Thursday, October 25, 2012
no thank you
I care that words in our constitution regarding marriage remain untouched. I care about the state government staying out of people's bedrooms. I care deeply about making sure all people share the same freedoms and rights I enjoy. Call me a social conservative. Or don't.
Many Vote Yes ads suggest that the "traditional, Biblical" institution of marriage is being threatened. Sure. By drunk couples at chapels in Vegas and the rumble of judgmental whispers that encircle affairs and divorces. But, then again, it's always been threatened. Polygamy and rape and economic convenience and concubines and the shame that came|comes from infertility in a world that assumes kids are part of the family plan. For thousands of years, women owed their husbands children and, if they could not produce, a husband could have sex with his wife's friend/sister/servant instead. We watch Sarah suggest this to Abraham out of her own grief. Or how about that old Hebrew law that made widows marry their brother-in-law because single hood was virtually out of the question? I know - it was for the sake of her sexual, physical, and economic safety. But she was only broken and unsafe in that society because of a social system that counted her as dead weight without male kin.
Our relationships have never been black and white - they've been messy in scripture and history and politics and living rooms. So let's back up. Way up. Because when we pull particular verses out of the wider scriptural narrative, we can justify just about anything:
In Genesis 2 - before gender or sexual intercourse or anything besides "and it was good" - God says, "It is not good for the earthen creature to be alone." Because of what we know about God's creation and relationships, this sounds like a judgment against loneliness. A judgment about keeping people apart. A judgment for the sake of loving companionship. But if you wanted to discriminate against single people, it's just the ticket.
When God tells our ancestors to be fruitful and multiply, that's a command. Those are some of the first instructions God gives to humankind. But we don't legally punish people for being infertile, claiming that they are unnatural or out of God's order. America doesn't require that we physically check to make sure the marriage is consummated. We don't require men and women getting married to sign a document promising to procreate or adopt. We recognize that couples are families with or without kids.
The Torah is filled with loopholes about divorce and death and remarriage. They came into being shortly after marriage was born because we've never been very good at this commitment. We've always been broken and we're still breaking. And yet, we try anyway. We still believe that declaring fidelity and loyalty to another is worth the risk.
So it hurts when we read Mark 10. It's hard to hear the Pharisees grilling Jesus. We know that they're less interested in God's wide, forgiving love and more interested in tripping him up in our mess. We could use this text to outlaw divorce. And it pretty explicitly calls remarriage adultery, which is even harder to swallow. After all, this isn't an ancient law buried deep in Leviticus. This is Jesus speaking in public.
And yet we have pastors twice married. Politicians thrice married. Movie stars with exes that can number a basketball team. So why isn't this marriage amendment "protecting" marriage by picking on these things, by asking if marriage should only be recognized the first time around? One and done? No, of course not.
Two verses in Leviticus appear outraged about men sleeping with men, which is not exactly the same as a discussion about men making a loving, faithful commitment to men. Leviticus is also where you find laws about how long you have to wait to sleep with your wife after she gives birth or has her period. And both of these verses are dangerously close to Chapter 19, which is all about loving your neighbor.
And then there's the Apostle Paul writing to the Romans. Let's be clear - Paul isn't just anti-gay marriage. Paul's pretty apathetic and disinterested in straight marriage, too. He told the Corinthians, "Those who marry will experience distress in this life and I would spare you that". Paul was fairly certain that Jesus would be back any day and regularly reminded people that they didn't need to spend their last days flirting with men or women - marriage was only necessary for those with untamed libidos. (I've always thought it's ironic how much we quote Paul at weddings. I imagine him either RSVPing NO or sitting near the bar rolling his eyes during the electric slide.)
Jesus doesn't have anything to say about two men who love each other. Or two women. Or whether they can get married. But he does say an awful lot about ensuring safety and rights for the marginalized. He spoke out for the vulnerable and excluded all the time. All.The.Time.
Voting no doesn't mean that gay people can suddenly marry in the state of Minnesota. It just means we don't change our state constitution for the sake of excluding members of our community. It means we don't make decisions based on a fear of the future. It means we trust our children and grandchildren to make their own choices.
It's not as simple as "what the Bible says". When people feel pressure to choose between Team Bible and Team Love, something is wrong. Marriage has never been clearly defined, stagnant, or uncomplicated - in scripture or in history.
So before I vote, I'll read Mark 10 again. I'll remember the way the Pharisees try to trip Jesus up in the details of our brokenness. And I'll notice the way Jesus points back toward creation where God declared judgment against loneliness. Then I'll notice the way Jesus points forward toward the cross, where everything that needs to die will die. And where new life beyond ballots will prepare to rise.
Since I wrote this post, same-sex marriage became legal in the state of Minnesota. We voted NO and then we voted YES. And then the Supreme Court echoed that sentiment. Regardless of how we enter discussions about civil rights and biblical inerrancy and marriage, I hope we continue to do so trusting Jesus, who gets into the middle of the conversation and acknowledges our hard brokenness that comes with loving well in a messy, gray world.
Posted by Meta Herrick Carlson