Last week a prominent American religious leader tweeted, “Praying for our president, who today will place his hands on a bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.” My facebook feed exploded with religious friends denouncing what he had said: “What an arrogant statement! Not only is that statement disrespectful, but it’s foolish to judge people like that.” “[That religious leader] is a tool.” Yet, there were some who agreed with the tweet: “President Obama swears and takes an oath on the bible and its teachings, yet one hour later in his [sic] inauguration speech, states that his second term presidency will not be complete until he passes a bill giving gays and lesbians the right to be legally married. Obama in my mind is the biggest hypocrite, not [the religious leader]. He’s just telling like it is, even though many people appear to be offended!”
The above statement gets at my main point this week. One of the most hotly debated public issues these days among evangelicals both here and in the U.S. is not Obama’s soul, but the so-called legalization of gay marriage. Below I will offer my opinion on why this shouldn’t be an issue for evangelicals at all—unless it’s confusion over where to sign up for the next pro-gay marriage rally.
Many of the evangelical arguments against gay marriage centre on the biblical teachings against homosexuality, but in reality, both sides are faced with a complex issue of interpretation. The features of any piece of literature, as those who have ever taken an English course will know, become imbricated with each reading. Words are full of meaning, and the Bible, as literature first, is no different. Of course, layered on top of a purely literal reading of any religious text is the reader’s background, bias, traditions, and sentiments. This can both illuminate and occlude any ‘true’ reading of the text. I say ‘true’ because while we can try to get at what the author meant and what his intent was, we are not the author; more specifically, we are not Jewish, Ancient Near Eastern people. It is true that the Old Testament of the Judeo-Christian Bible denounces homosexuality, and the New Testament is not silent on the issue either, labelling homosexuality as immoral (1 Tim. 1.10). But Jesus, the main character of the New Testament, is silent on the issue. However, it is not my opinion that Jesus’ silence is indicative of his ambivalence on the topic as some claim; rather, I think it points back to Jesus’ main mission: to introduce grace into a society otherwise riddled with crooks masquerading as the religious right, forcing legalism onto their followers.
Standing up for gay marriage comes down to this: religious people may or may not view homosexuality as deviant, but “gay marriage is about gay people having the same rights and recognition that straight people have. This isn’t about the church, this isn’t about what I think is the right way of life or about what you think is the right way of life is, this is about social and legal equality. Essentially, it’s a matter of justice” (from facebook, name withheld). If you’ve read anything about Jesus, you know that he kept questionable company—questionable if you consider that he was considered as a religious Jewish man, and was seen with tax collectors (akin to present-day shady lawyers: think Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad), prostitutes, ratty ol’ fishermen, lepers (considered ritually “unclean” by Jewish law; you couldn’t touch them but, of course, Jesus did), and women. Further to that, Samaritan women.
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan will narrate my major reasons for standing behind gay marriage. My friend writes, “I once saw a man being beaten up in the park for kissing another man. I walked by and didn’t do a damn thing. Why? Because everyone knows the only reason anyone would stand up for the right of someone else is because they share the exact same values and way of life” (from facebook, name withheld). My friend was being highly facetious, but his point is clear. The word “Samaritan” these days conjures up nothing but positive associations, but the real story is much more provocative (see Luke 10.29-37). Jews and Samaritans hated each other. It’s not too much to assert that if a Samaritan were on fire, and a Jew had water, he’d drink it. However, Jesus’ tale of a man victimized by robbery has a different ending. A priest walks by the man, doing nothing; a “Levite” (a Jewish man from the tribe of Levi) walks by the man, doing nothing; but a Samaritan, seeing the man, picks him up, lays him over his horse and takes him to a boarding house, where he dresses his wounds and pays for his stay at the house, for as long as the man needs to get better. A traveller, ostensibly with completely different values and lifestyle than the Jewish man, not to mention culture and religion, sees an injured person, and treats him as such. The Samaritan stands up for the Jewish man’s rights not because they believe in the same thing, but because the Samaritan believed in the Jewish man’s right to life. Similarly, as Jesus taught to the company he kept, all human beings are equal, and equally valuable. The Jesus of the Bible that evangelicals claim to follow stood up for people hurt and marginalized by the mainstream culture of the day. We all should do the same.