“… the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself… Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.”
(1 Sam 18:1-3)
“And they kissed each other… Jonathan said to David, “Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.’”
(1 Sam 20:41-42)
You have been very pleasant to me.
Your love to me was more wonderful
Than the love of women.”
(2 Sam 1:26)
The above passages highlight a few of the key moments in the relationship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. And I think that it is clear that there was a deep, passionate, and committed relationship going on between these two men.
Now, before I go too far, I’d like to allow for a couple of caveats. For one, these passages are very intentionally selected from their context. If you read the larger story, there are all sorts of wars and battles going on – people cutting off foreskins and hooking up with multiple women – so, not your stereotypical “gay” stuff. Secondly, I do not believe that David and Jonathan were gay. These passages have often been used to try to argue that these two men were engaged in a sexual relationship with one another. However, extrapolating these verses to make that point, I think, either overlooks or ignores the Ancient Near Eastern context in which men could do things like kiss and embrace one another without all of the hyper-sexualized connotations that our culture places on such things.1
But, even bearing the context of these verses in mind, you just can’t get away from the passionate and intimate relationship that these two men shared. And this leads me to a similar relationship that I had the opportunity to witness a few weeks ago.
If you remember from a past post, one of my best friends got engaged to his boyfriend. Well, the two recently tied the knot, and guess who got to be my best friend’s best man? This guy!2 And I have to say that it was hands-down one of the most beautiful ceremonies that I’ve ever experienced.
Now, as many of you already know, I’m not fully on board with gay sex itself. However, I feel as though the conversation about same-sex relationships almost always gets couched in the discussion of what happens in the bedroom. And certainly there is a time and place for that conversation. But I think that before we ever start talking about what Adam and Steve are doing behind closed doors, we need to first talk about what they’re doing at the altar. And what they are not doing is trying to tear down the fabric of American society, defiantly rebel against God, or retroactively try to justify a twisted desire to do the nasty in another guy’s pooper.3
What they are doing is participating in one of the most fundamental and universal of all human activities – committing one’s life to another person as an expression of our inherent need for companionship. This need is so foundational to the human experience that even the ancient Hebrews understood it as part of what it means to be human, even in a world without sin (Gen 2:18). And this, I think, is where a lot of Bible-believing folk make the first mistake in how they engage the topic of homosexuality. They would like to say, “Yes, you are made in the image of God, who is Triune and inherently relational. Yes, you have a foundational need for companionship. Yes, committing your life to another in a covenant is a beautiful motif running throughout Scripture.” But then they feel compelled for one reason or another to turn around and say, “But you cannot fulfill this part of being human if you’re doing it with someone that has the same plumbing as you.”
But is that right? Is that really putting our priorities in the right order? I mean, is the deep, intimate, personal, covenant relationship that David and Jonathan shared invalid and evil just because they were both dudes? And what if biblical deconstructionists are correct, and these two men were in fact porking one another? Would that be enough to render their committed relationship essentially flawed?
I think that no matter where you land on the issue, it is important that we keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is that humans are inescapably built for deep, intimate, covenant relationships. Whether or not that manifests itself in sexual intimacy is a secondary conversation, which we can certainly have. But, let’s not put the cart before the horse.4
1: In fact, many cultures around the world today still allow for expressions of physical intimacy between male friends without presuming a homosexual relationship.
2: And by “this guy” I mean me, just in case you can’t see my thumbs pointing at myself.
3: If my use of language in reference to gay sex seems vulgar, please know that I am doing this intentionally in satiric response to an argument against gay marriage that focuses on the "yuck factor" of it.
4: For a fantastic approach to LGBT relationships that focuses on the primacy of intimate, covenant relationships without sex, be sure to check out the blog, Spiritual Friendship. You’ll be glad you did.