Friday, October 17, 2014

No Way

Would Jesus Ok Same-sex Marriage? That was the question posed in the title of an article on CNN.com recently. CNN.com You can probably guess the answer: Yes, of course. However, you will never believe how the author Jay Parini arrived at that conclusion.

Parini, whose credentials include a book about about Jesus but no apparent training in biblical exegesis, bases his argument in part on a passage in Matthew 19. I would use the same passage to argue the opposite. Let's compare Parini's analysis of the passage with mine. He begins with Jesus' teaching about divorce.

"Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

"And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “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 the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The only comment Parini makes is that this was the basis for "Christian bias against divorce - a bias that has, necessarily, eased in the past century..." He skates over the truth that was the foundation of Jesus' argument: "God made them male and female and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife...'" That was God's purpose for men and women from creation, Jesus declares, and he argues that this purpose should not be destroyed by divorce.

There can be no basis for homosexual marriages here. Quite the opposite. Though Jesus did not address the issue directly, the logical conclusion would be that homosexual marriage is a perversion of God's original pattern because it is not a union of a man and a woman.

Parini then goes on to quote Matthew 19:10-12. It is his only attempt at a biblical argument.

"The disciples said to him, 'If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.' But he said to them, 'Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.'”

The argument goes this way: This is a difficult passage, he agrees, but it allows, because of the way the word  eunuch is used in other non-biblical Greek texts, for understanding the "eunuch who has been so from birth" as a gay man. This is, he claims the context of the passage and determines the meaning.

He goes no further. He doesn't attempt to argue that being born gay exempts that person from the pattern of marriage being one man and one woman God gave in creation. He simply makes the statement that the passage may refer to gay men. And it may, but that does not support Parini's thesis that Jesus accepts homosexual marriage.

Need it be said that this is terrible exegesis. Context is, of course, important. But the most important context is the passage itself then the whole of the Bible's discussion of the topic then the meaning of the word used outside the Bible. Parini reverses the order and ignores the immediate context and the larger biblical context altogether.

The immediate context is the question the disciples had about how sacred  God holds marriage. (Remember in the passage Jesus quotes from Genesis God's purpose is that men and women will marry and will marry someone from the opposite sex and that their marriage is to be regarded as sacred.)  Jesus answer is that, yes, marriage is sacred. But sometimes not marrying is the necessary choice. Then he gives three groups who may properly choose not to marry or who may not be fit for marriage: first, people who are incapable of sexual union between a man and a woman, next people who have been made incapable by castration, and finally those who choose not to marry for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The point here is there are some who are not included in the expectation that all will marry.

Apparently Parini expects the reader to draw the conclusion from the fact that some are eunuchs from birth that homosexual unions are acceptable. But there is nothing in the passage implying that there is a third alternative, such as marrying someone of the same sex. The simple conclusion is that eunuchs are the exception to the general rule that marriage is for everyone.

But let's broaden the context. Let's consider Paul's teaching on the topic. In Romans 1 Paul writes of those who turned away from God and whose hearts were darkened. Among the consequences of that darkening was this:

"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

This should be enough to establish that homosexual unions are perversions. They are contrary to nature as God created it. They are dishonorable. And they are sinful.

There are other passages equally clear, but this will do.

The answer to the question would Jesus approve of homosexual marriage is no.

This is not a condemnation of homosexuals. Perhaps they are born that way; perhaps they are made that way by men. There is no condemnation for being who you are. But it is a condemnation of homosexual unions. If homosexuals wish to live in accordance with God's purpose, they must choose not to marry, just as those do who sacrifice marriage for the kingdom of God.

Parini, though he makes this brief and rather offhand reference to Jesus and the Bible for support, does not really base his argument on the Bible. Rather he bases it on the changing opinions of men, quoting and misquoting among others Jimmy Carter and the leaders of the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches who have endorsed homosexual marriage. Maybe the title of the piece should have been "Does the Modern Religious Establishment OK Same-sex Marriage?" Had that been his thesis, his answer, sadly, would have been accurate; they do. But Jesus? No way. 

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