Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Address the Meaning of "Marriage" First


For Christian theists concerned about the way the same-sex marriage discussion is going in America, I suggest there are now two debates going on: one legal, the other religious.

The Legal Issue

Regarding the legal matter, the real issue is about the definition of "marriage." Might we in America have a civil discourse about this? The truth or falsity of the statement We should allow for same-sex marriage rests heavily on the meaning of the term "marriage." Some of us, myself included, feel like our President is rushing forward to change the meaning of marriage, without discussion.

Please read the editorial in today's CNN by Robert George (prof. of jurisprudence at Harvard and Princeton), Sherif Gergis (Princeton and Yale), and Ryan T. Anderson - "Gay Marriage, then Group Marriage?"

They write:

"Of course, if marriage were simply about recognizing bonds of affection or romance, then two men or two women could form a marriage just as a man and woman can. But so could three or more in the increasingly common phenomenon of group ("polyamorous") partnerships. In that case, to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex or polyamorous ones would be unfair -- a denial of equality."

Please read this entire editorial. For a more complete version see their recent book What is Marriage? Man and Woman - a Defense

The Religious Issue

There is a second debate going on, this one within religions, and within Christianity. (Irreligous people [are there really any such?], of course, will be uninterested in this. It is over the statement: Does the biblical text condemn homosexual unions? I am certain that it does.

If someone says they are a "Christian," then I reason as follows.

1. We are obligated to follow God's will.
2. God's will is given to us in the Bible.
3. The Bible forbids homosexual behavior.
4. Therefore, homosexual behavior is against God's will, or is wrong.

On P1 (Premise 1): I find that virtually all Jesus-followers believe this is true.

On P2 - again, Jesus-followers have little problem with this. There may be discussion on the nature of biblical authority. That is another, and important, discussion.

Re. P3 - this is where the intra-Christian discussion lies.

If you want to go straight to the heart of this discussion I can suggest nothing better than Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, by Dan O. Via and Robert Gagnon. See, e.g., these reviews:

"Christians challenged by questions surrounding Scripture on same-sex relations will find an invaluable chart for navigating these confusing waters." -- Joel B. Green, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)

"Gagnon's brilliant condensation of his arguments should be a significant asset for clergy and laity, while Via opens new challenges." -- Catherine Clark Kroeger, Associate Professor of Classical and Ministry Studies, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)

"I know of no finer presentation of all the main issues." -- Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge (endorsement inside book)

"I know of no other work that so clearly illumines the biblical issues at the heart of the controversy." -- Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School (endorsement inside book)

"Presents a vigorous, illuminating debate about the implications of scripture for contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality. I strongly recommend this book." --James F. Childress, Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics, University of Virginia

Via is pro-gay marriage, Gagnon is against gay marriage. Both are New Testament scholars. But note this. Via agrees that one cannot interpret the biblical text as supportive of same-sex marriage. In spite of this he presents a loving principle that seems of God to him as a justification for allowing same-sex marriages today.For Gagon's even more complete biblical argument against textual support of same-sex marriage see his The Bible and Homosexuality: Texts and Interpretation. Of this book reviews include:

"...In its learnedness, [Gagnon's] book in the vanguard of its position and cannot be ignored...." -- Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki, and author of Homoeroticism in the Biblical World (From the Jacket Flap)

"...the fullest and best presentation of the conservative position....expressing the case same-sex intercourse sympathetically and convincingly." -- I. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, University of Aberdeen, Scotland (Blurb Inside Book)

"...the most thorough examination of the scriptural and theological...perspectives on same-sex relations....a tour de force." -- Marion L. Soards, Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (From Jacket Flap)

"Gagnon has offered a learned, judicious, and comprehensive examination of the biblical testimony....fair and compassionate...a major resource...." -- Brevard S. Childs, Sterling Professor of Divinity (Hebrew Bible), Emeritus, Yale Divinity School (From Inside Book)

"Gagnon's book is an extremely valuable contribution to the current debate....I recommend this book wholeheartedly." -- C. E. B. Cranfield, Professor of Theology (New Testament), Emeritus, University of Durham (From Inside Book)

"Gagnon's incisive logic, prudent judgment, and exhaustive research should make this book a dominant voice in the contemporary debate." -- Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P., Professor of New Testament, Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem (From the Back Cover)

"I believe that this volume will become a classic in the ongoing discussion of the church's...response to homosexuality." -- Duane F. Watson, Professor of New Testament, Malone College (From Inside Book)

"I know of no comparable study of the texts and interpretive debates that surround homosexual behavior." -- Max L. Stackhouse, Stephen Colwell Professor of Christian Ethics, Princeton Theological Seminary (From the Jacket Flap)

"No Christian concerned with homosexuality can afford to ignore this book." -- John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford (From the Back Cover)

"This is a brilliant, original, and highly important work,...indispensable even for those who disagree with the author." -- James Barr, Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University

I include these reviews for those to whom scholarship is important.

For those of us concerned that we are rushing over the cliff without discussion, I think the area we should be most concerned to address is the legal issue, and not the religious issue. This is because, overwhelmingly, we don't legislate biblical morality. For example, biblically, gossip and gluttony are sins. Engaged in, they mitigate against human flourishing.  Ironically, the secular media seems to feed off gossip while being anti-overfeeding in the campaign to wipe out obesity in America. But I don't think we should make a law against gossip, or a law against gluttony (in spite of New York Mayor Bloomberg's attempts to do so).

Address the meaning of "marriage." Focus on this now. Don't let the bandwagon effect divert you.

See also:

Responding to the Matter of Same-Sex Marriage: Part 1 - Intro and Bibilography