Saturday, December 13, 2008

Culture War: Be Prepared- Gay Marriage

The Cover Story of this week’s Newsweek is titled, “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” Of course we should expect magazine covers to invoke sensationalism in order to catch our eye, and there’s really no more sensational a headline than using the inspired word of God to defend a social change that I believe is contrary to not only the letter of God’s Word, but also the Spirit. It would be one thing if that was the headline on a journal of theology, where such a headline would be appropriate, but this is one of the “big three” main-stream media news magazines. The headline raises this issue to the same level of newsworthiness as war or the economy. By doing so, requires Christians to be able to defend their opinions on this issue and we cannot do so unless we know our Bible.

The portal, On Faith, has several responses to this article from authors, ministers, rabbis, and theologians. For a balanced and reasoned response, I recommend reading Susan Jacoby’s and Irwin Kula’s. I read Al Mohler’s first, expecting to agree with his case. But I think he glossed over the arguments and as several comments noted, he also cherry-picked his use of scriptures to justify his position. Truth is, both sides are cherry-picking, and neither acknowledges the broader theological implications of gay marriage.

In an effort to avoid cherry-picking myself, I’m going to address “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage” point by point. In advance though, I need to define my own ground rules. I’m not a Sunday pew-filler, or a cafeteria Christian. Nor am I a literalist fundi, or a Bible-thumper. I do believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, but that doesn’t mean I take it all as literal (for example, see this post from one of the primary debates). I also hold to the scripture that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb 13:8) And that "the word of the Lord stands forever." (1 Pt 1:25, Is 40:6-8) Most importantly, I believe the underlying purpose of the entirety of the Bible is to relate God’s attempt to have a heart-felt relationship with his creation. Because of that, I don’t look at it as a set of rules, or of ancient anecdotes, but instead of a comprehensive history of the relationship between Him and his people.

I also want to throw out a couple quotes from On Faith that also helps set the tone:

“Faith-based arguments on behalf of gay marriage actually give aid and comfort to the sort of right-wing religious groups… because they legitimize the idea that religious belief is a proper test for determining legal rights.” –Susan Jacoby from On Faith

“There is a difference between what the Bible prescribes and what it describes.” –Leith Anderson from On Faith

“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.” Which, he later says, “basically makes contemporary religion a whore for political positions whether liberal or conservative.” -Irwin Kuls from On Faith

All that said, I humbly submit my takes on the points Lisa Miller makes in the article. This ran long, so I'm going to split it up.
  • The Old Testament Example

Lisa Miller opens up by giving the examples of Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon as a case of the Bible not endorsing what we consider today to be "traditional marriage". Each were polygamists and in some cases were deliberately unfaithful. But as the quote above notes, just because it's described, doesn't mean it's permitted. In fact, the polygamy of David led directly to his struggles with his sons and Solomon's willingness to marry for political gain compromised Israel's spirituality and ultimately resulted in the country's split. There are more examples than can be counted of God's people not obeying God's Law. She tries to turn the argument around when she uses the cases of Moses and Esther who disobeyed God's law against marrying foreigners as examples of breaking convention that ultimately benefited the greater community. But these cases are the exception, not the rule, as there are several books in the Bible dedicated to the poor examples of Israel's kings who, more often than not, disobeyed these rules on marriage.

  • The New Testament Example

Just because Jesus wasn't married doesn't mean that he didn't value marriage. Remember his first miracle was at a wedding (I don't believe in coincidences in the Bible) and also that an angel had to intervene to convince Joseph to marry his pregnant fiance, Mary (so marriage was obviously important to someone). And Jesus' statements "against" family (Mk 3:31-35, Lk 9:57-62) were really to stress the importance of the spiritual over the temporal.

As for Paul, it is argued whether he actually was married at one time. But despite that, why would he speak so strongly against marriage in only one of his letters (1 Corinthians) yet give explicit instructions regarding marriage in several (1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Timothy) if he was opposed to it? Any an examination of what Paul writes about marriage (beyond what Ms Miller limits to 1 Corinthians 7) affirms, not denies, traditional marriage.

  • The cultural example

Ms Miller asks who in this day and age would "turn to the Bible as a how-to script?" But isn't that what every couple who is married in a church does? Isn't there a sermon, or a brief message, or at least an invocation in every religious marriage ceremony that uses the Bible as a guideline for marriage? And I also know from personal experience that some denominations recommend The Song of Songs (or Solomon, depending on your translation) as honeymoon reading.

She later comments that, "the Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours." This is a common argument for everything from gay marriage to ordaining women and even including the abolition of slavery. But think about what this statement implies. It is essentially saying that since our world is so far removed from what God intended, that God's word is irrelevant today. But if we are striving to do God's will and seeking a relationship with him, shouldn't the opposite be true? Shouldn't we long for the world to be as God intended and shape our lives to conform to that? (This is different than forcing others to conform, which is a fundamental difference from the Religious Right.)

This is sobering, considering how far our world today as strayed from God's ideal. Gay marriage aside, regardless of denomination, liberal or conservative, fundamentalist or casual, it's hard to argue that our culture isn't overly materialistic (you can't argue recent headlines), sexual (turn on prime-time TV, or listen to popular music), and selfish (do you know your neighbors by name). Does that mean we should just throw out the Bible altogether? From Ms Miller's argument, we might as well.

More to come later....

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