God Bless Newsweek

Newsweek has just published a cover story by religion editor Lisa Miller outlining the religious case for gay marriage.

The magazine's treatment of the issue begins with an Editor's Letter from Jon Meacham who, in previous writings, has described himself as a centerist Episcopalian. Meacham has written a book on the faith of the Founding Fathers and recently published a well-received biography of Andrew Jackson. He writes:

On the campus of Wheaton College in Illinois last Wednesday, in another of the seemingly endless announcements of splintering and schism in the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan and other leaders of the conservative forces of reaction to the ecclesiastical and cultural acceptance of homosexuality declared that their opposition to the ordination and the marriage of gays was irrevocably rooted in the Bible—which they regard as the "final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life."

No matter what one thinks about gay rights—for, against or somewhere in between —this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt—it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.

(Emphasis mine.)

Millers' story begins:

Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.

Some other choice bits:

[W]hile the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes.

If the bible doesn't give abundant examples of traditional marriage, then what are the gay-marriage opponents really exercised about? Well, homosexuality, of course—specifically sex between men. Sex between women has never, even in biblical times, raised as much ire. In its entry on "Homosexual Practices," the Anchor Bible Dictionary notes that nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women, "possibly because it did not result in true physical 'union' (by male entry)."
Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument).
(emphasis mine)
The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric. It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter). It provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites. A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.
if we are all God's children, made in his likeness and image, then to deny access to any sacrament based on sexuality is exactly the same thing as denying it based on skin color—and no serious (or even semiserious) person would argue that. People get married "for their mutual joy," explains the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center in New York, quoting the Episcopal marriage ceremony. That's what religious people do: care for each other in spite of difficulty, she adds. In marriage, couples grow closer to God: "Being with one another in community is how you love God. That's what marriage is about."

To read Bishop John Bryson Chane's defense of gay marriage, published in June, visit the Guardian's Web site.

And click on comments to read Deirdre Good's excellent contribution.

Comments (10)

Thank you, Jim, for posting this.

It's a significant next chapter in the story you've been gathering of the media treatment of our church's troubles, a next chapter and a very promising shift. Your critical work on material like Laurie Goodstein's NY Times story helps us notice important positive shifts of language in the Newsweek piece (like Newsweek editor Meacham's description of the solemnly mitred announcement of a new Anglican province as yet, "another of the seemingly endless announcements of splintering and schism in the Episcopal Church..." Meacham knows the difference between "a split" and a splintering and calls what they're doing "splintering and schism" as it is.

The prominence of this story, its tone and its timing are all very promising. There's Gospel potential in our conflict if we can get our church addressing the broadest public with real Good News. The mainstream story told well gives us the context to preach God's loving embracing of all.

There's another example of what I hope and pray will be a shift that brings a compassionate, humble religious voice into public discourse at www.funnyordie.com -


Jack Black, John C. Reilly or some other really good performers and writers have created 'Proposition 8, the Musical.' Almost 2,500,000 views of it would be good news, better yet is Jesus' cameo appearance preaching (speaking and singing) remarkably sharp, concise Gospel critique of bibliotry and calling on angry people to repent and practice love for neighbors. After Jesus exits, the pro-8 people shift perspective toward money they might make from gay marriages. So, I suppose the piece has got some real Gospel and a bit of critique of consumerism and economy as REALLY our most compelling force for social change. It's funny, but I don't think it obscures that the comic Jesus speaks in a voice we recognize as our pushy, forgiving, authority-challenging Lord. (Jack Black is obviously having a good time playing Jesus.)

As in the Newsweek piece, what I find heartening here is that the mass consumption voice given to the Gospel is finally recognizable.

Let's invite our secular friends to read the Newsweek article and view the funny- or-die video.

A little hint perhaps? God at work? Might we hope for a reign of compassionate justice?
Joyful Advent!


God bless Jon Meacham. His TV appearances are always enjoyable. For example his recent one with Jon Stewart:


Lisa Miller's article is both timely and useful. It is timely because it is written in the wake of Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in California and useful because it makes a case for same-sex marriage to a wider audience. It argues that one cannot look to the Bible to buttress arguments against same-sex marriage within the wider context of the Bible's lack of interest in marriage.

In addition to this biblical evidence, the history of marriage in Christian tradition is problematic. Marriage has been bound up with property rights and possession of one party, mostly women. Medieval Christian writers like Peter Lombard understood marriage as part of the fallen world of sexual temptation, inferior to the higher calling of spiritual contemplation. Marriage was thus an avoidance of sin that did not contribute to the practice of virtue. Aquinas thought that the sacrament of marriage on the other hand conferred grace on the parties involved since it belongs to the indissoluble union of Christ and the Church.

This complicated history has turned many away from entering into marriage relationships. But to me, Christian interpretations of the sacramental effects of marriage offer the most hope. More than mutual joy, marriage conveys spiritual benefits to the couple, to the witnessing congregation, to the church and to the wider community because the sacrament of marriage affirms mutual subordination to the wellbeing of another. It affirms humility and hospitality as aspects of committed love.

Now the biblical tradition has a great deal to say about love as self-giving within the framework of accountability. When Julian and I got married recently in Connecticut, we became publicly accountable for our relationship to the church that holds marriage to be a sacrament. To me it means responsibility to others and hospitality. The New Testament describes mutual accountability between marriage partners (I Cor 7:3); Calvin used this passage to argue that both parties have the right to divorce in cases of adultery, in contrast to much of Christian tradition which argued that only men have this right. Accountability transfers benefits to the community for Paul since members of the body of Christ are accountable to each other (Rom 12:4-5), "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another."

The parable of the tenants in the vineyard in Luke demonstrates a lack of accountability to God, the vineyard owner or to owners in general; in judgment scenes you get the principle of responsibility e.g. Matt. 12:36, "I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter" and 1Pet. 4:5, "But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead."

If we hold the bible to be authoritative, we are obliged to participate in a fuller public discussion of the sacramental benefits marriage conveys begun by Lisa Miller's article.

Er ... . Proposition H8 and the like are not about sacraments and to bring that matter into the discussion is to collude with the weird in muddling together several senses of "marriage." All that is currently at issue is whether the same clerk who records the deed to your house can also issue you a "marriage license." Whether some clergyperson can finalize that license or not is not open to a general vote (asssuming that the church is properly registered) but is another campaign -- within the organization itself. After the deed issue is settled.

Wow, Deirdre. You are doing such good work for is here. Thank you.


This topic makes matters clear. When "Marriage" is mentioned in the Bible, the meaning and the relationships it names are very different from the meanings and relationships named by the term today. Marriage is far from an unchanging, age-old institution.

Likewise, "homosexuality" is NOT mentioned in the Bible (the word wasn't coined until the late 19th century), but the same-sex actions referred to there are not the same as same-sex relationships today. Same-sex relationships today must be evaluated by how they work, and in the light of biological knowledge, not on passing references in writings from times that had no concept of evidence.

But the would-be literalists take their current (culturally based) notions of marriage and homosexuality and project them onto the scriptures. It's all in their heads (especially the distaste for their lurid visions of gay male sex).

Murdoch Matthew
husband of Garydasein

I see, We are soooo much smarter than our ancestors and soooo much more enlightened than they. How do we know that homosexual relationships were different today than they were then? Plato makes reference to men being physically attracted to other men.

Now that I know we are so much smarter than our ancestors, I suppose we can also do away with such outdated moral restrictions as greed (money today is not the same as money in antiquity). Since we do not use gold or silver in our currency/coins and, obviously, money was prized because of its precious metal content, we have an all together different basis for greed and Holy Scripture does not condemn the accumulation of financial instruments (such as stocks, bonds, and checking accounts) that define wealth today.

When we begin to be conformed to God's will rather than trying to confrom god's will to ours, then we will start on the path to wisdom.

Phil Snyder

To the commenter who argues that Prop 8 has nothing to do with sacraments...well, yes and no. Of course strictly speaking, Prop 8 and DOMAs are about legal rights. But the arguments in favor of such laws are almost always couched in biblical terms, and church and state with regards to marriage, in this country at least, are inextricably entwined. So it seems that we MUST bring in the sacraments and biblical texts and all our best understandings of such things as we work to ensure that marriage is actually protected--by ensuring its availability for loving and committed couples--same sex as well as opposite sex.

Yes, the weird do always bring up the religious side and that gives them the power they have (or a large part of it -- most other than the ick factor). So, to defang them, stick to saying things like, "Hey, if I can register the deed to my house, why can't I register the deed to my spouse?" (this one may not work in all jurisdictions -- apparently it does in mine, MO). That deed sense of marriage actually has all the protections one could want (well, one can always imagine a few more, but...) and only that does. Getting blessed by even a bishop doesn't amount to anything legally.

I agree with Kris Lewis that religion must be engaged in the battle for equal protection before the law for same-sex couples, that is, access to marriage. But at the same time religion is largely irrelevant because every person, regardless of their affiliation or nonaffiliation with a church, should have equal rights. This is the point I see John Clifford as emphasizing.

The religious debate can get very murky because it is not clear, even within the Book of Common Prayer, that marriage is a sacrament. It is a lesser sacrament. Quakers don't see it as a sacrament and Jews most certainly do not.

Fortunately, the State of New York, in its granting of 1324 protections to same-sex couples who married elsewhere, such as Murdoch and me, need not worry about such tribal matters.

A case could be made for religious freedom that the federal government and states make it harder for a liberal religion to treat all its couples equally within the religion language-game. A person's civil status is so important that it influences his or her treatment in other contexts, in even the most liberal religion. The exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage makes it harder for the Episcopal Church to the baptismal mandate to "respect the dignity of every human being." The case would be easier to make if the Episcopal Church went ahead and did religious marriage for same-sex couples rather than waiting for the states to give civil marriage.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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