"Male and Female He Created Them"

by Theresa Notare

March 31, 2000

"God created man in his own image. . . . male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying: "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it." (Gn 1:27 & 28)

The above lines from Genesis have always been hallowed by Jews and Christians, providing countless generations with a faith-based understanding of humanity. The Lord God is our source of being. Both men and women are made in his image and therefore of inestimable dignity, equality, and worth.

"The Lord God said: "It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." (Gn 2:18)

"Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon the man, and while he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and closed up its place with flesh. And the Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: "At last, this one is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. ...That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body." (Gn 2:21-24)

Expanding on the above teaching, the Holy Father notes "knowledge of humanity passes through masculinity and femininity." In other words, we can't understand ourselves individually as men or women if we don't have each other. When the author of Genesis says that "the Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man," and "brought her to the man," he revealed God's critical intention--man was to have a partner like himself in dignity but also different from him in every way--especially on a physical level. And the author tells us that the man himself recognized this as a good exclaiming "at last, this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!"

This sacred story not only supplies a clear anthropology, but it serves as the foundational teaching on the marriage relationship as willed by God. This relationship between a man and a woman is a tremendous blessing, as are the children God entrusts to them. Indeed, throughout scripture the marital relationship is so sacred that the prophets often use it as an analogy to explain God's relationship with His people.

In March, Reform Jewish leaders approved a resolution allowing rabbis to preside at homosexual "commitment ceremonies." Rabbi Charles Kroloff, said that the resolution is indicative of the group's belief that "gay and lesbian Jews, and the committed relationships they form with their partners, deserve the recognition and respect due to people created in the image of God." One has to wonder how the belief that all human beings, made in God's image, and deserving of respect and recognition, has become confused with God's design for marriage? Perhaps the answer lies in two areas--unconditional acceptance of historical critical methods of biblical study and an uncritical melding together of a permissive American culture with an historically more careful religious tradition.

The 20th century has seen the refinement of scholarly methods for studying the bible. These efforts have been to peel away the historical buildup (that which was created by people) to get at the divinely inspired message. This has helped us to better understand the fullness of God's revelation. However, too often scholars forget that the stories of the bible are not mere stories, but vehicles through which timeless truths are communicated by God to his people.

In order to avoid critical errors, anyone engaged in such academic study must be a person of prayer, a person very much in close communion with or part of, the faith community. A common error is reliance on reason alone and allowing cultural bias to overshadow scripture's meaning. In regard to the Reform Jewish Rabbis' resolution, The Washington Post notes that "The Torah calls homosexuality an abomination . . . But the Reform movement has always believed in adapting Judaism to the realities of modern America" (March 30, 2000). If one adapts scripture to the realities of modern America without any critique of our culture, one risks enshrining specific cultural ideas and not seeing God's will.

Faith communities are in the midst of strife trying to define or redefine marriage. And civil society wrestles as well. Vermont's Supreme Court recently ruled that same-sex partners must be granted the same rights as heterosexual married couples and now is trying to figure out "how to define" marriage. Hawaii, on the other hand, has defined it as a union of a man and a woman. It is excruciatingly clear that we are becoming a confused people. We have, it seems, dissected scripture to the point of human manipulation. We substitute cultural rallying cries--"gay rights," "choice," "contraceptive sex,"--with God's teachings to respect every human being, to protect innocent human lives, to be chaste and open to children in marriage.

We need to read scripture with minds and hearts open so that we might truly know what God is saying to us. Homosexual men and women can never have a marriage in the biblical sense, but they are our brothers and sisters who deserve respect as children of God, and human rights accorded on the basis of our humanity. But God's teaching about marriage is clear: "male and female He made them" blessing them to be "fruitful and multiply." God's will for marriage is the totality of humanity--male and female, united in him and open to life.

Theresa Notare is the Special Assistant for the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.