It seems that in the Christian debate around same-sex marriage it is assumed by some that I will naturally be on the affirming side because I am a woman and a pastor.
Why, you may ask, is that relevant? I asked the same question because I did not automatically understand the logic of this. Now that I know the logic behind it, I understand it even less!
There are two particular areas of logic I want to address about the comparison between women as pastors and persons who are same-sex married as Pastors. One is centred on experience and the other on trajectory.
It is, first, about solidarity. Once upon a time women were not ‘allowed’ to be pastors and have often been oppressed and silenced in their fight to be obedient to their call. Some might mistakenly assume that I would put the prohibition of those who wish to be both pastors and same-sex married in the same category.
Second, there is an assumption that not only is the experience the same but also the trajectory of theology and practice. In her statement earlier this year about same-sex marriage, the Bishop of Bristol said; “As a woman in Church of England ministry, I have my own experience of the cost of disagreement about doctrine and practice.”¹ This automatically, and without any theological explanation, assumes a similarity between the two doctrines that is hard to follow.
It is true that in ancient times, throughout the patriarchal period, the New Testament and even our own past history women were not allowed to be pastors and leaders. There was indeed oppression, mistreatment and silencing of women but it could not be argued from Scripture that God approved of women being treated in such a way. Throughout Scripture there are stories of God freeing women from the patriarchal system that sought to restrain them. This treatment of women by God was not reserved purely for those women being raised as leaders, like Deborah in the Old Testament and Priscilla in the New (Jud 4; Rom 16:3). There are also examples of cultural oppression and tradition being overturned. It is the Lord who says the daughters of Zelophehad should inherit property in a culture where only men could inherit (Num 27:5-8).
Jesus himself had female disciples and it was women he first told to tell of his resurrection in a time when women could be neither disciples nor reliable witnesses (Matt 27:55-56; Matt 28:10). Jesus liberated women from persecution and mistreatment (Jn 8:10-11; Lk 8:47-48). This liberation practised by Jesus is patterned in the Old Testament Law which protects God’s people, including women, from temple prostitution and saves Rahab from destruction (Deut 23:17; Josh 6:25).
These are just a few of the examples of the trajectory of God’s will for women in the Bible. It is true that no-one should be oppressed or mistreated and God does not approve of it but there the similarity ends. It cannot be extrapolated that because certain people groups have experienced persecution or oppression, the theological trajectory is the same.
There are no comparable examples in the Bible of liberation and cultural change for men and women who were same-sex married. There is certainly no evidence that any same-sex married persons were in positions of leadership. Indeed, the idea of same-sex marriage is not entertained in the Bible. To argue that the Biblical authors had no understanding of sexual orientation ignores the few passages that do mention same-sex relationships. None of these passages seek to redeem the relationship but rather point out the immorality of such a union. It can and has been argued that what is referred to in these passages is sexual abuse and not loving relationship. Even if this is the case, and there are many exegesis of passages to the contrary such as Rom 1:22-27 which speak of desire and not abuse. It would still leave the Bible silent on the current matter at hand, same-sex marriage and accredited ministry. It cannot be argued that because it’s not in the Bible then it must be allowed; the mind boggles at what is not in the Bible that could therefore be permissible.²
However, I do not at this point want to deep dive into a theological debate on individual verses. My purpose is to show that there can be no comparison between same-sex married pastors and female pastors. All oppression and mistreatment is wrong, no matter the reason and I hope I have made my view clear on that. However, the matter is not about the oppression of certain people groups but whether or not they can be pastors. There is biblical evidence of women in leadership and even when it was frowned upon, the practice of being a female pastor has never been a sin. As much as I wish it wasn’t because it would make life a lot easier, the Bible is clear that same-sex practice is a sin and, as such, a person who is in an active same-sex relationship cannot be a pastor. This is not the same as those who are same-sex attracted but submit their desires in obedience to Christ, it is not a sin to be same-sex attracted but to act on those desires. Being married does not give permission to those sins which God has ordained. There is no evidence or trajectory in the Bible that I can see that supports this change in line with culture as there has been with women in the pastorate. They are not the same argument either through experience or theologically and the two arguments must stop being placed side by side as if they were one and the same.
Revd. Tania Vaughan is a Baptist Minister in North Bristol. She completed her Master’s and ministerial training at Bristol Baptist College in 2022. She is passionate about God’s word and living in obedience to Jesus as a witness to living life differently in the community.