Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Still haven't found what I am looking for

I am open to a good biblical and theological argument in support of the blessing of same sex partnerships, and in support of naming such partnerships as 'marriages'. I have yet to find such an argument. I certainly do not find it in the cover story of Newsweek this week where Lisa Miller proffers a religious argument in favour of gay marriage - the background story being the recent decision of the people of California to reject a decision of the judiciary of California to legalise gay marriage. (I appreciate, by the way, the wisdom of our NZ parliament a few years ago when legislating for gay and lesbian partnerships: it provided for 'civil unions' and distinguished these from 'marriages')

I mention this in part because I find Lisa Miller's method of argument quite unpersuasive. She parodies the Bible on marriage, mocking its ability to prescribe for 'modern' marriage by citing the usual suspects of polygamy, wives treated as submissive chattels, and Pauline reluctance to endorse marriage save as a remedy for lust. Of Jesus at the wedding at Cana, the high view of marriage in association with Christ's relationship to the church in Ephesians 5, and the high view of marriage in Jesus' teaching against divorce you will not find a mention in Miller's apparition of an argument. If Lisa Miller (and Newsweek) wishes to persuade the conservative Christian community to think again on homosexuality then a better starting point would be respect for the Bible on marriage rather than mocking it. As it is her argument is effectively a chorus line for the already converted.

In another part of the article Miller takes a tack which I also find unpersuasive, notwithstanding the fact that it is almost endlessly replicated by those attacking the Bible on homosexuality: an attempt is made to undermine the significance of the key Levitical text (18:22) by contrasting it with various other Levitical prohibitions which today look weird and wacky. What Miller and many others do not do is to consider carefully the distinction the church has made ever since Jesus between 'moral' and 'ceremonial' and 'civil' laws in Leviticus, which helps locate Leviticus 18:22 among the 'moral' laws and constrain appropriate comparison to other moral laws, rather than to seemingly weird and wacky, or just plain redundant prescriptions around ceremonial or civil matters. Nor does the tack she takes consider Leviticus 18:22 in the important context of Leviticus 18 itself - a chapter with a list of rules regarding sexual behaviour most if not all of which are honoured to this day in nearly all, indeed if not all societies around the world. (For those with a Bible not handy the rules include prohibition of incest and bestiality - generally illegal, and of adultery - generally not illegal but still regarded as immoral).*

I am open to the possibility that Leviticus 18:22 is accepted by the church as no longer applicable to society today. But the arguments which will persuade me (let alone the whole of the universal church) will need to be of a different calibre to what Miller offers.

*I make this observation not to imply that a loving sexual act between two consenting adults is directly comparable to bestiality (to ward off an obvious protest which might be made about my post) but simply to make the point that Leviticus 18 offers a comprehensive ethic for human sexuality which has relevance to modern society in a manner unsurprising to those who have actually read the whole of the chapter but surprising to those who read articles which imply (however inadvertently) that the Levitical prohibition on homosexual sexual acts is sandwiched between rules forbidding the eating of shellfish and the cooking of milk and meat together and prescribing how slaves and wives are to be bought and sold.


liturgy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Really, Bosco, can you do no better than retread 'The Village Atheist'? Are you aware of what 'sola scriptura' means *historically - and that it is the classical Anglican position? I am afraid to say your 'hermeneutics' are terribly hamhanded. Have you never read Robert Gagnon? Check out his website ( of scything down straw men.
As for your discussion on sex with menstruating women - all I can say (or want to say here) is that I have never heard that any woman *wanted to have sex at that time!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liturgy
I think Miller does the Bible on marriage a disservice by proffering the view that the Bible is dodgy on marriage without acknowledging those texts which support, if not make the case for the traditional, and 'high' view of marriage which the church has generally held until recently. I did not intend to castigate Miller for not mentioning every relevant text but did mean to criticise her for omitting important texts.

My point about Leviticus is not that it is uncontrovertible but that there is more to consider there than Miller and similar arguers for gay marriage make out. Indeed one has to consider the continuing relevance of the prohibition in Leviticus 18:19 and thus one might proceed to doubt that 18:22 has continuing application.

But at that point it is of relevance to consider NT texts in Romans 1 and in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. These reinforce the continuing application of Leviticus 18:22 rather than support doubt as to its continuing application. As another commenter on this page reminds us, considerable exegetical work has been done on such texts by Robert Gagnon.

I think such engagement with these texts possible and plausible by any Christian with a respect and reverence for the Holy Scripture. Due consideration of the teaching of Scripture in this way is not confined to people on the spectrum between conservative evangelical and extreme fundamentalist!

A further mistake in the argument proposed by Miller is this: she moves from highlighting difficulties in the Bible re its teaching on sexuality to supporting gay marriage to raising doubts about the relevance of Leviticus 18:22 and similar texts to the affirmation of gay marriage by the church. But that is all this move can do: it can offer no firm scriptural foundation for the church offering assurance that God now blesses same-sex partnerships.

It could well be that many Christian couples disregard Leviticus 18:19 either wilfully or in ignorance, but I have never heard of any couples publicly celebrating such action!

Anonymous said...

Excellent feminist exegesis, and line by line, detailed exposition, Rosemary on sex with menstruating women tempered by personal experience and wide research among women.
I wonder if either of you have heard of or read Humanae Vitae wherein sex during the Bible week following menstruation is allowed, celebrated, and even encouraged?
I presume, for consistency, you sleep (/slept) apart and have different furniture during the Bible week following the start of menstruation.
Where is a church and website which practices expository preaching for practical sermons on the menstruating texts of the bible?
Who is the vilage atheist?
Robert Gagnon looks lovely. He has clearly thought long, hard, and deep about homosexuality.

Peter Carrell said...

Hie Readers
The first comment to this post was made by 'Liturgy' and somehow I have accidentally deleted it - for which I apologise. Fortuitously I had saved the comment elsewhere. Here it is:


Miller does not so much parody biblical marriages as highlight that the biblical documents do not present the sort of unified teaching that sola scripturists keep insisting is there.

But let’s indulge your distinctions the author of Leviticus would never have understood and look at Leviticus 18 as a whole.
Why do you castigate Miller for not mentioning every text (you did not mention the Song of Songs!) yet in your own listing of Leviticus 18 regulations you omit Leviticus 18:19 “You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.”? O wait – that’s about “us”, the majority heterosexuals, not about “them”. Not to mention it’s the time of choice for those following Roman Catholic sexual teaching!

The fragmented, fragmenting sola scripturists and their schisms upon schisms demonstrate that – give me an opinion, any opinion, and we can find a bible verse to support it.

When we get some sermons, blog posts, and new “Anglican” provinces based on forbidding heterosexual intercourse of married couples during the wife’s unclean week each menstrual cycle, then there might be more listening to the opinions in relation to homosexuals.

In fact the husband may not touch his wife, or sit or lie on the same furniture during this week! Let’s get back to basics – no wonder the church is in such a mess!

And once we’ve dealt with that, let’s get on to the next chapter getting rid of all cast images, not reaping to the edge of our fields, not stripping our vineyards bare, or gathering fallen grapes, paying our employees every day, and certainly we need to be protesting outside shops selling garments made of two different materials. I’m sure the chimeres of our new bishops will be extra careful about that, no breeding of mules, only one type of lawn seed, nothing to be eaten with its blood, and watch out shaving and getting a hair cut (Leviticus 19:4, 9, 10, 13, 19, 26, 27).

For any still practising the abomination of sex around the time of menstruation, Leviticus 15:19-30 cannot be clearer:

And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean. And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.
December 11, 2008 3:19 PM