Gay Marriage in the Bible?
Newsweek continues its herculean effort to redefine marriage in its December 15th issue, through Lisa Miller’s cover story, Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy. Miller, who is also Newsweek’s religion columnist, argues that conservative Christians are wrong when they cite the Bible against gay marriage. In fact, she says, the messages of inclusivity and love in the Bible favor the support of gay marriage. The tag-line on the column says it all: “Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.”
This column, like much of Miller’s work, frames issues so that they will resolve themselves the way she prefers, abuses evidence to make it reveal only what she wants, over-simplifies nearly everything, and betrays an astonishing ignorance of how Christian beliefs must be understood and engaged. There are three principal errors which dominate Miller’s efforts:
- Interpretive Failure: To prove the Bible’s support for gay marriage, Miller is forced to assume that it is the recorded behavior of the characters in the Old Testament which determines Biblical teaching, and she is forced to ignore the larger scope of the Bible’s didactic message. For example, the fact that some of the Patriarchs were polygamists says absolutely nothing about God’s teaching, yet for Miller this proves that the Bible cannot be taken as a guide to the morals of marriage.
At the same time, she ignores the Bible's grand themes entirely. Fundamental motifs appear in Genesis, run throughout the prophetic tradition concerning God’s relationship with Israel, resurface more clearly in the words of Christ and the teachings of St. Paul, and always point both implicitly and explicitly toward marriage as an exclusive fruitful union of love between a man and a woman—a relationship which mirrors that of Christ and the Church.
- Lack of Context: Closely related to this first problem is Miller’s utter inattention to two important contextual issues which make it impossible to interpret the Bible in a manner favorable to gay marriage. First, while she admits that the Bible condemns homosexuality, she tries to dismiss this condemnation as mere cultural baggage. Hence, within a few breaths of refusing to recognize the obvious cultural baggage of patriarchal polygamy (represented in descriptions of how the patriarchs lived), she insists on dismissing the passages against homosexuality (represented in explicit teachings), thereby turning context on its head.
Second, Miller ignores the lived experience of the Jewish and Christian communities from the time that the Old Testament was fully formed. This experience, based on the community’s own understanding of what God had revealed, enshrined a monogamous, heterosexual view of marriage which was to be fruitful in the bearing of children. Arguments in favor of contraception, homosexuality and gay marriage were of pagan origin, were kept at bay for well over 2,000 years, and have resurfaced only with the resurgence of paganism in our own era.
- Ignorance of Tradition and Authority: Miller can hardly be unaware of the role that tradition and authority play even in Jewish and Protestant belief, yet she chooses to frame her entire case in terms of a Fundamentalist reading of Scripture, as if the only Christian arguments come from proof-texting. Granted, some Christians are too quick to assert the Bible's meaning, and only Catholics have an adequate answer to the claims of private interpretation of the "plain text", but as indicated above, the traditions of the communities in question should provide interpretive clues to any serious exegete.
And when we come to Catholicism, Tradition associated with the community becomes an acknowledged second source of Revelation. Moreover, the successor to Peter becomes an acknowledged source of authority for the settling of disputes over both Scripture and tradition. This highly crystallized tradition and authority has for 2,000 years spoken against all of the errors Miller advances, both interpretive and moral. Moreover, in Catholicism we have also a particularly rich and accessible embodiment of the Christian intellectual tradition, including extensive work on the natural law, a source of moral understanding open to all but made easier to discern by Revelation. Natural law similarly condemns both homosexuality and the grotesque parody of marital union represented by even the most enduring gay commitment.
For contrary to Lisa Miller, the core of marriage does not consist in stable emotional commitment. Rather, stable emotional commitment is demanded by marriage’s defining character as a deep and fruitful fidelity, by which a man and a woman actually complete and fulfill their respective natures, becoming two in one flesh. Sadly, about this basic character of marriage our contemporary Western, sophisticated and neo-pagan world has not the slightest clue. One would expect a religion columnist to notice such a glaring cultural fact. Instead, Lisa Miller aligns herself with a strong editorial trend, evidenced in at least three major statements over the past month (see also The End of Newsweek), by which Newsweek has revealed its own profound lack of vision, leading all those blind enough to follow into the proverbial pit.
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