The debate about same-sex marriage was another topic that came up during my recent conversation with my friend Stephen. Here is something that we agreed on: that many of the opponents of this idea from within the Church, oppose it on the grounds of defending ‘The Authority of the Bible.’
This argument is not new. When I was growing up un the 1970s and second wave feminism was at its height, many Christians were saying the same thing in opposing feminism. They would say ‘This is an example of the Church’s capitulating to ‘the World’. It is the values of ‘the World’ that are at play in the talk of ‘women’s rights’ and ‘equality.’ None of this talk of ‘rights’ belongs to the Bible.
So the fear that is expressed in this argument is that instead of being determined by Christ, we are being determined by another ‘law’ which is not Him, and so it should be rejected.
This is the same argument that is used against same-sex marriage. The people who use the ‘authority of the Bible’ argument see the Church as being pushed around ‘by every new wave of teaching’ and not holding out for the faith, when the need be.
About this a number of things need to be said.
First of all it is impossible to get away from the fact that the Bible does not come with its own interpretation. Many people use ideas from other sources to help their interpretation of the bible, so that it might become ‘Scripture’ (that is authoritative) for them. Some have used Marx, some have used Jung, some have used the tools of historical or literary criticism, some have used feminism. Augustine used Plato, Aquinas used Aristotle, and in the 1950s Bultmann and others used the philosophy of Existentialism to help them interpret Christian faith.
So the danger is not that people use other sources to help them understand Christianity, but that the ‘borrowing’ only goes in one direction: That is, that Christian ideas are also used to critique the ‘helping philosophy.’ The question is, in some senses ‘is one, for example, a ‘Christian Jungian’, or is one a ‘Jungian who happens to be a Christian’?
Some also say that the bible needs to be interpreted from within itself. This means that there are big themes in the Bible which give us clues as to its overall trajectory. So then it is this reading of the overall trajectory which helps to interpret individual texts. This works, for example, in relation to slavery. The bible itself has no particular objection to slavery as an institution. But a reading of some important texts, like those in Galatians that say ‘there is neither slave nor free’ that have be taken as ‘key texts’ that are a major theme of the Bible and wich helped the anti-slavery movement make its case.
So when talking about same-sex marriage, I think it is important to argue an understanding of marriage that represents a commitment to the trajectory of the Bible. This way, those who make the case about same-sex marriage cannot have levelled against them the charge that ‘they do not respect the authority of the Bible.’
But on the other hand those who want to uphold the authority of the Bible, must be aware that because the Bible is a book that always needs an interpretation for a community, in order to become ‘Word of God’ for that community. To say ‘I am defending the Authority of the Bible’ is another way of saying “I am defending my community’s interpretation of the Bible.’
The Church in Africa has to deal with this issue, not in relation to same-sex marriage, but in relation to polygamy. There they have to ask the question ‘Does the bible allow polygamy?” Do those who want to defend the authority of the Bible also have do exclude polygamous marriages? Well they struggle with it. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they make compromises.
The point is that each community of faith must try to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church about the issues that confront it. This means interpretation.
So what are some ‘key texts’ for me? For me the key idea is ‘in-Christ-ness.’ Everyone who is baptized is baptized ‘into Christ’. This means that when God looks at us, God does not see ‘us’ alone, but ‘us as found in Christ.’ This is why I love the hymn ‘And now O Father mindful of the love.’ We are reminding God to ‘look Father, look on his anointed face, and only look on us as found in Him.’(meaning Jesus)
So being ‘in Christ’ transcends gender, status, race and tribe. It implies that everyone has had to ‘die’ to who they were, be reformed, in order that they might live to God.’
One of the characteristics of ‘being in Christ’ is that we love one another. Marriage is a sacrament in that it is the smallest Church that we can have. It represents the smallest unit of ‘being in Christ’ that there is, because ‘being in Christ’ of necessity involves loving one another.
So we come to love. This, for my money, is what the Bible says. Being in Christ is about ‘being-in-love.’ The understanding of marriage that has held sway up till now is that for men and women, the difference between the genders, represents such a large difference, that to really love’ the opposite’ of me (a woman or a man) truly represents the love of Christ for the Church, or of Christ for ‘the other’ in that it makes a ‘one’ out of two opposite poles: men and women.
The argument then goes ‘to love someone of the same gender does not put one into the same position of having to love ‘what is opposite to me’. This represents an inherent failure of love, in itself. This represents an ‘easier option’ based on the fact that those who are ‘same-sex’ attracted cannot actually love a real ‘other’. They can only love someone who is ‘the same’.
I agree that love has to be of ‘the other’. When people are saying ‘the church should be divided into homogeneous groups’ so that people associate with people ‘like themselves’ I am saying, “No! To be a member of the Church is to love someone who is not ‘like me.’ ” When in Mark’s Gospel the disciples have difficulty crossing over to the Gentile side of the lake, it is because they do not understand about the ‘one loaf’: the unity of Jews and Gentiles.
My argument is that ‘otherness’ resides not first and foremost in a person’s gender, but in the mystery of their being a ‘different (an other) person. There is enough difference in each ‘other’ person to make sure that whether our sexual identity makes us fall in love with people of the same gender or not, the requirement to love ‘an other’ is equally demanding, in whatever direction it goes.
So I too want to defend the authority of the Bible. But my defence of it leads me to say ‘being in Christ’ is ‘being-in-love.’ Loving means to love ‘the other’. Loving ‘the ‘other’ can mean loving either a man or a woman, because what makes ‘the other’ is not their gender, race, or creed, but the mystery of their ‘otherness’ as a person.