Drawing on the Bible with the Proposed Anti-Marriage Amendment

How can people of faith draw on the Bible in our conversations about the proposed Anti-Marriage Amendment?

Reflections by David Weiss (at an adult forum at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church). A pdf of this essay is here.

As long as I can remember, I’ve drawn purpose and inspiration for my life out of the stories in the Bible. For more than a decade I taught introductory college courses on the Bible, aiming to help students see that the Bible told a story that was captivating and relevant today.

Then, five or six years ago when I was teaching Sunday School here at SPR, I was determined to help my students understand more about God’s love for them. One day, working on a project about the creed, one my students wrote about how her faith in God was strengthened by the love of her moms—plural. And it hit me, in my gut, that she was learning the truth that we Christians value the most—that God loves us—and she was learning it from the type of parents whose love this proposed amendment will refuse to acknowledge.

As a husband, a father, a Minnesotan citizen, and a Christian, I want better for her, for her parents, and for every same-sex couple who would choose marriage if it were an option. That’s why I’m invested.

So, “How do we draw on the Bible around this amendment?

First, we shouldn’t let the conversation be framed by the handful of texts that have been so often misused to condemn homosexuality. These texts have nothing to do with committed same-sex relationships. The biblical writers knew about things like military rape, territorial rape, pederasty, and temple prostitution. In the ancient world—as still today—sex could be misused to terrorize others, to establish a pecking order, or to “sell” everything from a temple sacrifice to blue jeans, lite beer, or shampoo. These texts deal with the misuse of sex as raw power or false promise.

Marriage—whether between a straight couple or a same-sex couple—is not about using sex as raw power or false promise. Those texts don’t belong in this conversation.

Second, while the story of Adam and Eve says something about God’s intent for our life together, it doesn’t say everything. Yes, we were created for relationship, and to care for creation.

But while the Nazi’s imagined Adam and Eve as been blond, blue-eyed, and fair-skinned, the Bible says not a word about that—and science says our most ancient ancestors were likely black-haired, brown-eyed, and dark-skinned.

And while the teachers at the Lutheran Day School in 1915 were probably right in believing that Adam and Eve were both right-handed, they were wrong in tying my grandpa’s left hand to the desk with twine so that he couldn’t be left-handed.

Adam and Eve were almost certainly a straight couple—but to think that their straightness … or their handedness or hair color, skin color, or eye color comes anywhere close to exhausting the diversity of creation’s goodness? This is to limit God’s imagination to human prejudice. We should know better by now.

Third, there are some models for “biblical marriage,” and if our conversation partners insist on discussing “biblical marriage,” if might be worthwhile to ask them which model of biblical marriage they endorse or follow:

  • Were they two slaves assigned to marry each other by their owner—as in Exodus 21:4?
  • Was the woman a spoil of war, claimed by a soldier—as in Numbers 31:1-18 & Deuteronomy 21:1-14?
  • Was the wife forced to marry her husband because he raped her—as in Deuteronomy 22:28-29?
  • Is the woman now married to her dead husband’s brother because the original husband died without fathering a son—as in Genesis 38:6-10?
  • Does the husband have multiple wives and/or concubines or—as was common throughout the Old Testament era?
  • Does the husband have sex with both his wife and her slave girl—as in Genesis 16?
  • Or do they, in fact, have the best remembered form of biblical marriage: where a man marries a woman who must be subservient to him, is typically chosen for him, cannot have a different faith from him, and who before the wedding must prove her virginity or be stoned?

You might have an engaging conversation if you asked them which of those very biblical models they think is best.

But I suggest that the best way to draw on the Bible in our conversations around this Anti-Marriage Amendment is simply to say that throughout the Bible we hear the story of a God who loves us and who promises to be there for us, for always. And that this notion of the holiness of a loving commitment to be there for another person through thick and thin is what we know makes a marriage. It’s what we who are straight treasure about our marriages when they are healthy. And it’s what we who are straight ache for when our marriages fail.

The Bible also tells stories like that of Ruth. Her love for Naomi was ethnically and culturally odd and her marriage to Boaz was religiously dubious, but thanks to her odd love and dubious marriage she became the great-grandmother of King David.

In the New Testament Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is filled with drama, peopled with a hapless victim, ruthless villains, worthless bystanders, and a heroic Samaritan. Except that for the 500 years leading up to Jesus’ parable Samaritans have been the single most despised category of people in Jewish society. Like gay people who claim to be Christian, Samaritans were outcast because that they slept with the wrong type of people and therefore “couldn’t” be Jews. But in this parable the Samaritan becomes Jesus’ chosen image for the activity of God reigning as king.

While the Bible may not offer us a very useful model of biblical marriage in a direct sense, it is full of stories about a God who welcomes surprising people into God’s family. Stories about heroes and heroines whose praiseworthiness lies in their promised faithfulness to another person. And stories about the God who promises to love us and to be there for us, for always.

These stories of love and promise should shape and inspire the best of our marriages. And they do. And from them we know that marriage is not really about replicating a biblical model or about tracking a couple’s genitals. It’s about honoring and supporting the love between them and the promises they make to one another. And for that reason we should muster our gifts and energy to defeat this amendment that would make human prejudice the measure of marriage. And that’s how we might effectively draw on the Bible in these conversations.

11.05.2011

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6 thoughts on “Drawing on the Bible with the Proposed Anti-Marriage Amendment

  1. Wonderful insights, David! I’m not so studied int he bible myself, and it brings me hope and courage when I realize that there are bible-based ways to refute the ideas behind this amendment. Even though my personal reasons to oppose the amendment are not particularly bible-based, those are frequently the arguments used and it’s always hard for me to refute them.

    • What about in Leviticus where it says man shall not lie with another man and if so he shall be put to death?????? The bible is clear on this. So dont cover up the truth of what Jesus told Moses in Leviticus. That is the chapter that says marriage is between a man and a woman and not any other way. Why did God make man and woman and not man and man or woman and woman. People today tend to interpret the Bible like they think it should fit their particular situation. That was not the purpose of the Bible. The Bible is Gods word. So lets dont use Gods words to make it a convenience for your or our life styles that we live. David i commend you on your efforts especially you being a straight man, but you have to realize what other chapters in the Bible clearly state the words of GOD on this topic.

      • Samuel, I doubt that anything I say can convince you otherwise, but I will offer a quick response.
        (1) Most likely the verses in Leviticus that condemn a man lying with another man have to do EITHER with a victorious male soldier raping a vanquished male soldier on the battlefield — a practice common in ancient war OR with a male temple-goer having sex with a male prostitute after making a sacrifice in a pagan temple. The ancient Israelites were well aware of both practices and had reasons to condemn them.
        (2) To claim that these verses condemn the committed love between two men or two women today is to do exactly what you warn against: it is “to interpret the Bible like [you] think it should to fit [your] particular situation.” For years the Bible was used to support both racism and sexism, because people in power (white and male) could do so. Today, straight people still tend to read the Bible as condemning homosexuality … because they can.
        (3) God made people FOR LOVE. Period. Almost all of us are right-handed, but it isn’t sinful to be left-handed. Almost all of us are straight, but it isn’t sinful to be gay. We’re called by God to LOVE. Period. You’re right, the Bible isn’t meant to be convenient. It also isn’t meant to reinforce prejudice, but far too often that’s how it is “conveniently” used. It’s meant to call us to love. If straight people love, that’s great. If right-handed people love, that’s great. If left-handed people love, that’s great. And if gay people love, that’s great, too.
        (4) Some of Jesus harshest words are aimed at people who use the Bible to oppress others. In Matthew 12:7 he says to the Pharisees, “If you had known what this means, ‘I (God) desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” In Matthew 23, he condemns the Pharisees for “binding heavy burdens” on others that they don’t bear themselves, for making “the kingdom of heaven” impossible to reach because they “tithe mint and dill and cummin” (focus on the details) but “neglect justice and mercy.”
        (5) The story of God in the Bible is the story of a God who AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN loves people who seem inconvenient to our lifestyles, by which we would prefer everyone to be just like us. I don’t read the Bible for my convenience. I read it as a call to love everyone and to honor everyone who loves faithfully. That’s not particularly convenient for me. But it is what the Bible asks me to do.

  2. I don’t believe in persecution and agree with the message of love and acceptance that our Lord Jesus gives us. However he said that he didn’t come to do away with the laws of Moses but to add on to them. So here is a question, when the Bible condemn incest (which it clearly does) is it okay then for siblings to wake up one morning and decide its their natural given right to have a sexual relationship? I believe that God put some laws in place for a reason and its not for us to choose which we feel are fit to follow. If we are going to hold Christians accountable for their reactions as we see fit in the Bible then we as fellow Christians need to also see some facts as they are instead of each side trying to quote only verses that suite their/our message. We can only pray that we are accepted for who we are here and hope to achieve salvation in the life after.

    Jesus, whenever he referred to the institution of marriage it was always in the Husband and Wife tense, however you choose to quote it in submission or affection!

    • Sharone, I don’t know that any blog series of posts can resolve our disagreement. I really write to strengthen GLBTQ persons in their faith and to strengthen Allies in their conviction. I don’t write to debate. As a former college religion instructor I have the highest regard for education, and I hope my blog educates as well. But in all honesty the issues around interpreting the Bible are FAR more complicated than can be adequately discussed in online exchanges.

      I regard the Bible as a holy, sacred book, but for me its holiness RESIDES in the fact that it is written at the intersection of humans and God. Because of that, the Bible is marked BOTH by God’s pure longing for justice, mercy, and love … and ALSO by human limits and even, at times, by human prejudice. For me, this does not make the Bible less than sacred, but it does make it less than “perfect.” Anything I say presumes that the Bible is HOLY — but I bet I use that word very differently than you do. And unless we spent a long time just trying to understand what we each mean by “holy,” we’d talk right past each other.

      I believe — with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my being — that God does not want or need our “obedience.” God wants our love — and God wants it directed to those around us: including to those who are different from us. Morality is complicated and can be measured by many angles. One of the best measures is whether anyone (self or others) is being harmed by behavior. Committed, loving relationships between same-sex persons are not harmful to self or others. If you listen to the lives of those who live in them, these relationships are life-giving. They can be means of grace to those in them — just like straight marriages.

      We can — and must — do more than “pray we are accepted for who we are here.” I believe that God asks us TO ACCEPT OTHERS FOR WHO THEY ARE (so long as their actions are not causing harm). Life is not one big test to see if we can achieve salvation when we die. It is one grand adventure, in which the real accomplishment is to achieve compassion while we live. THAT is the beginning of salvation.

  3. Sharone I agree with you one hundred percent. God created man and then he took a rib and created woman. He did that for a reason to reproduce and multiply and also marriage is an institution between Man and woman not man and man or woman and woman. I respect gay people and their rights but I go to the bible and reference our Lord jesus as he referenced man and woman as Sharone stated in the reply above. One can argue all they want but in the end marriage should be with a man and woman.

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