Thursday, June 19, 2008

Connubial fusion

I am reading Sex and the Single Savior by Dale B. Martin, a really fascinating look at how our gender and sexuality -- and our hangups with both -- play a role in biblical interpretation. I just finished his chapter last night on what Paul says about marriage and it really put me in the mood for a ham sandwich. 

Back at the turn of the century when Husband and I got married, we, like most young, christian-raised folks, we looked around for the right "Bible verses" to include in our ceremony. Of course 1 Corinthians 13 got in there (and then got knocked right out by the Unitarian preacher we'd hired to do the ceremony, which eventually led to us un-hiring him, but that's a story for another day). Pity we hadn't really read the whole epistle, specifically 1 Cor 7:9, the bit about how it's "better to marry than to burn." Being biblically illiterate at the time, I think I knew that was in there, but I don't know if I really knew what it meant; I think I probably drew on my Catholic upbringing and thought that if you had sex without being married it was off to Hell for you. And since I specifically left the Catholic Church for that reason -- to have sex without sinning (in my adolescent mind, and still to some degree in my adult one, sin is relational in that if your group thinks something you're doing is wrong but you're sure it's right, get a new group). 

Turns out, that's only partially what Paul's talking about. The burning part has nothing to do with the fires of Hell and everything to do with the burning feeling of passion, that sensation of desire/lust that just takes you over and distracts you to no end. (Hah, like being married takes care of that! I love that feeling!) But for Paul, marriage was, essentially, a prophylactic for lust. ¿QuĂ© romantico, no? Paul saw desire as something that would pollute the ekklesia, the community of Jesus followers, just like tainted meat-- idolatry-tainted, that is, and to only weak people, but still. Marriage and avoiding meat are for the weak. But be nice to them. (Why can't people take that away from Paul? He essentially keeps saying that, please be nice to each other.)

Thankfully, what we believe, follow and participate in now really doesn't have much to do with the "fundamentals." But it got me wondering about christian marriage and what the Bible "says" about it. Keep in mind that I don't think the Bible "says" anything; if it speaks, it's only through us. Reading is interpretive. But here's the words on two types of marriage that the Bible has been used historically to forbid or prohibit: inter-racial and same-sex. Thanks to for doing the heavy lifting for me.

Inter-racial: Verses usually used to prop up anti-miscegenation laws come from Genesis 28:1 (Isaac tells Jacob not to take a wife from Canaan); Leviticus 19:19 (don't let your cattle breed with other different types of cattle); Deuteronomy 7:2-3 (don't marry the Canaanites); Deut 22:9 (don't mix your seeds together in the same field); Deut 23:2 (don't let the bastards into the congregation); Jeremiah 13:23 (Leopards don't change their spots) and Acts 17:24-26 (God put different people on different parts of the world and determined when and where they would live).

(I think this list leaves out Ezra 10 where the Israelites who stayed in Israel during the Exile are forced to give up their foreign wives and their kids, and Nehemiah 13:23+, which recounts the same thing).

Same-sex marriage: Nothing! Not one thing in the Bible specifically forbids same-sex marriage. The Bible does mention polygamous marriage, Levirite marriage, forcing women to marry their rapists, slaves, but it doesn't say anything about same-sex marriage. It talks about homosexuality (kind of, at some points) at Genesis 1:27 & 28 (Be fruitful and multiply); Gen 2:23-24 (Marriage unites men and women as one flesh); Gen 19 (Sodom and Gemorra); Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 (lying down with men is "an abomination"); Deuteronomy 23:17 (no sodomites in the house of Israel); Romans 1:26-27 (unnatural passions; and Sex and the Single Savior gives this a good going over, too! unnatural passions? more like, if you really follow the Greek, excessive lust, as in you're so horny you'll do anything); 1 Corinthinans 6 (effeminate men and "abusers of mankind," along with a long list of other bad people, won't go to Heaven; SatSS talks about this one, too. C'mon, do we really shun effeminate men in our churches?); 1 Timothy 1 ("abusers of mankind" are still bad people);  and Jude 1:7 (sodomites like "strange flesh"). 

The point of this exercise is, well, rather ridiculous, except to point at the ways we not only interpret but also how we grow. We don't point to the Bible to justify keeping people of different races apart in marriage. Eventually, we won't point to the Bible to justify keeping people of the same gender apart in marriage. I think Paul really was wrong about marriage being a prophylactic against desire; marriage, when you do it right, makes that desire for that other person burn even stronger. Someday, we'll all burn together. What a flame that'll be.  


Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

My wife and I used Song of Songs 8, about love being as strong as death, passion as jealous as the grave. Much better, in my opinion.

(h)apaThealogy said...

Had I been biblically literate, I might have gone there. I don't think anything in the Bible got into our wedding after all in the end. Oh well.

Michael Ejercito said...

The Scriptures are fairly clear and explicit on the matter of homosexual unions.

God will not bless a homosexual union.

(h)apaThealogy said...

Show me where it actually talks about same-sex marriage.