. These arguments are, at best, an argument from silence because they lack a positive affirmation in the scriptures for gay marriage. Since procreation is affirmed in the Bible and often positive, a more vigorous retort is needed to dismiss the procreation angle. And an argument like, “well, they can’t have children either,” isn’t that convincing.
Pro-creation is biblical and is a gift from God. Adam and Eve were given the mandate to multiply the Earth, as well as Noah and his family. Many have argued that Christians are responsible for continuing this mandate and having many kids where possible. The logic is that more kids will produce more Christians. And so on and so on. But is procreation, in and of itself, a good argument for being against gay marriage? I don’t think so.
For one, the mandate to procreate is not exclusively given to humanity. On day 4 of creation, the bible says, “Then God said, "Let the water swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the large sea-creatures and every living creature that moves and swarms in the water, according to their kinds. He also created every winged creature according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them: "Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth." Evening came and then morning: the fifth day.
Procreation, then, is not necessarily an overflow of being made in God’s image. At least not in an exclusive sense that humankind is the only creature given that responsibility. There is uniqueness in the procreation that mankind has, but not how I’ve heard the arguments used. While procreation can only happen in a sexual union between a biological man and woman, or from components that require both male and female participation (sperm, eggs, Fallopian Tubes, Uterus), it is still not a strong enough argument against same-sex marriage mainly because procreation is not a responsibility given only to the institution of marriage.
I’ve heard some festive arguments that procreation is the purpose of marriage versus love per se’. That love is a modern understanding of marriage and that in antiquity, people married for business arrangements and legacy, which is where the necessity for children comes in. But again, this doesn’t pass the sniff test. If humanity were the only ones responsible for multiplying the earth, it would be a much stronger point. But procreative complementarity as a necessary component for marriage and family fall apart, even when we consider the birth of Jesus.
The conditions of Jesus’ birth make the procreation complementarity argument a bit interesting. As far as we know, Jesus is the only human being born without the requirements of a biological male and female. Joseph was not Jesus’ biological dad. Gabriel told Mary, “Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end." Mary asked the angel, "How can this be since I have not had sexual relations with a man?" The angel replied to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Some people have speculated that since sin came into the world through Adam’s disobedience, indwelling sin is transmitted through the sperm of the man into the egg and then the Fallopian Tube and is written in everyone's DNA. But since Jesus didn’t have the sperm of a human father, the inherited sin nature and its transmission did not enter into Jesus’ DNA. He kept the DNA of his Heavenly Father but took the flesh of his earthly mother etc. All of this is too wonderful for me, but I still think it’s an interesting discussion to engage in. But that’s not the point of this post.
If you do take the procreation argument in the way I’ve defined in this article, you’re going to have to explain why we don’t celebrate animal marriages. They procreate. They show love, maternal and paternal instincts, training, teaching, protecting, and communicating with their children in similar ways humans do. I love to watch National Geographic shows with my family. I’m fascinated by Apex predators like Crocodiles, Lions, Bears, and other animals that love, sacrifice, provide and protect their children. Pretty much the same way we do. A bit of a stretch, but if you’re going to use the procreation argument, you need to wrestle with these counterpoints.
Another reason why procreation isn’t a great argument against same-sex marriage is that the Bible is pro-family, but not necessarily pro-children as a standard for family. Abraham, the earthly father of our faith, did not have children until the end of his life. And the narrative that describes him having a child is less about procreation and more about God’s specific call to Abraham to bring a nation out of him. Not only that, his child of the promise, Isaac, wasn’t about procreation, but about God who promised him a child when he and his wife Sarah were physically incapable of procreating on their own. His child was more about God’s Grace and Abraham’s faith to trust God for an heir to establish a people who would imitate Abraham’s faith. Procreation was not a part of Abraham’s life until the very end of his life. And God used him in a significant way though most of his life were without him multiplying the earth.
In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah, a barren woman, cries out to God for a child. Not necessarily to procreate and multiply the earth, but just to have a sense of dignity. In those days, a childless woman was seen as disgraced, even cursed by God. Hannah wants a child, but not for procreation or fulfilling the cultural mandate. Here’s what 1 Samuel 1 tells us. “Deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears. Making a vow, she pleaded, "LORD of Armies, if you will take notice of your servant's affliction, remember and not forget me, and give your servant a son, I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut." As we can see, her prayer was not even to keep the child, which she didn’t. He grew up to be the prophet, Samuel.
Lastly, similar to Abraham, we see Zechariah and Elizabeth in the NT. The scripture describes them as, “But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.” So we see another family, of biblical significance, that up until it was physically too late to have children, was given a son. Not for procreation’s sake or the cultural mandate, but solely for God’s glory. On one level, this means nothing. It doesn’t take away from the importance of procreation etc. And some will read this and miss the point. So let me make it again. The Bible is pro-family, but that does not mean having children when married is what it means to be an image-bearer. And it’s not what marriage is about. Having kids, even in the Bible, isn’t necessarily a cultural mandate issue. It’s not even a prominent theme in the Bible. Those who are for gay marriage could have convincingly, to some, successfully pushed back on the procreation complementarianism argument.
Another challenge to the Cultural Mandate argument is there are not many verses on parenting in the scripture. There are plenty about children, but not necessarily about parenting. The more common ones for parenting are:
There are a couple more in Deuteronomy that seems to be directed exclusively at the Jews, relaying God's narrative of bringing them out of Egypt. Apart from that, these six verses above are the go-to on parenting. If procreation is such a significant responsibility, its emphasis and instruction on being a parent are minuscule at best in the scriptures. Consider this the next time you buy a 200 plus page book on parenting. Where are they getting all of that information from? In and of itself, this isn’t a strong argument for gay marriage. But it’s not a good defense against it either.
Lastly, the call to have children, to apply the “be fruitful and multiply the earth mandate,” is presumptuous at best. While I appreciate the Cultural Mandate, there is no guarantee that our children will become believers in Jesus. Yes, children are a gift from the Lord, and we should have them as much as we can be responsible for them, but we need to be careful and not assume that having children always translate to adding more Christians to society and the kingdom.
To be fair, Paul does say to Timothy, “Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us.” But Paul also says this to the Corinthians, “I want you to be without concerns. The unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord how he may please the Lord. But the married man is concerned about the things of the world how he may please his wife- and his interests are divided. The unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord so that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But the married woman is concerned about the things of the world how she may please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but to promote what is proper and so that you may be devoted to the Lord without distraction.”
I am not saying procreation isn’t essential or necessary. I have three boys myself, and I love them to death. I love kids. Always have. I am saying that, in this age of gay marriage and the Equality Act, opposition to it better be sharp and convincing. The Cultural Mandate (Procreative Complementarianism), as I’ve heard it presented thus far, from multiple people, is not a strong argument against same-sex marriage.
I had to study pro-gay theology a few years ago because there were people in my church who weren’t convinced the Bible condemned gay marriage. I read and read. I watched many debates on the topic. I read again. I learned many of the pro-gay perspectives trying to understand where they were coming from. I wanted to understand. After intense study of pro-gay theology, and multiple conversations with people who are gay and profess to e in Jesus, I concluded that there is no way to make a biblical case for gay marriage. You would have to ignore too many truths; the bible clarifies sexuality, marriage, and identity in Christ. But what I also learned was that we need to be able to use more than just the exegesis of the “clobber passages” to make a biblical case against gay marriage. And I also learned there are some deeper truths in scripture that can help all of us understand how to walk this out.
I would use the procreation angle but not as a standalone argument. There is a much deeper reality that procreation submits itself to. But some questions need to be explored on a deeper level to use the Cultural Mandate argument effectively.
Since the Godhead is identified as male (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, also described as “He”), and the angels are called Sons of God, as well as Satan described as being a “he,” why did God make Eve for Adam instead of Steve? Perfect unity exists in the Godhead as male, but when God created a companion for Adam, he created a female. Why?
Why was Eve the only creature created from another creature instead of from the ground? Every animal was formed in the environment in Genesis 2. Including Adam. But Eve was created from Adam; why?
What does it mean to be made in God’s image? God is described as Spirit ( 1 John 4:24). If God is Spirit, then was his making man in his image, an idea that would resemble God when he became human? Or was it something else?” In other words, why are we human instead of the spirit if we are made in his image and likeness?
Procreation fits in a more profound conceptual framework than the “Cultural Mandate” argument can handle by itself. Answering the questions above and a few others that aren’t listed here can help us see the bigger picture. And we need to. This movement is coming. We need to be ready to answer the hope we have received. My next “Rethinking Sexuality” post will answer many of the questions raised above and a few more.
Can you handle this truth? Nah, you can’t!
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