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Refutation of NEWSWEEK article on Gay Marriage and the Bible

December 23rd, 2008
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340x The tidal wave-like pressure on Christians to conform to the latest opinions of culture-shapers in our nation about gay marriage was on particularly dramatic display in an issue of NEWSWEEK magazine a few weeks ago when the news magazine decided to play at Bible interpretation and application. These articles do influence the thinking of our people and the only antidote is constant, careful, pastoral, faithful teaching and preaching. Here is one such very fine example prepared by Lutheran pastor, Jonathan L. Jenkins.

No Mutual Joy:
Response to Newsweek

by Pr. Jonathan L. Jenkins

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Lebanon, Penn.
Advent 2008

Even
many religious conservatives want to be persuaded that they can believe
in the Bible and support homosexual marriage. Lisa Miller (Newsweek,
Dec. 15) raises their hopes in her opening sentence: "Let's try for a
minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define
marriage as the Bible does." Religious conservatives would like to be
taken at their word, for a change.

But the writer does not try.
She says there isn't any biblical definition of marriage, and the very
idea is ridiculous. "Would any contemporary heterosexual married
couple… turn to the Bible as a how-to script? Of course not…"
Apparently Miller hasn't heard about the countless numbers of couples
around the world who benefit from doing exactly that!

"First,
while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and
family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one
woman." The writer never explicitly defines what she means by
"explicitly defines." However, the very first time the Bible speaks of
human beings, the command to marry and bear children is made
"explicitly." (Genesis 1:27-31): "So God created man (adam — in Hebrew)
in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female
he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful
and multiply, and fill the earth…'"

Humankind is not created
"male or female," nor does God first create them "male and female" only
to decide later on that the man and the woman could also marry and have
children. God creates marriage in the very act of creating humanity, in
Genesis 1.

Genesis 2 "explicitly defines" marriage as one man
and one woman — not with a "dictionary definition," but by relating a
story that draws a conclusion. The LORD God made the woman from the rib
of the man "and brought her to him" like the proud father of the bride
(Genesis 2:18-25). "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother,
and they become one flesh." "One flesh." One flesh in sexual union, one
flesh in babies, one flesh in family life — the one flesh that is human
history, from generation to generation. Even marriages that do not give
birth to children exist in accord with, rather than in opposition to,
this definition.

Another "defining" moment is Jesus' rejection
of divorce as a violation of God's original intention (Mark 10:6-9):
"But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.'
‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined
to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'" Jesus makes "one man
and one woman" a matter of principle: "So they are no longer two but
one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one
separate." A husband and wife need all the support they can get to
maintain a stable marriage in which to raise the next generation. To
depict gay relationships as comparable is to blur society's vision of
the common good.

Does Jesus ever speak against homosexuality?
"Yes" is the answer, despite repeated claims to the contrary. Jesus
himself proscribed homosexual practice when he condemned not only
"fornication" (porneia – in Greek) and "adultery" (moicheia – in
Greek), but also the licentiousness" (aselgeia – in Greek) that
elsewhere includes homosexual relations (see Mark 7:21-22 and 2 Peter
2:7).

Miller accuses religion of bigotry: "Religious objections
to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, but in custom and
tradition (and to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with
gay sex that transcends theological argument)." If so, Jesus is
included in the indictment, too. In his teaching on sex and marriage,
Jesus, the Jewish rabbi, never departs from the Scriptures of Israel.
The Gospels are consistent with the remainder of the New Testament, in
which some of Leviticus' laws are reaffirmed and reapplied to the new
life in Christ.

"No sensible person," asserts Miller, "wants
marriage — theirs or anyone else's — to look in its particulars
anything like what the Bible describes." On the contrary, the apostle
Paul's instruction to husbands in particular, that they "should love
their wives as they do their own bodies," has transformed marriages for
the better (Ephesians 5:28).

The writer's gratuitous insult
exposes the vast difference between the church's way of reading
Scripture and her own. A helpful term for her approach is
"historicize": she reads "history" in order to "relativize" its claim
on the present. Miller historicizes Genesis 2, for example, when she
quotes Dr. Segal: "If you believe that the Bible was written by men and
not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was
written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world." ‘That
was then, this is now' is how she reads the Bible.

Her approach
imposes severe restrictions on the ways in which Scripture informs its
hearers: "We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can
read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future."
Even a casual reader of the Bible quickly recognizes, however, that
"universal truths" are uncommon. The "universal truths" are tightly
woven into a particular story. Indeed, the "universal truths" are
specific promises and specific commands to a specific people, Israel.

Instead
of timeless wisdom that applies to every time and place, the church
reads Scripture for the narrative that now includes us among the people
of Israel's God. To us, ancient, as well as contemporary practices are
brought into focus through the lens of the whole story, from beginning
to end.

Writers like Miller historicize the Bible in order mute
its authority: "The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own,
it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours." "Rules"
are not the main subject of the Bible, as Miller ought to know, and
their "face value" depends on their location in the narrative. The
degree to which the ancient world is unlike our own must not be
underestimated — or overstated, either. Miller's helter-skelter
selection of examples is devoid of context and begs the question of
continuity and discontinuity.

From the first page of Scripture
to the last, marriage is the "gold standard" — the reality principle by
which all sexuality is evaluated. Biblical prohibitions against
fornication, incest, pedophilia, bestiality, adultery, lust, divorce,
and homosexuality are made from the standpoint of marriage. The fact
that monogamy did not become the norm in the Christian world in the 6th
century is no more to the point than the fact that Christians regularly
fall short of the norm. The "one man and one woman" norm must be
received anew in every generation, and in our generation is under
intense assault from several directions.

The most important
question to ask writers like Miller concerns Jesus. Is Jesus alive or
dead? The answer is decisive to the reading of Scripture. It is
difficult, if not impossible to receive "inspiration" from a rabbi who
has been dead for 2,000 years. But the church believes that Jesus is
alive and is coming to complete his Father's kingdom on earth as it
already is in heaven: therefore Scripture inspires us to know and to
live for the world's true and ultimate good. Is Jesus alive, or does
Miller historicize Easter, too? It's hard to tell what Miller believes,
in view of her remark about what Jesus "would" do "if Jesus were alive
today." The church believes the future belongs to Jesus: that makes
Scripture relevant, no matter how old it is.

Miller correctly
points out that Jesus "preaches a new kind of community, a caring
community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties."
So, too, she draws attention to the promise that in the resurrection
there is no need for marriage, because life will be eternal and death
will be no more (Matthew 22:30). But it is a spurious argument to
defend homosexuality on this basis.

Marriage is a living image
of the one-body-and-Spirit union of Christ and his bride, the church.
St. Paul explains, "‘For this reason a man will leave his father and
his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one
flesh.' This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the
church." Marriage prefigures the final consummation — "I saw the holy
city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven as a bride prepared for
her husband" (Revelation 21:2).

The strongest consideration is
one the writer never considers: human frailty. We live in a world
divided by sin and death, as well as circumstance. There might be
social value in civil unions — independent of gender — that would
extend practical benefits to unmarried friends who desire to form a
legal association. Domestic partnerships could grant rights having to
do with visitation, taxes, inheritance, and insurance benefits. Such
voluntary associations could be beneficial to groups of widows,
celibate clergy, or single persons in the absence of family —
relationships that do not depend on sexual desire. At least it is worth
some discussion. Domestic partnerships are friendships, not marriage
and would not endorse behavior that many Americans deem wrong. It's
true, as she says, Jesus "does not want people to be lonely and sad" —
but Jesus does not want people to sin, either.

All of us know
that this response to Newsweek will be dismissed as "homophobia," but
such dismissals are unpersuasive and have lost their power to
intimidate — as a majority of the citizens of California recently
demonstrated.

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  1. Chris
    December 23rd, 2008 at 12:38 | #1

    Bravo. Excellent criticism.

  2. TheRevRuss
    December 23rd, 2008 at 18:51 | #2

    Thanks so much for posting this response!

  3. Ed
    December 23rd, 2008 at 18:51 | #3

    Listing Lisa Miller as a “religion writer” is, at best, an oxymoron (emphasis on moron.) She, and Newsweek’s Editor, by the way, manage mostly to demonstrate their abysmal ignorance of Holy Scripture as well as their bigoted anti-Christian bias.
    Editor Jon Meacham’s in your face “Let the letters and emails come.” is delibratey insulting.
    So sad.

  4. December 24th, 2008 at 05:13 | #4

    This is a good response. However I’ve read a number of responses to the Newsweek article from a number of differing Denominational perspectives and I think however that most thorough rebuttal of the original article was by the Presbyterian Professor Dr. Robert A. J Gagnon at http://www.robgagnon.net/NewsweekMillerHomosexResp.htm .

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