Beliefnet
Windows and Doors

This week’s Newsweek features a cover story about gay marriage – the biblical case against it and the possibility of a biblical case for it. The article is essential reading for anyone who cares about either gay marriage or the place of faith in contemporary American life.
The article’s author, Lisa Miller, invites us to see that all those who make a faith-based case against gay marriage have it completely wrong. That in fact, a better reading of both the Bible and the life of Jesus, so often invoked by those opposed to Miller, clearly supports gay marriage.
Amazingly, the real story for either side is never explored. Each side uses its own understanding of a sacred tradition to push along a political agenda with no regard for the possible wisdom or decency of those who oppose them.
They actually make the Bible very small, reducing it from a sacred text for all times to a public policy manual for a particular moment. That’s a funny way to demonstrate one’s faith in biblical teaching, which is what each side in this ongoing debate claim they rely on.
Precisely because I believe that scripture is the infinite gift of an infinite God, I believe that there are infinite ways to understand its words. So the short answer as to whether one can make a scriptural case for gay marriage is definitely. But the fact that one can make such a case does not mean that one should or that such a case is the only “proper” interpretation of the text. The same infinite text which makes the case for gay marriage can be used to argue against it.
The issue is never what the Bible says; it’s what the readers say it says. As one of my teachers said to me years ago, as he picked up a copy of the Hebrew Bible and held it to his ear: “This book isn’t saying anything, the decision about what it says is up to us.” Given allowances for dramatic overstatement, his observation stands. And both Lisa Miller and her apparent nemesis, Rev. Richard A. Hunter could learn from my old teacher.
Instead of cherry-picking scripture for the passages which simply affirm that which they already believe, each should begin by admitting that the case for the opposite conclusion could be persuasively made simply by choosing other verses. Each should admit that there is a world of difference between insisting on knowing what God thinks and making a good faith effort at acting in light of what one believes God asks of them.
Not to mention the tiresome habit, in this case adduced by Ms. Miller, but just as prevalent in the opposite camp, of first telling us that the Bible cannot be relied upon for teachings against homosexuality or gay marriage, only to follow with biblical proof texts in their favor. Is she kidding?


Actually, I think she is simply proving that she is very much like those whose views she most opposes. Like them, she wants a Bible that reflects her best understanding what it means to be good, loving, and kind.
Does Ms. Miller think that those who oppose gay marriage are any different? If she does, then she is as arrogant about her own kindness as they are when assuming that she “doesn’t care about what the scripture really says”. In fact, she cares so much about what scripture says that she works as hard to find a place for gay marriage within its teachings as they do to keep it out.
Once again we see how often, in the bitterest disputes, those engaged share more than they ever imagine. That’s true in families and its true in public policy as well. Each side would rather invoke sacred stories to beat up on the other, instead of asking how two groups interested in the relationship between Biblical teaching and public policy could bring their respective understandings to a national conversation without pouring gasoline on the fire of public debate. I suspect that is because, deep down neither group really cares as much about the Bible, as they do about the conclusion which they have reached on gay marriage and about having God on their side.
But both God and God’s word are bigger than that. Does that render the Bible useless in guiding our decisions about matters of social policy? No. It means that no interpretation should be invoked as God’s final word on any matter even when a decision must be reached within a given community. Jewish legal tradition has known that for millennia and could make a real contribution to the current debate.