The cover story for the upcoming December 15th issue is titled, “Our Mutual Joy”. The subtitle contends that the Bible is actually supportive of gay marriage and that opponents of gay marriage don’t understand what the Bible teaches. While I will admit that many opponents of gay marriage don’t understand what the Bible teaches, after reading the article it is clear that supporters of gay marriage don’t either. I went to the article expecting it to wrestle honestly with the biblical texts that usually get debated when talking about homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular.
Much of the article is a look at two things that really are not relevant to the title or the issue of gay marriage. One is examples from history when people used the Bible to justify things that were wrong, the south and slavery prior to the Civil War loom large here. The fact that people in the past used the Bible to falsely support a position, while a good warning to us to not do the same today, does not have any bearing on the substance of the issue. Just because a theologian in 1850 used the Bible to justify the owning of slaves and was wrong, does not mean that in 2008 a theologian is automatically wrong to use the Bible to condemn homosexual practice.
The second issue comes up when the article also correctly points out that examples of a solid marriage between one man and one woman are hardly common in the Bible and that in fact polygamy was common in the Old Testament. But here is another common mistake made when people deal with the Bible. In an ironic twist, it is the same mistake that many supporters of slavery made in the past. They look at the narrative portions, the stories told in the Bible about everyday life and elevate them above the clear teaching passages that are supposed to guide us to the ideal behavior in life. It is the mistake of taking the “descriptive” and making it “prescriptive”. Another example of this in the article is when it pulls into the discussion the fact that Jesus was never married and neither was Paul. While I commend the willingness to go against the flow of current conspiracy theorists who are sure Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, Jesus or Paul being single has nothing to say about what a marriage is or should be. And it is certainly not an argument, as is implied, that marriage is not to be held up as some virtuous institution.
The article does deal with some of the relevant texts from the Bible. But at times it does so in a way that lacks credibility. In referring to some of the clearest statements that define homosexual behavior as sin, those in Leviticus 18 and 20, the author dismisses these passages as “throw away lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world.” If you did not know what the rest of Leviticus 18 and 20 deal with you would think from that statement that they are full of things that have no relevance what so ever for modern people living in America in the 21st century. Nothing could be further from the truth. The rest of those chapters forbids things like having sex with your son or daughter. That is hardly a throw away line only relevant for ancient Jews. It also forbids having sex with some other person’s spouse or with your sister or brother, all things that still today even the most irreligious among us do not condone. These verses have great bearing on the position Christians should hold. One can not deal with them simply by dismissing them.
There are other passages that are brought into the article that have a bearing on the subject. Unfortunately not in the way the author presents them. The goal of using these other texts seems to be to show that the biblical mandate to love our neighbor should somehow translate into acceptance of gay marriage. I quote, “In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified. Jesus reaches out to everyone, especially those on the margins..” The author then goes on to reference Jesus speaking to the woman at the well. She is a woman who has had many husbands and even now is living with a man to whom she is not married. This is seen as evidence of “Christ’s all-encompassing love”.
Here is the heart of the problem, Christian and non-Christian alike fail to make a distinction between how we are to love others and at the same time hold to standards of behavior that people fail to live up to. Many Christians want to hold to a standard of behavior when it comes to sin, including homosexuality, but they fail to live up to the standard given by Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves. Many others want to simply accept and love people just as they are and not expect any adherence to a life that tries to live with some measure of holiness. I have three sons. I love each of them deeply, but if one of them lies, or steals, or fails to show compassion to another person, I don’t ignore the behavior in some twisted demonstration of love. Instead as a sign of my love for them I go to them and with all the grace and mercy I can muster, I tell them what they should do and how they should change, repent, for Jesus.
The article rightly calls on us to show the love of Christ to everyone. The provocative Christian life is one that does just that. We are all in the same boat in that we are sinners in need of the grace and mercy and love of God. If you are a Christian you first experienced that grace, mercy, and love in another person whom God was working through. You must, absolutely must be willing to pass that on to others. Our churches should be filled with homosexuals, adulterers, thieves, liars and cheats. Actually they already are; it’s us. Maybe if we were a little more willing to admit our own sin we would be able to be more loving to other sinners and they would want to be around us. You see we will not change the world by being holier-than-thou and spouting slogans or protesting lifestyles. We will help change the world by fulfilling the command Jesus gave us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Jesus had an open heart for the outcast, the sinner, the rejected of society. He loved them. But he also challenged them to live differently. There was another story of Jesus and a woman that completes the picture. It is the woman caught in adultery in John 8, just four chapters after the aforementioned woman at the well. In John 8, Jesus shows incredible love and mercy to the woman. So much so that her accusers leave in disgrace. But in His closing line to the woman, as He says, “neither do I condemn you” He finishes by saying, “Go and sin no more”.
Here is a link to the Newsweek article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/172653/