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It is fairly easy for me as an activist gay man and especially as an agnostic leaning towards atheism to see southern Christians in general and evangelicals in particular as being on the wrong side of the struggle gay rights.  Certainly, there are innumerable examples to support that view, with the likes of Phelps, Falwell, and Robertson (to whom I swear I am not related) using every opportunity available to them to excoriate gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and their supporters.  Even among seemingly normal "good Christians", the mention of gay marriage seems to incite protestations about the sanctity of marriage filled with such vitriol that even Jesus in Heaven must surely blush.

So it was that I came upon a most fascinating article on the front page of the local section of this morning's Virginian-Pilot.  There, to my amazement, was the story of an older (67) southern Evangelical white Christian woman right here in Norfolk, VA, well known for espousing conservative views regarding the importance of the family, who had written and gotten published a book actually arguing in favor of gay marriage from a Christian perspective.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni hardly stands alone among fellow Evangelical Christians in lamenting the high rate of divorce, young adults who "hook up" for casual sex and unwed parents. In her just-released book, "What God Has Joined Together?," the Norfolk writer says that America must reverse decades of marital decline.

But those same pro-marriage evangelicals may recoil from her book's subtitle: "A Christian Case for Gay Marriage." In it, Scanzoni argues that neither the Bible nor "family values" are incompatible with homosexuality.

"Marriage, this idea of sex, love and commitment for life, is the ideal," she said during a recent interview at a coffeehouse in the Ghent area of Norfolk. "Why shouldn't everybody be invited into this institution?" [emphasis mine]

Scanzoni co-authored the book with David G. Myers, a Michigan social psychologist and scholar.  Both stated in the book that they are heterosexuals, and Scanzoni herself was married for twenty seven years with two children.

What makes this so very interesting is that even though they disagree with some of the basic assertions made by the gay rights movement (including the oft-quoted figure of 10% gays in any population), they do make one key point:

For Christian readers, the book's most unambiguous section may be its contention that the Bible does not even address homosexuality as a sexual orientation.

Reviewing the scriptural passages most often cited by opponents of homosexuality, Scanzoni and Myers conclude that biblical writers criticized same-sex activity such as rape or prostitution but never addressed homosexuals living as monogamous, committed couples.

"We still take the Scripture as authoritative, but it's amazing the new things you find as you look at it," Scanzoni said.

That, I think, is extremely important, and is something we have asserted right from the start.  Even the sections of the bible which do condemn homosexual activities are generally surrounded by other commandments which have been largely written off by even the most God-fearing as obsolete and rendered irrelevant by the new testament.  I dare say you'll not find a single fundamentalist who hasn't committed at least one and probably several of the abominations listed in Leviticus (modern fashion alone renders it all but impossible not to).

I have not read the book yet (though I certainly intend to), however the article misses one very important part even if the book itself does not.  Arguably the most tangible and pragmatic benefit of long-term monogamous relationships is the reduction in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  Certainly, if we're worried about the spread of AIDS, we should be doing everything in our power to encourage them and discourage people from playing the field.  One would think even the most ardent fundamentalists could see and agree with that point.  Therefore, it strikes me as inane to ban gay marriage and tell the people who are making that extraordinary commitment that theirs is somehow not valid, solely on the basis of a millennias old text of somewhat dubious origins and authenticity and even more questionable translation.

Thus you can imagine why people like myself get so incensed at the mention of the "sanctity of marriage" and certain abominations.  Such arguments only serve to alienate people and play off of baseless fears rather than address the real important issues facing our society.  We are desperately in need of a rational approach to this debate and it pleases me no end to finally see prominent evangelicals offering one.

I therefore strongly encourage anyone interested in this debate to acquire a copy of "What God Has Joined Together?: A Christian Case for Gay Marriage," and support these two authors in their efforts to resolve one of the most divisive issues of our time.  As they demonstrate, we are no longer confined to either persecuting homosexuals or abandoning Christianity: there is a third, pragmatic way which deserves thoughtful consideration and support.

The article which inspired this essay, "Same-sex marriage gets an unlikely supporter" (Virginian-Pilot, Hampton Roads 07/03/05) is unfortunately not available online for free, however you can find it on the Virginian-Pilot's e-Pilot web site for a $2.95 one-day pass, should you so desire.

Originally posted to Sean Robertson on Sun Jul 03, 2005 at 08:42 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Incidentally, (4.00)
    I'd be willing to bet good money that the coffeeshop in question was Elliot's Fair Grounds, arguably the best, and certainly the most liberal coffeeshop in the south side of Hampton Roads (that being Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Suffolk, for the uninitiated).  They offer only fair-trade coffee, and until recently (when the distributor went belly-up) offered The Gaurdian, the Village Voice, and Le Monde, among others (they still carry an Italian newspaper and the New York Times as well as the local rags).

    And before anyone asks, no, I do not work there, but I might as well given as much time as I spend there using their wifi network. ;)

    •  speaking of uninitiated virginians... (none)
      i went to VA tech and a guy i was talking to from norfolk one day commented that all of the "i need a ride to NOVA" signs confused him to no end.  he had no idea what the hell "NOVA" was and figured it just had to be the biggest city he'd never heard of.  


      "quack, quack, quack" - george w. bush, january 20, 2005

      weather forecast

      by Cedwyn on Sun Jul 03, 2005 at 09:04:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  your timing couldn't be better (none)
    I hope that everyone in the comments on Armando's front page post who is suggesting that the state get out the marriage business reads this.

    Thanks for a great find!

    As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields. -Leo Tolstoy

    by timerigger on Sun Jul 03, 2005 at 08:54:12 PM PDT

  •  Agree. (none)
    My best friend is an evangelical who believes that the state should do civil unions not marriage and that those civil unions should be available to everyone equally.  She's not alone among people I know.  
    •  I take great pride (none)
      in having gotten more than a few politicians to agree with that view. ;)

      Truthfully, marriage is an inherently religious concept.  The legal contractual aspect of it should be kept seperate so that religious institutions are free to discriminate within their own walls without infringing on anyone's rights without.  If you want a religiously solemnized marriage, then you should have to have two agreements: one witnessed before God, and a seperate one before the state.  I really don't see any other way to do it which completely respects the rights of all parties involved.

    •  However, I'm Not Sure How Fertile... (none)
      ...the ground is for this among the "rank-and-file" of their denominations.  Myers, who teaches at Hope College in Holland, MI, is a member of one of the Dutch Reformed denominations, which are very conservative Calvinist sects.  He is, however, also an outstanding and highly respected social psychologist.  (When I graded undergraduate Social Psychology tests for a professor, the text he used was Myers'.)  Thus, while he's obviously very devout, he's also a gifted and committed social scientist.  Thus, he's more "equipped" to look at things more openly.

      The reaction of his denominational brethren, however, has been much less open-minded.  I half-heard a piece the other day on Michigan Public Radio about his denomination repudiating his position.  And the heavily Dutch Reformed parts of Michigan was where our state's so-called same-sex marriage ban garnered its strongest support.

      What this stuff reminds me of is 2003, when in Alabama the state chapter of the Christian Coalition supported Governor Riley's proposal for a more equitable tax system, which would have done some redistribution of wealth.  The national chapter of the Christian Coaltion opposed the Riley proposal, and it went down something like 70-30.  

      When denominations that for decades have been telling their congregants that their fellow citizens aren't worthy of some right or standard of treatment have people who say the denomination is wrong, it's harder to change the people's mind to be more tolerant.  It's like turning around a big ship; before changing direction, you first have to stop the momentum.

  •  let me add several possibly relevant remarks (4.00)
    offered from a Jewish perspective.  Yeah, I know I am a Quaker, but I am of Jewish background and I once participated in the advanced Talmud class taught by Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel Synagogue in the Georgetown section of Washington DC (where I used to sit on Saturday about 8 feet from Joe Lieberman).

    Rabbi Freundel pointed out that while Leviticus condemns lying with a man as if with a woman would prohibit male homosexuality, the entire Jewish Bible is silent on the question of Lesbianism, which is therefore not condemned.

    Going on my own, I would also note that there are rules about prostitutes and concubines in the jewish scripture, which allows for both, including visits by a man who is married.

    Finally, and totally on my own, I have joked that the way around the Levitical condemnation cited above is to read it literally:  if I have sex with the vagina of a man, then and only then will I be lying with a man as if with a woman.  Since men don't have vaginas, literally speaking the rule has no practical application.

    Take that, Biblical literalists!

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Sun Jul 03, 2005 at 09:04:31 PM PDT

    •  That is a riot! (none)
      Don't anyone tell the lesbians that, though, we don't want them abandoning the good fight thinking they've won it already. ;)

      BTW, did you smack Lieberman when you had the chance? :D

      •  It's perhaps even more a riot than you think... (none)
        the Levitican reference is virtually always interpreted as though it automatically implies a male reader...

        that is, if a woman (or, even better, a lesbian) were reading the proscription against lying with a man as though a woman, as being applicable, then it arguably even encourages the lesbian relationship...

        The fact, of course, remains, that there is nothing, really, in any of the Bible, that condemns lesbianism.  It is instead arguable that it encourages it.

        •  Yup.... (none)
          'Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman' is a pretty clear indication that the Judeo-Christian god hates female heterosexuality.  

          Somebody ougtta inform all those Christian wives that, according to their own Bible, they are committing an abomination whenever they lie with a male.  

    •  Translation Issues (none)
      The best way to translate the phrase "mishk'vay isha" is "as one lies with a woman." Meaning, sexual penetration. Additionally, the legal definition of sex (as codified by the Talmud) is that actual penetration has to have occurred. Since it is not possible (according to the Talmud) for one woman to penetrate another, ipso facto lesbianism cannot involve the sex act.

      The Bible makes no mention of lesbianism probably because it either didn't occur to the authors or it didn't matter to them; in a patriarchial society with mutliple wives and concubibes being, if not the norm, at least acceptable, women will often turn to each other. The Talmud does not (so far as I know) go into this aspect, but it does say that while the Torah did not specifically mention lesbianism, the Talmud still does not approve of it, and a cohen (priest) is not allowed to marry such a woman.

      Your rabbi should also have noted (maybe he did?) that the basic prohibition against gay sex is one of a list of activities (bestiality, passing the child through the fire to Moloch) that were specific Cananaanitic worship rituals. There is an argument to be made that the Levitical prohibition is cultic more than it is sexual. (Temple prostitution is forbidden for the same reason.)

      I don't recall offhand how the UAHC (the Reform rabbinical group) reiniterpreted the Lev. passage, but you might want to look it up. The Conservative movement is also shifting its position, though they have more constraints on them.

      •  Leviticus does forbid 'Egyptian practices' (none)
        which some scholars think may be a reference to lesbianism. However, because the original meaning of the text was lost very early, I believe even the Talmud is silent on exactly what is meant by this reference.

        "All institutions have in the long run to live by the nature of things, and not by childish pretendings." - George Bernard Shaw

        by gracchus on Mon Jul 04, 2005 at 06:57:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I seem to recall.... (none)
    ...that there was some bigtime conservative state legislator with a once-perfect record with the Christian Coalition who came out in favor of gay marriage. His justification for that was something along the lines of more marriage being better than less marriage.
  •  recommended! (none)
    The conservative attitude should really be "Gays can only have sex inside a marriage", which is what they say to heterosexuals. (why should they be allowed to have sex out of wedlock? just because pregnancy isn't a problem?)

    I am glad you mention that statistic that 10% of the population is gay. I read somewhere a different guess that the number is 3%. That means there's 7% of the population is hiding their orientation. And those are the people who will fight the hardest against gay rights. Most straight people don't really care or feel threatened. For them it's a matter of explaining things correctly and appealing to their sense of fairness.

    In the last 6 months or so I've had some success arguing this to anyone who is opposed to gay marriage. Since they really don't have a biblical basis for the objection, they can't win Lefty Mama's double whammy of the logical appeal and the emotional stories I have of great gay parents and poor straight parents. Of long-term lovers who must spend eternity buried 50 feet apart in the same cemetery.

  •  Of course gay marriage is Christianity-compatible (none)
    The core of Christianity is the advice/command to "love thy neighbor;" the teaching to avoid judging the behavior of others and the egalitarian promise that "whosoever" that "believes" shares the benefits of the religion (forgiveness through grace; access to sacrements).  As a philosophical matter, it is entirely logical that this extend to gay and lesbian Christians who wish to establish stable loving monogamous relationships with partners of the same sex.  This logic has both textual and historic support - aside from the Gospel references above, Paul's letters to the Galatians and the Ephesians amply set forth the idea that the message was available to everyone and Paul's whole history of extending the message to Gentiles (which logically includes gays) is highly supportive of the egalitarian univeralist concept.

    Fundies tend to believe that the sole focus should be textual - if the argument must stay there, there are also ample Biblical references that support the case.  Matthew 5:22 is perhaps most apt because it is the only Jesusian reference to gays - there Jesus admonishes his listeners not to gay-bash, that is, not to say the word "raca," which is Aramaic for "sissy."  In the OT, there is also the entire Book of Daniel, in which the gay hero was kidnapped/enslaved for the purpose of male shrine prostitution (rape/castration).  There is also the David/Jonathan reference (in Samuel) and the Song of Songs' rather lurid paean to the male body.  And the Pauline references in the NT, whilst reflecting Paul's abhorrence of the idolatrous activities of the Christians in Corinth and Rome, rather clearly establishes the early existence of gay Christians.

    Because the fundies don't generally bother to actually endeavor to interpret the Bible, they rarely reach the, in my view, proper conclusion.  I'm glad to see that the two authors you cite have actually bothered not only to read their Bible, but to attempt to understand it.

  •  the great irony (none)
    is that the push for marriage equality is in one sense a profoundly conservative endeavor, in that it holds up marriage in a monogamous relationship as a universal ideal which deprevation from is a crime against a class of people. in one sense, it is an argument for the sanctity of marriage (eat that, dobson!).

    personally, i come to my support of it from a libertarian perspective, i the sense of "leave all of us the hell alone," but in many senses it is a real defense of the institution, if not hetersexual priviledge.

    crimson gates reek with meat and wine/while on the streets, bones of the frozen dead -du fu (712-770)

    by wu ming on Sun Jul 03, 2005 at 11:11:45 PM PDT

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