On Newsweek’s Religious Case for Gay Marriage

I warned my parishioners that the only thing that the Fathers spent more time preaching on than money was sex. I’m sure they rather I talked about their budgets!

Advocacy Journalism – and Bible Study – at their Worst

The December 15th (2008) edition of Newsweek contains an article by their Religion editor Lisa Miller entitled; “Our Mutual Joy: Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.” Miller has two objectives: the first is to show that conservative Christians misunderstand what the Bible teaches about gay marriage; and the second is to show that the Bible can be interpreted to support gay marriage. The straw man she creates for the first objective shows that Ms. Miller does not understand conservative Christians, what they believe, or why they believe it. The evidence she presents in support of her second objective simply shows how easy it is to interpret scripture to suit your own purposes.

Trusting the Logos and His Tradition

The author’s lack of balance and understanding become obvious from the first paragraph. It begins promisingly enough with an alleged attempt to empathize with her opponents; “Let’s try from a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does.” But then she picks examples from the Bible that show she isn’t at all interested in how traditional Christians read or learn from it. We are not simple-minded fundamentalists (although even those painted with this brush can easily defend their positions). God did not leave us alone with Scripture to figure out how to live the good life; He gave us the Word/Logos, through whom we obtain not just salvation, but understanding. We interpret the Scriptures neither literally nor through the lenses of our own fallen social/political preferences, but by the light of Christ. The collective wisdom derived from such prayerful study is preserved within and taught by the continuing incarnation of Christ: the Church. It is this two-thousand year old Tradition that is the real opponent of social activists like Ms. Miller and progressive media outlets like Newsweek.

Sex and Salvation

The Newsweek article provides interesting and novel interpretations of scripture to support gay marriage, but Tradition has remained consistent in its teaching on the inter-relationship between love, sex, marriage, and salvation for two-thousand years. The unstated assumptions in the article are that gay and lesbian couples love each other, and that their love should be consummated by sex and blessed by marriage. I don’t doubt that gay and lesbian couples love each other, but Tradition teaches that we should order their lives not around our own desires, but around God. This requires self-discipline and asceticism. Through subduing our passions we can order our lives in a manner that allows God to work within us for our sanctification. It is sanctification and salvation, not satisfaction (sexual or otherwise), that should drive us.

Despite what the rest of the world teaches, sex is not an entitlement; nor is it a simple manifestation or expression of a couple’s love for one another. Sex is a mystery. Those who practice it correctly (i.e. selflessly within the greater mystery of marriage) are brought into union with their partner just as other mysteries unite believers to Christ. Those who make up and follow their own rules about sex do not benefit from their sacrilege any more than folks who celebrate the Eucharist with lemonade and bagel chips do from theirs (no matter how good it feels). Moreover, they have eschewed the considerable sanctification to be derived from celibacy.

Celibacy? Are you kidding me?

Tradition teaches that there are only two salvific (i.e. healthy) categories of people when it comes to sex: married and celibate. Notice that I said nothing about sexual orientation. Sex outside marriage is as sinful (i.e. unhealthy) for gays and lesbians as it is for straight singles as it is for married people tempted by adultery. It must be admitted that very few people in today’s world; married or single; straight or gay; are being sanctified by their sexuality. This has nothing to do with orientation or marital status. I have notedelsewhere how our present economic troubles are a direct result of our lack of self control regarding finances. The unfortunate truth is that we have lost self-control in every area of our lives; but the growth of pornography, hook-ups, unmarried couples living together, and the general sensualization of our culture suggests that this is especially true regarding our sexual appetites. Seen within this context, the confusion over sex and marriage is hardly surprising.*** Sin is like a disease, and we gave up on sanitation a long time ago. I’m afraid that the epidemic resulting from our sexual immorality will eventually make our current economic woes look like a simple hangover.


The way to fix marriage and make life better for gays and lesbians is not to come up with new interpretations of Scripture, but to return to the Truth in its fullness. Orthodoxy does not just provide descriptions of the kind of temptations you need to avoid to obtain salvation; it gives you the tools you need to actually do so (to include repentance and absolution when you fail). New interpretations of Scripture may be easier in the short term, but Tradition describes the world as it really is. And ignoring things as they really are invites disaster and disappointment in the medium and long-term.

We are fallen. Christ is perfect. Reading the scriptures through our own eyes only reifies our fallenness. Reading them through His eyes identifies our fallenness and the way to transcend it through Him. Take your pick, but I’ll trust Him over Newsweek; even when He tells me things I don’t want to hear.

– fr anthony

*** The recent scholarship on the “blessing of friends” goes a long way to showing the difference in perspective between liberal and traditional Christianity. Some (e.g. John Boswell) see this medieval rite as a traditional precedent for gay marriage. As an Orthodox priest and pastor, I believe that the “blessing of friends” assumed a culture of asceticism (to include celibacy) and fear that reinstituting it within our current culture would undermine its salvific grace.