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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Don't be wedded to every tradition

RALEIGH -- Though state law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman, with the new Republican majority in the General Assembly, opponents of same-gender marriage are now energized and are clamoring for an additional amendment to the state constitution.
"The public knows the difference between perversity and diversity," says Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James. Such moral clarity, James piously proclaims elsewhere, comes from his reliance on the Bible. In a recent news story he went on to explain that the purpose of a constitutional ban is "also to put a big letter of shame on the behavior ..."
In truth the real shame is our ignorance. That we codify inequality is troubling enough but, as a Christian minister, there is a Biblical claim often made by my fundamentalist friends that must not go unchallenged. They claim the Bible teaches their view of "traditional marriage."
It does not.
As one who regularly officiates at weddings, I can assure you that one must choose carefully when citing scripture in this arena. There aren't that many options.
For most of us, the selected passages boil down to a few favorites: St. Paul's beautiful chapter on love (I Corinthians 13, though this is not specific to marital love), Jesus' attendance at a wedding early in his ministry (though we know little about this other than that he brought the wine!) and the poignant words of Ruth: "Whither thou goest I will go, and whither thou lodgest I will lodge" (words spoken, interestingly, by a woman to a woman in the text).
For the more adventurous of us The Song of Solomon might be employed, while those leaning to the right side of the perspective might incorporate the story of Adam and Eve, or Proverbs 31 ("Who can find a capable wife?") or I Timothy 3. ("A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife ..." Whether this passage refers to monogamy, divorce or male dominance in the relationship is a matter of dispute. Read it in several translations to see this.)
The truth of the matter is that the Bible is not a good source supporting monogamous and mutual marriage that our society and culture has evolved to embrace.
More systematically than considering a favorite passage here and there, Vaughn Roste, the son of two Canadian Lutheran pastors with a seminary degree of his own, has undertaken a comprehensive study of passages in the Bible, researching more than 800 Biblical references that deal with marriage. He distilled from that study what he refers to as "The 12 Biblical Principles of Marriage." In summary, in the Bible:
Marriage consists of one man and one or more women.
Nothing prevents a man from taking on concubines in addition to the wife or wives he may already have.
The concept of a woman giving her consent to being married is foreign to the biblical mindset.
If a woman cannot be proven to be a virgin at the time of marriage, she shall be stoned
For those who claim these are all Old Testament laws and that the New Testament supersedes them, consider in the New Testament that:
Women are allowed to marry the man of their father's choosing ... because women are the property of their father until married and their husband afterwards.
Interfaith marriages are prohibited.
If a man dies childless, his brother must marry the widow
Divorce is forbidden, and finally ...
It's better, according to St. Paul, to not get married at all.
The point is this, anyone can pick and choose a verse or phrase from the Bible which, taken alone and literally, will appear to support their argument. While people of the Judaic-Christian tradition may disagree on the propriety of same-gender marriage, can we at least agree to not misuse the Bible in the process?
Those of us who consider ourselves progressive Christians value the Bible too. It is a huge part of the spiritual witness leading us to understand that all people are God's people, that every child is holy and that every person is part of the sacred family. We believe that God's love embraces all, and that to exclude any person would be contrary to the message of Jesus - and we joyfully welcome committed same-gender couples among us just as fully as we do committed couples composed of men and women.

Rev. Douglas S. Long is minister at Umstead Park United Church of Christ.


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