Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Newsweek: The religious case for gay marriage

The cover story on the latest issue of Newsweek (December 15, 2008) is entitled “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage” by Lisa Miller. As demonstrated below, Ms. Miller doesn’t have a leg to stand on!

Miller begins by writing, “Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does.” She points out that Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Israel were all polygamists, and that Jesus and Paul were single and argues that no heterosexual married couple would use the Bible as a “how-to-script.”

Miller doesn’t mention that the Bible nowhere considers the celibacy of Jesus or Paul as the norm. For example, Peter and other apostles were married (1 Corinthians 9:5) as were the patriarchs, and prophets like Isaiah. The norm seems to be the command to be fruitful and multiply (nine times in Genesis alone, plus references in Leviticus, Jeremiah and Ezekiel).

Miller doesn’t mention that when David, Solomon and other kings of Israel took multiple wives, they were acting in direct violation of Deuteronomy 17:17 which says that they “shall not acquire many wives" lest their hearts turn away from God. In fact, Solomon was a prime example of one whose heart was turned away from the Lord precisely due to his violation of this command.

The Bible tells the story of Jewish/Christian history and includes the good, the bad and the ugly. Much of what is recorded in the Bible is provided as negative examples of what happens when people ignore God’s laws. By contrast, the ideal is provided in Genesis 2:24 which says that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife” (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:7; Matthew 19:5 and Ephesians 5:31). None of these texts say wives (plural) or domestic partners.

According to Miller the argument against gay marriage goes like this: “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." Miller says there are two obvious responses. First, neither the Bible nor Jesus “explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman.” Second, “no sensible modern person wants marriage…to look like what the Bible describes.”

First, while the Bible doesn’t specifically define marriage as a covenant between members of the opposite sex, that definition is everywhere assumed and implied. By contrast, nowhere is same-sex marriage assumed or implied. On the contrary, both Old and New Testaments specifically condemn sexual relations between people of the same sex.

Second, once again, the Bible “describes” what happened, whether good, bad or ugly. Just because the Bible tells the story about kings who ignored God’s commandment against polygamy does not mean the Bible condones such disobedience.

And while it is true that most modern women don’t want anything to do with submitting to their husbands, I know of no one who would object to Paul’s teaching about how a husband should love his wife “as Christ loved the church and give himself for her,” or how a husband should love his wife as his own body” or as he loves himself (Ephesians 5:25-33).

Is it really true that “no sensible modern persons” wants a marriage like this?

Miller argues that contrary to “Biblical literalists”, “the Bible is a living document which “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.” Miller argues that while family is fundamental in the Old Testament, “examples of what social conservatives would call ‘the traditional family’ are scarcely to be found.” She mockingly adds, “Ozzie and Harriet are nowhere in the New Testament either.” Besides, Miller reminds us, the phrase “gay marriage” does not appear in the Bible at all.

First, perhaps the phrase "gay marriage" doesn't appear in the Bible because such a thing never existed and had never been imagined!

Second, when Miller and others argue that the Bible is a “living document” what they really mean is that rather than trying to understand what the biblical authors were trying to communicate, gay activists want the freedom to re-interpret any given passage to fit their own personal or social preferences. The Bible is then no longer the basis for Christian faith and practice; it becomes just a set of carefully selected and misinterpreted proof-texts to justify whatever behavior society has deemed to be politically correct this year.

This was exactly what was going on when the Bible was used to justify the enslavement of Africans. Although the Old Testament (along with virtually every civilization in the world) allowed slavery for prisoners of war or for paying off excessive debt, for example, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that would justify kidnapping innocent people from their homes and families simply because of the color of their skin or to satisfy other people’s greed! But this is precisely what happened when people try to force the Bible to support whatever values and behaviors happen to be currently accepted in society.

So, asks Miller, what is it that opponents of gay-marriage are so upset about? Her answer: Homosexuality, specifically sex between men since sex between women, according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on “Homosexual Practices” says that “nowhere in the bible do its authors refer to sex between women….”

Unfortunately for Miller, the Anchor Bible Dictionary does not even have an article on “Homosexual Practices.” In fact, it doesn’t even have an article on homosexuality! Wherever Miller got her information, that information is factually in error. In his letter to the Romans Paul writes saying, “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…” (Romans 1:26-27).

Miller continues saying that the Book of Leviticus condemns homosexuality twice, calling it an abomination (KJV) “but these are throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world….” Miller assures us that since “we no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions.”

Throwaway lines? That phrase may well illustrate the difference between those who take the Bible seriously, and those like Miller who want to pick and choose, and re-interpret biblical texts based on current social norms. Miller apparently thinks that whatever doesn’t fit society's modern views can conveniently be dismissed as a “throwaway line.”

While it is true that modern Christians “no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices” this is not because “our understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions.” It is because the New Testament specifically says that Jesus was the final sacrifice; the fulfillment to which the sacrificial system pointed (Hebrews 8-10). Similarly, we don’t keep the ceremonial laws because both Jesus and, according to the writer of Acts, Peter’s vision from God, abrogates these laws (Mark 7:19, Acts 10:1-33). We view some things in the Old Testament, therefore, as temporary or cultural and not binding on us today.

One of the passages in Leviticus that Miller refers to is Leviticus 18 which condemns all kinds of sexual practices including sex with one's parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, daughters-in-law, etc. The text calls these behaviors “depravity.” It then, adds that you shall not “lie with a male as with a woman” because this is an “abomination.”

The text goes on to say that these things are so abominable that it is for this reason that the land which the children of Israel are about to inhabit has “vomited out its inhabitants.” The text then solemnly warns the people to “do none of these abominations…lest the land vomit you out….”
The people are told that they must “Never practice any of these abominable customs…” (emphasis mine).

Now for those like Miller who think they are free to re-interpret the Bible in light of contemporary social norms, or who flippantly dismiss such texts as “throwaway passages,” these passages are easily dismissed. Presumably if society ever decides that it is OK to have sex with one’s parents, siblings, children, or animals, the rest of these texts would become “throwaway passages” as well.

But for those who take the Bible seriously, it is pretty hard to dismiss such passages as cultural or temporary, especially since these sins are viewed with such seriousness and since the commands against sexual immorality in general, and homosexuality in particular, are repeated numerous times in the New Testament. Apparently, while New Testament writers no longer felt the need to offer sacrifices or abide by all of the Old Testament restrictions, they thought these sexual prohibitions were still in effect.

As an aside, it is very important to note that both Leviticus 18 and 20 are talking about behavior--You shall not lie with a male as with a woman” (Lev 18:22) and “If a man lies with a male as with a woman” (Leviticus 20:13). The Bible knows nothing of what we today call “sexual orientation.”

If we define “homosexual” solely in terms of sexual-orientation rather than behavior, there is no condemnation of celibate homosexuals in the Bible. What we call sexual orientation is a matter of temptation. While those of us who are heterosexual tend to be tempted by members of the opposite sex, homosexuals are tempted by those of the same sex. But temptation alone is not sin.

This is a very important distinction. It means that arguments about whether homosexuality is genetic or learned are irrelevant. The issue is not how someone came to be attracted to someone of the same sex. The issue is behavior. In the Bible, sex with someone of the same sex is an abomination before God. Since marriage and sex pretty much go together, from a biblical perspective, same-sex marriage is out of the question for those who sincerely want to please the God of the Bible.

Miller concedes that “Paul was tough on homosexuality” but she cites “scholar Neil Elliot” as saying that “Paul was referring to “the depravity of the roman emperors, the craven habits of Nero and Caligula” and was “not talking about what we call homosexuality at all.” Besides, she adds, “Paul argued more strenuously against divorce—and at least half of the Christians in America disregard that teaching.”

First, whether “at least half of the Christians in America” disregard the Bible’s teaching on divorce is really quite irrelevant to the argument. If half the Christians in America disregarded the Bible’s teaching on bestiality, that would not make it any less sinful.

Second, it is not clear what she means by "what we call homosexuality." Has Miller ever seen pictures of the perversion that takes place at the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco? Caligula and Nero would fit right in.

Third, regarding Elliot’s argument (at least as presented by Miller), even if Paul had Nero and Caligula in mind he is certainly not talking about just Nero and Caligula. The context makes it clear that Paul is talking about all those who “knew God but did not honor him,” and those who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18-21). This is clearly not just about Roman emperors!

Because people “did not see fit to acknowledge God” (Romans 1:28), Paul emphasizes (three times) that God gave them up to all kinds of sins including not only homosexual behavior, but also malice, envy murder, strife, maliciousness, slander, arrogance, ruthlessness, etc. To say that this passage is just condemning the perverted homosexual practices of Nero and Caligula is like saying that Paul’s condemnation of murder in this passage was just a condemnation of the excesses of Nero and Caligula!

Many years ago, when I was in college in San Francisco, my sociology professor invited a homosexual couple to the class to discuss their view of homosexuality. They acknowledged that Paul was against homosexuality but frankly admitted that they had some problems with Paul. I admire their honesty. At least they weren't trying to twist Paul's words to allow what he clearly considered to be sin.

Miller then argued that “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.”

We could dispute Miller's assertion that “Monogamy became the norm in the Christian world in the sixth century” but that is really entirely irrelevant. Sexual immorality and sensuality are condemned repeatedly throughout the New Testament. Jesus himself condemns sexual immorality saying, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person (Mark 7:21-23).

It is really quite irrelevant, therefore, whether various people down through history who called themselves Christian went to mistresses and prostitutes. Their behavior is soundly condemned in the New Testament.

Miller goes on to argue that while “We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual…we can read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future.” Miller's prime example was the story of David and Jonathan. Quoting David, “Your love for me was…More wonderful than that of a woman,” Miller concludes that “Here, the Bible praises enduring love between men. She adds, “What Jonathan and David did or did not do in the privacy is perhaps best left to history and our own imagination.”

So although homosexual behavior is flatly condemned in both Old and New Testaments, including Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1, First Corinthians 6:9, First Timothy 1:10, and condemnation is implied in Genesis 19:4-5, Judges 19:22 and Jude 7, all of this apparently doesn't qualify as one of Miller’s “universal truths.” She appeals instead to just one story in the Old Testament which doesn't say anything whatsoever about sex!

We are forced to conclude that the only things Miller would acknowledge as universal truths would be things in the Bible that meet the standards of modern American political correctness.

We need to re-emphasize again that while the Bible condemns sex between people of the same sex--it knows nothing of our modern discussions about “sexual orientation.” There is nothing wrong with two men or two women loving each other (as long as such "love" is understood non-sexually).

David and Jonathan are the perfect example. Although David said of Jonathan, “Your love for me was…more wonderful than that of a woman” there is no indication at all that this love was sexual. In fact, we would do well to remember that one of David's sins was his marriage to many wives (contrary to Deuteronomy 17:17) and that his biggest downfall was his sexual relationship with a woman! This hardly sounds homosexual.

Miller concludes saying that “More basic than theology, though, is human need.”This may be the crux of our disagreement. We believe that the Bible is the revelation of God’s will. As such, it supersedes human need. When Miller argues that human need is more basic than theology, she could just as logically argue that her need for relationship would justify adultery, or her need for power would justify corruption, or her need for material goods would justify theft. Christians who take the Bible as the revelation of God seek to place the Bible above our perceived needs.

In this entire article, however, Miller completely misses one of the most serious issues in the same-sex marriage debate. The issue is not really about whether Adam should be able to marry Steve. The issue is that once same sex marriage becomes accepted public policy, homosexuality will directly threaten freedom of religion and force people violate their religious convictions, or face prosecution.

This is already happening.

A Christian photographer was sued because he could not, in good conscience, photograph a gay marriage--even though there were many other photographers who would have been happy to have the business.

Christian psychologists have been sued for referring gay clients to other psychologists!Christians who sometimes rent their property for marriages were sued for not renting to a gay couple, even though it was private property and there are thousands of other locations in which to conduct a wedding.

A Catholic adoption agency in Massachusetts was forced to shut its doors rather than compromise its convictions on adoption to homosexual couples.

A private Christian school was sued for dismissing two openly homosexual students even though the prohibition against homosexual sex (and all other unbiblical sex as well) was clearly stated in the policy manual.

The original version of ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) would have forced Christian schools and colleges to hire teachers of science, history, psychology, etc. who openly practiced homosexuality! Even churches would have been forced to hire non-pastoral staff who openly practiced homosexuality.

We have already seen how homosexuality is being pushed on public school students against the wishes of parents. Indeed, a judge in Massachusetts said that since gay marriage is public policy in that state, the state had an obligation to promote homosexuality and that parents did not have a right to opt their children out!

Over 40 years ago one atheist didn't want her child exposed to prayer in the public school so all public schools all across America were forced to stop the practice, but homosexual activists are allowed to push homosexuality on all students regardless of parent's religious convictions?

So the issue is not nearly as much about whether Adam should be able to marry Steve as it is an issue of fundamental first amendment religious freedom and freedom of conscience!