Biblical Expert: Faith-Based Anti-Marriage Arguments Empty

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday June 4, 2011

A Biblical scholar argues that faith-based anti-marriage arguments are fundamentally flawed, and those worried about "protecting" the institution of marriage would be better off seeking to limit heterosexual divorce.

Northeast Texas newspaper The Gilmer Mirror posted a June 4 story about Biblical scholar Jonathan Dudley, who, as a graduate student in Yale's theology program, realized that while the Bible does make reference to gays and same-sex relationships, Scripture is much more specific, and insistent, on condemning divorce between man and wife than on condemning relationships between man and man.

"Many conservatives use the Bible as a definitive source for why gays shouldn't be afforded the right to marry," Dudley noted. "The problem is that there is very little in the Bible about same-sex pairings, and what's there can easily be interpreted in multiple ways."

"Dudley's point is that the biblical prop that politicians use to condemn gays is an illusion, as are other elements of their arguments," the article said.

Dudley, now a medical student at Johns Hopkins, investigated faith-based political rhetoric in America in a series of columns we wrote for the Yale Daily News. Those columns formed the basis of Dudley's new book, "Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics" (Random House, published April 5, 2011; $21.99).

The scholar "claims that his arguments, backed by his research, undermine the basis for the far right's objection to gays in America," the Gilmer Mirror reported.

"If the goal is legislation that both preserves marriage and reflects the Bible's teaching, it is far easier to argue that divorce should be illegal than it is to condemn gay marriage," the biblical scholar explained. "Although the New Testament only contains one uncontested reference to same-sex pairings, divorce is condemned throughout the New Testament, both by Jesus and the Apostle Paul.

"What's more, the growing prevalence of divorce poses a far more credible threat to the culture of marriage in America than does the prospect of gay people marrying each other," Dudley continued. "In today's America, the divorce rate for new married couples is 50 percent. As gay marriage is still outlawed by the Defense of Marriage Act, we can't blame the divorce rate on gay marriage. That figure is due to the dissolution of heterosexual marriages."

In other words, heterosexual couples who can't stay married are the problem with the institution -- not committed same-sex couples seeking legal parity for their families.

In an interview with EDGE, Dudley explained how religious denunciations of marriage equality are based less on the Word of God than on the self-interest of those who promote faith-based legal and social inequality.

Any given theological interpretation of scripture is bound to "reflect the pre-existing interests and values of biblical interpreters," the scholar noted. "This applies to conservatives and liberals.

"I think there are a number of reasons why more conservative theologians have read condemnations of divorce more loosely and condemnations of homosexuality more strictly, including the fact that there are more divorced people than there are gay people (meaning a blanket condemnation of divorce is is harder to enforce)," Dudley continued. "David Instone-Brewer, a chief advocate of looser divorce laws among evangelicals, notes in explaining his approach: 'It is difficult to believe the Bible can be as impractical as this interpretation implies.'

"It's hard to forbid a woman in an abusive relationship from getting a divorce, even though the Bible wouldn't seem to allow it," Dudley told EDGE. "On the other hand, it's easier to lay such burdens on a much smaller and historically despised minority, namely, gays and lesbians."

Text at the author's website poses a number of challenging questions.

"Abortion. Homosexuality. Environmentalism. Evolution. Conservative positions on these topics have divided American politics and defined mainstream evangelical Christianity," the text reads. "But what if the strongest arguments against popular evangelical stances on these issues come from evangelical Christianity itself?"

Dudley went on to tell the Gilmer Mirror, "In reality, the older generation's opposition to gay marriage tells us more about their allegiance to social conservatism than it does about their allegiance to the Bible."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.