Relational, not Relationship

Published October 17, 2014
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Please do not use the Bible as a guide for your relationships.

Use it is a witness for your relational life.

Let me explain: In a recent post I mentioned being “sex positive.” This resulted in an excellent question from a congregant about how to reconcile sex and sexuality with the teachings of the church and the Bible.

They do not reconcile.

The Bible and the historical teachings of Christianity are just horrendous guides for, say, marriage and sex.

Take Sarah and Abraham, for example. Sarah could not get pregnant and fulfill her duties as the bearer of an heir. Solution? Force a slave, Hagar, to make a baby! Women were property—even the women who were not formal slaves—and as property, had to produce.

Paul would have us be celibate all of our lives: Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5.16). Easy for Paul to say. Having encountered Jesus just after the Easter mystery, Paul had every reason to believe Jesus would be right back. His return was imminent, so he did not want his followers to be distracted by sex.

If anything, the Bible is an outstanding guide for the many ways we betray our relationships and the God-blessed souls of others. In Eden, when Adam is confronted by God for eating of the tree of knowledge, does he take responsibility? Nope, he blames Eve. Keep it classy, Adam!

The Bible is a compendium of the worst of human behavior in relationships. It is also a tremendous witness to relationality.

I am drawing a distinction here. Our relationships are the established connections we have with lovers, parents, colleagues, and so on. Relationality is the tenor with which we enter those relationships.

The Bible, parts of it, offers a most remarkable testimony for relational postures of wholeness and justice. My primary Biblical text, the piece of scripture that I assess all others against, that I measure my own life against, is Luke 10.27, where Jesus says,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.

Theologian Miguel de la Torre suggests, rightly, that if we are failing to love the neighbor as ourselves, we are failing to love God.

That is relationality. That is a teaching to guide how we approach all of our relationships. How am I loving myself? Am I? Or am I just being self-indulgent and defensive? How am I loving my neighbor, the neighbor that is my mother, the family across the street, my fellow Americans experiencing poverty and racism? Whatever my answer, that is the state of my devotion and service to God.

Which is what ultimately matters. Who you have consensual sex with, how you have that sex, the make up of your family (biological, adoptive, marital, chosen, single)—those are all personal and historical artifacts. They are products of the era and culture we each live in, as well as our unique biologies.

But how we enter into and exist within those spaces, that is the hallmark of our ancient yet contemporary faith.


de la Torre, Miguel. Liberating Jonah: Forming an Ethics of Reconciliation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007.

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