Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Biblical Arguments Against Marriage Equality Don’t Hold Up

Biblical Arguments Against Marriage Equality Don’t Hold Up
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Those who invoke the bible to defend their heternormative and homophobic views need to understand that the bible can be understood in more complex ways than would make them comfortable. There are biblical heroes who form non-traditional families of choice, there are couples who have covenantal relationships outside the cultural definition of marriage, and there are plenty of examples of people practicing polygamy (but none as enthusiastically as “wise” Solomon with his 700 wives, 300 concubines, and a legendary one night stand with the Queen of Sheba!). What constitutes a relationship, a family, or even a life-long covenant in the Jewish and Christian scriptures is not as cut and dry as the opponents of marriage equality would like to believe.

What people who use the bible as a weapon to protect their privilege and marginalize others need to know about the bible is that rather than being a memo dictated by God, it is a collection of writings by many authors spanning three continents and more than a thousand years. It is a very complex and diverse collection of writings.

Other things people who would bash others with the bible should know include:

1.      The bible is not the bible in the bible.
The biblical canon was closed centuries after the life of Jesus. The church existed for generations before there was a Christian bible. And even still, the bible one accepts differs slightly depending on if one is Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Mormon, or Jewish. Whether there is one testament or there are two or three and how many books are in those testaments depends on which tradition within Christianity one embraces.

2.      The bible is a human document.
Some believe the bible is divinely inspired, others do not, but either way the actual writing was done by humans, the reading is done by humans (and readers make meaning), and how the words are used are determined by humans. With or without the notion of a divine presence nudging people to record their thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and desires, the obvious fact remains that the work of biblical writing, reading, interpreting, and application is the work of human-beings, and humans don’t always agree.

3.      There are no original texts.
The original documents, that is, the first pieces of paper (or papyrus) upon which the biblical authors wrote no longer exist. The oldest scriptural documents extant today are hand written copies of hand written copies (which leaves quite a bit of room for human error).

4.      Biblical ethics and knowledge don’t always withstand the test of time.
Biblical writers accepted slavery, child abuse, war, and the secondary status of women without question. Biblical writers assumed the earth was flat, never knew of the Americas, and had never heard of the law of gravity. Aerodynamics, quantum physics, and depth psychology were unknown to the ancient writers. The biblical writers didn’t know about the egg cell or chromosomes, and therefore didn’t even understand procreation the way we do today. Their creativity and genius should not be ignored, and yet, what they did not know was a lot. We learn more as time goes by; we are not limited to what people knew millennia ago.

5.      The biblical texts were not written in any modern language.
The biblical texts were written in ancient languages (sometimes without any punctuation), so translation issues must always be considered. Our bible is a translation of copies of copies of copies of texts handwritten in ancient languages in ancient, pre-scientific cultures. It’s still fascinating and beautiful and useful, but not if used as a weapon to defend bigotry and discrimination.  

I can’t think of any legitimate reason to deny equality to any member of our society; but when people use religion to deny that equality, I become particularly angry. Religion at its best should help people experience hope and joy, and believe in their sacred value. Religion at its best should celebrate love (not condemn it). Religion at its best should help people experience liberation rather than perpetuating oppression. I can’t think of any reason to deny equality to any member of society, but religion provides the weakest excuse of all for denying equality.  

Marriage equality one day will be the law of the land. I am one of those hoping that such a day comes very soon; but even before that day, my wish is that those who oppose equality would no longer do so in the name of religion.
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the Senior Minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Ft Lauderdale.
Sunshine Cathedral is a progressive and inclusive ministry affiliated with Metropolitan Community Churches and the International New Thought Alliance.

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