Newsweek on Gay Marriage

Newsweek, on of our country’s most prominent and widely read institutions of print journalism, has jumped headfirst into what is already a volatile cultural/relgious debate. Both Lisa Miller’s December 15th cover essay and John Meachem’s accompanying “From the Editor’s Desk” column argue for the legitimacy of gay marriage and seek to dispute the conservative Christian notion that it is prohibited on biblical grounds.

After reading both articles, I admit I’ve struggled with where to begin. To put it plainly, I’ve rarely been so frustrated with—and even saddened by—a major media outlet. A few of the more arresting excerpts from Meacham will help illustrate some of the important problems with the magazine’s approach:

No matter what one thinks about gay rights—for, against or somewhere in between —this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt—it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.

Meacham’s strong words spark a number of thoughts. First, from what does the “great Judeo-Christian tradition” arise if not the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) and the Christian New Testament? I’m quite confident that any historical attempt to suggest that the Christian church and its theological tradition are not inextricably bound up with these documents is hopelessly doomed to failure. To argue that appealing to the Scriptures as authoritative is “unworthy” of such a tradition—a tradition that has consistently done exactly that for the overwhelming majority of the last 2,000 years—is surprisingly myopic and plainly inaccurate.

Meacham’s other charge is more substantial. He suggests that “millennia” of critical scholarship has rightfully disabused any thinking person of the notion that the biblical texts can be considered as trustworthy and authoritative for modern readers. Leaving aside the notion that the “critical” approach to the biblical text (or any other text for that matter) is a predominantly modern phenomenon, Meacham is either ignorant of or choosing to ignore the huge chorus of past and present scholars that ably and comprehensively commend the integrity and authority of the biblical text, as well as historically orthodox interpretations of the same. No doubt intellectual/theological giants Agustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards, as well as formidable modern scholars like J. Gresham Machen, Carl F. Henry, J. I. Packer, D. A. Carson, and Craig Blomberg would raise an eyebrow at their efforts being characterized as “unserious” and “intellectually bankrupt.”

All of this raises the question of whether it is actually Meacham who is open to the charge of something like the fundamentalist outlook he so vigorously calls into question.

………

This argument from Scripture is difficult to take seriously—though many, many people do—since the passages in question are part and parcel of texts that, with equal ferocity, forbid particular haircuts.

Yes, some (but by no means all) of the biblical prohibitions toward homosexuality are found alongside Old Testament laws that no Christian observes today. But any number of scholars—conservative or otherwise—recognize that while the New Testament maintains many of these Mosaic commands are clearly abrogated by the significance of Christ’s, life, death, and resurrection, it also affirms the continuing viability of many others—including, for example, commands to love God and neighbor and to abstain from murder, theft, and yes, homosexuality. Though it’s possible, I’d be genuinely surprised that someone of Meacham’s background—he’s work has often dealt with matters of faith—is ignorant of this rather basic biblical concept. But to be aware of it, yet continue to imply that Christians who believe the Bible prohibits homosexuality must adopt a kosher diet or get their hair cut in accordance with Mosaic law is to argue with a straw man.

………

In this light it would seem to make sense for Americans to look anew at the underlying issues on the question of gay marriage. One can decide to oppose it in good faith, but such opposition should at least be forged by those in full possession of the relevant cultural and religious history and context.

With this I could scarcely agree more. But, frankly, the excerpts listed above would cast doubt as to whether Meacham has followed his own advice.

There are any number of other things I’d like to address in both articles, but time and space will for the moment limit me to a few closing comments:

1. Christianity Today’s editorial response to Newsweek is appropriately candid when it states, “While we do not expect Newsweek to excel in theological or biblical argument, we do expect that respected magazine to practice good journalism—like presenting the actual arguments of one’s opponents, and being fair to the context of quoted sources.” This is something, in this particular case, Newsweek clearly did not do. And that is simply a failure to love one’s neighbor, a moral maxim (and biblical command) that, to my knowledge, no one seems willing to do away with.

2. All of this serves as a healthy reminder to those of us who count ourselves as conservative or historically orthodox Christians. If we expect to be fairly represented by others, we need to do the same for those with whom we disagree, whether they are gay, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, atheistic, etc.

3. Finally, I want to make plain that none of this is meant to promote any kind of contempt for or mistreatment of those who maintain the moral legitimacy of gay marriage in particular or homosexuality in general. While I’m firmly convinced that the Scriptures argue against such a perspective, I’m just as convinced they maintain those that don’t agree (some of whom, in my own case, are family and friends) are made in the image of God and therefore worthy of genuine respect.

Other noteworthy responses to Newsweek:
Albert Mohler
Steven Waldman

HT: Justin Taylor

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