Taking Back the Bible

Priest Marries Two Gay Men

Two men exchange legally unrecognized wedding vows at the Episcopal Church of the Atonement in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. “The Bible contains no prohibitions against mutually affirming LGBT relations as practiced today,” Wallace writes. Credit: AP Photo/Mitch Jacobson.

Same-sex relationships. Abortion. Contraception. All three are under attack by religious conservatives who say biblical teachings are on their side. Some faith-oriented Republicans think cultural warfare about social issues will doom their party to irrelevancy, but many values-based conservatives believe the soul of their party is at stake. For them it is crucial to battle social liberals in the public square lest the foundation of Western society, the traditional family, be undermined. And so religious conservatives’ ongoing denunciations of marriage equality, equation of abortion with murder, and opposition to contraception on religious liberty grounds continue apace. Groups such as the Family Research Council and the Faith and Freedom Coalition—inheritors of the Moral Majority mantle—soldier on to defend traditional ideals of marriage and family in a shifting cultural landscape.

During the recent presidential election, Billy Graham was one of the many spokespeople for this position. Arguing that “there are profound moral issues at stake” in the election, the Rev. Graham urged readers to “vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms. The Bible speaks clearly on these important issues.”

Unfortunately for the Rev. Graham and other conservative Christians, however, the Bible says little, if anything, about the politically charged issues he and his ilk champion, and what it does say runs counter to their right-wing assumptions.

The Question of Marriage

Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition says permitting same-sex marriage will “undermine the cultural good of the family unit.” Citing the Bible, he says marriage equality and family well-being are mutually exclusive. For Reed and others, the biblical ideal of marriage is exclusively monogamous and heterosexual, and any threat to this ideal destabilizes a cornerstone of civilized society. While right-wing Christians’ one-man-one-woman paradigm is an important scriptural value—this model is upheld by the story of creation, some of Jesus’s teachings, and the household rules for couples inspired by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament—the Bible also upholds the sanctity of polygamous relationships: the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac, and the great kings David and Solomon all had more than one wife. Moreover, Jesus and Paul, while valorizing monogamy at times, are also eager to champion celibacy, with Jesus highlighting the value of voluntary celibacy in the Gospel of Matthew, and Paul saying it is better to remain single than to marry in 1 Corinthians. Just as important, their lives spoke volumes on this issue: both Jesus and Paul were single, signaling, arguably, that this is the supreme ideal of the true believer. For Jesus and Paul, healthy living consists of freeing oneself of family entanglements and living the life of God’s obedient servant. The Bible, then, endorses three views of marriage—monogamy, multiple wives, and celibacy—assigning no preference to one model over and against any other.

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Mark I. Wallace is a professor of religion at Swarthmore College.
 

Source Citation

Wallace, Mark I. Taking Back the Bible. Tikkun 28(4): 13.

tags: Christianity, Rethinking Religion, Spiritual Progressive Analysis, US Politics   
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6 Responses to Taking Back the Bible

  1. Raymond Barglow November 4, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Mark, thank your for an insightful article. The alleged Biblical foundations for right-wing views about gay marriage, contraception, etc. are shaky indeed!

    I do have a question, though. It seems to me that you ARE affirming that abortion is anti-Christian and anti-Biblical. Your objection to the anti-abortion movement is only that they are being inconsistent, since their defense of human life singles out abortion and omits, for example, “slow death … from poverty, hunger, homelessness, and lack of access to education and health care.” So you are saying that the Bible DOES oppose abortion, and for a reason — “the sanctity of life” — that you endorse. Or do I misunderstand?

    It seems to me that a better way to view this matter is to distinguish bare “human life” from personhood. Every hair on your or my head is literally alive. And that life is human, since we are human beings. Does that rule out haircuts? It does not, since a strand of human hair is not a person.

    In fact, every living diploid human cell is human life and has a full genetic complement from which a human being might, in principle, be developed. So again, that would appear to make every such human cell sacred.

    Thanks in advance for your response.

  2. Michigander57 November 18, 2013 at 10:00 am

    The problem I see here is trying to equate all Christian teachings with only Biblical teachings. This is, indeed, a problem for teachers such as Billy Graham who believe that the Bible alone is sufficient for the conduct of a Christian life. The Catholic has more to rely on. We have both the Bible, the New Testament of which was written by Catholics for use in the Catholic Mass, and we also have Sacred Tradition, those teachings which have been handed down since the time of the Apostles and Early Church.

    Regarding homosexual activity, St. Paul deals with these in the Letter to the Romans, although it would be disingenuous to expect him to use modern terminology.

    Romans 1: 26-27 RSV 2d CE, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men…”

    Regarding the definition of marriage, the Bible only gives one definition of marriage and it is in the Creation story of Genesis. It is there that God reveals His own definition of marriage and Jesus reaffirms the permanence of marriage in the Gospels.

    Regarding birth control, it is true that Onan may be the only concrete example in the Bible but the very definition of man and woman as being, “created in the image and likeness of God,” connotes them as creative. The God’s Nature is to create and it is also Love itself. God the Father and God the Son live in such love that their love for one another creates the third Person of the Trinity. This is not lost on the Christian Church. T

    he woman and man are meant to procreate with God, to “fill the Earth and subdue it,” to make a living image of their love. To put an artificial barrier such as contraception between their fertility is to put a barrier between the full donation, the 100% gift of themselves to each other in marriage. This is the Catholic understanding marriage taken from the Bible as a whole and not reduced to one part or another.

    Wallace writes: “Christians should support policies designed to save mother earth’s climate system from the ravages of fossil fuel burning that causes global warming, stop the mad rush to war to solve conflicts with international neighbors, push legislation that bans assault weapons and handgun sales in order to break the cycle of violence, promote incarceration reform, outlaw capital punishment, and strengthen the social safety net.
    The Bible calls Christians to stop the slow death of millions of Americans (including children) from poverty, hunger, homelessness, and lack of access to education and health care. The implementation of all of these life-affirming policies would, in turn, lower the rate of abortions. These five political issues — climate change, war, gun control, detention reform, and the social safety net…”

    The Catholic bishops mostly support these issues, but it should also be stated that the Bible doesn’t mention global warming, gun control, or a social safety net. It speaks of charity and Jesus specifically says that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick or the prisoner, and welcome the stranger we are doing these things to Him. He says that ultimately we will be judged on doing these things. He is not speaking of our governments doing these things, either. He is speaking to each one of us.Whatever we do to the least of our brethren, we do to Jesus.

    Is there anyone who is less than, smaller than, the unborn child? Anyone more innocent of wrongdoing? It is clear to everyone that there is not, although the unborn child may be very inconvenient indeed. The Bible doesn’t address abortion directly except in the 10 Commandments as murder. The early writings of the Church address it specifically. The Didache of the Apostles, a document written somewhere between AD 65-80 by an unknown companion of the Apostles states, “…you shall not murder a child by abortion or kill that which is begotten…” As the Church spread out of Palestine into Hellenized areas where abortion and infanticide were common practices the Apostles needed to make clear that Christians were not to do these things.

    It is only for Christians who appeal to sola scriptura that moral teachings handed down from ancient Judaism and the Early Church become moral messes. There are documents dating from very early ages that deal with many of these issues. It must be stated, however, that moral writings often do not state the obvious. It was only when things became an issue, like homosexual activity for Roman Christians among Roman pagans who practiced it and abortion among other pagan cultures that it was necessary to write things down. Many teachings were handed down orally.

    As St. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “Therefore, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions that we have taught you whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

  3. Nikita November 20, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Hi Yenifer,Thank you so much for your interest. You can very ealsiy be involved in any of our activities just come. You can come to our church services on Sunday. We now have two services or meetings one at 9:30am and the other at 11:30am. You can attend Our Wednesday night service at 7pm. We simply teach through the Bible in our church services and Worship God in song. Of course it is all in English. You can also attend our English conversation clubs that meet on Wednesday mornings at 10:30 till noon and on Friday 2:30 till 4:30. You also might be interested in out Coffee Shop Nights. They are a time to come hang out, meet new people, and practice your English. We have music in English, table games, and conversation questions. We have these events on the last Friday night of each month. All of this is free and there is no need to sign up just come.I look forward to meeting you soon.

  4. Rehmat January 12, 2014 at 3:57 am

    I’m afraid it’s Mr. Wallace, who needs to study the Bible without his personal interests. Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby have condemned same sex marriages, but they’re not “religious conservatives”. Both have been praised by the organized Jewry, being “Liberal”.

    Bible do condemn homosexuality – as Qur’an does. Both Scriptures consider it “un-natural” act. However, all three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) allows abortion under certain “genuine” health conditions.

    I bet Billy Graham knows that some “biblical experts” have called his Lord Christ and the St. Paul, the founder of modern Christianity – homosexual, as both never got married.

    http://rehmat1.com/2013/06/09/archbishop-of-canterbury-insulted-over-gay-marriage/

  5. mwallac1 January 13, 2014 at 5:20 am

    I am grateful for the responses I’ve received here. Let me make a couple of comments.

    First, I do not equate Christianity and the Bible. In my essay, I focused on the Bible as a foundation of sexual morality because Christian conservatives claim the Bible to be their sole arbiter in all matters of faith and practice. The Bible is not my sole source for moral decision-making, nor, as I argue, is it the only authority for the ultra-orthodox. But the Bible-only theology is the putative starting point for many religious traditionalists, so I sought to re-claim this ground and argue against right-wing opinion – so the title of the piece, Taking Back the Bible.

    Second, regarding abortion, since the scriptures say nothing about abortion, a Christian should rely on broad-based biblical values, church tradition, and one’s innermost moral convictions in order to make a thoughtful decision about whether abortion is right or wrong, and under what circumstances. To that end, what I find most central to such a decision is the biblical-historic idea that all things are sacred. In the light of the goodness and sanctity of life, decisions about terminating a pregnancy should account for the following factors: the physical and emotional health of the pregnant girl or woman in question, the impact of such a decision on the expectant’s immediate circle of family and friends, and the well-being of the fetus. I do not think an abortion in principle, then, is either pro- or anti-Christian. Rather, it is a decision the pregnant girl or woman herself must make, in relation to the above factors, insofar as, to the best of her ability, she seeks to preserve the vitality and sanctity of all life, including her own.

  6. Theophilus March 19, 2014 at 11:52 am

    As a conservative I have to admit that relatively speaking, our culture is much more anti-polygamy than the Bible is. David, after all, a man after God’s own heart, was a polygamist. In the New Testament polygamy is clearly not ideal, inasmuch as having more than one wife disqualifies a man from being an elder in the Church, but it is never portrayed as a perversion.

    A WSJ columnist assured his readers that they needn’t fear a slippery slope from gay marriage to polygamy. But in my view that is like assuring someone that becoming a heroin user won’t lead to marijuana addiction.

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