Thursday, December 11, 2008

Faith, Family & The Debate Over a Cover Story

Just ten years ago, Lisa Miller's story would have been virtually unthinkable. Today, it's standing out at news stands, in both small towns and large, all across America.

The Newsweek reporter, who has caused a firestorm of controversy (and an apoplectic response from right wing activists) with a cover story for the magazine's December 15 issue, started with a simple theory that expanded into a sudden national debate: Maybe, just maybe, those who use religion as their weapon against marriage equality are, in fact, misusing faith to distort religious teachings about family.

What she found, combining rigorous research with common-sense thinking about true family values, is that, indeed, religion doesn't present the most compelling case against marriage for lesbian and gay couples. It presents the most compelling case in favor of it.

"As a civil institution, marriage offers practical benefits to both partners: contractual rights having to do with taxes; insurance; the care and custody of children; visitation rights; and inheritance. As a religious institution, marriage offers something else: a commitment of both partners before God to love, honor and cherish each other—in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer—in accordance with God's will," Miller writes in The Religious Case for Gay Marriage. "In a religious marriage, two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them. Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should."

Miller argues that the concept of family trumps condemnation of same-sex relationships by leaps and bounds in the Bible. Scripture, she found, is adament in its belief of the sanctity of families . . . but makes no reference to a strict interpretation of family, or offers any rebuke of marriage between two loving people who might just be of the same gender.

"The biblical Jesus was—in spite of recent efforts of novelists to paint him otherwise—emphatically unmarried," Miller writes. "He preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties. Leave your families and follow me, Jesus says in the gospels. There will be no marriage in heaven, he says in Matthew. Jesus never mentions homosexuality, but he roundly condemns divorce (leaving a loophole in some cases for the husbands of unfaithful women)."

"Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition," she concludes.

The Newsweek story also notes that there may, in fact, be a bit of a same-sex love story among the pages of the Bible.

"Gay men like to point to the story of passionate King David and his friend Jonathan, with whom he was 'one spirit' and whom he 'loved as he loved himself,'" they note. "Conservatives say this is a story about a platonic friendship, but it is also a story about two men who stand up for each other in turbulent times, through violent war and the disapproval of a powerful parent. David rends his clothes at Jonathan's death and, in grieving, writes a song:"

I grieve for you,
Jonathan my brother;
You were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
More wonderful than that of women.


That passion, Miller seems to say, could be grounds for "family," too.

As Jody Huckaby, PFLAG's executive director, noted in a letter to Newsweek on Monday, "Lisa Miller’s superb analysis of the arguments surrounding scripture and same-sex marriage points to an unmistakable, common-sense conclusion: Marriage – both gay and straight – is about a fundamental respect for families, and families are rightfully both revered and respected by every religious doctrine."

"That core truth," Huckaby said, "combined with an unfailing belief that we are called upon to 'love thy neighbor as thyself,' provides ample evidence that those who use religion to push anti-gay agendas are misleading their flocks and misinterpreting their texts. Fortunately, many members of the clergy courageously stand up for every family, including those with two loving, lesbian or gay partners. And every day, PFLAG also hears from more and more straight allies who are anxious to be part of the struggle for equality . . . more and more parents who are rejecting faith-based misconceptions and embracing their children . . . and more and more married men and women who want to see the same rights, protections and dignity extended to their lesbian and gay neighbors. Their work, and the evolving school of theological thought about marriage, family and fairness, should help us all find faith that love, and not rejection, will soon rule the day, both in the voting booth and the pulpit, too."

Indeed, Miller's expertly crafted treatise on marriage, family and bigotry is a powerful reminder of the original core tenents of faith. It is those original tenents, Miller points out, that have been forgotten in favor of more controversial - and marketable - anti-gay rhetoric.

What do you think? Read Miller's full article here . . . leave your thoughts in the comments section below . . . and weigh in with Newsweek, by sending your own letter-to-the-editor to letters@newsweek.com. If your letter is published, let us know, and we'll link to it from the PFLAG blog, too.

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