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Newsweek's Defense of Gay Marriage

newsweek-on-gay-marriage.jpg
In a forthcoming article already online, "Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy," Newsweek religion writer Lisa Miller offers a biblical defense of same-sex unions.

Responses to this have come from Rob Bowman (Evangelical), Mollie Hemmingway (Lutheran), Carl Olson (Catholic), and Al Mohler (Southern Baptist). They are all very good, though Bowman's is the best of the lot. Here's an excerpt from his piece:

When Miller does give attention to the context in which biblical statements appear, her use of context is similarly selective and tendentious. In fairness, her argument here is not only unoriginal, it is ubiquitous (like the argument from Jesus’ silence) in polemics defending same-sex unions. It is the stock “Leviticus? You can’t be serious” argument:
Twice Leviticus refers to sex between men as “an abomination” (King James version), but these are throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world, a text that devotes verse after verse to treatments for leprosy, cleanliness rituals for menstruating women and the correct way to sacrifice a goat—or a lamb or a turtle dove. Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?

Well, then, while we’re tossing out Leviticus because it gives so much attention to matters of ritual, let’s be sure to toss out all of it. In the very chapters condemning homosexual acts (in 18:22 and 20:13), Leviticus also condemns incest (18:6-18; 20:11-12, 14, 17, 19-21), adultery (18:20; 20:10), child-sacrifice (18:21; 20:2-5), and bestiality (18:23; 20:15-16). The texts condemning homosexual acts are sandwiched immediately between texts condemning child-sacrifice and bestiality in chapter 18 (18:21-23) and between texts condemning different types of incest in chapter 20 (20:12-14).

In the intervening chapter, Leviticus contains what used to be its most famous injunction: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18), quoted by Jesus as the second of the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31, 33; cf. Luke 10:27). Leviticus 19 also commands the Israelites to respect their parents (19:3) and leave something in their fields for the poor to eat (19:9-10). They are not to steal, deceive, or lie to one another (19:11), oppress their neighbors (19:13), mistreat those with physical impairments (19:14), show partiality in judgment to the rich (19:15), spread slander or put other people’s lives in jeopardy (19:16), hate their brothers, or take revenge or bear grudges against others (19:17-18). The Israelites are not to degrade their daughters by making them prostitutes (19:29). They are to show honor to the elderly (19:32) and love foreigners like kin (19:33-34). They are to use honest weights and measures to avoid defrauding others (19:35-36).

You can read the rest of Bowman's piece here. Newsweek editor Jon Meacham defends Miller's terribly-reasoned piece, as Mollie Hemmingway's follow-up essay reports.

Comments (26)

Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices

When was the last time most of us sacrificed a goat, period?

Besides, haircuts are a red herring---the ritualistic, as opposed to the moral, Levitical laws are held inapplicable under the New Covenant at the Council of Jerusalem, are they not?

Paul, when you are reading Miller's article you are reading a postmodernist trying to read the Bible like a fundamentalist, and doing neither very well. It's like using "I Dream of Jeannie's" depiction of Baghdad in order to assess America's Iraq policy. She's pretending be an Indian in what she thinks is an "F Troop" world.

Jon Meacham should be embarrassed.

How many souls will end up in Hell as a result of the scandal of this Newsweek piece? Woe to Miller and Meacham.

Not surprisingly, I'm a little confused by the Bowman response. OK, Leviticus has lots of good things in it as well as things many of us don't like. But many of the good things are in the NT with many fewer of the bad or silly things. So why pay attention to Leviticus at all?

The texts condemning homosexual acts are sandwiched immediately between texts condemning child-sacrifice and bestiality in chapter 18 (18:21-23)

Well, we have tossed out the injunction against child sacrifice.

So why pay attention to Leviticus at all?

Yeah, I vote we kick that book (as well as others I would personally disagree on) right out of the Official Canon of the Old Scripture; besides, we do have precedence for such action, no?

Greetings, Bobcat.

We pay attention to Leviticus because Christ Himself did so. He was a man of the Torah, and we, his followers, are therefore obliged to take the law of Moses seriously. Christianity is, as its name indicates, properly Christo-centric. We measure our faith and our practice according to Him, and not according to our fallen and over-weaning sense of embarrassment.

"you are reading a postmodernist trying to read the Bible like a fundamentalist"

I think labeling the essay "postmodernist" gives it too much credit. Sloppy tendentiousness was around long before postmodernism.

Newsweek has cut back its paid subscription number guarantees to advertisers from 3.1 million to 2.6 million. Cover essays like Miller's will encourage those who haven't canceled yet to do so.

"B" average college undergrads by the thousands toss off essays like Miller's in an evening. To say that the article is an embarrassment to Newsweek is a gross understatement, and it would be even if it was buried deep in the inside of the issue. But it's the cover piece! This is nothing less than an intellectual white flag of surrender on the part of NW, and Meacham is the one running it up.

On the bright side, as Newsweek has been running a steady pro-gay marriage campaign ever since the disastrous (for the Left) November referendums on the question, one can only hope that this will be their coup de grace, and now they will just let the whole thing drop. One hopes, but I'm not sanguine. Will Newsweek insist on being the terribly drunk guy at the NYE party who, after sticking his his foot in his mouth, in order to remedy the disaster just keeps doing it again and again and again? Probably. Meacham, with his indefensible defense of Miller, has already got the ball rolling.

I read the Miller article this morning online, before seeing the W4 post, and I was in absolute derision. Lisa Miller needs to adopt a nom de plume after this fiasco. How does one let oneself out into public after a self-inflicted wound like that? I know. She probably lives in NYC.

Not surprisingly, I'm a little confused by the Bowman response. OK, Leviticus has lots of good things in it as well as things many of us don't like. But many of the good things are in the NT with many fewer of the bad or silly things. So why pay attention to Leviticus at all?
Um, because we don't base our acceptance of Scripture on what we "like" or "don't like"? Because we think that we should accept what God tells us to do instead of telling Him what to do?

What I'm a little confused by is your apparent assumption that Christians should be expected to behave as if they believe that Christianity is false, and that God hasn't communicated to them, and that therefore they may just rewrite Scripture to accommodate their momentary whims.

"What I'm a little confused by is your apparent assumption that Christians should be expected to behave as if they believe that Christianity is false, and that God hasn't communicated to them, and that therefore they may just rewrite Scripture to accommodate their momentary whims."

Because this is America and the customer's always right! :-)

Of course though there is nothing in the Gospels from the mouth of our Lord, Romans is just as inspired and authoritative as Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Liberals hate St. Paul, he's too clear for their fuzzy little heads.
St. Paul famously links homosexuality (and many other things of which our society is guilty) to idolatry a perfectly sensible thesis in our post-Christian society.

Romans 1 (Douay-Rheims / Channoler revision)
20 For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

21 Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God, or given thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. 23 And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things. 24 Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

26 For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. 27 And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error. 28 And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whisperers, 30 Detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy. 32 Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.

My question came off wrong. Here's what I mean: we Christians don't continue to refrain from wearing clothing made of two different materials (I forget the exact materials we aren't supposed to put together); that's one of several injunctions from Leviticus that we don't follow. Obviously, there are several injunctions we do follow. But why do we follow some and not others? Presumably, it has something to do with Christ, no? I mean, his sacrifice explains why we no longer need to sacrifice animals. Why is it that we no longer feel compelled to do the other things from Leviticus that we no longer do, especially given how seriously Jesus took Leviticus?

Usually, Bobcat, traditional Christian exegetes have argued that if a prohibition of the OT a) can be plausibly seen as ceremonial rather than moral and b) cannot be justified on the basis of a NT reiteration or principle, then it is at least up for consideration that it is non-binding on Christians. But obviously the prohibition against homosexuality doesn't meet either of these criteria.

Bobcat,

Another way to look at this issue is that Jesus invariably preferred moral behavior over religious prescription. He blasted the Pharisees for following the scriptures to the letter, but not finding Him. He healed on the Sabbath. He ministered to the untouchable. So where do we see any evidence of Christ affirming the moral propriety of heterosexuality?
Jesus was actually more strict on sexual behavior than Levitical law. In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus says:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

And Jesus on divorce? Matthew 5:31-32:
"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Jesus clearly recognized the covenantal relationship of marriage as essentially moral; in contrast to the Levitical rules on divorce, which are essentially religious. All scholars recognize that in the Jewish society of Jesus time covenantal marriage was ONLY understood as heterosexual. Heterosexual marriage is the only moral framework for sexual relations - all other sexual expression is a priori adultery (sexual relations outside of marriage), and therefore immoral.

Thanks for your answers, Lydia and BobK. One of the follow-ups I have is about this distinction, between ceremonial and moral prohibitions. First, where does the distinction come from? Was it itself enunciated in the Bible, or is it inferred from Jesus' words and behavior? BobK's response suggests that it's an inferred distinction. After all, he wrote that "Jesus invariably preferred moral behavior over religious prescription." This seems right, of course, but is that what the basis is for distinguishing between ceremonial and moral laws in the first place, or is this distinction just one of conceptual analysis? Second, once we've made the distinction, on what basis do we conclude that Christians don't have to follow ceremonial guidelines that were not themselves reiterated in the NT?

I'm actually going somewhere with this, by the way.

Bobcat,

I'd start by reading the Acts of the Apostles, especially Chapter 15 for your answer.

As a question to the group, what do you think of Wikipedia's entry on "The Council of Jerusalem":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Jerusalem?

I'm also curious what you think more generally about how Wikipedia handles the whole question of the historical accuracy of the Gospels? Based on a cursory reading, it seems like they over-emphasize skeptical scholars and in keeping with their policy of "neutrality", basically present all the evidence as "well scholar X says A, but scholar Y says B, so who really knows"? See for example section 3 of their entry on the Gospel of Mark:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mark

I realize this has nothing to do with the topic of this post, so maybe someone (Lydia) could deal with this at a later date with a separate post. Thanks.

Bobcat, I myself would not infer the ceremonial vs. moral distinction from Jesus' words but rather from Acts and many passages in the Pauline epistles. It's important to remember that the disciples _just at first_, even after Jesus' ascension, did not realize that a) the Gospel was to be preached to Gentiles and b) the Gentiles would then not simply be proselytes to Judaism but rather part of a new group, the Church.

There were precedents in the OT for proselytism of Gentiles to Judaism, but these "God-fearers" were then supposed to become full Jews and keep kosher, be circumcised, keep the Sabbath, etc. Jesus, while hinting at the extension of God's mercy to the Gentiles in several parables, never contravenes this requirement for Gentiles to become religiously and ceremonially Jewish and indeed never addresses the issue directly in any teaching. So it was natural that the Christians during the first months after his resurrection and ascension should have assumed that the old rules were still in place. This comes into question radically and dramatically in Acts 10, where Peter receives a vision ordering him to eat non-kosher food. It is then explained to him in this special revelation that he is to go into the house of a Gentile who has sent his messengers to ask for instruction in Christianity. (This is also questionable, at least, under the Jewish law, and definitely forbidden if he ate in the Gentile's house.) Peter goes, preaches, converts the centurion and his household, and witnesses signs (speaking in tongues) that convince him that the message of Jesus Christ is to go to the Gentiles. The vision itself implies that they are then allowed to remain Gentiles--e.g., that they need not keep kosher. The question of circumcision is a huge preoccupation of the early Church in Acts, and as Jeff says, it is resolved _against_ requiring the Gentile converts to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses generally in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Paul was especially "hot" against the Judaizers and writes again and again in his epistles against the requirement that Gentile believers be Judaic in their ceremonial behavior and especially against what he calls "those of the circumcision." See, e.g., Colossians 2, where he condemns those who try to pressure them to observe holy days. However, Paul also emphasizes the previous _moral_ darkness of his Gentile audience (sometimes even with a kind of Jewish superiority in his tone) and the need for them to repudiate all of that in the name of Jesus Christ. See, for example, Ephesians 2:11-17 and compare the express moral admonitions, including the emphasis on how they lived before, in Ephesians 5. See also, as has already been cited, Paul's express and unequivocal condemnation of homosexual intercourse in Romans 1.

Jeff, I would think Wikipedia is just at the mercy of whoever writes the articles. I can't say it surprises me that these have the slant that they do, especially since New Testament studies has been in a parlous state for some time.

where does the distinction come from?

The Ten Commandments? From which the ceremonial seems absent.

The book of Hebrews is also relevant. It declares at enormous length that Jesus' death supersedes the OT sacrificial system, a huge part of the ceremonial law, and that the latter was a forward-looking sign of the former. The immediate celebration of Sunday as the Christian holy day also had the probable, eventual consequence that the Saturday Sabbath would fall into disuse. It's easy enough for us Westerners to take off an entire two days each week but was probably harder back then. This is not a logical point but merely shows, along with all the other material about circumcision and Gentile believers (see above), that culturally there were many forces at work molding the Church into a community quite different from the Jewish nation and that this would almost certainly have the consequence of the eventual abandonment of much or all of the Jewish ceremonial system.

"The immediate celebration of Sunday as the Christian holy day also had the probable, eventual consequence that the Saturday Sabbath would fall into disuse."

However, Sunday as the Christian holy day is not in Scripture, though.

Wanna bet? All over the place: "On the first day of the week." They began meeting on that day immediately.

Did anybody see the August story ‘Gay’ Journalism Conference Panel Targets Religious Influence on Public Policy?

There, journalists basically advised not to report any principled opposition to homosexual politics and acts.

I quote a relevant part:
=======

David Waters, editor of the “On Faith” blog, which appears on The Washington Post and Newsweek Web sites, urged reporters “not to go” to established leaders like Robertson and Dobson, contrasting them to “real people”:

"I think, as journalists, our No. 1 obligation is obviously to the truth, and if we’re going to be about the truth then we have to fight and we have to fight for space and for time to tell the right story and to tell the real story, and I think the best way to go about that, at least I’ve found in my experience with my own reporting and with other reporters, is to take time and not go to the Pat Robertsons and the James Dobsons of the world but to find the real people who are really struggling with this issue."

=========================

Prominent people with objections aren't real, I guess.

Wanna bet? All over the place: "On the first day of the week." They began meeting on that day immediately.

I meant that rheorically, of course.

However, an SDA girl I used to date back in college would beg to differ; after all, 'Sunday' isn't specifically mentioned in scripture while all supposed reference to it is merely (mis)interpreted as being so.

Although, I am rather curious on what verses in Scripture you would take as being the case.

Thanks for your answers, everyone. I'll read the relevant NT books and will perhaps (if I have any other questions) get back to you.

Kevin:

Thanks for posting that. Very enlightening.

BTW, did you notice that it was between Dobson/Robertson and "ordinary people"? Apparently, scholars and experts who happen to hold positions similar to Dobson's or Robertson's do not exist. These "journalists" are so ignorant that they don't even know of the scholars that they should be including among those they are supposed to ignore.

Frank

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