Jesus, Gay Marriage, & Red-Letter Christians
To me, the most interesting thing about Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s interview with Marilynne Robinson is her praise of John Calvin. But the thing drawing the most comment is Robinson’s opinion about Jesus and gay marriage. Look:
Q: For Christians who hold the view that marriage is between a man and a woman, do you think they’ll become a smaller group over time?
A: It’s hard to know. There has never been a period in world history where same-sex relationships were more routine and normal than in Hellenistic culture at the time of Christ. Does Jesus ever mention the issue? I bet it must have been all around him. You can get in a lot of trouble eating oysters if you are a literalist about Leviticus. I’m a great admirer of the Old Testament. It’s an absolute trove of goodness and richness. But I don’t think we should stone witches. And if you choose to value one or two verses in Leviticus over the enormous, passionate calls for social justice that you find right through the Old Testament, that’s primitive. There are a thousand ways that we would all be doomed for violating the Sabbath and all kinds of other things, if we were literalists.
I’m surprised that a Christian intellectual with a
mine mind as complex and as discerning as Robinson’s would buy that whole lazy “if Jesus didn’t say it, he must not have cared much about it” line. The Baptist theologian Denny Burk has a really good response to Robinson. Excerpt:
Jesus’ silence versus Paul’s explicit statements regarding homosexuality is completely understandable given their different contexts. Jesus lived and ministered in and around Judea primarily among Jews where there was basic agreement on the Torah’s prohibition of homosexual behavior. That is not to say that there were no homosexuals in Judea. It is to say that there was no great debate at the time about what the Bible taught about it. The apostle Paul, however, lived and ministered among Gentiles scattered throughout the Roman Empire. In the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s mission, the Torah was not the norm, and people by and large accepted homosexual behavior. It is no wonder, therefore, that Paul would have mentioned it explicitly (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:10). Jesus’ alleged “silence” on the issue is evidence of his Jewish context not of his endorsement.
Plus, Burk points out that Jesus did, in fact, endorse marriage as one man and one woman.
Wesley Hill, who says he “reveres” Robinson, makes a good point in his response, a point that highlights how an honest debate on Christianity and homosexuality is hard to have because liberal Christians, even those as intelligent as Robinson, make an elementary mistake about their opponents’ way of thinking. Excerpt:
In the first place, if there is a thoughtful “traditionalist” who bases her views of the morality of same-sex sexual partnerships on Leviticus, I’m not aware of such a person. That’s just not how Christians read the Bible, and even the most rigorous social conservatives wouldn’t say that an Old Testament text, taken literally and by itself, can serve as the immediate basis for a contemporary Christian ethic. Rather, the reason Leviticus remains a part of the ongoing Christian conversation on these matters is that the New Testament exhibits a certain continuity with the Old Testament’s prohibition of same-sex sexual behavior.