Sunday, December 14, 2008

Culture War: Be Prepared- Gay Marriage, Continued

I left off with the notion that we discard the whole Bible, since if it's culturally irrelevant in a few things doesn't that make it irrelevant in all things? That's not really what the Newsweek author meant. A better way of putting it would be that the specifics of the Bible aren't culturally relevant, but the general themes are. That's a dangerous argument to make, for where do you draw the line? Many want to discard Paul for his teachings about women's roles in church. But if you throw him out completely, you lose the linchpin of Evangelical theology regarding salvation- faith alone. Martin Luther actually wanted to get rid of the book of James because it focused too much on works- "faith without deeds is useless" (James 2:20) And Thomas Jefferson wrote his own version of the Gospels omitting all of Jesus' miracles and claims of deity, leaving Jesus as no different than Confucius. And if Jesus is just a good man who taught some good things that we should generally apply to be good people, then I'm wasting my time on Sundays and hundreds of martyrs throughout history died for nothing.
  • The definition of marriage

If the Biblical definitions of marriage are culturally outdated (Ms Miller calls them "throwaway lines"), and the teachings of Jesus are reduced to good advice, then how do we define marriage? Ms Miller would argue that we cannot rely on the Bible for our definition since neither Jesus nor the Bible as a whole "explicitly define marriage as between one man and one woman." Although she quotes where the Bible does, in fact, define marriage: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Gen 2:24, Mt 19:5, Mk 10:7, Eph 5:31) If this doesn't define marriage as between a man and a woman, then I don't know what does. But Ms Miller makes the strong statement that, "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." Yet, I failed to see these numbers of excellent reasons. Instead I only saw justifications and reading meaning into the text that isn't there.

But she does bring up a good point that marriage has two definitions- civil and religious. Let's look at each.

  • Civil marriage

The article does well to spell out the civil benefits to marriage, none of which by the way are denied where there are "Civil Unions". And the only Biblical references to civil marriage are related to dowries and divorce laws. Neither of which are good examples. Dowries were common at the time (and for a few more centuries) but are rare now. (I know I'm contradicting myself on the argument of cultural relevancy, but I'll go into this more when I talk about the Old Covenant.) Yet our Biblical definition of marriage is of the man leaving his family, contrary to the custom of a dowry and even contrary to our current convention of the wife taking the husband's name. As for divorce, it was never meant to be an easy option, and definitely not "no fault" as it's legally argued today. In fact, Jesus had to correct the current practice of divorce because it strayed from its original intent. And I can't help but agree the author that we, as Christians, don't exactly set the bar high with our own marriages. But I don't think that means we should have no say in the matter.

  • Religious marriage

This one is hard to define Biblically, especially since good examples are few and far between. So we need to look beyond example and look at the theology of marriage. Ms Miller calls it the "frustrating, semantic question," which I certainly agree. She goes on and asks, "should gay people be married in the same, sacramental sense that straight people are?" What's important here, is how you choose to define 'sacrament'. (And I admit in advance, that I am as far as you can get from a seminary student.) If you're Catholic, there are seven sacraments during which (and I can't think of a better way to put this) something supernatural happens. More generally, sacraments are earthly attempts to participate in spiritual 'mysteries'. This eliminates Holy Order, Anointing of the Sick, and Last Rights which leaves us with Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage.

For the sake of this argument, I'll lump Confirmation in with Baptism. Each of these are physical rights, or ceremonies, that reflect spiritual realities that are beyond (easy) explanation, hence, a mystery. In the case of Baptism, this is a physical act that represents our spiritual transformation as being 'born again' (reference Romans 6:3-4 among others). (I'll spare the baptism for salvation argument.) For Marriage, the physical relationship between a husband and wife reflects the relationship between Jesus and his church. Ms Miller defines it where "two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them." This is a great definition, except that it intentionally leaves out genders for the sake of her argument. But Ephesians 5 specifically relate the role of the husband to Christ (sacrificial, providing) and the wife to the Church (submission and respect). In gay marriage, there is no husband and wife, so the definition breaks down and the sacrament can't reflect the spiritual truth of Jesus and the Church.

So from this I the case can be made that there is no Biblical justification for gay marriage, in the religious sense. A case could be made however for gay marriage in the civil sense, or at least you can't make a clear-cut case against it. But there's still more to the story- the relationship between David and Johnathan, Old vs New Covenant, and both Jesus and Paul preaching about inclusion. I'll cover those next time.

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