?

Log in

No account? Create an account
[religion|politics] The Biblical definition of marriage - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2012-08-21 05:09
Subject: [religion|politics] The Biblical definition of marriage
Security: Public
Tags:gay, politics, religion
I was amused in thinking about something recently. The apparently now-faded Chick-fil-A kerfuffle hinged on a remark by company president and COO Dan Cathy about support for the Biblical definition of marriage. (What he actually said was "Biblical definition of the family unit", but this has generally been read by all sides as referring to marriage.) Everyone involved from any ideological perspective seems to understand Cathy's words as encoding for "one man, one woman".

The New Testament, and therefore the New Covenant has a lot of different things to say about marriage without being especially precise. including Jesus' very clear statement in Luke 18:29-30 that any man who leaves his wife and children behind for the sake of the Church shall be rewarded all the more in heaven. Sounds a lot like abandonment or divorce to me. The traditional one man, one woman form is quite clearly assumed or explicated in the various texts, but not inviolably so.

But since Christianist opposition to gay marriage hinges substantially on Leviticus 18:22, which is in the Old Testament, it seems to me that any effort to understand the Biblical definition of marriage should rest on the same foundations. This is simple fairness and intellectual consistency, after all. (With respect to the New Testament, Romans 1 26:28 is often cited, but if you read the whole passage and apply a little bit of context, it's a larger discussion of idolatry and turning away from God and a fairly long list of things which are disapproved of, including pride, boasting and backbiting. It's certainly not the explicit legalistic prohibition against homosexuality found in Leviticus.)

And Biblical marriage in the Old Testament is a messy, complicated thing.

In Genesis 11 through 25, Abraham rocked it with Sarah and Hagar. Definitely not one man, one woman. For bonus points, Sarah was his half-sister. Admittedly, he wasn't formally married to Hagar, but this three-way relationship was pretty clearly part of God's plan.

In Genesis 25 through 50, we learn about Jacob. He rocked it a lot harder with his cousins Rachel and Leah, and various servant girls, all of whom the Bible clearly states were given over to him in marriage.

In the story of David recounted in 1 Samuel and 1 Kings, the foreskins of the Philistines are named as a bride price for his wife Mical. Later on, David arranges the death of one of his generals so he can marry Bathsheba, the man's wife. Neither of these seems to an approved modern method of courtship. He ultimately winds up with eight wives.

In 1 Kings, Solomon is described as having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Definitely not one man, one woman.

In the book of Ruth, Ruth's relationship with Naomi is described using the same Hebrew words that describe Adam's relationship with Eve. Even through millennia of selective editing, this seems highly suggestive of a same sex relationship.

This doesn't even get into the issues around Lot's daughters, for example.

All of which to say, Biblical marriage is not clear cut. Since my Christianist friends place so much weight on the Old Testament condemnation of same sex relationships in defending traditional marriage, I think it's only fair that the place a similar weight on the Old Testament's highly colorful and varied definitions of marriage. One man, one woman isn't a simple ideal, and it certainly isn't God's law.

Doubtless there are detailed theological arguments that richly justify how one picks and chooses which Old Testament verses to defend to the death as inviolable holy writ, and which to blithely ignore. I'm just as certain that once you take even one step away from the moral absolutism of Biblical inerrancy, for example, by wearing mixed fabrics, you lose the right to call upon individual "clobber verses" as being the final arbiters of God's will with respect to whatever particular argument you wish to make.

Me, even as an atheist I'm a lot more in favor of the New Testament's messages of love and fairness and non-judgmental inclusion than I am in favor of carefully selected Old Testament prescriptivism. I'm pretty sure that's the whole point of the New Covenant. Which would seem to argue for a much broader Biblical definition of marriage than my Christianist friends insist upon. Or at the very least, a much kinder and more tolerant treatment of people of whom they do not approve.

Post A Comment | 11 Comments | Share | Link






handful_ofdust
User: handful_ofdust
Date: 2012-08-21 13:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'll point out, as an agnostic with a vague interest in a range of mythologies, that Lot's daughters decided to get their father drunk and sleep with him all on their own, and all God had to do with that was A) creating the original situation and B) not doing anything overt to stop them (unless you count "letting" Lot wake up). Otherwise, totally with you on the rest of these points.

(Oh, and I believe David's bromance with Jonathan is also another case of Ruth/Naomi-type coding, linguistically speaking, making David definitely the prime playa of the Old Testament.)
Reply | Thread | Link



handful_ofdust
User: handful_ofdust
Date: 2012-08-21 14:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And, yeah, I'll add this too: Most of this anecdata has less to do with "what God wants you to do" or "allows you to do" (Hagar and Sarah excepted) than with "what flawed human beings think they can get away with, and sometimes they can and sometimes they can't". See David again, particularly in the case of Bathsheba.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2012-08-21 14:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Growing up in the evangelical church in the 70s and 80s (just when the right wing takeover was beginning to take hold), I was aware, almost from the start, that there were different schools of thought in the evangelical church regarding the proper role of women. There were certain "gotcha" verses that the anti-feminists (complementarians) singled out, while the more egalitarian (such as my own parents) had other verses that supported their view.

I never got the same sense of controversy regarding the proper role of homosexuality in the church -- there were voices saying it was wicked and pulling out the gotcha verses, but no voices on the other side. Further, in those days anyway, even the complementarians weren't actively trying to LEGALLY restrict the role of women who weren't members of their church.

To me, the two issues seemed very analogous, especially in a Christian theological sense -- the people on the other side were maybe obeying the letter of the law, in a way, but not at all the spirit of the law. And I think Jesus was fairly explicit that, when the letter of the law and the spirit of the law seem to be in conflict, you should go with the spirit every time.

So, I was pro gay rights long before I left the church. But I am still not entirely sure why the conversation about gay rights was so distorted compared to the conversation about women's rights. It seems as if the religious right -- and even evangelicals who aren't particularly right-leaning in other areas -- simply cannot think about same-sex romance in the same terms they think about opposite-sex romance.

In their fevered imaginations, two dudes holding hands and stopping on the sidewalk to smooch is so perverted and hideous that it might as well be an orgy scene from Caligula involving farm animals. That's obvious from their rhetoric. But I really don't know where it comes from, unless it comes from suppressed homoerotic yearnings of their own.
Reply | Thread | Link



ericjamesstone
User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2012-08-21 14:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
> Or at the very least, a much kinder and more tolerant
> treatment of people of whom they do not approve.

Jay, I'll agree with you on that, and even go a little further: much kinder and more tolerant treatment of people of whose behavior they do not approve. In other words, Christians should not be disapproving of people, but merely of sinful behavior.

If you look closely at the example of non-judgmental inclusion that you link to, you'll see that while Jesus did not condemn the woman, he did tell her to stop engaging in sin.

I'm sure you're familiar with the cliche "Love the sinner, hate the sin." I'm afraid too many Christians (and I include myself in this) have spent far more time and energy on hating the sin than on loving the sinner, when I think the focus is really supposed to be the other way around.
Reply | Thread | Link



daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2012-08-21 16:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Re: the John 7:53 passage (woman taken in adultery): One of the things I constantly have to remind myself about is, *first* Jesus saves her life, *then* he tells her to sin no more. I think the church should be a lot better at saving lives. Then maybe people would see us as coming from a trustworthy place when we offer to lend a with people's brokennesses.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



ericjamesstone
User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2012-08-21 17:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good insight.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-08-21 18:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Gay people do not feel better when you say "love the sinner, hate the sin." It doesn't make their lives any better. It doesn't make them feel any more accepted. In the end, they are still getting hated on for something they can't control.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-08-21 15:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The Gospel of Thomas has a lot more of 'hippy' stuff on the message of peace and light as it's mostly assembled 'quotes' from Jesus. It doesn't fit with other stuff so it was dropped when they settled the Cannon.
Reply | Thread | Link



Deborah J. Ross
User: deborahjross
Date: 2012-08-21 15:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jews have spent a couple of millennia debating, discussing, teasing apart, analyzing, meditating on, elaborating upon and in general becoming authorities on every nuance and implication of, those texts. In, I might add, the original languages, not translations. So if two of the three major branches of Judaism conclude it is not only acceptable but a religious obligation to welcome and bless the union of same-sex couples, who are these johnny-come-latelies to say otherwise?
Reply | Thread | Link



cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-08-21 18:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Naomi was pretty clearly Ruth's mother-in-law, so I'm not getting how that could be construed as a same-sex relationship. Part of the whole point of the story, too, is Ruth's marriage to Boaz to become one of David's ancestors.

Overall, I agree with your points.
Reply | Thread | Link



Rowan aka: The Seticat: cat - puzzeled - copperbadge
User: seticat
Date: 2012-08-23 05:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:cat - puzzeled - copperbadge
In 1 Kings, Solomon is described as having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Definitely not one man, one woman.

The veritable King of One Night Stands.....
Reply | Thread | Link



browse
my journal
links
January 2014
2012 appearances