Originally created 11/23/04

Biblical debate underlies the politics of gay marriage



Addressing head-on the hottest public issue shaped by the Bible, two-thirds of 21 million voters supported constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage, in 11 states ranging from freewheeling Oregon to straight-laced Utah. Eight of these measures also barred legalized civil unions.

Six states previously took similar stands and conservatives are now plotting campaigns in nine additional states.

In nationwide exit polling, 25 percent of voters backed gay marriage (but 77 percent of Kerry voters), 35 percent accepted civil unions and 37 percent (70 percent of Bush voters) opposed all legal recognition.

The traditional biblical belief was skewered just before Election Day by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who said "it's presumptuous of conservatives to assume that God is on their side."

Backing Kristof, the Web page of New York University's Center for Religion and Media said the "anti-gay position" held by most religious leaders is a "misinterpretation. Or more simply wrong," because they are "cherry picking select passages from scripture." (Presumably that includes Muslims who cite the Quran's condemnations.)

Then Pittsburgh Theological Seminary's Robert Gagnon, author of the conservative magnum opus "The Bible and Homosexual Practice," used his Web page to answer Kristof. Sample items from their colloquy:

-How can believers uphold the homosexual law (Leviticus 18:22) but ignore other Old Testament commands?

Kristof: "Homosexuality never made the Top 10" among biblical commandments, so it's as trivial as "wearing a polyester-and-cotton shirt" (Leviticus 19:19).

Gagnon: Kristof's "extraordinary lack of" sensitivity in Bible interpretation ignores that ritual fabric rules carried minor penalties, whereas Leviticus treats homosexual acts, adultery, incest and bestiality together as "first-tier sexual offenses."

-Was Leviticus limited?

Kristof: Some scholars say this law condemned only one practice, not all gay eroticism.

Gagnon: By that logic, the Bible allows "erotic kissing and fondling of one's mother."

-What did Jesus believe?

Kristof: "Jesus never said a word about gays" and anyway, conservatives are inconsistent because they ignore Jesus' teaching of "self-castration" (Matthew 19:12).

Gagnon: The first point is "historically preposterous." Silence doesn't equal approval. Jesus didn't address universally held Jewish beliefs unless he opposed them, and he advocated Old Testament morality and heterosexual monogamy. Matthew 19:12 isn't literal but refers to voluntary celibacy, as everyone knows.

-And Paul?

Kristof: "Do we really want to make Paul our lawgiver?" If so, women must wear veils and long hair (1 Corinthians 11:5-6).

Gagnon: Whatever those Corinthian worship rules meant, they weren't serious moral matters like incest or homosexual acts, which risk "possible exclusion from the kingdom of God," according to the Bible.

-What about lesbians?

Kristof: "The Bible has no unequivocal condemnation of lesbian sex" (he said the same in a previous column). Maybe Romans 1:26-27 opposed only relations during menstruation or female aggression.

Gagnon: Please. Read that text again, without preconceptions.

-What was Sodom's sin (Genesis 19:4-8)?

Kristof: The Bible criticizes Sodom's lack of hospitality, not homosexuality, and teaches that "the holy thing to do is offer up your virgin daughters" if a mob attacks.

Gagnon: Later Bible passages (Ezekiel 16:49-50, Jude 7, 2 Peter 2:6-10) and ancient Jewish and Christian interpreters indicate Sodom's misdeeds included homosexual acts. The Bible implicitly criticizes Lot for offering his daughters.

-Did the Old Testament approve gay sex elsewhere?

Kristof: It seems that David and Jonathan had a gay relationship (1 Samuel 18).

Gagnon: "No reputable biblical scholar" agrees, not even liberals. Kristof simply misunderstands non-erotic male friendships in ancient cultures.

Note: Kristof's article strangely ignored the important writings from Bible scholars who take his side, much less conservatives like Gagnon.

On the Net:

Kristof link, Gagnon response: http://www.robgagnon.net