Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Newsweek on Gay Marriage

I share Dr. Mohler's amazement that a reputable news magazine would put what is clearly an op-ed as its cover story. Priorities, I suppose.

The entire article is about the religious argument in relation to gay marriage, and how, according to author Lisa Miller, the Bible cannot be used to condemn it but rather to support it. There are so many things to unpack in her article I scarcely know where to begin. I could go through every paragraph in the article and find something wrong, but instead I'll try to hit the broader points and categorical mistakes.

First, Miller wants to argue that the Bible's lack of prohibition on polygamy means that it says nothing normative on marriage. We'll skip past that for now because I don't think arguing about Old Testament rules on polygamy really adds to anything here, but there's one small problem for her in this: Even if you accept that the Bible is okay with polygamy, how does this translate to acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage? The polygamous marriages described in the Bible were always heterosexual. It's a logical fallacy to say, "You're wrong, therefor I am right." The two can be mutually exclusive.

Next, Miller wants to argue that Biblical prohibitions and condemnation of homosexuality either isn't what it says it is or is no longer authoritative. She hits this from both the Old Testament (with the Levitical injunction against homosexuality) and the New (with Paul's condemnations against it, too). The OT argument is an old one, which I won't rehash here for sake of space. I will, however, ask a question: If Old Testament rules are no longer in force because they're "outdated," how do you decide which ones to follow and which ones to ignore? I'd say that answering that question is important to understanding Biblical interpretation, and critical to arriving at the question of the morality of homosexuality.

As for Paul, she writes that Paul was merely condemning the excesses of sinful Nero or Caligula, though she doesn't really get into why he would mention the homosexuality if he didn't think it was sinful. There's also the old argument that, in Romans 1, Paul is condemning those heterosexuals who practice homosexuality, not homosexuals just being themselves.

The problem with both of those arguments is that it ignores Paul's talk of homosexuality elsewhere in the New Testament, such as in 1st Corinthians 6. There, Paul describes those who are "unrighteous." He lists two groups, both of them homosexuals. In the greek, there are actually two words for homosexual: The one who "received" and the one who "gave" (and I'll leave the description at that). Paul condemns both, which ought to drive home the idea that it's the act itself that is singled out as sinful, not any particular mindset going into it.

Third, Miller argues that Jesus rarely talked about marriage and never about homosexuality, so clearly it's not an issue. This is, once again, an old fallacy: Jesus didn't discuss X, so X is not sinful. We don't know all the details about Jesus's ministry, so it's possible that he did discuss the issue at some point and it's lost to history as to what he said. However, considering his support of the law and for the unity of man and woman in marriage, I doubt he would have had much positive to say about homosexuality. Even that aside, Jesus came to Earth with a rather specific purpose and a rather specific message. His goal was not to reinforce Jewish law or to tell everybody how to live, how great brotherly love is, and how it'd be really nice if people would start getting serious about showing up at the Temple again. Jesus came to prepare the world for what was a major change in God's relationship with mankind; Jesus came to announce the solvation of the old covenant and the coming of the new covenant, to call people to redemption and to prepare them to understand just what his life and death (and life again) would mean.

I'll even toss in here her mentioning of Paul's singlehood, with his wish that everyone else could "be as [he] is." The thing is, Paul offers this up not as a "command from the Lord" but as his own personal advice. Paul's bachelor status meant that he was able to spend his life travelling the world and spreading the gospel. Paul only wishes that everyone else could take part in such a lifestyle! But Paul also acknowledges that everyone has different callings from God on their life, and that some people will inevitably marry. Again, I don't see how this equates soft support for gay marriage, as Miller does.

Finally, I just want to address the overall problem Miller seems to have in this. She makes a lot of statements that reveal the overall problem:
  • "Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history."
  • "But . . . if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God . . ."
  • "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."
At the root of this is the fundamental question of what the Bible is, who wrote it, and from where its authority comes. If you believe that the voice of God cannot be distinguished from the voice of men in the text, then how do you distinguish which parts of the text are still authoritative? If it's all just a matter of what "speaks to us" at this stage of history, then does one decide what is from God and what isn't?

No, this is an old argument, wherein Biblical passages are considered "out of date" and simply tossed aside. The problem is that this is theology by popularity; if enough people get together and decide they don't like verse X anymore, then let's just ignore it! God is speaking to us and telling us that we need to "move past" such outmoded thinking.

Miller goes on and on about the Bible's passages on love, inclusion, and acceptance, but she ignores a critical element of it. True Biblical love does not ignore sin. It does not accept it, it does not explain it away, it does not excuse it, it does not look past it. True Biblical love confronts sin directly, as Jesus died as the payment for our atonement. As such, everyone is eligible for inclusion in the new covenant, but there's a catch: Participation in the covenant means acknowledging your sin and repenting of it (that is, leaving it behind). The Christianity Miller rails against is very inclusive; she just wants them to change their definition of sin.

2 comments:

Dr. Church said...

Mike Huckabee was on The Daily Show last night and this same issue came up...
http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=213349&title=mike-huckabee-pt.-2

Beth said...

And here's an article on all the responses:
http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/readback/archive/2008/12/08/a-religious-reaction-to-gay-marriage.aspx?GT1=43002