Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

The Biblical Case for Gay Marriage – Newsweek

Posted by NT Wrong on December 8, 2008

newsweekOpponents of gay marriage often make appeals to the Bible. The Dec 6, 2008 edition of Newsweek has a look at what the Bible really says about marriage, and finds that — funnily enough — there isn’t much in the Bible which supports your average American nuclear family…

“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?”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

As Walter Wink nicely showed a while back, the sexual mores of the Bible are a whole world apart from our own — and that’s the case, whether we’re politically conservative or liberal. Newsweek summarises: “The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.”

“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.”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

The article agrees that Leviticus proscribes sex between men. (It also explains the absence of proscriptions against lesbian sex as a result of the lack of “entry”, relying on what it calls an “entry” from the Anchor Bible Dictionary — a Freudian slip?) But the article also points out that even the fundies ignore most of Leviticus while they fixate unhealthily on what men are doing with each others’ nakednesses:

“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?”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

And when it comes to Paul’s views on homosexuality, Newsweek quotes Neil Elliott (author of The Arrogance of Nations): “Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all.” Given that the modern idea of ‘homosexuality’ — linked as it is to ideas about personal identity within an imposed binary framework of ‘sexuality’ — is barely one hundred years old, it’s not surprising that Paul had a quite different conception from ours.

The article later gets a bit sappy, talking about the Bible’s “universal truths” and message of “love”, glossing over its vile central message of the punishment of the vast majority of people in favour of a minority “chosen people”, and ignoring Jesus’ own short-sighted prejudice against non-Jewish people. The abstract universalized message of the Bible is just as unjust as its particular instantiations. But all in all the Newsweek article makes some solid points about gay marriage and the Bible.

    “The mama looked down and spit on the ground
    Everytime my name gets mentioned
    The papa said oy if I get that boy
    Im gonna stick him in the house of detention
    …And when the radical priest
    Come to get me released
    We was all on the cover of Newsweek
    – Paul Simon, ‘Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard’

15 Responses to “The Biblical Case for Gay Marriage – Newsweek”

  1. steph said

    Yup, it doesn’t support the American nuclear family – it consistently contradicts it. Yet the Christians against gay marriage (and generally just prejudiced against gays) nearly always say “The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman”. Yeah right.

  2. steph said

    Blitherington has an anti gay marriage post today. Since when did ‘marriage’ belong to Christianity defined by God as between a man and a woman? Even Blitherington can’t cite a Bible verse.

  3. The arguments contra same gender partnering in any form ultimately boil down to forms of intercourse and biology. These facets are clearly to which the biblical injunctions against same gender relations point. The problem I continually have is there is a consistent confusion of time and culture specific material in scripture such as the position of women and slaves that are arbitrarily glossed in order to support specific traditions, yet passages that are quite specific to a kind of same gender relationship are viewed as something rather abstracted from any cultural milieu in favor of a specific contemporary traditional perspective, i.e. “traditional marriage”.

    It seems very inconsistent to argue that complementarity with men and women in marriage is simply different than it was then and is now in the middle and near east favoring a more egalitarian relationship while at the same time forbidding such equality or roles for people of the same gender. You simply cannot hold this issue as distinct from issues regarding equality of race and gender as all are tied together in Scripture and sociologically if you look at the trajectory of various civil rights movements.

    My sense is that people for traditional marriage alone argue against same gender marriage and love because sex between two men simply grosses them out. That really what the argument from “nature” is. Something “unnatural” is by definition grotesque.

  4. Antonio Jerez said

    it is not often I agree with Witherington about anything but I think he certainly has a point when he mentions Matthew 19:1-2 as proof that Jesus definition of marriage is between man and women. And in contrast with many modern, liberal christians Witherington seems to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, Paul, Matthew and the others when he sees gay sex as a sinful abomination. Personally I think it´s nonsense of course, but at least Witherington is consistent with the teachings of the early church.

  5. paulf said

    I don’t have any doubt that Jesus, as an orthodox Jew, would have found gay sex “immoral,” but that just further illustrates the point (I think) made by NT in this post — that Biblical ethics of all kinds reflect standards of a primitive, unscientific group of people. It’s kind of horrifying that anybody would pick and choose from the Levitical swill from which to base laws today.

    Biblical literalists just cannot be consistent, unless they decide to advocate capital punishment for moral crimes and they check up on female church members’ menstrual cycles and excommunicate those who have sex during that week. (I wonder how they did that in ancient times? Whose job was it?)

  6. steph said

    I doubt homosexual love was actually an issue for Jesus. The question was about a man divorcing a woman. I wonder what WIII thinks of divorce? And eating shellfish?

  7. Antonio Jerez said

    Agree with Steph that gay sex was probably not an issue Jesus had to deal with. But just like Paul F I have no doubt that like the vast majority of Jews of his time he stuck to the negative OT view.
    And pick and choose whatever they want in the Bible to make up a soup that is to their personal liking is is what most Christians do all the time. Or change the ingredients in the soup altogether and claim that it´s still a soup that Jesus would have liked. Dom Crossan is a good example of those kind of cooks. Or the former archbishop of Sweden who claimed that Paul had nothing against gays, it is all a misunderstanding.
    This topic really reminds me again about the silliness of all book religions and the silliness of gods who have no better idea than sending prophets a couple of millennia ago with a message that is so garbled and contradictory that nobody can agree about what it really means.

  8. ntwrong said

    Steph – Antonio’s right. I doubt there were any first century Galilean Jews who considered marriage could be anything but an arrangement between men and women. Mind you, the idea of ‘marriage’ has itself shifted since the first century. I would have liked to have been a chattel, but modern marriages just don’t cater for such notions.

  9. steph said

    No, I know that – but I don’t believe homosexuality was an issue for Jesus. Then again, even if it became an issue for him, he probably would have said it was an abomination, like trimming beards and fringes, eating shellfish and other things.

  10. I think a key point is that whether or not it was an “issue” for Jesus might not be as vital as we think it is. Much has changed since that time and most of the world where Christianity finds its seat has no cultural relationship to that world at all. It’s like, using McLuhan’s distinction, putting hot media in a cool environment.

  11. Paul said

    Wow, what a giant leap. This is one of the biggest equivocations I have seen in the gay and lesbian marriage debate.

    So the Bible defines marriage a little more slippery than what right wing, American churchianity calls it. It still is pretty clear that it calls marriage a union between opposite genders. It doesn’t blatantly call polygamy a sin and it does call same gender intercourse a sin.

    I can’t wait for the church to get out of the marrying business.

  12. steph said

    Perhaps you should be marrying polygamists Paul, and making sure you don’t eat shellfish or cut your hair.

  13. Geno said

    Jesus Him self abolished the practice of rightioness throw deed, “tho all things are permisable not all things are benificial” but rightioness comes through faith and faith equals persuits, Paul made the point that the absence of sin is not rightioness, but niether is religios practice, that is why he said ” one mans faith allows him to eat anything another man of weaker faith limits him self, but each man will be judged by the pursuit of his heart, Judeo-Christian, will stand and say Lord Lord, Jesus knowing the heart will say you pursued wealth, health, and every desire that entered you soul, knowlage, possition,and lust, but me you never know and I don’t know you, like so many events in our life homosexuality is more obvious our pursuit for an absents from God, take flirting for instance we all do it and it seems harmless and for the most part it is untill affects our esteem, situation determins possitive or negative, and how we affect others, but in this case infect is a better word, we infect and are infected by others, socialy introducing a crack addict, a leper, pedafile, homosexual, into our laws or niegborhood or homes are all measured by risk, some will praise Grace where a house hold that has small children or influetial preteens others cry fool.

  14. steph said

    If you want to chance to be taken seriously Geno, you first have to learn to spell, then reference your quotations, then separate your rant into sentences and paragraphs. But even then I doubt anyone would listen. 🙂

  15. Geno just needs some hot looking guy from Columbus St. in the West Village, NYC to give him a nice tight hug.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: