Along with everyone else I have closely followed my facebook feed this Friday in the wake of the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality. Wanting to fully experience this historical moment, I’ve simultaneously watched cable news while reading how my facebook friends responded to today’s ruling.
While many celebrated the news I noticed one who posted a link to Christianity Today where a group of Christian conservatives had already penned a rebuttal, signing their names as if their gravitas among evangelicals and fundamentalists would somehow stem the tide of social momentum.
There is no doubt about it: the ruling in favor of marriage equality will be fodder for an increased backlash among this group of Christians who claims to be marginalized, trounced beneath the cultural wars as America stampedes into the abyss.
I find it interesting, however, that this alliance of Christians—pastors, university leaders, popular writers—speaks so dishonestly about the Bible. They say the Bible “clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman.” Arguing this truth is non-negotiable, the signers urge evangelicals to remain steadfast to this belief while resisting an accommodation to culture.
Those familiar with the Bible—people who know it doesn’t speak with one voice and in one time and place—realize the Bible makes no such claims. Abraham, the great patriarch himself, had multiple wives as did others including King David, the so-called man after God’s own heart.
Instead of deepening this cultural dividing line by establishing their “declaration” of rightness, wouldn’t it be more biblical—and thus more godly—if in lieu of making such simplistic claims, arming people for epic social wars, these leaders decided to take the Bible seriously? What if, for example, Christians sought to practice the simple concept of loving one’s neighbor? How might that decision change the conversation post SCOTUS?
In timely coincidence, I happen to be reading Is the Homosexual my Neighbor: A Positive Christian Response by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. First published in 1978, they cogently argued for Christians to not only understand homosexuality more fully, but also to be more biblically literate, especially with passages that have been used to malign and discount people who are homosexual. As I read what they wrote almost forty years ago, I’m struck by how little has changed at least among the most vocal evangelical leaders (although this is changing for most younger people).
I’ve been reminded, too, by Scanzoni and Mollenkott of the importance of historical context and how disregarding it enables people to misinterpret the Bible (usually to support an already formed perspective). For example, the often quoted narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah is used to condemn homosexuality even though one of the well-accepted approaches to biblical interpretation requires studying how the Bible explains or illumines itself. In this case, there is no mention of homosexuality as the sin condemning Sodom and Gomorrah, but rather their inhospitable actions: greed, pride, excess, lack of care for the poor. When Jesus speaks of Sodom, it is not homosexuality that he addressed but the lack of hospitality.
So, what would it look like for Christians concerned with biblical morality to respond to the SCOTUS decision differently?
It would begin with hospitality rather than arrogance and ignorance. Placing one’s morality or theology at the center of a response is a self-centered act. It is saying that one’s own position is more important than that of one’s neighbor. Such actions are never reflected in Jesus’ own life as recounted in the gospels. The good news was that he welcomed all people, not placing them in categories or treating them differently depending upon who they were. Jesus’ ethic illustrated that loving one’s neighbor was more important than fulfilling the religious law, that relationship trumped righteousness every time.
Instead of signing statements of beliefs and declarations of certainty, I would hope Christian leaders and people of faith would reach out in affirmations of love, making their own commitments to learn to practice hospitality, the true biblical message.