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  • Taking Back the Bible
  • Mark I. Wallace (bio)

Same-sex relationships. Abortion. Contraception. All three are under attack by religious conservatives who say biblical teachings are on their side. Some faith-oriented Republicans think cultural warfare about social issues will doom their party to irrelevancy, but many values-based conservatives believe the soul of their party is at stake. For them it is crucial to battle social liberals in the public square lest the foundation of Western society, the traditional family, be undermined. And so religious conservatives’ ongoing denunciations of marriage equality, equation of abortion with murder, and opposition to contraception on religious liberty grounds continue apace. Groups such as the Family Research Council and the Faith and Freedom Coalition—inheritors of the Moral Majority mantle—soldier on to defend traditional ideals of marriage and family in a shifting cultural landscape.

During the recent presidential election, Billy Graham was one of the many spokes-people for this position. Arguing that “there are profound moral issues at stake” in the election, the Rev. Graham urged readers to “vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms. The Bible speaks clearly on these important issues.”

Unfortunately for the Rev. Graham and other conservative Christians, however, the Bible says little, if anything, about the politically charged issues he and his ilk champion, and what it does say runs counter to their right-wing assumptions.

The Question of Marriage

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An anti-abortion protester brandishes a cross at abortion rights advocates during a “March for Life” in Ontario, Canada. Why is this a common sight, when the Bible says nothing about abortion?

Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition says permitting same-sex marriage will “undermine the cultural good of the family unit.” Citing the Bible, he says marriage equality and family well-being are mutually exclusive. For Reed and others, the biblical ideal of marriage is exclusively monogamous and heterosexual, and any threat to this ideal destabilizes a cornerstone of civilized society. While right-wing Christians’ one-man-one-woman paradigm is an important scriptural value—this model is upheld by the story of creation, some of Jesus’s teachings, and the household rules for couples inspired by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament—the Bible also upholds the sanctity of polygamous relationships: the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and the great kings David and Solomon all had more than one wife. Moreover, Jesus and Paul, while valorizing monogamy at times, are also eager to champion celibacy, with Jesus highlighting the value of voluntary celibacy in the Gospel of Matthew, and Paul saying it is better to remain single than to marry in 1 Corinthians. Just as important, their lives spoke volumes on this issue: both Jesus and Paul were single, signaling, arguably, that this is the supreme ideal of the true believer. For Jesus and Paul, healthy living consists of freeing oneself of family entanglements and living the life of God’s obedient servant. The Bible, then, endorses three views of marriage—monogamy, multiple wives, and celibacy—assigning no preference to one model over and against any other.

My suspicion, however, is that conservatives’ defense of marriage is a stalking horse for a wider cultural argument about why homosexuality in general and marriage equality in particular are bad ideas. The Southern Baptist Convention and the Family Research Council’s public condemnation of the Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to admit gay members makes this corollary argument clear. Standing strong for conventional marriage means that one is anti-gay and, by implication, opposed to marriage and civil unions for gays and lesbians.

So what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Unfortunately for right-wing Christians, even as the Bible is open-ended about what sort of marriage is desirable (or even whether marriage itself is desirable), it is even more open to the question of same-sex relationships. This is the bottom line: the Bible contains no prohibitions against mutually affirming LGBT relations as practiced today. Scattered comments against same-sex relations in the context of...


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