Remarks for Pepperdine GSEP Panel Discussion Entitled:
By Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.
March 24, 2009
Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology
WLA campus – Howard Hughes Center
6100 Center Dr., Los Angeles, 90045 (Room 203)
Before I begin my prepared remarks this evening, let me first extend my thanks to Pepperdine University, to the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, to Dean Margaret Weber for her leadership, and to those who worked hard behind the scenes like Vanessa Jahn to bring about this event. I want to publicly praise Dr. Weber and GSEP for their interest in an open dialogue about the issues of homophobia and racism, and the Christian’s role in this debate. I believe the only way we will ever come to terms with issues like gay marriage and California Proposition 8, racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of social injustice, is to participate in open, professional, respectful, and constructive discussions with those individuals and groups with whom we disagree. I commend this forum, the other panelists, and GSEP’s willingness to discuss this topic in the midst of the ongoing debate. Thank you for your invitation, and I appreciate the opportunity to address you this evening and participate in this panel.
And now to my prepared remarks.
On March 5, 2009, Pepperdine University School of Law Dean Kenneth Starr, a former U.S. Solicitor General, and Independent Counsel investigating President Clinton, presented oral arguments before the California State Supreme Court in defense of California Proposition 8. Dean Starr’s arguments were given in response to a legal challenge brought by several gay rights organizations as well as state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office seeking to overturn the November 2008 California ballot measure Proposition 8, which overturned an earlier 2008 California Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in the state of California. The fourteen-word proposition read simply: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” And while this proposition was intentionally terse and simply stated, its repercussions are far-reaching and unambiguous.
The November 2008 vote resulted in a simple majority of Californians overturning state law, and amending the state constitution to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages. In filing their legal challenge, the state Attorney General’s office asked the court to invalidate Proposition 8 on the grounds that certain fundamental rights, including the right to marry, are inalienable, and that the civil rights of a group in a minority cannot be dictated by the mere popular vote of a majority. For his part, Dean Starr’s argument focused less upon gay marriage, and more upon the legal issue of whether the people of California have the right under the California constitution to amend the constitution and overturn a specific decision of the California Supreme Court.
The outcome of this legal drama is yet to be determined. The California Supreme Court has 90 days from the date of the oral arguments, March 6, to rule on the case. But regardless of the outcome, we can be assured that one side will protest the ruling, and seek to have yet another ballot measure placed on the California ballot.
While this legal battle wages on, we, as people of faith and citizens of the state must wrestle with additional issues pertaining to same-sex marriage, including, but not limited to issues of social justice, the alienation of those ruled against, and what will be the counseling of and ministering to what could be thousands of families having divorce forced upon them by the state due to the passage and subsequent legal upholding of Proposition 8.
Those of us who are committed to serving, defending, and advocating on behalf of those experiencing social injustice must, to the best of our ability, attempt to maintain certain levels of trustworthiness, consistency, and credibility with society. If we fail to act with compassion and empathy toward those affected by the coming legal decisions, regardless of our opinion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, we risk not only losing effectiveness as individual counselors, confidants, educators, therapists, and advocates, but we risk causing further harm to the already rapidly diminishing reputations of institutions of faith, be it Christianity, Judaism or other faith-based traditions, and increased skepticism of their effectiveness, and dare I say, relevance in today’s society. As professionals, we must maintain a focused level of service to those who are suffering first and foremost, and only then, in a secondary place, to issues of public policy and political position taking.
Unfortunately, this will be more difficult for members of the Pepperdine community, due to the unfortunate events that played out during the 2008 campaign. Pepperdine was thrust into the midst of this debate due in no small part to the advocacy of School of Law Professor Richard Peterson and his very public, very televised advocacy for Proposition 8 and the campaign in favor of “traditional” marriage.
Now, I respect Richard Peterson, and I respect his right to advocate on behalf of the issues in which he believes strongly. For that matter, I respect tremendously Dean Ken Starr and his professional and thoughtful arguments in support of Proposition 8. These men have the right to speak in support of issues they feel important to them, as do I.
But the Pepperdine community found itself thrust into a debate that it tried strongly to avoid. Despite the repeated efforts in the form of press releases and emails to the Pepperdine community to declare a position of political neutrality with regard to Proposition 8, President Andrew Benton could not help but watch the public, the media, and the nation, cast Pepperdine as a fundamentalist, religiously right, politically conservative opponent of same-sex marriage. Despite the fact that the School of Law held open discussions for and against gay marriage, in spite of repeated pronouncements that Pepperdine took no official position on the issue of gay marriage, and despite the fact that there are scores of Pepperdine faculty members and students that opposed and voted against Proposition 8, Pepperdine, its faculty, and most unfortunately, its students were typecast as strident opponents of gay marriage, largely because of the very public role played by Professor Peterson, who became the de facto “Yes on 8″ spokesperson.
The Pepperdine community, and specifically those of you in this room committed to working with those potentially affected by Proposition 8, have your work cut out for you. The dilemma for Pepperdine, a prominent Christian University in Southern California, and its students is one of trust and credibility with regard to counseling and ministry to marginalized communities, including homosexuals. How can a Christian university be trusted to counsel and minister to those harmed by the state’s decision to ban same-sex marriage if two of the major legal operatives for the “Yes on 8″ campaign are prominent Pepperdine employees? And how do we deal with those who feel some degree of anger, resentment, and frustration towards us because of our affiliation with Pepperdine?
As a scholar in the field of Biblical Studies, I have addressed ways in which we can approach the issues of “biblical sanction” for marriage, if such a thing can be said to exist. For the sake of time, I shall reserve comments on the specifics of my arguments for the discussion period. For a detailed analysis of this issue, please see my essay entitled, “It is OK for Christians to Vote No on Prop 8” on my website, bobcargill.com. In my remaining time, I shall offer only a summary of my argument.
The key to counseling those affected by racism or homophobia from a standpoint of faith is to approach the biblical text with a hermeneutic (or way of reading the Bible) that is thematic, as opposed to fundamentalist or literal, and which understands the Bible as a narrative about individuals of faith written by individuals of faith within a particular social context in a given period in history. This means approaching the Bible not as a blueprint, or as a set of rules, but as a document that records the earliest attempts by people of faith to demonstrate the presence of God through ministry towards the marginalized.
When we approach the text as a body of law to which we appeal in order to draw support for our predetermined positions, we rip verses from their textual and social contexts, and can make the Bible say pretty much whatever we want it to say. This is called prooftexting, and leads to countless problems theologically as well as practically. The alternative is to understand the text as an attempt to communicate a knowledge of God and a care for the suffering to others. This approach sees the text not only as the word of God, but also as a product of the various cultures in which they were written, including Canaanite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. The statutes and directives offered by the biblical text are understood not as rules binding all peoples of all cultures for all time, but as directives for a particular audience in a particular social setting. Approaching the biblical text in this thematic and social way not only allows for the biblical text to remain relevant to societies as they evolve and develop over time, but guards against glaring inconsistencies stemming from fundamentalist readings of the text.
To illustrate the problems encountered by attempting to apply the “rules” of the Bible to all societies for all time, I shall offer a few examples. The examples I have chosen for this exercise have special importance to the issue of marriage, especially those arguing for a “traditional” or even a “Christian” model of marriage.
First, the idea that there exists a singular “biblical” model for marriage is a myth. The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) clearly demonstrates that polygamy was the acceptable marital norm, and that acceptable ways of procuring a wife included working fourteen years for your uncle in exchange for his two daughters (Jacob in Gen. 29), demanding your parents bring you the wife of your choice (Samson in Judg. 14), hiding in the bushes and snatching dancing women (Benjamites of Judg. 21), collecting 200 foreskins of your father-in-law’s enemies in exchange for a wife (David in 1 Sam. 18), killing a man and taking his wife (David again in 2 Sam. 11), marrying a prostitute (Hosea 1), getting a woman as a part of a land purchase (Boaz in Ruth 4), and of course, just having God make you a wife while you sleep (Adam in Gen 2).
As far as the New Testament is concerned, the apostle Paul clearly states in 1 Cor. 7 that if a Christian ideal exists, it is life as an unwed, single person. Paul goes so far as to offer the timeless wisdom of 1 Cor. 7:28 when he states, “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.”
Second, Christians have learned to address other social prohibitions mentioned in the Bible in alternative ways. I shall offer three brief examples. The first is that of the social institution of slavery. Col. 3:22 states, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly.” 1 Pet. 2:18 says that slaves should obey even harsh slave masters, stating, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” Eph. 6:5 goes so far as to equate one’s service to one’s master with service to Jesus himself, stating, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.” Not only does the Bible not view the social institution of slavery as a sin, but on several occasions endorses the practice, adjuring slaves to comply with the institution of slavery. Additionally, in the biblical letter of Philemon, the apostle Paul insists that a runaway slave named Onesimus return to his slave master Philemon. Far from any “I have a dream” speech, the Bible appears to consistently endorse the practice of slavery, that is, if the Bible is read fundamentally.
It is important to underscore the fact that these biblical passages did not magically disappear from the Bible during the early abolitionist movement or throughout the Civil War. In fact, it was conservative, fundamentalist Christians that were openly advocating for the continuation of slavery, citing both tradition and the biblical precedent of the practice of slavery as evidence of “God’s plan” and approval of the continued suppression of the civil rights of certain individuals.
Fortunately, by the time the civil rights movement arrived in the 1960’s, a majority of Americans were prepared to grant equal rights to African-Americans. However in the southern Bible Belt, where a more fundamentalist reading of the Bible is espoused, the integration of public schools had to be forced upon the populace with the landmark judgment in the case of Oliver Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka. Thus, the issue of slavery offers us a perfect example of a social practice where the Bible clearly states a position (an endorsement of and comfort with the practice of slavery) that our modern democracy has rejected outright. Modern people of faith have learned to read the biblical verses pertaining to slavery as products of a 2000-year old social environment, and not as eternal mandates for all peoples for all time, and rightly so.
Let us look at another example: the portrayal of the role of women in the Bible. On several occasions in the Bible, women are instructed to “remain silent” and to “submit to their husbands.” 1 Cor. 14:34 states, “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says,” demonstrating that the early church simply accepted existing laws ordering women to remain subject to men. 1 Tim. 2:12 states, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent,” again reinforcing the notion that women are subject to men’s authority. Col. 3:18 reminds women, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,” noting that a wife’s submission to her husband is ordained by God. Eph. 5:22-23 makes the case for a hierarchy among men and women more clearly, stating, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.”
There is clear traditional and biblical evidence that argues that women should remain in their “God given” roles as secondary to men. And yet, many Christians have rightly learned to understand these prohibitions as a result of a long history of subjugation of women, including the Greco-Roman period, in which the New Testament was composed. Thus, despite the biblical injunctions adjuring women to remain silent, most Christians have allowed women equal rights, at least in the civic arena, where the issue of Proposition 8 and gay marriage is being debated.
I shall also point out the tremendous irony that women have achieved in civil society what they are still struggling to achieve in the church. Despite Gal. 3:28’s conclusion that “in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female,” it is precisely “in Christ” (that is, in the church) that women still do not enjoy the same levels of equality as they experience in the secular world. Clearly, there is still much work for Christians to do with regard to the role of women in the church.
The third manner in which Christians have learned to reinterpret biblical passages pertaining specifically to marriage that they find to their dislike is with regard to verses addressing divorce. If a definition of “biblical sin” is the standard by which some Christians are denying same-sex couples the civil rights that accompany marriage, then why are other actions described as “sins” in the Bible, such as divorce, not also grounds for the denial of the right to marry? The Bible speaks plainly about divorce, stating in 1 Cor. 7:11 that a divorced individual should be reconciled to his or her spouse or should not remarry. There is no doubt that in most cases, divorce negatively affects child rearing and gender roles (or lack thereof) in divorced, single parent homes—an argument repeatedly made by proponents of Prop 8 as to why same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry. Why is same-sex marriage treated differently than divorce, when both are given as reasons not to marry in the Bible? To most Christians, divorce is just as much a sin as homosexuality, yet, despite clear biblical injunctions against divorced individuals remarrying, we do not see a group dedicated to “protecting traditional marriage” introducing ballot measures and constitutional amendments calling for the prohibition of same-sex marriages, nor for the dissolution of those marriages that have already taken place in which one of those being wed was divorced. Likewise, there is no proposed state proposition that would prohibit divorced individuals seeking to remarry from receiving state marriage benefits. This is because, as far as divorce is concerned, Christians have learned to separate the scriptural teachings on divorce from the civil and state ramifications of it. Divorced individuals have the legal right to remarry in this state, even though the Bible prohibits it. Why should it be any different for same-sex couples seeking to get married?
Issues such as the practice of slavery, women’s role in society, and issues of divorce clearly demonstrate that Christians can and have learned to separate biblical teachings concerning social issues from modern state law. Despite the Bible’s prohibition or endorsement of certain social practices in the first two centuries of the Common Era, Christians have gradually accepted that the attitudes towards some of these social practices have changed, and have allowed the state to legislate accordingly.
If Christians continue to impose a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible upon state law, not only do we open ourselves to much deserved accusations of blatant hypocrisy, but we risk imposing upon the state the very real threat of a Christian equivalent of Sharia Law—the very thing we condemn in fundamentalist Islamic countries.
But for those of us seeking to live out lives of advocacy for social justice, the issue is not only one of legality, but also one of service and support of all those affected by the same-sex marriage debate on both sides of the issue. Those of us that counsel, teach, and minister from standpoints of faith must overcome this additional societal skepticism. Whether or not one believes homosexuality to be a “sin,” we must all agree that we are to seek opportunities to serve all those marginalized by our state’s decisions, whatever they might be. Regardless of our stance on same-sex marriage, we must commit ourselves to patience, understanding, and support of all those affected by this very real debate.
I want the Pepperdine community to hear me on this: It is simply not enough to declare political neutrality on issues that adversely affect the daily lives of so many of those that live and work among us! For those faculty members and students in the Pepperdine community who oppose Proposition 8, there needs to be a more public and vocal effort made to defend the rights of those being discriminated against and to serve them, even if you happen to disagree with their system of beliefs.
Those Pepperdine employees who promoted and defended Proposition 8 were vociferous and adamant about their position. It is not enough for those Pepperdine faculty members and students who oppose Prop 8 to stand idly by and hold the coats of those who promote Prop 8, and who openly advocate for constitutional discrimination against homosexuals!
The Christian that argues that the prohibitions against homosexuals are effective for all cultures and for all time must also be prepared to declare equally and consistently that the directives endorsing slavery and the subjugation of women, as well as the prohibition against allowing divorced individuals to remarry are equally valid for all times. Anything less than an equally vociferous campaign against allowing women to have authority over men, or in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban divorced individuals from remarrying, lacks consistency, loses all credibility, and well deserves the label of unapologetic hypocrite!
But those of us who seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, will learn to approach the Bible as we do those whom we serve: with patience, forgiveness, empathy, and the kind of service and support that cares for the person, and not for the political position. Of course, some will argue that issues of slavery and the suppression of women are “different” than the present debate over same-sex marriage. They will argue that those were different times, and that we now live in a different society, far removed from the atrocities of slavery and the subjugation of women. And yet, at some point in history, those past issues were the present, and those debates and battles became riots and unfortunately, a civil war. It is my prayer that we do not look back 40 years from now at what we are doing to homosexuals today in the same way we now look back 40 years ago in disgust at what our nation did to African-Americans. Because yesterday’s “they” is today’s “we,” and we now have the opportunity to remedy the discrimination “we” have recently set into law in the name of “tradition.” May we continue to advocate against this grave injustice, and may we do so before any more lives and loving relationships are asked to take a second-class seat at the back of the bus.
Filed under: california, marriage equality, politics, religion, robert cargill, social justice Tagged: | cargill, gsep, homophobia, kenneth starr, Pepperdine, prop 8, proposition 8, racism, richard peterson, robert r. cargill, same-sex marriage, social justice