Huffington Post story on Iowa Professors’ Des Moines Register Editorial on “Biblical Marriage”

Meredith Bennett-Smith of the Huffington Post has published an article entitled, “Biblical Marriage Not Defined Simply As One Man, One Woman: Iowa Religious Scholars’ Op-Ed“, which examines an editorial that Dr. Hector Avalos (Iowa State), Dr. Kenneth Atkinson (University of Northern Iowa), and I wrote for the Des Moines Register.

I blogged about this a few days ago.

Ms. Bennett-Smith interviewed me for the piece. The HuffPo article does a nice job of summarizing the editorial:

“The Bible’s definition of marriage can be confusing and contradictory, noted the scholars. They stated in their column that a primary example of this is the religious book’s stance on polygamy, a practice that was embraced by prominent biblical figures Abraham and David. Furthermore, Avalos, Cargill and Atkinson point out that various Bible passages mention not only traditional monogamy, but also self-induced castration and celibacy, as well as the practice of wedding rape victims to their rapists.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Iowa University Professor Robert R. Cargill said the column was the brainchild of his colleague Hector Avalos, who suggested local scholars put together an “educated response” to the often-touted claim that the Bible defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman. “[T]hat’s not the only thing the Bible says,” Cargill told HuffPost.”

The Des Moines Register editorial concludes:

“So, while it is not accurate to state that biblical texts would allow marriages between people of the same sex, it is equally incorrect to declare that a “one-man-and-one-woman” marriage is the only allowable type of marriage deemed legitimate in biblical texts.”

That is to say, the point of the editorial is that while the Bible cannot be used to sanction same-sex marriage (because it clearly opposes male homosexuality), it ALSO cannot be said to endorse ONLY marriage between “one man and one woman” because the Bible (the whole Bible, not just the New Testament) clearly offers polygamy, marriage imposed upon men who sexually violated women, and Levirate marriage as God-ordained, God-sanctioned marriage options. (Remember, these forms of marriage were commanded in the law in an attempt to protect women from the abuses of men and a society where women did not have rights equal to men.)

The article concludes that we should be careful when attempting to use ancient religious documents to legislate modern social relationships. Or as we conclude in the editorial:

“Accordingly, we must guard against attempting to use ancient texts to regulate modern ethics and morals, especially those ancient texts whose endorsements of other social institutions, such as slavery, would be universally condemned today, even by the most adherent of Christians.”

So nowhere in the editorial do we endorse polygamy. (In fact, I am personally opposed to polygamy because it tends to promote the continued suppression of women, as polygamy is usually one man and multiple wives – not the other way around – and often within a religious context.) The point of the article is not to promote polygamy, but to point out that marriage between “one man and one woman” is not the only form of God-ordained, God-endorsed, and in some cases, God-mandated marriage in the Bible.

In the HuffPo article, I also address the attempts by politicians and fundamentalists to use snippets of the parts of the Bible they like (“cherry picking”) for political purposes and for purposes of focused, special condemnation:

“Politicians who use the Bible aren’t necessarily interested in the truth or the complexity of the Bible,” he said. “They are looking for one ancient sound bite to convince people what they already believe.”

Give it a read. I welcome comments on the HuffPo article, here on this post, or debate the issue with me and my colleagues on my FB page. Just remember that my wife and I just had twins, and that my spare time to respond to comments is limited (and often covered in spit-up ;-).

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8 Responses

  1. Anyone who makes such a statement has never done any really serious studing of the Bible or the Biblical texts.

  2. Walter,

    Your claim is that I’ve never really done any real serious study of the Bible and biblical texts?

    Is that really what you think?

    By “real, serious” do you mean “agree with you”?

  3. I would like to start out by saying that I totally agree with you and your colleagues when it comes to certain Christians who make broad statements about the Bible such as, “The Bible says one man, one woman,” those who oversimplify a certain text, or those who “cherry pick.” However, I disagree with the statement below:

    “Accordingly, we must guard against attempting to use ancient texts to regulate modern ethics and morals, especially those ancient texts whose endorsements of other social institutions, such as slavery, would be universally condemned today, even by the most adherent of Christians.”

    I think you would agree that the commands not to steal, murder or lie are timeless priciples that do guide our modern ethics and social institutions today. There are also rules/commands/practices that would not apply today due to cultural and/or technological changes. One of those, that you and your colleagues address, is the issue of a man having multiple wives. You cite Biblical passages that talk about “being blessed” by multiple wives and thoses that talk about the Levirate marriage commands. In a time where many societies considered women property of their father and then husband, it makes sense that there would be certain laws regulating what would happen to them if there were no one to care for them. That includes the passage in Deuteronomy that says that, if a man rapes a woman, he is obligated to marry her. As you know, in that context, an unmarried woman, without children, who is not a virgin, would have been an outcast of society. She would not be able to marry anyone else. Our 21st century worldview says that some of these Biblical laws seem appalling, but, why I certainly wouldn’t say that these laws were “progressive,” for their time, I would say that the overall theme of the Deteronomy 22 and 25 passages (mentioned above) was one of care (considering the context they were written in). Today, woman have the freedom to find their own husband and are educated. They are able to live in most societies as single women without fear.
    God “blessed” certain people of the Bible with wealth. Having multiple wives was a symbol of wealth. Today, in American culture, wealth is primarily defined as material goods.

    I would agree that the Bible talks about certain marriage practices other than monogamy. However, I would say that having multiple wives isn’t promoted as an ideal in the Bible. More later….too tired to think.

  4. I should have added to my post above about women today:

    “Today, women, IN WESTERN SOCIETIES,………..”

    This is becoming more true in other societies as well.

  5. “Politicians who use the Bible aren’t necessarily interested in the truth or the complexity of the Bible,” he said. “They are looking for one ancient sound bite to convince people what they already believe.”

    Totally agree.

  6. Robert,

    I have written something of a response to the Huffpost piece on my blog. My beef is actually with the Huffpost writer, though I disagree with you some as well – though I agree with you too. http://mphilliber.blogspot.com/2013/06/university-scholars-and-biblical.html

    Mike

  7. Agreed. While we may disagree on some issues, I thought your post made some keen observations. I appreciate your careful reading of the article and of my blog post. – Thanx.
    -bc

  8. […] I’ll certainly continue the discussion with those who have concerns about the religious arguments pertaining to same-sex marriage and what […]

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