This post is a follow-up to commentary I made Sept. 4, 2015, on county clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, Ky. Here is the original post: Judge: On same-sex marriage, ‘personal opinions … not relevant.’
For those who haven’t followed Davis in the last year, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, signed a bill into law back in April no longer requiring county clerks in the state to put their name on marriage licenses, thus giving Davis and other public officials who object to same-sex unions a way out, as it were, from being associated with the sinful act of joining two people who, you know, actually love each other. The bill also stipulated that the state will use one marriage form, whereby couples can simply mark whether they considered themselves the bride, groom or spouse. Most recently, Davis has asked the 6th U.S. Circuit Court to dismiss her appeal because the new law makes her complaint null and void. Happily, the ACLU, which was representing four couples in a lawsuit against Davis, agreed with the motion to dismiss.
Amid a heavily divisive atmosphere in Washington and in politics in general, here is an example of a Republican-dominated state led by a conservative governor coming up with a common sense solution to a contentious problem. As I said in the previous post, echoing the sentiments of a judge who ruled on the original case, the conscientious objector provision does not apply in this case, and Davis’ opinion or convictions about same-sex marriage does not, and should not have, relieved her of her responsibilities as a public servant whose salary comes from the pockets of straight and gay people alike.
If she felt that strongly about it, she should have resigned and sought work in the private sector, where she is free to exercise all of her rights and freedoms as an American citizen. But all things considered, we have to conclude that this was a positive outcome for all parties, and Kentucky lawmakers should be commended in this case for making a smart decision. Of course, I can’t say the same thing about the state’s move to give $18 million in tax breaks to Ken Ham’s abortive $92 million Ark Encounter monstrosity under the leadership of, you guessed it, Matt Bevin.
But back to same-sex marriage. Essentially what I have argued previously was that religion has already and will continue giving up ground to modernity, and increased equal rights and protections under the law for members of the LBGT community are certainly no exception. Indeed, the church’s insistence on holding back progress in this way was, as I have said, “anathema to any kind of successful PR campaign church’s might hope to launch.”
Here is what I said about Davis’ biblical misgivings about issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples:
Refusing to issue the licenses, and thus breaking the law, should have been outside her set of possible actions in any case because breaking the law itself seems to antithetical to biblical law. Doesn’t the Bible say to render unto Caesar that which is the state’s and to obey civil authorities? I am aware that the Bible also suggests that believers should obey civil authorities unless the law contradicts God’s law, but this presents another problem for modern Christians because in a great many cases, Christians happily ignore Old Testament law. They do this whenever they hungrily gulp down shellfish, fail to stone gay people, demure from killing witches and fortunetellers or fail to carry out any of the scores of capital crime punishments listed in the Old Testament. And since homosexuality is barely mentioned in the New Testament, and not mentioned at all by Jesus himself, this amounts to one of the many instances in which Christians cherry pick parts of the Bible to read carefully and other parts that they readily scrap precisely because their conscience was forged by modern sensibilities.
To which, I got the following fallacy-ridden reply from a reader named Larry:
You … clearly don’t understand God or the Bible. Your education has failed you. Just by your statements in the old Testament and shellfish as well as stoning gays. You no nothing about the things of the Bible and now I understand clearly your beef with Christians. It isn’t because of things we believe it more about things you are totally uneducated on. So much for so called education.
I can’t find any semblance of an argument anywhere in there, but essentially, he says I don’t really understand the Bible and that I have a “beef” with Christians — I don’t on any personal level — and that my lack of understanding is at the center of this alleged “beef.” Since he didn’t bother to explain exactly how I was mistaken, I’ll do the work for him.
He might have argued, for instance, that laws in the Old Testament, like banning shellfish and admonishing believers to stone gay people, no longer have to be followed because of the new covenant of Jesus. But since many Christians obviously still read and draw a certain amount of inspiration from parts of the Old Testament, I think it’s still an open question: Should Christians adhere to Old Testament law or not? If so, which ones? Just those that do not condone violence or abuse? Let’s assume that the new covenant superseded or did away with adherence to the old laws. What do we do with the Ten Commandments? If Old Testament law is more or less irrelevant to modern Christians, why do believers spend so much time and energy protecting the inclusion of the Commandments on public property? The Bible’s position on these considerations is so far from cohesive as to make it all but unintelligible.
Whether the Old Testament should be followed to the letter of the law depends, of course, on which passage one chooses to read.
Take Deuteronomy 7:9:
Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.
What about Psalm 119:160?
Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.
These passages, and many like them, suggest that God’s law is immutable and timeless.
Even Jesus seemed convinced about the unchangeable nature of Old Testament law even though he is supposed the architect of the new covenant itself!
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 5:18-19
The point is that Larry, Kim Davis and millions of believers like them don’t have a firm biblical basis for their strong convictions on same-sex marriage or homosexuality and since they probably have interacted or had a conversation with few, if any, actual gay and lesbian people, they can’t draw from personal experience either.
We are told that the practice of homosexuality is a sin based on the Bible. OK, but the only passages that talk about it openly are in the Old Testament.
When people like myself make the rather obvious case that passages about stoning innocent people or burning witches are among some of the most reprehensible passages in all of literature — thus casting an unmistakable cloud over the supposed omnibenevolence and just nature of the god, Yahweh — we are referred to the more peace-loving and palatable New Testament with its tales of human blood sacrifice, vicarious redemption, scapegoating and eternal torment. So far as we know, Jesus never said a word about homosexuality and the only passages that could refer to it, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and Jude 1:7, issued from the mind of man. I happen to think all of it came from the mind of man, but the strongest case Christians can hope to make against homosexuality and same-sex marriage would at least need to come from a source that is attributed to God or someone claiming to be God, even if the texts were fabricated or embellished.
The vote is out on whether the Bible, from the Christian perspective, even takes a firm stance on homosexuality, and when it does take a stance, it comes off as brazenly barbaric and immoral. 1 We may go so far as to say that since the character of God in the Old Testament is supposedly the same today as he was yesterday (Malachi 3:6), maybe he actually does want us to go around killing gay people in the streets and torching witches in spite of the new covenant.
Comically, we might even imagine Yahweh and Jesus — if we can imagine them at all — bickering over these points. The best we can say, then, is that the Bible is incoherent on the topic of homosexuality. So, where do Christians and conservatives get the idea that they should oppose equal rights for members of the gay and lesbian community, most of whom they know nothing about, at every turn? Maybe that’s a question Christians should ask themselves.
The truth is that sooner or later, the church and conservatives as a whole, are going to have to exercise a small amount of reason and reform their thinking and behavior on same-sex marriage, just as they will, or already have, on other topics — the persistent and morally bankrupt resistance to potentially life-saving stem cell research comes to mind — or face continued irrelevance because they will ultimately lose the argument, as the wave of progress moves forward with or without them tumbling wayward in its wake.
- Dismissing the primitive barbarity of the Old Testament on grounds that it can’t be judged based on today’s standards of morality gets believers nowhere either because they use their own modern standards to make judgement calls on everything else in life, and even about the wanton morality of opposing religions, so why should the Bible, which is presented to us a cohesive book from start to finish, be any different?