There have been quite a few letters to the editor in response my letter a few weeks ago, which was written to refute a letter titled “Homosexuals choose not to follow God’s word.” Now they’ve published my response to the responses:
Jesus taught us to love human beings
In the letter to the editor “The Bible is clear on marriage” (Sept. 2), Marcus Eugene Atkinson refers to the unchanging “principles” about marriage that he believes are in the Bible. Although this argument is frequently made, its tireless repetition does not make it any less false. For example, on Wednesday, Aug. 31, presidential candidate Rick Santorum appeared on Piers Morgan’s show on CNN and referred to “eternal truths” to justify a similar opposition to same-sex marriage. In contrast to Mr. Atkinson’s unchanging principles or Mr. Santorum’s eternal truths, a close reading of the Bible reveals a much more complex record on marriage.
Perhaps the easiest refutation of the position that the Bible has an unchanging position of promoting marriage as only between “one woman and one man” is the numerous examples of polygamy. To list only two examples, Exodus 21:10 says, “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.” Similarly, Deuteronomy 21:15-17 discusses the ethical dilemma that can happen, “If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other.”
The New Testament in many ways also opposes the so-called “traditional nuclear family,” which, a cursory survey of history can show, is far less “traditional” than is often admitted. Jesus’ teachings call us to look beyond our biological family and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus’ teachings likewise call us to look beyond our ideological tribes to see that God is often working through the unlikeliest of people. The surprise ending that the religious leaders of one’s own tribe would fail to help a stranger in need, but that the same person in need would be helped by a member of a hated nearby tribe is the point of “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37). This story could be profitably retold today as “The Parable of the Good Homosexual” or “The Parable of the Illegal Alien.”
Jesus was much more concerned with increasing our love for our fellow human beings regardless of gender, tribe or class and much less concerned about promoting the “traditional nuclear family.” Remember that Jesus never married and had no children. Jesus also said shocking things about biological families. Jesus once told a man to not attend his own father’s funeral: “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). Furthermore, Jesus says in Luke 14:26, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” These verses really are in the Bible, although they are often ignored. So much of the rhetoric surrounding sexuality in our culture is based on a highly selective reading of the New Testament, and is influenced much more by the 17th-century Puritans than the life of Jesus.
To reiterate, my point is not to be anti-family (full disclosure: I am happily married). Instead, my point is that the Bible is a large, complex book, and we should be suspect whenever anyone claims that the Bible has one clear position about almost anything, especially a subject as complicated as human sexuality. In contrast, myself and many other progressive Christians propose that we should read the Bible the way Jesus read his own Bible. Jesus looked at all the commandments in the Hebrew Bible, and chose to emphasize that the two greatest commandments are to “love God” and to “love neighbor” (Mark 12:29-31; Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 10:25-28; John 13:34; Romans 13:9). Compelling two consenting adults with same-sex attraction to a life of guilt-induced celibacy does not increase the love of God and neighbor. Church teachings that result in horrifying numbers of suicides among gay and lesbian teenagers do not increase the love of God and neighbor. I pray that one day all the well-meaning religious opponents of same-sex relationships will come to see that their fears and anxieties about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folk are unfounded, unnecessary and, perhaps most tragically, unChristian.
For those who are interested in exploring liberating ways of reading the Bible in the 21st century, I will be teaching a course titled, “How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now” at the Northeast Community Center in Chesapeake Beach on Tuesdays this fall at 6:30 p.m. The class is free, and I receive no financial payment for this work. Anyone is welcome to join the class at anytime. The class is an invitation to learn how to interpret the Bible, in all its complexity, for yourself.