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A Radical Christian Perspective on California’s Proposition 8

Leave it to me to be contrarian and controversial at the same time. I’ve never had any patience with those who would impose their beliefs on others and I have no respect for those people’s leaders. When I learned that the religious right had spent millions of dollars (a majority of those funds from out of state) to pass California’s Proposition 8, I knew that the ballot initiative was looked upon by the leaders of the religious right as a God-given opportunity to further strengthen their authoritarian positions because opposition to the measure would increase the deference given them by their followers. For me, that was reason enough to look for a contrarian view on the issue. I found that view in this essay. Whether it is true or not does not matter – belief based on faith is immune to rational argument, which is proven by the few responses to the Newsweek essay that were printed. This piece is guaranteed to challenge your beliefs about whether or not Christianity offers support for those who approve of Proposition 8. It was written by the Executive Director of Progressive Christians Uniting and published on their blog.

To the ‘Furiously Raging’ Religious Right

December 16, 2008 2:37 p.m.

Posted by: Peter Laarman, Executive Director

See also: “Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?” (Messiah, Jennens libretto, adapted from Psalm 2, KJV)

Yes, when I finally read the Lisa Miller essay in Newsweek to find out what the fuss was all about, it instantly occurred to me, and I will put it bluntly: it is not homosexuality as such that is abomination to the Christian Right, it is the idea of a God who loves everyone and who honors love and fidelity in all forms and expressions.

These people imagine a vain thing, and they imagine it in a way that has consequences that are dangerous to themselves and others. They imagine that God Almighty shares their particular prejudices and their particular politics. They think of the Bible as uniquely theirs to own and interpret. And so they rage furiously together when someone like Lisa Miller has the temerity to present, in a national publication with significant reach, other ways to construe the divine stammering (Schleiermacher) that is contained within the sixty-six books that most Protestants take to be the whole of Holy Writ.

Although some of the furiously raging still claim a Calvinist lineage, they forget that for Jean Calvin, as for Fr. Luther, nothing in Scripture that contradicts the spirit of Christ, as disclosed in the words and deeds, can claim ultimate canonical authority for the baptized.

A friend and colleague of mine in Pasadena, Fuller Seminary professor Glen Stassen, once observed that he could not find many fundamentalist sermons from the 1990s (he had been reviewing Southern Baptist sermons in particular) that actually drew upon the teachings and parables of Jesus. The proof texts and sermon texts these preachers used were nearly all rules and regulations laid down in Levitical holiness codes, in wrath-filled passages from the prophetic literature, and in the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline literature.

This heavy reliance on rule-bound scriptural teaching works really well for wannabe moral enforcers, but to recall the words of our Saviour (himself quoting Isaiah): “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

I am no trained theologian, nor do I pretend to be. But I must observe that neither, for the most part, are Miller’s attackers trained theologians. Yet most of those in the attack pack do exhibit unearned pretension (sin against the Holy Spirit, anyone?) to ultimate knowledge of what the Bible is about and also to ultimate knowledge of what Jesus intends for us poor mortals with respect to who we can love and who we cannot love.

For a truly enlightened theological discussion of biblical authority, I defer to my own organization’s hardworking theology squad, which published (in Resistance: The New Role of Progressive Christians, Westminster John Knox, 2008) the best account I have yet seen of how contemporary Christians are to hear and respond to the Bible’s prophetic testimony. I myself am just a country preacher and a wannabe organizer of faithful Christian people. I am not currently married myself (in case anyone is interested), but I have officiated at the marriages of lots of people and counseled many others who are unhappily married. I yield to no one in my love for the God’s Word—both those sixty-six books and also the revealed Word in the person of Christ Jesus.

Here are my own biblical and theological lodestars with respect to marriage:

1. God loves human individuality, and the indwelling of the Creator God’s image and likeness cannot possibly be limited to persons whose sexual behavior and/or models of marriage conform to some culturally constructed earthly norm—a 20th century Ozzie and Harriet norm, evidently, in the case of the furiously raging.

2. God’s supreme gift to humanity is what we call communion (a concept too rich to unpack here), and the highest human expression of communion is what we call marriage. Because God clearly intends all to enjoy this highest gift, and because same-sex couples clearly do enjoy it in equal measure with non-same-sex couples, it is humanly perverse not to honor and recognize the communion of same-sexers.

3. In respect to the alleged procreative function, do we not often affirm at wedding ceremonies that the love between those to be wedded mirrors the love between Christ and Christ’s church—clearly a non-procreative love? (I’m just asking.)

4. Even if we were to accept the terms furiously raging and go with the Pauline prescriptions and proscriptions, what are we to make of that late-called apostle’s famous pronouncement, “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (I Corinthians 7:9)? Here is what I make of it in relation to marriage equality: You who rage so furiously cannot have it both ways! You cannot denounce gay people for their alleged sexual promiscuity, yet deny gays and lesbians any option but total sexual continence—a standard you yourselves could never abide. Where is the “do unto others…” in such a stance?

What the raging conservative Christians, in their role as would-be sole proprietors of biblical interpretation, have done in respect to marriage is actually rather sad when you think about it.

They have imagined a vain thing. They have built themselves an idol, calling it sanctified marriage and presuming to define sanctified marriage as occurring only between “one man and one woman.”

How insulting to the human spirit! And how mightily insulting to the great “I AM,” whose ways are not our ways, and who can tolerate lots of human foibles but who really has a big problem (if the Bible can be trusted) with the one thing called idolatry.

4 Comments on “A Radical Christian Perspective on California’s Proposition 8”

  1. #1 Buffy
    on Mar 22nd, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Excellent essay. Thanks for posting it. I’m going to forward this to my friends.

    BTW, the RRW was *for* Proposition 8, which eradicated the rights of same-sex couples to marry. 🙂

  2. #2 Jeff
    on Mar 22nd, 2009 at 6:36 pm


    Thanks for pointing out my error – I’ve corrected the post. I also added a link to the philosophical ideas of Friedrich Schliermacher, who is referenced in the essay.

  3. #3 PK
    on Mar 23rd, 2009 at 10:13 am

    If Christians cannot agree on what the bible teaches, then maybe we need live prophets to guide us instead of the dead ones.

  4. #4 Jeff
    on Mar 23rd, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    We might well be getting to that point … think Jim Jones, David Koresh, Warren Jeffs, George Bush, Ronald Reagan and others around the world. But I don’t think we will know that they are prophets until well after they are dead!

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