Wendell Berry Speaks Out on Same Sex Marriage

Wendell Berry is one of the most beloved authors in America today. He also happens to be a Christian author. Thus, he particularly loved by the hipster evangelical set (think Q, Catalyst, and the like). We’ll see how long that last, now that he has followed Brian McLaren and clarified his views on gay marriage:

Wendell Berry

If it can be argued that homosexual marriage is not reproductive and is therefore unnatural and should be forbidden on that account, must we not argue that childless marriages are unnatural and should be annulled?

One may find the sexual practices of homosexuals to be unattractive or displeasing and therefore unnatural, but anything that can be done in that line by homosexuals can be done and is done by heterosexuals. Do we need a legal remedy for this? Would conservative Christians like a small government bureau to inspect, approve and certify their sexual behavior? Would they like a colorful tattoo verifying government approval on the rumps of lawfully copulating parties? We have the technology, after all, to monitor everybody’s sexual behavior, but so far as I can see so eager an interest in other people’s private intimacy is either prurient or totalitarian or both.

The oddest of the strategies to condemn and isolate homosexuals is to propose that homosexual marriage is opposed to and a threat to heterosexual marriage, as if the marriage market is about to be cornered and monopolized by homosexuals. If this is not industrial capitalist paranoia, it at least follows the pattern of industrial capitalist competitiveness. We must destroy the competition. If somebody else wants what you’ve got, from money to marriage, you must not hesitate to use the government – small of course – to keep them from getting it.

And they continue to speak out, one by one, Christian leaders in favor of marriage equality. Friends, we’re seeing a civil rights movement take place, in pixels, right before our eyes. He goes on with some even more pointed words, for gays and for Christians:

If I were one of a homosexual couple — the same as I am one of a heterosexual couple — I would place my faith and hope in the mercy of Christ, not in the judgment of Christians. When I consider the hostility of political churches to homosexuality and homosexual marriage, I do so remembering the history of Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others. And more of the same by Catholics against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics, Catholics against Catholics, Protestants against Protestants, as if by law requiring the love of God to be balanced by hatred of some neighbor for the sin of being unlike some divinely preferred us. If we are a Christian nation — as some say we are, using the adjective with conventional looseness — then this Christian blood thirst continues wherever we find an officially identifiable evil, and to the immense enrichment of our Christian industries of war.

Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking even the courage of a personal hatred. Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob. It makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob, a mob overflowing with righteousness – as at the crucifixion and before and since. This can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal to kindness: to heretics, foreigners, enemies or any other group different from ourselves.

Perhaps the most dangerous temptation to Christianity is to get itself officialized in some version by a government, following pretty exactly the pattern the chief priest and his crowd at the trial of Jesus. For want of a Pilate of their own, some Christians would accept a Constantine or whomever might be the current incarnation of Caesar.

  • http://shoopscope.blogspot.com Kevin

    “Friends, we’re seeing a civil rights movement take place, in pixels, right before our eyes.” I believe so too. There just seems to be so much momentum. It’s been an iterative movement: people speak up, which gives more people courage to come out, which changes hearts and minds of loved ones, which creates more allies to speak up…and the cycle continues. This comes from someone who only came out to family 2 years ago. It took a growing sense of acceptance and a growing sense of civic responsibility for me to finally do the deed.

  • Pax

    If it can be argued that homosexual marriage is not reproductive and is therefore unnatural and should be forbidden on that account, must we not argue that childless marriages are unnatural and should be annulled?

    Childless marriages between persons of the opposite sex still have the possibility of future biological children. Same-sex marriages do not.

    Same-sex marriage opponents argue that the state’s interest in regulating marriage is for the sake of children: to encourage in-tact biological families. If so, then yes, straight couples who plan to never have children can get through the loophole of us not being able to read their minds. It doesn’t follow that we must create new loopholes when there is no possibility of biological children.

    • Curtis

      Even when the opposite-sex couples are variably infertile? How can something be possible that is not medically possible?

      Besides, are you saying that families consisting of adopted children do not deserve state recognition?

      • Pax

        I’m not sure what you mean by variably infertile. I used to be infertile but now have children. It’s been quite variable! In most cases, I don’t think you can say how infertile someone is/will-be with any kind of certainty. If someone is missing sex organs or something, then yes, they might get by the state too. I don’t think it’s really practical to screen for it, but if people are insistent on it for the sake of consistency, then I wouldn’t oppose it.

        As for adoption, I think it’s definitely a good, but it’s a back-up. That doesn’t mean we can’t encourage biological families as the ideal.

        • Daniel English

          No amount of infertility or fertility should ever validate someone not being allowed the same legal rights as everyone else. Also studies have shown repeatedly that same-sex couples do make good parents and often time better parents. How many gay couples do you see disowning their adopted children for being straight? NONE! I think using the Bible to discriminate against innocent people is ignorant. The Bible is interpreted differently from generation to generation. Berry makes a fine point about how the Bible is used as a tool by fundamentalist to practice cruelty. And to deny someone the right to legally wed their partner is cruel. Discriminating against them in over 1000 laws is cruel. This argument being presented is nothing more than the same argument applied to racial minorities, women, and etc. It is an often an all heterosexual majority view of the world that is biased from the word “go”!

          • Pax

            I’m not sure who this comment is in response to. I haven’t said a word about the Bible, and what I said actually can’t be applied to discriminate based on race, sex(?), etc.

        • Curtis

          Sorry for the typo, I meant verifiably. Like women after hysterectomy, for example.

          Your view of adopted children as “back-up” families is quite saddening.

          Do you really believe that women after hysterectomy, and adults with adopted children, should be denied marriage? That is what you just said. I have never heard that argument before.

          • Rich

            Women who have had hysterectomies still have children sometimes. Men who have been “snipped” also do. It happens. What never happens is a woman has “sex” with another woman and one of them have a child from that action.

            • Curtis

              I can not believe I am even arguing this. But it turns out your understanding is quite common, just plain wrong. A 2011 survey done by the American Urogynecologic Society found that 13% of adult women in the U. S. “mistakenly thought that the uterus, which is removed during a hysterectomy, is not necessary to pregnancy. This suggests that some women may think they can have biological children after a hysterectomy, which is not possible.”

              It is not possible. I’m not even going to argue this point. Just do a little reading

              In addition, lesbian couples do, routinely, have a child through childbirth by using a sperm donor, just as millions of straight couples do every year.

              And finally, I am amazed by the cavalier and dismissive attitude I am hearing regarding families formed through adoption. I had always thought evangelical-types were big proponents of adoption, but now I see this is not the case.

              The only thing I can conclude is that evangelicals are opposed to any family that does not look like theirs, which is not pro-family at all.

    • Sven

      Can you point to a single example in American law, aside from examples explicitly intended to ban same-sex marriage, that says marriage exists to promote reproduction?
      If my wife and I choose to not bear children, is my marriage somehow inferior to yours?
      Are you unaware of the fact that same-sex couples can adopt and raise children? Are you ignorant of surrogate parenthood?
      Have you considered the fact that government’s interest in marriage extends to many things other than child-bearing?

      • Pax

        I don’t make value judgements about my relationships, yours, etc. Your last question is really what the marriage debate is all about. To the extent that marriage is for recognition of committed relationships among adults, there is no reason to exclude same-sex couples. But, I don’t think the state ought to be involved in marriage at all if that’s what it’s for. What good is there in discriminating against single people or the polyamorous just because they’re in a different kinds of relationships?

  • Michael Jordan

    “Friends, we’re seeing a civil rights movement take place, in pixels, right before our eyes.” This is your great hope, and I understand why this way of framing the issue is appealing to you. I’m curious how you square this way of framing the issue with the reality that, certainly globally and even in this country, it is largely people of color who believe gay marriage is wrong and largely white people who find it OK. Respectfully, it seems ironic to me that those most inclined to see this as a civil rights issue ignore the position of most people of color about it.

    • Curtis

      Do you have a source for your numbers? It seems problematic to define “people of color” on a global scale.

      If it were true that denying women the right to go to school and own property was a view held by most “people of color” in the world, do you think we should respect that position and allow women to be denied education and property, based on their gender, in the United States?

      We are talking about domestic policy, not global affairs. There is plenty of behavior that is tolerated, and even culturally normal, in different parts of the world, that is illegal in the United States. The fact that United States attempts to stand up for civil rights that are protected in our constitution, that may be unique to the U.S., does not mean that the U.S. is culturally intolerant.

      • Michael Jordan

        Curtis, witness the breakup of the Anglican communion largely along color/socioeconomic lines. If you truly think my presumption is baseless, I encourage you to visit Nigeria and share your “enlightened” perspective on sexuality and see what the folks there make of it.

        Of course I do not believe that we should work our whole idea of human rights around what other cultures think (I have said, even here on this blog, that I have no problem with governments recognizing gay relationships).

        What I am saying is it’s ironic that Tony and others breathlessly claim the civil rights mantle here. So doggedly determined to be on the right side of history this time, they end up marginalizing voices which are largely non-white. I don’t see how Wendell Berry–a SOUTHERN WHITE MAN, for heaven’s sake–doesn’t blush just a little when he accuses his (largely non-white) opponents of being cowardly, cold-hearted and hateful. One wonders who’s on the right side of history indeed.

        • Curtis

          While it is a very interesting question, we really don’t need to distract ourselves with international cultural differences when we are talking about domestic U. S. policy. I don’t think anyone would argue that we should consider Nigeria as a model for U.S. domestic policy, so I’m not sure why you bring it up in the debate about U.S. policy.

          The change in attitude about homosexuality in the United States is not happening only among whites. A 2009 national Pew Research survey found that 28% of blacks and 39% of Latinos supported gay marriage. By 2012, national exit polls indicated that those numbers have changed to 52% of both black and Latino voters saying they support gay marriage in their states.

          Sure, in many non-white communities, there is still overall opposition to gay marriage in the U.S. In every community in the U.S. , there is a clear trend in the direction that those numbers are moving.

          Advocates of gay rights are not arguing contrary to the trend of cultural norms in non-white communities. In the U.S., white and non-white communities are moving in the same direction on this question.

          • Michael Jordan

            again, fine points, Curtis. I get what direction the numbers are moving in America. I must have missed that point that Berry made that only American Christians who oppose gay marriage are hateful, cold-hearted, and “a religious mob.” I also get that according to your #s, only 48% of American blacks and Latinos are guilty of religious hatred, a fact which will no doubt cause the NAACP to come calling with an award anytime now.

            Remember, I am not talking about US policy here–you are. (I already agree with you about that, remember?) What I am talking about is the irony of Tony and others gushing about a “civil rights movement” and the “right side of history” when to a great extent globally, and to a lesser but still significant extent in the US, their opposition is disproportionately non-white. A white male from the US South ought to get better than just about anybody that he’s speaking from a position of privilege which no doubt shapes how he understands human flourishing. A white male from the US South ought to know better than to lecture a disproportionately non-white audience about what constitutes hateful violence.

  • Craig

    When I consider the hostility of political churches to homosexuality and homosexual marriage, I do so remembering the history of Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others. And more of the same….[T]his Christian blood thirst continues wherever we find an officially identifiable evil, and to the immense enrichment of our Christian industries of war.

    Right.


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