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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

University Scholars and Biblical Marriage

Recently, Huffpost Gay Voices (Posted 06/06/2013 and updated on 06/07/2013), relayed that three scholars had written an Op-Ed piece in the Des Moines Register, where they denied that the Bible mandates monogamy (you can find the HuffPost piece here). The authors, Hector Avalos, Robert Cargill and Kenneth Atkinson, are teachers at three Iowa universities, Iowa State University, University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa.

If the Huffpost piece is accurate in its reporting, then it appears that these scholars come at the Bible with a priori suppositions that are, at the worst, hostile to the Bible, and at the least, simply taking the Bible as disparate, independent works that are stitched together; that the authors are approaching the Bible with the flatness of a flagrant fundamentalist, ignorant of style, genre, and literary variety, as well as social environment. In other words, the Huffpost writer is processing and promoting the Avalos-Cargill-Atkinson Op-Ed piece through the grid that the Bible might just actually allow same-sex marriage because it doesn’t have a unified voice that declares only monogamy as the divine form for marriage.

A vigilant reading of the Huffpost item – carefully looking at what the authors said and didn’t say – will give a different impression. For example,

( . . . ) Avalos, Cargill and Atkinson point out that various Bible passages mention not only traditional monogamy, but also self-induced castration and celibacy, as well as the practice of wedding rape victims to their rapists.

Notice that various Bible passages mention each of these things. Some of them are promoted and some may be stated metaphorically (such as “self-induced castration”). The more I read the Huffpost piece, the more I realize, that whatever Avalos-Cargill-Atkinson were gunning for, they were at the least just simply making obvious what most regular Bible readers already know. To put it simply, there’s no surprise. Their warning is the same warning I give as an Evangelical pastor, that you can’t proof-text or be "cherry picking" from the Bible.

Based on the Huffpost article, there is one thing that Avalos-Cargill-Atkinson are definitely not saying; they are not saying that the Bible promotes or allows same-sex marriage. This sounds like a contradiction to one Huffpost quotation where Robert Cargill is quoted as saying:

Ultimately, said Cargill, a Biblical "argument against same-sex marriage is wholly unsustainable. We all know this, but very few scholars are talking about it, because they don't want to take the heat."

 I wonder if this is a misquote, because on Cargill’s blog he clearly explains his reasoning,

That is to say, the point of the editorial is that while the Bible cannot be used to sanction same-sex marriage (because it clearly opposes male homosexuality), it ALSO cannot be said to endorse ONLY marriage between “one man and one woman” because the Bible (the whole Bible, not just the New Testament) clearly offers polygamy, marriage imposed upon men who sexually violated women, and Levirate marriage as God-ordained, God-sanctioned marriage options. (Remember, these forms of marriage were commanded in the law in an attempt to protect women from the abuses of men and a society where women did not have rights equal to men.)1

I would disagree with Cargill’s conclusion that the Bible does not endorse “ONLY marriage between “one man and one woman” because the Bible ( . . . ) clearly offers polygamy, marriage imposed upon men who sexually violated women, and Levirate marriage as God-ordained, God-sanctioned marriage options” (a disagreement that will have to wait for another day and another post), nevertheless, Cargill is correct in surmising that the Bible clearly does not sanction same-sex marriage. In fact, this was the conclusion to the Des Moines Register Op-Ed,

“So, while it is not accurate to state that biblical texts would allow marriages between people of the same sex, it is equally incorrect to declare that a “one-man-and-one-woman” marriage is the only allowable type of marriage deemed legitimate in biblical texts.”

In conclusion, the Huffpost writer seems to be grasping at strings and straws. The Avalos-Cargill-Atkinson Op-Ed is correct in its assertion about the Bible’s statements about marriage (though it is not correct enough, because it seems to ignore that there is an overarching design and intention that leads to the well-grounded conclusion that God's intention all along was one man and one woman as long as they both shall live – Matthew 19.3-9). And the Avalos-Cargill-Atkinson Op-Ed is spot on in the assertion that the Bible does not “allow marriages between people of the same sex”.


1 By the way, I appreciate that Cargill’s parenthetical statement above recognizes that the Bible is actually empowering women by protecting them “from the abuses of men” and society in the stipulations it lays out for marriage.

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