When President Barack Obama voiced his support for gay marriage, it set off another lively debate, some of which was captured on our pages last week. Today, two Baptist ministers on opposite sides of the issue hold sway.
Tom Sabulis is today’s moderator. Commenting is open and follows the column by Bryant Wright of the Southern Baptist Convention.
By Randall C. Bailey
The basic understanding of marriage in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is one man with many women. Polygamy is the norm for marriage in both Testaments. The only ones to be limited to monogamy in the Bible are bishops and deacons, according to 1 Tim 3:2, 12. We in the church today have evolved from the biblical view of polygamy and embraced monogamy for all, not just for bishops and deacons.
Paul argues that men should not touch women, but if they cannot resist the sexual urge, they should get married. The only reason not to have sex in marriage is if one wants to pray. So, for Paul, the reason to marry is to have sex, which is totally libido and not spiritual. We have evolved from this view of marriage, recognizing that those who marry only for sex do not last long in such marriages.
The biblical understanding of adultery, in Deuteronomy 22 and Matthew 5, is when a woman married or engaged to man has intercourse with someone other than her husband or betrothed. Biblically, married men having sexual relations with unmarried or unengaged women other than their wives is not adultery. We have in this society evolved from that view of adultery and understand adultery as any married person who has sex outside of their monogamous marriage.
According to the Ten Commandments, one should not covet one’s neighbor’s wife, house, field, ox, donkeys or slaves “or anything else that belongs to one’s neighbor.” So, in marriage, women are the property of their husbands. In the Household Codes in Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter, wives are to submit to their husbands like slaves and children. Husbands are to love their wives, but they are the head of the family, so wives are also in this view property of their husbands. We today have evolved from this view to see wives as partners in marriage.
In the Bible there are several stories about “barren women.” The term barren wife comes from the biblical-cultural understanding that wives were incubators for male sperm. So, if no child resulted, it was the wife’s fault and thus we called them “barren.” There was no understanding of low sperm count then, so the women were blamed if the couple had no children. We have evolved to understand infertility differently from the biblical view.
In other words, in many respects we have evolved beyond biblical views of marriage.
No Christian clergy person would conduct a polygamous marriage today; nor would they tell a wife that husbands can be charged with adultery only if the other woman is married. No competent clergy person in pre-marital counseling who discovered the man was getting married only for sex would agree to participate in such a ceremony.
The problem today is that we have made the Bible in our image and have ignored the Bible in regard to marriage. The problem is also that we have been taught that we are in line with the Bible regarding marriage, when we have evolved away from the biblical views of heterosexual marriage.
Given the above argument, it’s time for us in the church to have an honest discussion around same-gender marriage. We already have broken with the biblical understanding of heterosexual marriage, so we cannot use the Bible as a weapon against same-gender marriage.
We have also broken with the Bible on slavery, the roles of women and on dietary laws. Now it is time for us in the church to have a spiritual and ethical discussion on whether we can deny God the right to join two members of the same gender together.
It is time to stop arguing that we should not support two people of the same gender who are in love with each other and put blockages to their expression of that love. It is time for us to evolve on this subject also.
Randall C. Bailey is the Andrew W. Mellon distinguished professor of Hebrew Bible at Interdenominational Theological Center and an ordained Baptist minister.
By Bryant Wright
When President Barack Obama came out for same-sex marriage last month, it was greeted with pure elation by gay rights advocates. It was just 43 years ago that homosexuals fought back against the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, in New York, marking the beginning of the gay rights movement.
With the ’60s sexual revolution ushering in a dramatic change in sexual values and the groundswell of changing public opinion on civil rights for African-Americans, gay rights advocates shrewdly and single-mindedly postured their movement as all about civil rights. Obama’s announcement represented a radical change in public opinion on sexual morality and marriage.
For traditionalists on marriage, it was disappointing. For Christians who seek to follow biblical morality, it was deeply disturbing. It represents another dramatic change in public values when it comes to sexual morality and marriage. Sexual promiscuity outside of marriage is now the accepted norm. Over 40 percent of all births in America are to unwed mothers. The percentages of cohabitating couples and marriages ending in divorce have skyrocketed. And now the move to legalize same-sex marriage is being embraced overwhelmingly by young adults 18 to 30 years old and by about half of the general public.
This raises some troubling questions. Is same-sex marriage really best for our children’s future when social scientists affirm it’s better for the child to grow up in the home with one dad and one mom?
Does it really make sense to believe that the majority in 30 of 50 states who voted to uphold traditional marriage are unenlightened for denying a so-called civil right to homosexuals?
Are African-American Christians who oppose same-sex marriage hypocritical because they see skin color as a different issue from basic biblical morality?
On April 1, 2000, the mayor of Amsterdam officiated at the first legal same-sex marriage in all of history. So now are we to assume that every previous culture has been wrong in not legalizing same-sex marriage?
In the name of justice, can we really redefine marriage to include same-sex couples and deny it to consenting adults who see bigamy, polygamy or incestuous marriage as a basic civil right?
A modern myth is that Jesus Christ never spoke about homosexual behavior or same-sex marriage. Sadly, that is a half-truth that is accepted as fact. When Jesus was asked if divorce should ever be allowed, he responded by speaking about the sacredness of marriage: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh’?”
With this response, can anyone really conclude that Jesus would be an advocate of same-sex marriage?
I know constitutional decisions won’t be based on the views of Jesus or any religion. But I ask all open-minded, thinking people to consider the questions raised and ask yourself, “Is redefining marriage really for the best?”
I think not.
Bryant Wright is senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta and president of the Southern Baptist Convention.