Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek and liberal Episcopalian, takes on this week’s Proposition 8 decision, and decides that it isn’t just about secular law:
At stake are our era’s definitions of humanity and of liberty. There are no more fundamental questions, really, and while the California case focused on largely secular arguments about equal protection, the religious case for gay marriage is a strong one. Broadly put, the Western monotheistic traditions hold that human beings are made in the likeness and image of God, and are thus all equal in the sight of the Lord.
This is extraordinarily simple-minded. Yes, Judaism and Christianity (not sure about Islam) teach that human beings are made in God’s image, and yes, they are equal in His sight. That means they are also equally accountable to Him for their actions, and equally called to do what is right in His sight (as opposed to what they want to do). It does not mean that every individual is permitted to do exactly the same things that every other individual is permitted. Just because a person may licitly move from Baltimore to Barcelona to take up bull-fighting doesn’t mean that a man may abandon his wife and children to do so. Just because human beings may engage in sexual relations doesn’t mean that a man may have sex with his daughter. Same for gay marriage. You can make a rational case for secular gay marriage, but saying the “religious case” is founded in our equality before God is just silly.
If a person is homosexual by nature—that is, if one’s sexuality is as intrinsic a part of one’s identity as gender or skin color—then society can no more deny a gay person access to the secular rights and religious sacraments because of his homosexuality than it can reinstate Jim Crow.
What a leap off a cliff. First, despite the disingenuous “if,” Meacham assumes that people are gay by “nature.” That’s a big question mark for which there is, as yet, only slight evidence. Lots of academics and even some gay activists are now saying that sexual orientation is a “social construct,” which doesn’t mean it is volitionally chosen, but does mean that it isn’t an intrinsic characteristic like skin color. In any case, it is clearly still a controversial question, one that can’t be settled just by an assertion of what one wants the answer to be.
Then, having made the assertion that sexual orientation is intrinsic, he then jumps to the claim that therefore “religious sacraments” can’t be denied to gays. And the reason for that is…I have no idea. People have lots of intrinsic tendencies to sinful behavior (genetic predisposition to alcoholism is just one), to which no religious organization has any obligation to cater. If homosexual behavior is wrong, then the fact (if it is a fact) that an orientation that disposes one to such acts is inherent in a person’s makeup changes the morality of those acts not one wit, especially since sexual behavior of any kind is the result of an act of will rather than an autonomic bodily function.
Finally, what can you say to something like “society can no more deny a gay person access to the…religious sacraments”? Since when does “society” grant anyone access to religious sacraments, rather than a religious organization? Or is this his way of suggesting that the state should force the church to marry gays if it marries anyone?
Not content with flashing his prowess as a logician, Meacham then steps into the field of biblical scholarship:
The problem for those who assert biblical authority in support of traditional definitions of marriage is that one could, with equal validity, assert that the lending of money or certain kinds of haircuts are forbidden by God, or that slavery and the subjugation of women are authorized by the Lord.
Well no, you can’t, actually, but this is a common trope among liberals who are more interested in sweeping the Bible aside when it gets in the way of their moral or political agenda than in understanding it.
Scripture is not inerrant; believers are called to interpret biblical texts in light of tradition and reason.
So, what’s your point, Jon? No one–and I do mean no one–who believes in biblical inerrancy claims that therefore no interpretation is necessary. The funny thing is that the previous sentence suggests a far more “flat” view of Scripture–one where, for instance, the Old Testament law’s prohibition on eating shellfish is just as important and binding on Christians as, say, the Sermon on the Mount–than you’ll hear from pretty much any conservative scholar.
For now the debate is about civil marriage, but much of the opposition to opening the institution to gays and lesbians comes from those who profess a faith of charity. In the fullness of time, I suspect that bigotry against homosexuals will seem as repugnant as racial prejudice does today. Or so one hopes.
Of course, such a screed wouldn’t be complete without slinging some mud, and Meachem obliges by calling opposition to changing the definition of marriage that has prevailed throughout the West for more than a millenium “bigotry” and equating it with racism. By that logic, I would be safe to assume that Jon Meachem hates evangelical Christians. Doesn’t just disagree with them, or disapprove of what they say or do or believe, but is an anti-evangelical bigot. I don’t believe that about him, but I won’t hold my breath for the favor to be returned.