Talking point

Biblical standards of marriage (because you can’t have just one!). Click on the graphic if you want to go to a site where it’s a little more legible.

I can’t believe it took me so long, but it occurred to me this morning that the Biblical standard of marriage could best be described like this: Marriage is between one man and whatever woman/women he wants to marry. I could be snarky and add that it’s strikingly similar to the marriage standard of a number of prominent conservative male talkers and thinkers. But I won’t.

Now that the issue of equal marriage is once again front and center, there’s a lot of handwringing among progressive/liberal friends of mine, across a broad spectrum of religious and non-religious affiliations, regarding how to engage people who cherry pick verses from the Bible to justify their opposition to marriage equality.

Here are my thoughts on this, heavily influenced by my gaymarriage (we like to say it as one word in our house) to PW. Let me tell you, being able to love and live in gaymarriage with a Bible scholar, who mines both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament in their original languages, is like living in a research laboratory for religion. I find it thrilling, but then you probably already knew that I’m a big gaymarried weirdo.

Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing people reduce scripture to prop up arguments that condemn people for love. As people are wont to say these days, “I know, right?!” This sort of scripture mumblety-peg seems to me to be an extremely unfaithful use of these ancient texts we have inherited. And, I would argue that even if you’re an atheist, you have inherited these texts, since they inform (for better or for worse) so much of the literature, art, music, language, laws, and architecture that surround us.

More and more I wonder, whatever happened to Jesus’ very simple teaching, “With God, all things are possible”? It seems to me that Christians who explain resurrection by citing this verse, but then suddenly exile it when the topic is queer people being able to be ordained or to marry each other, show an extraordinary lack of both faith and imagination. I would go so far as to suggest that the willful exclusion of one of the most expansive verses in the Christian testament demonstrates willful opposition to what the Bible relentlessly shows that God wants for all of God’s people: freedom, justice, and fullness of life. “With God, all things are possible” also happens to be the state motto of Ohio, a big swing state. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a particularly delicious gaymarriage coincidence!

As I think I’ve said before here, I believe that the progress toward full inclusion of queer people in the Church and in society is God speaking to us, here and now, through a relentless urge of redeeming Love.

My suggestion to those of us who will find ourselves in these sorts of conversations–whether in real life or on the Internet–is: don’t get sucked into arguing with people who abuse scripture this way. Save your tootsies from scripture mumblety-peg. Stand tall, be out and proud (whether you’re family, ally, or queer), and represent all that is possible in Love. But if you’re tempted to  to cite a Bible verse, feel free to lean on that expansive teaching from an ancient and still prominent unmarried, homeless, rebellious Jewish rabbi who, from the stories we have, never seemed interested in playing scripture mumblety-peg with anyone.

Thus ends my locker room pep talk. Now let’s get out there and win one in the name of Love!

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19 responses to “Talking point

  1. Hee. You’re my favorite gaymarried weirdo. And I know a couple. Get it? A COUPLE? I slay myself. Frankly, if anyone wants my ungaymarried marriage, they are welcome to have it.

  2. Freshy, I will now encourage my dog to wag his tail all over you. Don’t think I won’t: so there.

    Speaking as a hand-wringer, the President’s evolution does make it a littlle easier for me to hold my head up this morning.

  3. Go, fight, win! Just not with a U2 soundtrack, please.

    • Ahaha! Email me another suggestion and I’ll add it to the post. I like this song, and I particularly like the occasion of their singing it. Plus, what’s not to love about Samuel L. Jackson??!

  4. I have never understood why, when citing those cherry picked verses, the quoters tend to shudder and change the subject when asked, “Is damnation only involved if two people of the same sex abuse their sexual nature? If two people of the opposite sex engage in acts that are not based in love, is that somehow less bad? Really? Why?” And just try asking the cherry picker about when Nicodemus asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Ask the picker why Jesus didn’t say, “Love god with all your heart, love your neighbor as you love yourself, and don’t be with someone of the same sex?”
    Thank you, so much, for sharing your lab notes.

  5. Here is a more mumblety-peg response to the cherry-pickers. Having grown up in the Southern Baptist Church, where cherry-picking scripture on a number of touchy topics was largely confused with actual faith, I find myself cheering Matthew on, not only for the content he developed, but for the passion, devotion and love he brought to the task as he saw it. It’s long, and I’m afraid it gets tedious at times, but I do find it deeply touching.

  6. Is it okay if I raise both hands? I’m trying to learn from you a more constructive way to response to the yahoos than my usual instinct to utter expletives about their character and run the other way. Keep teaching, please.

  7. I just really like that graphic. Take that, you biblical literalists!

  8. One of my favorite scenes from The West Wing which involves the issue of biblical literalism: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eD52OlkKfNs

  9. Re the video by Matthew…I feel uncomfortable with how his argument only allows for two dinstinct sexualities, homosexual and heterosexual. In trying to interperet the bible as “inclusive” to homosexuals and legitimizing homosexuality, he excludes people who are fluid in their sexuality, especially when citing Paul’s comments on turning away from “natural” and exchanging for the “unnatural”. Sexuality is such a personal and unique phenomena for each person – this is where I see the tactic of using passages from the bible to condemn or condone is problematic. In fighting against the religious right’s homophobia, I think it makes more sense to follow the argument that the bible has always been interpreted in the context of the cultural climate (the new testament is a product of this exact practice) and that many “rules” in the bible are knowingly ignored (slavery, abstinance till marriage etc)…or maybe we need a testament 3.0? However, by trying to write a book to define the rules that “should” be followed, even in a Newer Testament, if it were written within today’s cultural context would inevitably exclude.

    Also, in his interpretation of Sodom, if this passage was about being hospitable and kind to strangers (as the speaker says), what the heck does it mean that the daughters were offered up for gang rape rather than the angels? Someone please explain.

    • Hannah, I am no Biblical scholar, but I do know that between translation choices (good, bad, or ugly) and cultural biases overlaid on said translation choices, the Bible barely has room to breathe when it comes to illuminating such a fluid subject as human sexuality in the 21st century.

      While I understand the need for progressive Christians (or even non-believers) to be able to go toe to toe with fundamentalist Bible cherry pickers, as I said in my post, I don’t think this is a good use of my own time, energy, or intellect. Others’ mileage may vary, and I appreciate the efforts of people like Matthew in the video, and others who take this task on. It’s just not interesting to me.

      I guess I have a bias against using the Bible (or any great literature) as a proof text to prop up views of the world that are unimaginative and without creative, expansive energy. That’s why I love PW’s saying that the Bible is “not a book of rules, it’s a library of possibilities.” And it’s also why, increasingly, my go-to verse is simply, “With God, all things are possible.” I would add that the Bible’s possibilities are deepened and broadened when you read the texts through the lenses of feminist, queer, and/or liberation theologians. Or, in my case, I just talk with my wife, who has done plenty of reading of all three!

      In my experience, the best weapon against homophobia is humanity. When queer people and our allies stop hedging and hiding, when we stand up and tell our stories, that is far more effective than any Bible verse throwdown. Homophobia is irrational, and I no longer believe that the people who cling to it can be brought out of it by reasoned argument. I think movement out of homophobia happens when homophobes see a critical mass of queer humanity and our allies and families being fully and unapologetically human.

  10. With regard to the “natural” vs “”unnatural” part of your comment, I would suggest that, taken to its logical application, what is highlighted is that each individual’s God-given nature is to be honored, and not only in cases where the individual happens to fall into one of the “absolute” categories that many people still think of as defining all sexuality.

    With regard to the Sodom story, I agree the problem arises with trying to figure out WHAT that story means in light of, as you point out, the horrible bargain that is offered. I have never been able to understand how anyone gets past that parental and familial atrocity to be concerned about anything else in connection with that passage. To me it has always seemed obvious that the problems in Sodom were something altogether different than concerns about anyone’s sexuality.

    For those of us who grew up with ardent cherry-pickers, the effort to fight fire with similar fire has to be attempted, I’m afraid, although we understand it will never persuade where selected scripture has been co-opted as an excuse for maintaining prejudices that are actually deeply based in fear and ignorance rather than in any intellectually honest reading. I thought Matthew made a valiant effort to do that.

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