The religion scholar Stephen Prothero had a tweet this past week that caught my eye: “Turns out the Bible isn’t against premarital sex and gay marriage after all. Great Newsweek piece by Lisa Miller.”
I’m not sure what I was more surprised to read: that the Bible doesn’t speak against premarital sex and gay marriage or that Lisa Miller wrote a great article. Both would be pretty serious news.
As I’ve mentioned before, Miller frequently draws negative attention at the media criticism site I also blog at, GetReligion. And it’s really not that surprising to see Miller arguing again that the Bible doesn’t really oppose gay marriage. This has been a bit of a crusade for the Newsweek religion editor. Here’s a snippet from her most recent article, “What the Bible Really Says About Sex”:
What does the Bible really say about sex? Two new books written by university scholars for a popular audience try to answer this question. Infuriated by the dominance in the public sphere of conservative Christians who insist that the Bible incontrovertibly supports sex within the constraints of “traditional marriage,” these authors attempt to prove otherwise. Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan mine the Bible for its earthiest and most inexplicable tales about sex—Jephthah, who sacrifices his virgin daughter to God; Naomi and Ruth, who vow to love one another until death—to show that the Bible’s teachings on sex are not as coherent as the religious right would have people believe. In Knust’s reading, the Song of Solomon is a paean to unmarried sex, outside the conventions of family and community. “I’m tired,” writes Knust in Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, “of watching those who are supposed to care about the Bible reduce its stories and teachings to slogans.” Her book comes out this month. Coogan’s book God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says was released last fall.
These battles over the “right” interpretation are, of course, as old as the Bible itself. In today’s culture wars, the Bible—specifically a “one man, one woman” argument from the Book of Genesis—is employed by the Christian right to oppose gay marriage. This fight, as well as those over the efficacy of abstinence-education schools and intra-denominational squabbles over the proper role of women in church-leadership roles, have led many Americans (two thirds of whom rarely read the Bible) to believe that the Good Book doesn’t speak for them. Knust, a religion professor at Boston University, is also an ordained minister in the American Baptist denomination. Coogan, director of publications at Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, once trained as a Jesuit priest. With their books, they hope to steal the conversation about sex and the Bible back from the religious right. “The Bible doesn’t have to be an invader, conquering bodies and wills with its pronouncements and demands,” Knust writes. “It can also be a partner in the complicated dance of figuring out what it means to live in bodies that are filled with longing.” Here, in summary, are the arguments: