In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage this week, my husband and I have found it interesting that the justices on both sides used the Constitution to explain their votes. Much has been said about Anthony Kennedy’s eloquent opinion for the majority and about John Roberts’ first opinion read from the bench, both of which cite the Constitution to justify their stances.
That, of course, is their job as justices on the nation’s highest court—to interpret the laws in light of the Constitution.
Using the same text to come to different conclusions also holds true for religious leaders who have commented on the Supreme Court’s decision. Liberal theologians—such as Jesuit James Martin, Presbyterian Susan Andrews, and even Baptist Oliver Thomas—have pointed to the Bible in support of their views supporting gay marriage. However, they are not generally reported in the mainstream media, because political liberals who have the voice on this issue believe in the separation of church and state, so they rarely bring Christianity into their reasoning in public conversations about their views.
Because of this, the media seldom reports comments from Christians who not only support civil unions for gays and lesbians but believe they should have the legal right to enjoy the sacrament of marriage in a church that is willing to perform such a ceremony. But news outlets bombard us with comments from Christians who feel that the Supreme Court decision threatens not only our churches but our very souls. As a result of this imbalance, such Christians are seldom challenged by other Christians or forced to grapple with their beliefs on theological grounds.
To face such a challenge to their thinking would mean that Christians who rail against gay marriage would have to explain all the contradictions in our holy texts. Homosexuality is referred to directly only once in the New Testament, in I Corinthians 6:9—and even that reference depends on which translation one uses. Of the three most widely used translations, the King James version uses the phrase “the effeminate” in its list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, the New American Standard uses the term “homosexuals,” and the New Revised Standard uses the phrases “male prostitutes, sodomites.”
Regardless of the translation, though, this verse was written in a letter from the Apostle Paul that also says that women should be silent in church and should ask their husbands when they get home about any questions they have (I Cor. 14:34). It comes, too, in the same letter that gives that famous definition of love that is read at so many heterosexual wedding ceremonies (I Cor. 13). In this chapter, Paul says:
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (NRSV translation)
Paul readily admits that none of us humans may have it quite right, and yet Christians who cite his verse on homosexuality insist that, because it is in the Bible, homosexuality must be a sin. But that would mean that no woman should ever speak up in church. And while there are churches where women are not allowed to be ordained as ministers, elders, or deacons, there are few churches where women are told to shut up. In fact, if churches followed this verse, most evangelical churches would have few Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, most of whom are women.
What is even more troubling to me as a Christian is that the Christians who use the Bible in support of their views rarely point to the Christ from whom our faith takes its name. Why? Because not one of the four Gospels has any story of Jesus so much as hinting at the topic of homosexuality. These same Christians explain away many things in the Old Testament by saying that the New Testament—and Christ’s crucifixion—trump the Old Testament. These same Christians also cite the verses in that same Old Testament in support of their views against homosexuality, verses that are clustered among laws that permit stoning for all sorts of sins. It is impossible to explain away such contradictions.
Even if Christ had spoken out against homosexuality, to say that every word of the Bible should be taken literally out of context would mean that churches would not accept the marriages of anyone who has ever been divorced or perform marriages for divorced couples, since Christ did speak against divorce. How many churches refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for divorced people or adulterers?
What Christ did talk about—over and over again—was the hypocrisy of church leaders and their failure to take care of the poor and the suffering. To pull Paul’s one verse against homosexuality out of its historical context and to refuse to acknowledge all the contradictions in our holy stories and letters is exactly the kind of behavior that Christ condemned among the scribes and Pharisees.
I challenge my fellow Christians who are so fearful of a law legalizing gay marriage to explain to me how you would answer that question you ask so often, “What would Jesus do?”
I don’t think you can prove your point based on the Gospels any more than I can prove mine. But I think we can agree on this: Jesus is the best example we have for how to live our lives, and Jesus said that love is the greatest law.
And as Justice Kennedy wrote in granting the rite of marriage to all, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family…The Constitution grants them that right.”
To me, that seems the perfect marriage of Christianity and Constitution.