Monday, August 06, 2007

The Bible on Gay Marriage

In recent years, American moderates and progressives have banded together to reclaim Christianity’s public image from the religious right. Infuriated and embarrassed by the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and George W. Bush, a grass-roots campaign has emerged to shift the focus away from narrow views of sexual morality and broaden the conversation to include poverty, climate change, civil rights and foreign policy issues like Darfur and the wars in the middle east.

In his 2005 runaway best-seller, God’s Politics, evangelical minister Jim Wallis successfully demonstrated that if Christians were to determine priorities based on how frequently a subject is mentioned in the Bible, aiding and defending the poor and the oppressed, those to whom Jesus refers as “the least among us,” is the clear winner. Unfortunately, some progressives have adopted this strategy to claim that the pet passions of the religious right – abortion and homosexuality – aren’t even mentioned in the Bible. This disingenuous and Biblically illiterate argument will only serve to undermine the worthy agendas they hope to advance.

Bob Edgar, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (an interdenominational Protestant organization encompassing 45 million American Christians) and a former six-term Congressman, writes in the opening pages of his book Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right, “The Bible mentions…homosexuality only twice, and poverty or peace more than two-thousand times.” Last week, in an appearance on The Colbert Report to promote her new book, Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said that the Bible never mentions gay marriage.

Edgar’s right about the Biblical emphasis on poverty, but as a Methodist minister he ought to have known that at a bare minimum, the Bible expressly mentions homosexuality in four places: Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6. (Depending on translation, you can also make a case for Genesis 19.) And what to make of Kennedy Townsend’s cheap point? The Bible never mentions kiddie porn, either. So what?

The Bible doesn’t discuss gay marriage because, in its cultural context, it was literally unthinkable. Biblical writers did not conceive of a biological basis for sexual orientation, which is widely accepted today. They didn’t believe that there was such a thing as a “gay person,” only a straight person who had exchanged “natural” for “unnatural” behaviors purely for the thrill of perverse sexual gratification.

It never would have occurred to Paul or the authors of Leviticus that two people of the same gender could actually fall in love and want to make a committed life together, even perhaps raising children and taking vows of fidelity before God, just as they couldn't have known that the earth rotates around the sun. Many Christian advocates for full inclusion of LGBT people now cite the infamous Romans 1 passage as justification for homosexuality, in light of the vast body of scientific evidence indicating a genetic or otherwise biological basis for sexual orientation. If homosexuality is indeed natural, as the evidence seems to indicate, then one possible reading of Paul’s words is that it is a sin to act contrary to your nature.

Comparatively, homosexuality may not be mentioned very much in the Bible; but to frame the issue as merely incidental and even trivial is to close your eyes to the reality of the church today. Yes, it would be nice if we could all unite around poverty, but the truth is that issues of sexuality are literally tearing our churches apart. This is a serious argument that deserves sophisticated, honest treatment as a path toward understanding and reconciliation, not a blithe dismissal. If our charge has been that the religious right has only been selectively reading scripture, we can’t respond in kind. We must be honest about what the Bible says, and engage those arguments with the integrity they require.

7 comments:

Gino said...

"This is a serious argument that deserves sophisticated, honest treatment as a path toward understanding and reconciliation"

but are you, (not a 'you' personally, but generally 'you' who think along the same way) willing to except, that after serious argument and careful consideration, somebody who still disagrees with you might be as right as you think you are?

most, as in 99%, of those who get involved in most religious issues do so emotionally. reason and careful consideration are the last things they are even capable of, clinging instaed to pet scriptures and well versed interpretations that were fed to them. and it happens on both sides of every issue. its not just a right-wing thing.

also, are you claiming that scriptures that condemn gay sex are wrong? if so, can we trust anything we read since we dont know what might be found to be wrong later?
what makes the scriptures the scriptures is the belief that they are inerrant (in context), every word, on every page.

i believe the writers, though inerrant, were writing from their human limitations of not knowing everything. this needs to be taken into every reading.
but is not an excuse to discount that which they do specifically refer to,whether it be murder,theft, or sodomy.

as paul knew what he was talking about when he refered to sodomy, he didnt address the issues of what we think we now understand about the causes of homosexuality.
but,again, nowhere is it written condemning social behavior that we now refer to as signs of 'gayness'.

ultimately: judgement of each soul according to actions taken in life is solely the privilage God.

too much of divisive issues like these are being politicised for use in the arena of public opinion, and making laws to control what others may do or not do(gay sex), or may be forced to do (welfare policy/economic collectivism)
this is contrary to christianity.
Christ didnt die to assure proper social policy. He died to open the way for us to find salvation and oneness with God individually.

to use God's word as a tool to impose your will upon others is a violation of taking His name in vain.
like i said , both sides do it.

Andy said...

but are you, (not a 'you' personally, but generally 'you' who think along the same way) willing to except, that after serious argument and careful consideration, somebody who still disagrees with you might be as right as you think you are?

Well, that is one of the basic philosophies of the Anglican Communion. We are bound at the center of our faith, but there's room for disagreement on the periphery.

are you claiming that scriptures that condemn gay sex are wrong?

I am suggesting that if the ancient Biblical authors knew what we now know, they might have phrased things differently. (See Joshua 10:13) I am saying that we have not only the words of the Bible to work with, but also the gift of Discernment guided by the Holy Spirit. The gifts of Scripture and Discernment were, in my mind, intended to be used in tandem. And I think the point that they were really making -- that the pursuit of sexual activity for the purpose of physical gratification is sinful -- can still be validly understood regardless of sexual orientation.

Gino said...

and you think who gets married, and sexual activity, are peripheral issues within a community?

sex, and relations tween people, are such a major part of our social interaction i cant see how they are peripheral.

likewise marriage: asking the community to grant a collective blessing involves the community at large. it cant be peripheral to the community when it takes that community for its recognition to exist.

same sex relationships, and how they are dealt with, are a big community-related issue.

Andy said...

Yes, I loosely define "periphery" as anything outside the creeds.

kr said...

Pff. Boy, you guys hit a Catholic/Protestant wall pretty fast, geez.

Oh.

And I just realized I should clarify that.
I meant the perceived validity of community/traditions in informing the debate.

Gino said...

well, kr, we are both men,afterall, and getting to the point is one of our strong suits.

kr said...

Gino: (too many snotty comebacks. brain overload.)


Andy, thanks for pointing out what should be obvious to BOTH sides ... if you are going to claim Biblical "authority," you have to actually honestly engage the Bible!

An interesting idea, that what the Bible speaks of is specifically procreative pairing (and, OT, more-than-pairing). Illegitimates just about all of what we currently culturally define as "marriage." Which more or less points out the ridiculousness of using the Bible to "protect" an "institution" that really has very little to do with anything Biblical at all, nowadays.

Churches already define their own marriages. Civil law should reflect honestly civil concerns (instead of reflecting warpedly historically religious concerns, which seems to be bad for the religions and for the civil codes).