Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Our Mutual Joy

Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.

By Lisa Miller


From the magazine issue dated Dec 15, 2008

Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.

The battle over gay marriage has been waged for more than a decade, but within the last six months—since California legalized gay marriage and then, with a ballot initiative in November, amended its Constitution to prohibit it—the debate has grown into a full-scale war, with religious-rhetoric slinging to match. Not since 1860, when the country's pulpits were full of preachers pronouncing on slavery, pro and con, has one of our basic social (and economic) institutions been so subject to biblical scrutiny. But whereas in the Civil War the traditionalists had their James Henley Thornwell—and the advocates for change, their Henry Ward Beecher—this time the sides are unevenly matched. All the religious rhetoric, it seems, has been on the side of the gay-marriage opponents, who use Scripture as the foundation for their objections.

The argument goes something like this statement, which the Rev. Richard A. Hunter, a United Methodist minister, gave to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in June: "The Bible and Jesus define marriage as between one man and one woman. The church cannot condone or bless same-sex marriages because this stands in opposition to Scripture and our tradition."

To which there are two obvious responses: First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes. "Marriage" in America refers to two separate things, a religious institution and a civil one, though it is most often enacted as a messy conflation of the two. As a civil institution, marriage offers practical benefits to both partners: contractual rights having to do with taxes; insurance; the care and custody of children; visitation rights; and inheritance. As a religious institution, marriage offers something else: a commitment of both partners before God to love, honor and cherish each other—in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer—in accordance with God's will. In a religious marriage, two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them. Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.

In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call "the traditional family" are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews' precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between "one man and as many women as he could pay for." Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: "Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world. (The fact that homosexual couples cannot procreate has also been raised as a biblical objection, for didn't God say, "Be fruitful and multiply"? But the Bible authors could never have imagined the brave new world of international adoption and assisted reproductive technology—and besides, heterosexuals who are infertile or past the age of reproducing get married all the time.)

Ozzie and Harriet are nowhere in the New Testament either. The biblical Jesus was—in spite of recent efforts of novelists to paint him otherwise—emphatically unmarried. He preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties. Leave your families and follow me, Jesus says in the gospels. There will be no marriage in heaven, he says in Matthew. Jesus never mentions homosexuality, but he roundly condemns divorce (leaving a loophole in some cases for the husbands of unfaithful women).

The apostle Paul echoed the Christian Lord's lack of interest in matters of the flesh. For him, celibacy was the Christian ideal, but family stability was the best alternative. Marry if you must, he told his audiences, but do not get divorced. "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): a wife must not separate from her husband." It probably goes without saying that the phrase "gay marriage" does not appear in the Bible at all.

If the bible doesn't give abundant examples of traditional marriage, then what are the gay-marriage opponents really exercised about? Well, homosexuality, of course—specifically sex between men. Sex between women has never, even in biblical times, raised as much ire. In its entry on "Homosexual Practices," the Anchor Bible Dictionary notes that nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women, "possibly because it did not result in true physical 'union' (by male entry)." The Bible does condemn gay male sex in a handful of passages. Twice Leviticus refers to sex between men as "an abomination" (King James version), but these are throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world, a text that devotes verse after verse to treatments for leprosy, cleanliness rituals for menstruating women and the correct way to sacrifice a goat—or a lamb or a turtle dove. Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?

Paul was tough on homosexuality, though recently progressive scholars have argued that his condemnation of men who "were inflamed with lust for one another" (which he calls "a perversion") is really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity and debauchery. In his book "The Arrogance of Nations," the scholar Neil Elliott argues that Paul is referring in this famous passage to the depravity of the Roman emperors, the craven habits of Nero and Caligula, a reference his audience would have grasped instantly. "Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all," Elliott says. "He's talking about a certain group of people who have done everything in this list. We're not dealing with anything like gay love or gay marriage. We're talking about really, really violent people who meet their end and are judged by God." In any case, one might add, Paul argued more strenuously against divorce—and at least half of the Christians in America disregard that teaching.

Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument). Common prayers and rituals reflect our common practice: the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer describes the participants in a marriage as "the man and the woman." But common practice changes—and for the better, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric. It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter). It provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites. A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.

Marriage, specifically, has evolved so as to be unrecognizable to the wives of Abraham and Jacob. Monogamy became the norm in the Christian world in the sixth century; husbands' frequent enjoyment of mistresses and prostitutes became taboo by the beginning of the 20th. (In the NEWSWEEK POLL, 55 percent of respondents said that married heterosexuals who have sex with someone other than their spouses are more morally objectionable than a gay couple in a committed sexual relationship.) By the mid-19th century, U.S. courts were siding with wives who were the victims of domestic violence, and by the 1970s most states had gotten rid of their "head and master" laws, which gave husbands the right to decide where a family would live and whether a wife would be able to take a job. Today's vision of marriage as a union of equal partners, joined in a relationship both romantic and pragmatic, is, by very recent standards, radical, says Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage, a History."

Religious wedding ceremonies have already changed to reflect new conceptions of marriage. Remember when we used to say "man and wife" instead of "husband and wife"? Remember when we stopped using the word "obey"? Even Miss Manners, the voice of tradition and reason, approved in 1997 of that change. "It seems," she wrote, "that dropping 'obey' was a sensible editing of a service that made assumptions about marriage that the society no longer holds."

We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future. The Bible offers inspiration and warning on the subjects of love, marriage, family and community. It speaks eloquently of the crucial role of families in a fair society and the risks we incur to ourselves and our children should we cease trying to bind ourselves together in loving pairs. Gay men like to point to the story of passionate King David and his friend Jonathan, with whom he was "one spirit" and whom he "loved as he loved himself." Conservatives say this is a story about a platonic friendship, but it is also a story about two men who stand up for each other in turbulent times, through violent war and the disapproval of a powerful parent. David rends his clothes at Jonathan's death and, in grieving, writes a song:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
You were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
More wonderful than that of women.

Here, the Bible praises enduring love between men. What Jonathan and David did or did not do in privacy is perhaps best left to history and our own imaginations.

In addition to its praise of friendship and its condemnation of divorce, the Bible gives many examples of marriages that defy convention yet benefit the greater community. The Torah discouraged the ancient Hebrews from marrying outside the tribe, yet Moses himself is married to a foreigner, Zipporah. Queen Esther is married to a non-Jew and, according to legend, saves the Jewish people. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, believes that Judaism thrives through diversity and inclusion. "I don't think Judaism should or ought to want to leave any portion of the human population outside the religious process," he says. "We should not want to leave [homosexuals] outside the sacred tent." The marriage of Joseph and Mary is also unorthodox (to say the least), a case of an unconventional arrangement accepted by society for the common good. The boy needed two human parents, after all.

In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified. Jesus reaches out to everyone, especially those on the margins, and brings the whole Christian community into his embrace. The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, cites the story of Jesus revealing himself to the woman at the well— no matter that she had five former husbands and a current boyfriend—as evidence of Christ's all-encompassing love. The great Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, emeritus professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, quotes the apostle Paul when he looks for biblical support of gay marriage: "There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ." The religious argument for gay marriage, he adds, "is not generally made with reference to particular texts, but with the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness."

The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference—all these biblical values argue for gay marriage. If one is for racial equality and the common nature of humanity, then the values of stability, monogamy and family necessarily follow. Terry Davis is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Conn., and has been presiding over "holy unions" since 1992. "I'm against promiscuity—love ought to be expressed in committed relationships, not through casual sex, and I think the church should recognize the validity of committed same-sex relationships," he says.

Still, very few Jewish or Christian denominations do officially endorse gay marriage, even in the states where it is legal. The practice varies by region, by church or synagogue, even by cleric. More progressive denominations—the United Church of Christ, for example—have agreed to support gay marriage. Other denominations and dioceses will do "holy union" or "blessing" ceremonies, but shy away from the word "marriage" because it is politically explosive. So the frustrating, semantic question remains: should gay people be married in the same, sacramental sense that straight people are? I would argue that they should. If we are all God's children, made in his likeness and image, then to deny access to any sacrament based on sexuality is exactly the same thing as denying it based on skin color—and no serious (or even semiserious) person would argue that. People get married "for their mutual joy," explains the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center in New York, quoting the Episcopal marriage ceremony. That's what religious people do: care for each other in spite of difficulty, she adds. In marriage, couples grow closer to God: "Being with one another in community is how you love God. That's what marriage is about."

More basic than theology, though, is human need. We want, as Abraham did, to grow old surrounded by friends and family and to be buried at last peacefully among them. We want, as Jesus taught, to love one another for our own good—and, not to be too grandiose about it, for the good of the world. We want our children to grow up in stable homes. What happens in the bedroom, really, has nothing to do with any of this. My friend the priest James Martin says his favorite Scripture relating to the question of homosexuality is Psalm 139, a song that praises the beauty and imperfection in all of us and that glorifies God's knowledge of our most secret selves: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." And then he adds that in his heart he believes that if Jesus were alive today, he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us, for "Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad." Let the priest's prayer be our own.

With Sarah Ball and Anne Underwood

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/172653


Anonymous said...

Bible Is Inclusive But Insistent

Lisa Miller's article is inventive, to say the least. Nowhere in the Bible is homosexual activity praised or advocated. The only mentions of it condemn the practice. On the other hand, the Bible has plenty to say about the marriage of one man to one woman. Take a look at God's commands in the Garden, or Christ's words on leaving and cleaving, or tour Paul's instructions specifically for "husbands" and "wives."

Miller admits that the argument for a biblical support of gay marriage is usually not made from any particular passage but from, as scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it, "the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness."

Miller is only partly right.

Christ's invitation to sinners to come and find salvation truly does go out to all. But this invitation is not to stay as we are. The Bible is inclusive in this--all of us have the same opportunity to turn from our sins, whether that is the sin of pride, unbelief, greed, or any number of sexual sins, including the kinds made by patriarchs, modern homosexuals, and everyday covenant breakers. God loves us enough that he won't leave us as he finds us.

Anonymous said...

Gay Rights: Religious Justification And Condemnation Equally Irrelevant

Why would anyone care whether there is a biblical case to be made for gay marriage? You might as well ask whether there is a religious or biblical case to be made for or against slavery. The answer, of course, is that the Bible can be cited in support of or in opposition to any human behavior and human need. That is why, as voters and legislators, we ought not to be asking ourselves what the Bible or particular religions say about anything and should stick to what seems reasonable in modern society and legal under our Constitution.

I have often irritated atheists on this blog by saying that I do not agree with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins about the perfidy of "moderate" religions as enablers of extremist religion. However, this question about whether there is a religious case to be made for gay marriage embodies the worst aspect of moderate, or liberal, faith. Those who go around searching for scriptural support for gay marriage, and other liberal causes, are really swallowing the conservative religious line that everything needs some sort of sacral justification.

In her article in the Dec. 15 issue of Newsweek, titled "Our Mutal Joy," Lisa Miller takes the position that the Bible's teachings about love actually do support all types of unconventional marriage arrangements. I am reluctant to criticize Miller, given that her article will surely bring down the wrath of the religious right upon her and her magazine. Yet there is something fundamentally illogical about attempting to justify love that needs no justification by parsing ancient documents, written by humans as morally fallible as humans are today (and much more ignorant about the material universe).

So what if David, in one of the more evocative passages in the Bible, lamented over the death of Jonathan, "thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women"? So what If Jesus is portrayed as an unmarried man in a culture that encouraged marriage for all. I think that Miller is quite right in her assertion that religious objections to gay marriage are rooted mainly in custom and "a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument." Why, then, make a scriptural argument on behalf of gay marriage by searching for every passage in the Bible that could be seen as praise for unconventional love?

Faith-based arguments on behalf of gay marriage actually give aid and comfort to the sort of right-wing religious groups that threw volunteers and huge amounts of money into the California battle over Proposition 8, because they legitimize the idea that religious belief is a proper test for determining legal rights. The theological debate about gay marriage will never be resolved. The legal debate about gay marriage can only be resolved if theology is left out of it. I don't care whether the Bible says that gays should be drawn and quartered before being publicly boiled in oil. Nor do I care whether David loved Jonathan more than he loved any of his wives.

These ancient books should have no more to do with the rights of gay men and women in modern society than Genesis should have anything to do with the teaching of biology in twenty-first century schools. Ah, but I forgot for a moment. A third of Americans believe that every word in Genesis is literally true. And they will not be convinced otherwise by liberal theologians who regard the creation story as a metaphor. The resolution of issues such as gay marriage and the teaching of evolution cannot and should not depend today on debate over the "true meaning" of superstitions and heroic tales recorded thousands of years ago.

Anonymous said...

There is No Gay Marriage in the Bible

Some say you can prove anything from the Bible. Actually not, unless you make a parallel argument that you can prove anything from a dictionary. If we read the Bible as we read other literature--normal, historical, grammatical, author-intended meaning--we discover that it has lots to say but not necessarily what everyone wants it to say.

Just because someone wants the Bible to present a scriptural case for gay marriage doesn't mean it does. The normal reading of the Bible throughout history and around today's world concludes that the Bible calls for male-female marriage.

The plainest and simplest description of biblical marriage is at the beginning of the Bible: "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

True, the Bible has multiple stories of polygamous marriages and broken marriages but that doesn't mean that the starting definition is abandoned. There is a difference between what the Bible prescribes and what it describes. The Ten Commandments uplift a high moral and ethical code even though the Bible reports behavior far from what the Ten Commandments prescribe.

When Jesus talked about marriage and quoted from Genesis 2:24 it is hard to conclude that he was talking about anything other than one man and one woman: "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" (Matthew 19:4-6, New International Version).

Anonymous said...

The Religious Case For and Against Gay Marriage

Here is the sad truth about the unimportant, uninteresting, irrelevant, add no value and unfortunately polarizing and divisive way in which religion and scripture is used in contemporary culture. Everyone simply brings their religious views and their scriptural passages to prove, legitimate, and affirm their already held political and psychological positions. This is religion as apologetics and proof texting.

No one learns anything about their own view or the opposing view. In fact, the very use of religion and scripture to simply buttress one's opinions often hides a deep unconscious uncertainty about the very view one is so fiercely holding and is often a way to avoid dealing with the uncomfortable uncertainty of divisive social issues which are inevitably a consequence of our ever changing and hopefully growing psychological, moral, and spiritual evolution.

And it is not difficult to use religion and scripture this way, as any religion that has knocked around the planet for a long time has said just about everything - from wipe out every man woman and child of your enemy to turn the other cheek, from love your neighbor and love the stranger to certain sexual relations being abominations - and therefore can be used to prove almost anything.

So of course, there is a religious and scriptural case that can be made with passion for gay marriage and a religious and spiritual case that can be made with just as much passion against gay marriage which basically makes contemporary religion a whore for political positions whether liberal or conservative.

Not surprisingly, religious rhetoric seems to be on the side of opposition to gay marriage as far more of the liberal, cultured, and intellectual elite have, at best, given up on religion as trivial and wrong about just about everything and, at worst, decided that religion is judgmental and violent.

Moreover, traditionalists and liberals tend to use different aspects of scripture and religion to support their views. Liberals use principles, broad moral generalizations, and narratives which tend to be open ended and dynamic and which invite ever new content. While conservatives tend to focus on laws and rules that are fixed and set. And so liberals invoke lofty and noble ethical intuitions that reflect and express their new sense of what is right and wrong while conservatives invoke established norms that reflect and express their belief in a stable inherited order.

Of course, both are legitimate ways of experiencing reality - one reflecting a conservative predisposition that values stability, precedent, and the past and one reflecting a liberal predisposition that values change, innovation, and the future. And we need to maintain a healthy tension between these two impulses to insure a healthy society. Liberals will always see conservatives' use of religion as literalist, preservationist, reactionary, and restrictive while conservatives will always see liberals' use of religion as anarchic, rebellious, made up, and destabilizing.

What both sides fail to see is that religion and scripture both translate and transform, stabilize and destabilize, anchor and blow apart, root and undermine our existing views and so each side proclaims its religious and scriptural case as if it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

How much more productive it would be if both liberals and conservatives were honest about the way they use religion and scripture in addressing divisive moral/cultural issues. How refreshing it would be if liberals said we know that the changes we are advocating (in this case permitting gay marriage but which includes just about every advance we have favored in human rights since the beginning of modernity) are discontinuous with the past. We know that they are indeed breaks with specific inherited/traditional norms, laws, and rules but norms, laws, and rules are temporary attempts to make real in our society larger moral and ethical intuitions. They are necessary steps but never a final resting place for our society's moral unfolding. As religious people, we are compelled to constantly be widening and expanding our understanding of profound truths like, "all human beings are Images of God", or "justice justice shall you pursue", or "love your neighbor as yourself" and orienting grand narratives like the Exodus - and to constantly be creating norms that can capture and concretize our new understandings of these religious truths. And yes, we know we are innovating. But innovating actually preserves what we see are the deepest impulses of our traditions and anyway in the end a tradition is just an innovation that made it.

And it would be so refreshing if conservatives said we know that change is inevitable but we highly value stability and incremental change because human beings and societies are complex and so easily unravel. They change best when they change slowly; when they are given time to assess the consequences, often unintended, of even the best motivated and ultimately good changes. Noble principles are elevating but the rule of law and precedent insure order and a moral unfolding of society that rather than undermining people can be integrated. And yes, we know that at times we wind up on the wrong side of history but as religious people we are compelled to honor the established law and to move slowly on historic social and cultural issues so as to avoid faddish, slavish, and impulsive changes thereby preserving over the long haul a morally upright and stable society.

Liberals will always feel change is not happening fast enough and conservatives will always feel change is happening too fast and both will make the religious and scriptural case for their positions. It would be better for our public discourse if people at least knew where they were on the continuum and how they will tend to use religion and scripture. But it would be transformative for our public conversations and debates about divisive issues if we tried to understand the hopes and fears of the side with which we disagree and to use our religion and scripture not simply to affirm our positions but to better understand the partial truth of the other side.

After all, while a religious and scriptural case can be made for and against every serious societal moral change, we all can agree, on whatever side we find ourselves, that a genuine religious orientation should serve as a constant reminder that every human view - whether conservative or liberal, especially one's own, is a finite, partial, fragment of an infinite whole. Ultimately, the specific case we make invoking scripture, whether pro or con, ought to be far less important than using religion to foster humility, modesty, and a capacity to appreciate paradox, contradiction, and ambiguity - to help us understand each other and embrace the sacred messiness of life.

Anonymous said...

No, and Newsweek Should Know Better

Newsweek magazine, one of the most influential news magazines in America, has decided to come out for same-sex marriage in a big way, and to do so by means of a biblical and theological argument. In its cover story for this week, "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage," Newsweek religion editor Lisa Miller offers a revisionist argument for the acceptance of same-sex marriage. It is fair to say that Newsweek has gone for broke on this question.

Miller begins with a lengthy dismissal of the Bible's relevance to the question of marriage in the first place. "Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does," Miller suggests. If so, she argues that readers will find a confusion of polygamy, strange marital practices, and worse.

She concludes: "Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple-who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love-turn to the Bible as a how-to script?" She answers, "Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so."

Now, wait just a minute. Miller's broadside attack on the biblical teachings on marriage goes to the heart of what will appear as her argument for same-sex marriage. She argues that, in the Old Testament, "examples of what social conservatives call 'the traditional family' are scarcely to be found." This is true, of course, if what you mean by 'traditional family' is the picture of America in the 1950s. The Old Testament notion of the family starts with the idea that the family is the carrier of covenant promises, and this family is defined, from the onset, as a transgenerational extended family of kin and kindred.

But, at the center of this extended family stands the institution of marriage as the most basic human model of covenantal love and commitment. And this notion of marriage, deeply rooted in its procreative purpose, is unambiguously heterosexual.

As for the New Testament, "Ozzie and Harriet are nowhere" to be found. Miller argues that both Jesus and Paul were unmarried (emphatically true) and that Jesus "preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties." Jesus clearly did call for a commitment to the Gospel and to discipleship that transcended family commitments. Given the Jewish emphasis on family loyalty and commitment, this did represent a decisive break.

But Miller also claims that "while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman." This is just patently untrue. Genesis 2:24-25 certainly reveals marriage to be, by the Creator's intention, a union of one man and one woman. To offer just one example from the teaching of Jesus, Matthew 19:1-8 makes absolutely no sense unless marriage "between one man and one woman" is understood as normative.

As for Paul, he did indeed instruct the Corinthians that the unmarried state was advantageous for the spread of the Gospel. His concern in 1 Corinthians 7 is not to elevate singleness as a lifestyle, but to encourage as many as are able to give themselves totally to an unencumbered Gospel ministry. But, in Corinth and throughout the New Testament church, the vast majority of Christians were married. Paul will himself assume this when he writes the "household codes" included in other New Testament letters.

The real issue is not marriage, Miller suggests, but opposition to homosexuality. Surprisingly, Miller argues that this prejudice against same-sex relations is really about opposition to sex between men. She cites the Anchor Bible Dictionary as stating that "nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women." She would have done better to look to the Bible itself, where in Romans 1:26-27 Paul writes: "For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

Again, this passage makes absolutely no sense unless it refers very straightforwardly to same-sex relations among both men and women -- with the women mentioned first.

Miller dismisses the Levitical condemnations of homosexuality as useless because "our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions." But she saves her most creative dismissal for the Apostle Paul. Paul, she concedes, "was tough on homosexuality." Nevertheless, she takes encouragement from the fact that "progressive scholars" have found a way to re-interpret the Pauline passages to refer only to homosexual violence and promiscuity.

In this light she cites author Neil Elliott and his book, The Arrogance of Nations. Elliott, like other "progressive scholars," suggests that the modern notion of sexual orientation is simply missing from the biblical worldview, and thus the biblical authors are not really talking about what we know as homosexuality at all. "Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all," as Miller quotes Elliott.

Of course, no honest reader of the biblical text will share this simplistic and backward conclusion. Furthermore, to accept this argument is to assume that the Christian church has misunderstood the Bible from its very birth -- and that we are now dependent upon contemporary "progressive scholars" to tell us what Christians throughout the centuries have missed.

Tellingly, Miller herself seems to lose confidence in this line of argument, explaining that "Paul argued more strenuously against divorce-and at least half of the Christians in America disregard that teaching." In other words, when the argument is failing, change the subject and just declare victory. "Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition," Miller simply asserts -- apparently asking her readers to forget everything they have just read.

Miller picks her sources carefully. She cites Neil Elliott but never balances his argument with credible arguments from another scholar, such as Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Her scholarly sources are chosen so that they all offer an uncorrected affirmation of her argument. The deck is decisively stacked.

She then moves to the claim that sexual orientation is "exactly the same thing" as skin color when it comes to discrimination. As recent events have suggested, this claim is not seen as credible by many who have suffered discrimination on the basis of skin color.

As always, the bottom line is biblical authority. Lisa Miller does not mince words. "Biblical literalists will disagree," she allows, "but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history." This argument means, of course, that we get to decide which truths are and are not binding on us as "we change through history."

"A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism," she asserts. "The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours."

All this comes together when Miller writes, "We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future." At this point the authority of the Bible is reduced to whatever "universal truths" we can distill from its (supposed) horrifyingly backward and oppressive texts.

Even as she attempts to make her "religious case" for gay marriage, Miller has to acknowledge that "very few Jewish or Christian denominations do officially endorse gay marriage, even in the states where it is legal." Her argument now grinds to a conclusion with her hope that this will change. But -- and this is a crucial point -- if her argument had adequate traction, she wouldn't have to make it. It is not a thin extreme of fundamentalist Christians who stand opposed to same-sex marriage -- it is the vast majority of Christian churches and denominations worldwide.

Disappointingly, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham offers an editorial note that broadens Newsweek's responsibility for this atrocity of an article and reveals even more of the agenda: "No matter what one thinks about gay rights-for, against or somewhere in between -this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism," Meacham writes. "Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt-it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition."

Well, that statement sets the issue clearly before us. He insists that "to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt." No serious student of the Bible can deny the challenge of responsible biblical interpretation, but the purpose of legitimate biblical interpretation is to determine, as faithfully as possible, what the Bible actually teaches -- and then to accept, teach, apply, and obey.

The national news media are collectively embarrassed by the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Gay rights activists are publicly calling on the mainstream media to offer support for gay marriage, arguing that the media let them down in November. It appears that Newsweek intends to do its part to press for same-sex marriage. Many observers believe that the main obstacle to this agenda is a resolute opposition grounded in Christian conviction. Newsweek clearly intends to reduce that opposition.

Newsweek could have offered its readers a careful and balanced review of the crucial issues related to this question. It chose another path -- and published this cover story. The magazine's readers and this controversial issue deserved better.

Anonymous said...

Yes, If You Believe in a Loving, Inclusive God

There is such a divide, I think, between God and religion.

That is an ironic statement, because religion has taught us about God: it has taught us that God is good. God is loving, and kind and merciful and forgiving. We were taught as children that God created everyone, and loves everyone. That was good news, indeed.

But somewhere along the line, religion decided to put itself ahead of God and the principles of God it, religion, had taught us. When that separation occurred, humans took the place of God and began to make human decisions, but attributing them to God.

And so for too long, too many people, too many groups, have been marginalized and scorned, in the name of God and in the name of the Bible, which, again, we humans seem to have "fixed up" for God.

In the fray of Biblical interpretation has been the whole subject of sexuality and marriage. Gay people have been said to be Biblically-pronounced abominations to God, and gay marriage an affront to Biblical intent.


Lisa Miller's article in Newsweek seems to be right on the money. Either God is an inclusive, loving God who made everyone, or God is not. And if we come to a consensus that God made everyone, then we can agree that God made gay people.

That's step one of this argument. God made gay people, like God made everyone else. Gay people prefer people of the same sex, so if God made them that way, then that was God's choice.

If two gay people decide that they love each other and want to promise each other, before God, that they will remain faithful to each other in the same way that people decide to remain committed to God, then a covenant of commitment has been stated and ought to be honored. The gay couple ought to be allowed to be married and ought to have all the rights attendant to any married couple.

What is the problem? The problem is sex. The problem is sex, sexuality and the fact that a whole lot of people are confused about and frightened about, their sexuality. Miller is right: in the Bible, there really is not a lot of support for marriage as we know it today. Men had a lot of wives. At best, in the Hebrew scriptures, marriage is polygamous.

Some scholars allude to the possibility, as Miller correctly asserts, that David and Jonathan were more than just good friends. Dr. Randall Bailey of Atlanta has suggested that even the story of Ruth and Naomi is a sexual relationship.

What I am saying is that in the Hebrew scriptures, there is no endorsement of heterosexual marriage as THE definition of marriage. At best, it is but one possibility, and not a very popular one, apparently,of the institution.

When God decided that Mary should be the mother of Jesus the Christ, does anyone find it interesting that she was impregnated before she married Joseph? Back then, to be engaged was as good as being married, so what statement was the Bible making about the sanctity of marriage in that scenario?

The drama and pathos that has erupted over gay marriage is not because the Bible endorses heterosexual relationships as the norm. It has erupted because there has been a veil of "nastiness" attendant to sexuality, whether straight or gay. Though God created sex not just for procreation but for enjoyment as well, too many religious types look upon it as nasty and perverted.

Mothers scold their children for touching their genitals and make them feel ashamed. Could that be why so many people grow up committing sexual crimes? Has sex been made so bad ...that people make it bad?

We religious types hold heterosexual marriage up as the ideal. Really? For whom is it ideal? It is supposed to be sacred? Is that so? Can that be true when adultery is as rampant as is an infectious disease in an undeveloped nation? Straight people get married never intending to be faithful. Gay people marry someone straight, lying at the altar, in order to satisfy some sick religious notion of what is right. Straight people get married with lovers in another location, waiting for the next midnight visit.


The sad thing about all this is that we religious types make our insecurities, issues and fears the issues of God. The Bible does not support that. The Bible supports a life that mandates that we help all people feel the love, acceptance and presence of God. That would be everyone, gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor.

Miller is right when she points to the egalitarian spirit of the Bible. In the book of Galations, Paul writes, "God shows no favortism."

It is not God who is at fault, it is we who think we know God better than God knows him (or her) self. God doesn't push people to the brink of despair and suicide because he or she is gay. God's people do that.

A life changing experience happened for me when I went to preach at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas some time ago. The Cathedral of Hope is a church for gay and transgender people. I had never heard of it, but went when I received the invitation.

In that church, there were literally thousands of gay and transgender people, people who had been spit out of their own churches and families, worshipping together. The spirit of love was enormous in that place. The prayers, the music - everything - was filled with a love basted with the sorrow that being rejected gives a person.

When it was time for communion, I saw gay people, some of them very old, who had obviously been together for a long time, come forward. There were tears in their eyes and in mine. What had their lives been like? How many of them had been together for years without any of the rights given to married couples? How had they navigated the hatred that spewed out from religious types?

They cried, and I cried.

God would not be pleased with the divide that exists between religion and him or herself.

God would not want any of the children he created to live lives of quiet desperation.

Anonymous said...

How About the Human Case?

In too many discussions of gay marriage, its opponents' default position seems to be that marriage is an" sorely needing defense. A rather soul-less word, institution, especially in this case. Yet I'm willing to buy that label if we imagine marriage as an alliance whose principal benefits lie in what it confers financially and politically on the partners. Two powerful families unite to preserve their worldly influence and fortune. Don't kings always marry other kings' daughters?

But, alas, most of us are not royalty and instead live in a culture awash in popular music and movies that actually encourage us to fall in love--and then act on that love in the ultimate way, by pledging to unite together for life. Speaking as one who entered some time ago into a happy state of matrimony, I'd not want to deny anyone who sincerely desires the opportunity to experience this great, flesh-and-blood form of joy.

Can a religious case be made for it? Well--and here's the key thing--yes, if you judge by the fact that there are clergy very willing to marry gay couples. They are not terribly difficult to find, certainly where Unitarian-Universalist, Reform Jewish and Reconstructionist Jewish congregations (among others) exist. What's more, if the marriage takes place in Massachusetts or Connecticut, then the couple gets official, secular sanction, too.

I'm reminded of an old joke--a religious one--I once heard in the South. Says one churchgoer: "Do you believe in infant baptism?" Says the other: "Believe in it?! Why, I've seen it done!"

Anonymous said...

The Real Issue is Violence, Not Sex

In the Bible, humanity's inaugural problem is never about "sex and the city" but about "violence and the city."

And so the trap closes. Let us, by all means, debate what--if anything-- the Bible says about heterosexual as against homosexual marriage. And while we are doing that--be it from one side or the other--let us ignore what the Bible says about far, far, far more pressing problems. Does that distraction happen just by chance?

The priorities of the Bible are quite clear. When, after that magnificent parable of Genesis 2-3, humans first left the safe confines of the Garden, do you remember the first thing that happened outside of Paradise?

There is nothing about marriage mentioned in Genesis 4, nothing about either heterosexual or homosexual marriage. Nothing, in fact, even about sex, in any way shape or form. Genesis 4 is about fratricidal murder and escalatory violence.

First, the farmer Cain kills the herder Abel and so recorded history begins. It starts that ancient struggle known from the Sumerian plains of Neolithic Mesopotamia ("the cradle of civilization") to the musical strains of Rogers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma ("the farmer and the cowboy should be friends"). But even though Abel's blood cries out to God from the ground, Cain is not killed but marked by God "so that no one who came upon him would kill him" (4:15). God warns, however, that sevenfold vengeance will be taken--not by God but by his tribe--for anyone who murders Cain. And so begins that escalatory violence which has been our human drug-of-choice ever since.

Next, after the farmer slays the herder, he builds a city. "Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and Cain built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch" (4:17). So, for the Bible, humanity's inaugural problem is never about "sex and the city" but about "violence and the city."

Finally, as the chapter proceeds, we find a descendant of Cain named Lamech who boasts that he himself had personally escalated retaliatory vengeance by killing "a man for wounding me" and, "if Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold." That is quite a progress across a single chapter of 25 verses.

The validity of homosexual as well as heterosexual marriage will be generally accepted before most of our generation is gone form this earth. There are, of course, people biblically against it--just as there are people biblically against wine. But nobody tells us anything, if you will recall, about the sexual preferences of that couple during whose "wedding at Cana of Galilee" Jesus supplied an awful lot of wine (John 2:1).

So, then, let us debate about sex and marriage rather than war and violence. Let us concentrate on the bed-room rather than the war-room. Let us liberals get trapped--as always--on the right side of the wrong question. I write this in protest against that deviation from what fundamentally concerns the Bible, the biblical God, and Jesus, namely, that escalatory violence that by now threatens our world with destruction.

Anonymous said...

Don't Impose Theology on Matrimony

Whether or not there is a religious or scriptural basis for gay marriage depends entirely upon who is answering that question as well as the religious background of the respondent and the methodology of his/her scriptural interpretation. One of the great blessings of the religious freedom embraced and guaranteed by the United States Constitution is every person's right to believe or not to believe when it comes to religion generally and, if one believes, to decide specifically in whom or in what to believe.

Lisa Miller has provided a thought-provoking analysis of the Bible's take on gay marriage from the perspective of one interpreter. Undoubtedly, her words will provide great comfort to many in the GLBT community who have often found themselves alienated form faith communities because of more traditional interpretations of what the Bible says about homosexuality. At the same time, Miller's analysis is no more or less valid than one that opposes gay marriage.

When it comes to the question of gay marriage, the goal should not be to demand that people change their theology. A far better goal is to ask people not to attempt to impose their theology on those who hold a different theological point of view. Marriage--gay or heterosexual--should be a right available to every citizen, but never a legal act, ritual, or formal ceremony that any house of worship, denomination, or religious leader should be required to perform in contradiction to their beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Gay Unions, YES; Gay Marriage, NO

"Is there a religious and/or scriptural case for gay marriage?"

1.....In her eagerness to promote gay MARRIAGE (in her December 15 "Newsweek" cover story), journalist Lisa Miller converts herself from reporter to advocate, with no recognition of the compromise position, namely, gay UNION.

2.....The compromise position is not theoretical. Since July 1, 2000, it has been law in the State of Vermont. Earlier that year, in a PBS television debate with two pro-"marriage" Vermont lawyers, I had proposed the compromise as a way of honoring both the heterosexual meaning of "marriage" (in all major languages, and possibly all minor) and the need for legal recognition of the consensual rights of committed homosexual couples. After the debate, the two lawyers admitted to me that the compromise had a better chance of passing. And pass it did. Win-win should be, and usually is, more persuasive than win-lose.

3.....Gay "marriage," unlike gay "union," fails the Declaration of Independence test of "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." The signers, aware that their signatures would spark a war, made a moral appeal to "mankind" that their signing, in light of their intention of liberty, did not disregard, but rather respected, the human inclination for freedom. The semantic expansion of "marriage" to include homosexual unions is disrespectful of the world's meaning of the word. Varied as have been and are the customs and styles of "marriage," the unvarying constant has been the committed man/woman, societally recognized, sexual relationship in the interest of social and family stability.

4.....Before there was scientific proof that at least some gays and lesbians are "born that way," it was possible to argue that homosexuality is nothing but a choice, a bad choice, an immoral choice. For some children, sexual orientation can go either way. For their own good and the good of society, they should be gently nudged toward heterosexuality. But science and my experience of students and colleagues have converged to convince me that in many, homosexual orientation is as much a given as is heterosexual orientation in most human beings. (At New York Theological Seminary, I had so many homosexual students that they appealed to me to be their subdean.)

5.....Miller rightly distinguishes between civil and religious marriages. My father married thousands in civil marriages; & when, in 1937, New York State licensed me for the performance of religious marriages, he jokingly suggested that I was "horning in on" his business. / As a United Church of Christ clergyman, I favor homosexual UNIONS of both kinds, civil and religious. (Full disclosure: Unfortunately, my denomination favors both kinds of homosexual MARRIAGE.)

6.....While I agree with Miller that in interpreting the Bible we should "move beyond literalism," we should not move beyond fact. Wrongly, she says that the Bible has nothing to say about "sex between women." Romans 1:26 is precisely on lesbian sex.

7.....Also wrong is she in this statement: "Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition" and personal revulsion. Read literalistically, of course the Bible has no specific statement against "gay marriage." The Bible sees "marriage" as of divine and human ordering, and homosexual behavior as disorderly (as indeed it usually is: one solid argument for gay unions is that they bring some order into gay sex, the gay life-style). To the biblical authors, "gay marriage" could be only an oxymoron. / Once again, read both literalistically and with the argument from silence, Miller is misleading in stating that "the Bible and Jesus" do not "explicitly define marriage as between one man and one woman." The Bible assumes marriage as man/woman: that is the point pertinent to her column.

8.....Miller does not mention that the Bible recognizes and supports marriage as the rite of entrance into society's basic institution, the family. Most societies, including ours, recognize this institutional primacy by providing special benefits to the married. Gay unions should have equal rights, but these should not be confused with equal benefits or with equal dignity.

9.....In the Bible, heterosexuality is assumed in the vertical metaphor of marriage between God as "husband" to Israel and the Church as the "bride" of Christ. In the background of this biblical metaphor is the primordial mythology of Father Sky and Mother Earth. "Mother Earth" is common in our green-revolution language, though for many, Jesus' favorite reference to God as "Father" has faded.

10.....To answer the "On Faith" question: Scripturally and religiously, a strong case can be made for "gay union." Only a very weak case can be made for "gay marriage."

Anonymous said...

Scriptural and Religous Cases for Gay Marriage

Let me begin "sectarianly," to show how high the scriptural bars can be. We seventy million Lutherans around the world acknowledge the Holy Scriptures as the "only source and norm" of Christian teaching, life, and service. We also acknowledge vast cultural adaptations depending upon the era or the culture in which Christians teach, live, and serve. Most of the things Chrisians do today, in politics, economics, the arts, family life, and culture, they do without depending on a scriptural case. They do take seriously teachings and practices which clearly violate scriptural sources and norms. That is why so many of them debate same-sex marriage, even though the Bible does not anticipate most features of today's debates.

Admittedly, a few lines in otherwise-never-paid-attention-to Levitical commands and fewer lines (none from Jesus) in Paul's writings in the New Testament do get cited. Not made clear is why those lines are decisive and so many others are not. For example, Jesus and Paul do unite in opposing remarriage of persons divorced (on grounds other than adultery) and in most congregations such persons are welcomed, honored, and allowed to be heard if they oppose same-sex marriage.

You can with some contrivance make a scriptural case against same-sex marriage, but not FOR most things we practice and cherish in other marriages, as Lisa Miller so well pointed out. As for the "for" case, other factors , including common-sensical and scriptural issues enter at least obliquely.

The first is empirical, in the witness of those extremely faithful and exemplary Christian same-sex couples who foster and otherwise give sustained and covenantal care to children in ways that many heterosexual couples do. The man who, when asked whether he believed in infant baptism answered, "believe in infant baptism; hell, I've seen it" can find counterparts among those who have seen genuine and generous Christian love and care being lived and practiced with legal support or simply by making enduring covenants with each other, and in prayer. Throw them out? Forbid new couples to enjoy the sacraments and respond to the word because they are in same-sex unions?

I travel to many campuses, secular, Christian and more, and carry back this report: if you want to lock in hard and fast anti-same-sex union policies, work hard and fast, legalistically and lovelessly, to nail down opposition on this front, because among young people you have lost the long-term issue already. Ask the chaplains, campus pastors, programmers, Christian faculty members, to list the top twenty issues their student groups would choose to discuss. Same-sex marriage, they will say, is, to "the kids" an old-peoples' issue, not theirs.

The Bible-quoters against gay marriage often rely on non-scriptural support to make their case. You will hear (as Ms. Miller heard) of the "nature and natural law" case, which I call the "plumbing issue." That is, "his" Major Genital fits into hers, like pipes fitting together.. I think evangelicals lost that case when their sex manuals began to counsel, within marriage, the free option of oral sex, which includes all kinds of plumbing arrangements among heterosexual couples.

Amazingly, on matters of betrothal and marriage, monogamy and polygamy, and the customs that go with them, the scriptures as a whole are remarkably relativistic and situational. The case for covenantal love and sustained child care in the Bible is, however, so clear and strong that there are not many reasons for contending that texts about such love and care do not apply among same-sex couples and their children..

Anonymous said...

God's Word Is Bigger than Either Side Admits

Precisely because I believe that scripture is the infinite gift of an infinite God, I believe that there are infinite ways to understand its words. So the short answer as to whether one can make a scriptural case for gay marriage is definitely. But the fact that one can make such a case does not mean that one should or that such a case is the only "proper" interpretation of the text. The same infinite text which makes the case for gay marriage can be used to argue against it.

The issue is never what the Bible says; it's what the readers say it says. As one of my teachers said to me years ago, as he picked up a copy of the Hebrew Bible and held it to his ear: "This book isn't saying anything, the decision about what it says is up to us." Given allowances for dramatic overstatement, his observation stands. And both Lisa Miller and her apparent nemesis, Rev. Richard A. Hunter could learn from my old teacher.

Instead of cherry-picking scripture for the passages which simply affirm that which they already believe, each should begin by admitting that the case for the opposite conclusion could be persuasively made simply by choosing other verses. Each should admit that there is a world of difference between insisting on knowing what God thinks and making a good faith effort at acting in light of what one believes God asks of them.

Not to mention the tiresome habit, in this case adduced by Ms. Miller, but just as prevalent in the opposite camp, of first telling us that the Bible cannot be relied upon for teachings against homosexuality or gay marriage, only to follow with biblical proof texts in their favor. Is she kidding?

Actually, I think she is simply proving that she is very much like those whose views she most opposes. Like them, she wants a Bible that reflects her best understanding what it means to be good, loving, and kind.

Does Ms. Miller think that those who oppose gay marriage are any different? If she does, then she is as arrogant about her own kindness as they are when assuming that she "doesn't care about what the scripture really says". In fact, she cares so much about what scripture says that she works as hard to find a place for gay marriage within its teachings as they do to keep it out.

Once again we see how often, in the bitterest disputes, those engaged share more than they ever imagine. That's true in families and its true in public policy as well. Each side would rather invoke sacred stories to beat up on the other, instead of asking how two groups interested in the relationship between Biblical teaching and public policy could bring their respective understandings to a national conversation without pouring gasoline on the fire of public debate. I suspect that is because, deep down neither group really cares as much about the Bible, as they do about the conclusion which they have reached on gay marriage and about having God on their side.

But both God and God's word are bigger than that. Does that render the Bible useless in guiding our decisions about matters of social policy? No. It means that no interpretation should be invoked as God's final word on any matter even when a decision must be reached within a given community. Jewish legal tradition has known that for millennia and could make a real contribution to the current debate.

Once upon a time there were huge disputes among the sages who lead the Jewish people at the time of Jesus. One group followed the teaching of Hillel and the other followed a master named Shammai. While the group following Hillel almost always won out, the Talmud records that the same rabbis who followed Hillel taught that in the next world the law would be according to Shammai. That's belief in a God who is big enough to rule one way in one setting and the exact opposite way in another.

Far from being hypocritical, this approach demonstrates the strength to take real positions on specific issues and the wisdom to know that from God's perspective the opposite view could be just as true. That's what it means to believe in a really big text, one worthy of shaping public policy and contributing to the welfare of those on both sides of the debates about it. That's what it means to recognize that truth, the mind of God, call it what you will, is a category larger than any one of us or the finite systems in which we believe.

Anonymous said...

WWJM? Who Would Jesus Marry?

Would Jesus have been willing to officiate at gay weddings? There is nothing in the Gospels that would indicate that he would not. Indeed, the Gospel writers do not record one word Jesus ever said condemning homosexuality.

But Jesus does say, "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you...For the measure you give will be the measure you receive."
(Luke 6:37, 38b)

What kind of hard heart does it take to see people weep with joy at being permitted to marry and respond with schemes to take their marriages away from them? Some of these gay couples have lived together in loving support and faithfulness for 20, 30 even 40 or 50 years. And yet, there are some who would change the law to take away their marriages and others who would make laws to prevent them from marrying in the first place. Whom does Jesus teach us will be condemned for these judgments? Those homosexual couples who marry for love or the hard-hearted heterosexuals who would try to prevent them?

Jesus often taught in parables, and I think a parable for heterosexuals is appropriate at this point. Once there was a rich householder who gave a great banquet. The householder sent his servant to invite all his friends and rich neighbors. But those people made excuses, saying 'I have to go see about this cow,' or, or 'I just made a great real estate deal and I have to go check on it.' So the rich man was furious and he said to his servant, 'go and invite those who have been left out' and fill the banquet hall. (Luke 13:16-24)

What is the meaning of this parable for marriage? Heterosexuals have been invited to the banquet of love and joy that is marriage. They have had the freedom to marry and they have refused it and abused it and often made a hash of this great feast of human companionship. So now God is inviting the outcast, the gay men, the lesbians, the bisexuals and the transgendered to come to the banquet of love. God says to them, 'come and rejoice with me because there is room at the banquet table of love.'

Yes, there is a scriptural case to be made for gay marriage and that case is nothing less than the all inclusive love of God as taught to us by Jesus Christ. But there is also a word in scripture for hard-hearted heterosexuals who won't face up to the sorry state of heterosexual marriage and who want to blame it on gay people and everybody but themselves. And that biblical teaching begins with the words, "Woe to you who...." Think about it.