Thursday, March 11, 2010

Romell Weekly on the "Threat to the Family" Argument Against Marriage Equality

Romell Weekly, the “Gay Pastor,” has recently blogged about the “real threat to the family.” And, no, it’s not marriage equality.

Weekly, who drafted the Affirmation Declaration, describes himself as “a Christian, a teacher of Scripture, a pastor, and gay.” He notes that “although I emphasize my sexual orientation for the purposes of ministry, it really doesn’t define who I am. I long for the day when such emphases are unnecessary because the Church openly affirms people across the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Following is an excerpt from his recent post, “The Real Threat to the Family.”


. . . In both the Old and New Testaments, the family unit took multiple forms. There were units with one father and one mother (vis-à-vis the Adam and Eve paradigm), multiple mothers in a single family unit (vis-à-vis the Jacob, Leah, and Rachel paradigm, not to mention the concubines Bilhah and Zilpah), and even single-parent households, like Mary, after the death of her husband, Joseph. Even polygamy is affirmed by the fact that only bishops and deacons were commanded to be the husband of one wife, while nothing whatsoever was ever commanded of the rest of the Christian population!

Obviously, Genesis 1-2 isn’t as indicative of the divine perspective on marriage as our opponents so monotonously claim -- that is, unless you read it in isolation from the rest of the Bible and force commands upon all humankind where none exist in the text. Yet we’re the ones who are accused of twisting Scripture.

And what about the famous argument that children need a mother and a father? On its surface, this argument is an affront to the many families that were forced to endure with a single parent, either as a result of abandonment or widowhood. Should we teach single parents that it is their Christian duty to get remarried as soon as possible, so as to recreate the structure that God requires of all legitimate families; or, on the other hand, is there some measure of grace that extends to people who may not meet the biblical ideal because of the circumstances involved?

And what exactly is this biblical ideal? Anti-gay Christians require a model of one man and one woman; but I’ve already demonstrated that Scripture, itself, doesn’t enforce such a rule. I would argue that the ideal has nothing to do with a person’s sex, and more to do with a person’s support structure. With two parents in the home, the weight of child-rearing and provision doesn’t fall squarely upon one person’s shoulders. Partnership is demonstrated in its best light by two people working together to provide a stable home environment, a stable family structure in which to raise children.

But, isn’t it important for children to have the parental perspective of both a man and a woman? Isn’t that a pertinent part of their childhood development? I don’t believe that it is. The social construct of gender (man and woman) is not universal or enduring. Even since biblical times, the role of the man as provider and head of the household, and of the woman as housekeeper and helper to the husband, has morphed into a more equalized partnership in which both people contribute in all aspects of a healthy family environment. Some may claim that this is unbiblical, but if you ask me, it’s a more accurate representation of the fact that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Truly, society has finally caught up with the perspective that God has always held of the divisions between man and woman -- that there is no division at all! Wasn’t that the pre-Fall intent, after all?

Besides, the argument always circles back to single-parent homes. Is the fact that single-parent homes have a greater chance of producing children who wind up troubled in adolescence and even later in love indicative of a need for a male and a female in the home, or is it, rather, indicative of the need of two adult figures to help share the burden of child-rearing? I argue that it’s the latter -- that the sex of the people don’t matter... It’s a matter of quantity -- is there someone there to help shoulder the burden? Is there someone there to help reinforce the authority of the other parent? Is there someone there to help provide a supervisory presence to children, ensuring that they aren’t required to raise themselves while a single parent works his/her butt off trying to keep a roof over everyone’s head?

Same-sex couples are every bit as capable of providing a stable home environment to children. In fact, one needn’t theorize about it. There are plenty of living examples of such homes right now. We need only consider the development of these children.

It has been my experience that the only downside to such homes is the pressure brought to bear on children in the school system because they come from households with same-sex parents. Some claim that such bullying proves how heartless it is for parents to raise their children in same-sex households. But, it’s interesting how they never consider how heartless it is for bigots to instill their anti-gay sentiments into yet another generation of people. It’s obvious that these bully children got their cruel attitudes from somewhere; yet nobody ever calls their parents on the carpet to account for the fact that they've taught their children -- explicitly or by antipathy -- that it’s okay to treat people in such ways. No, it’s the same-sex parents who are at fault. Unbelievable!

Gay people are not the threat to the family unit. I’ll tell you what the threat is. The threat is the Church’s misguided efforts to oppose same-sex marriage, or same-sex adoptions. The threat is the fact that the Church is expending all of its time, energy, and resources fighting families that don’t look like them, rather than trying to strengthen the crumbling families that already exist in their own local congregations. No, they’re too busy picketing same-sex marriages, rather than divorce courts. They’re too busy stopping families from existing, rather than preventing those that exist from falling apart. They need to focus on building families, rather than focusing on preventing new ones from existing.

Gay people don’t hate the family. Gay people aren’t out to destroy the family. We affirm family every day in the process of coming out so that our loved ones can have the chance to know and love us for who we are, as we know and love them. We affirm family every day in our pleas for the right to have families of our own. We affirm family every day by striving for the right to marry the person of our choosing. We affirm family every day by our desire to have children (via surrogacy) and/or to adopt children into our families, providing them with stable environments in which to be nurtured and to grow.

Oh no, my friends, we aren’t the threat to the family. The anti-gay wing of the Church is!

To read Weekly’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
John Corvino on the “Always and Everywhere” Argument Against Marriage Equality
Patrick Ryan on the “Defense of Traditional Marriage” Argument Against Marriage Equality
Nathanial Frank on the “Natural Law” Argument Against Marriage Equality


Dan said...

Wow. That is a terrible argument.

Rev. Weekly points out the variations of marriage described in the Old Testament as somehow indicative of there not being a "biblical ideal." This is the exact argument the pharisees brought to Jesus, although they actually had scriptural support for their argument:

[3] And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?"
[4] He answered, "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female,
[5] and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?
[6] So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."
[7] They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"
[8] He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
[9] And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery."

Jesus points EXACTLY to the beginning of Genesis as the model for marriage. We see God overlooking aberrations such as polygamy and divorce for a time, but in the full light of Christ's revelation and empowered by his grace we are now held to a higher standard.

Rev. Weekly's claim that he has "demonstrated that Scripture, itself, doesn’t enforce such a rule" simply by pointing out exceptions in the Old Testament is baseless. Doesn't Jesus point out in v. 5 that God made human beings male and female FOR THE PURPOSE of them being joined in marriage ("for this reason")? That seems to me a strong endorsement by Jesus for the ideal that God created "in the beginning."

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Dan.

My problem with your interpretation of this passage is that it ignores the context in which it was written - an extremely patriarchal context that frequently saw men taking advantage of women. Of course, in order to highlight and challenge such a lack of compassion and justice, it makes sense for Jesus to make the argument that he does. He's speaking to men - straight men - abusing women in a system that all too easily allows for such abuse.

I think we need to remember that the words and actions of Jesus constantly challenge and subvert the patriarchal norms and expectations of his day, and in doing this they continue to invite us to expand our circles of inclusion, compassion, and justice. I believe Jesus demonstrated God’s wisdom and compassion when he strongly condemned divorce. As I've noted above, men at that time were free to treat their wives as property. Women had very few rights. Jesus knew this. He knew that in such a patriarchal society, the prohibition against divorce served to protect the interests – perhaps even the lives – of women. Does it mean that divorce everywhere and at all times is to be avoided and condemned? I don’t believe so.

Similarly, I don't think that Jesus cited the Old Testament passage that he did in order to deny marriage equality for same-gender people in the year 2010. Yet that's an argument one hears a lot from those opposed to such equality.

Words and expressions of wisdom and compassion may indeed be different in different situations and contexts. Figuring out these different ways of being wise and compassionate takes work and a willingness to attune ourselves to God present in our own lives and the lives of others.

Of course, sometimes it may seem easier to just stick with what was said and done in some far off time and culture. But that, for me, isn’t a sign of a living, growing faith.



colkoch said...

I'd just like to point out that this passage addresses divorce. It does not address various forms of polygamy or concubinage. Divorce in this context is also applicable to one single marriage with in a polygamous arrangement.

In this sense if God has joined one man with multipe wives, each wife is still a uniquely sanctified relationship. Paul seems to have recognized the validity of polygamy in his admonition that leaders in his church should have only one wife.

Mark A. said...

Michael, a little typo here - "Wasn’t the the pre-Fall intent, after all?"

I think you meant - Wasn’t that the pre-Fall intent, after all?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks for alerting me to that typo, Mark.