Lies, Liars & Liberals – on the death of a once respectable news organization part 3
This is now my third installment of my response to Lisa Miller’s article. If I have not said anything positive about the article it is because I have yet to find anything of value in the article. One aspect of this article that distresses me greatly is the misrepresentation of evangelical exegesis and hermeneutics. She is either entirely ignorant of how evangelical scholars and even lay people interpret scriptures, or she simply wishes to paint all opposition as ignorant and homophobic. And I think the first part of the article I will be dealing with answers that question.
Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument).
I believe that this is one of the nastiest forms of argumentation. First she wrongly concludes that objection to gay marriage is not rooted in the Bible, but rather in custom and tradition, but then as an aside attacks conservatives as having a “personal discomfort with gay sex”. This type of nasty backhanded attack is quite typical. Her argument is simple:
- The Bible does not object to gay marriage.
- Anyone who reads it will see this.
- Opponents of gay marriage who say it does are therefore homophobic bigots (this said in a backhanded way).
As I have shown, the objection to gay marriage is completely and fully rooted in Biblical revelation. The Bible is quite unequivocally clear. Nowhere is there even a hint that homosexual acts can be viewed positively in any way whatsoever.
Common prayers and rituals reflect our common practice: the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer describes the participants in a marriage as “the man and the woman.” But common practice changes—and for the better, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric. It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter). It provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites. A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.
The reference to Martin Luther King Jr. here is for the purpose of making the debate about justice. This would only be true if homosexuality is in fact shown to be a positive genetic trait (such as the color of one’s skin), which science has clearly excluded. But in speaking of someone who wants to practice an act in this way does a disservice to Martin Luther King Jr. and all his accomplishments.
The Bible nowhere endorses slavery. Slavery is actually a fascinating exegetical issue in the Bible. Willard Swartley, Slavery Sabbath War and Women, points out how the Bible deals with the issue and the interpretational methodologies that are possible. I believe it would be accurate to say that the Bible accommodates certain forms of slavery (we usually think of slavery only within American history but this is not the form of slavery found in most Biblical texts) for different reasons and purposes throughout very sinful and violent eras for purposes of justice and compassion. The Bible never would have accommodated the American forms of slavery. Yet, accommodation is not approval, and the swing of Biblical revelation is toward freedom of slaves and the removal of this institution and any that disgrace the image of God in humans (just as I would argue a defense of homosexuality as an identity does).
Lisa Miller also mentions the death penalty for adulterers in Leviticus. There is a clear distinction between national Israel and the laws for a nation, and the Christian church which has no nationality. Much can be written on this, but suffice it to say that the Christian church does not adopt civil punishments for moral law breakers, but rather calls on them to repent and be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, who pays their penalty for sin. We do not remove or lessen moral requirements, but we do not instigate civil punishments either.
The Biblical world is much like and much unlike ours. In a moral way it is much like ours. All of the moral depravities that were quite popular in the different biblical eras are still popular and with us today, but more so. Ms. Miller’s arguments continue to be ad hominem and of no value.
Marriage, specifically, has evolved so as to be unrecognizable to the wives of Abraham and Jacob. 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. (In the NEWSWEEK POLL, 55 percent of respondents said that married heterosexuals who have sex with someone other than their spouses are more morally objectionable than a gay couple in a committed sexual relationship.) By the mid-19th century, U.S. courts were siding with wives who were the victims of domestic violence, and by the 1970s most states had gotten rid of their “head and master” laws, which gave husbands the right to decide where a family would live and whether a wife would be able to take a job. Today’s vision of marriage as a union of equal partners, joined in a relationship both romantic and pragmatic, is, by very recent standards, radical, says Stephanie Coontz, author of “Marriage, a History.”
Religious wedding ceremonies have already changed to reflect new conceptions of marriage. Remember when we used to say “man and wife” instead of “husband and wife”? Remember when we stopped using the word “obey”? Even Miss Manners, the voice of tradition and reason, approved in 1997 of that change. “It seems,” she wrote, “that dropping ‘obey’ was a sensible editing of a service that made assumptions about marriage that the society no longer holds.”
It is wonderful to know that Ms. Miller has such intimate details of the wives of Abraham and Jacob. She once again returns to her attack on marriage by arguing that sinful Abraham and Jacob had multiple wives and so marriage between one man and one woman should be dismantled. But instead of saying that we too should accommodate polygamy, she instead argues for something even the Bible never accommodates because of hardness of heart, because it so objectionable and an abomination before God. Arguing from accommodation and a cultural acceptability of sin is not a positive argument. For instance, the church in many parts of Africa continues to struggle with issues of polygamy. Why? Because many who are coming to faith in Jesus Christ and realizing that polygamy is wrong, are currently married to more than one wife. What are they to do? Divorce all but one? Is divorce a better option? Who will care for these women who do not have Western freedoms and opportunities?
Marriage can be difficult and messy, and can to differing degrees accommodate differing cultures. But adaptation with certain bounds does not mean allowing even what is considered heinous in scripture. Today there are many that prefer more traditional roles in marriage while others are much more egalitarian. Some still prefer the terms “obey” and “man and wife” in marriage ceremonies. Once again these are mere ad hominem attacks and are in no way exculpatory of marriage traditionally defined.
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