Oops! For Once, Rick Perry is Right

Rick Perry (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Rick Perry (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

One of the most astute analysis of what is actually at stake in the 2016 election came from the man behind the infamous “oops” moment in the last presidential election. Speaking at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Taylors, South Carolina, former Texas Governor Rick Perry said: “Something I want you all to think about is that the next president of the United States, whoever that individual may be, could choose up to three, maybe even four members of the Supreme Court. This election isn’t about who’s going to be the president of the United States for just the next four years. This could be about individuals who have an impact on you, your children, and even our grandchildren. That’s the weight of what this election is really about. That, I will suggest to you, is the real question we need to be asking ourselves. What would those justices look like if, let’s be theoretical here and say, if it were Hillary Clinton versus Rick Perry? And if that won’t make you go work, if I do decide to get into the race, then I don’t know what will.”

To be honest, I have never been a fan of Rick Perry and I never thought that I would say this, but Rick Perry is absolutely correct.

Assuming that no justice leaves the Supreme Court before the next inauguration in 2017, three justices will be over 80 years-old when the next president takes office. What is really important in the short to medium term is not just that the next presidency will see multiple retirements; it is that the next presidency will likely see a shift in the Court’s ideological balance.

Let me explain.

The aging justices come from both wings of the Court. For instance, the two oldest justices are Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a liberal), who will be 87 when the next president finishes his or her first term, and Justice Antonin Scalia (a conservative), who will be 84. The next oldest is Justice Anthony Kennedy (often described as libertarian), who will also be 84 by then. Imagine if all three were to retire some time in those four years. If the president were a Democrat, it would mean that the Court would wind up with a 6-3 liberal majority. If the president were a Republican, it would be a 6-3 conservative majority. Now for a real scare, add in Justice Stephen Breyer (who will be 82 by the end of the next president’s first term, and you could wind up with a 7-2 conservative majority. If the next president replaces all four of these justices, that will give the presidential appointees control over nearly half the Court. No president since Richard Nixon has had this kind of influence over the Court’s membership!

As I said before, Rick Perry is correct.

Here are two “ifs” to consider.

IF Hillary Clinton, or someone with similar views, has the opportunity to replace four justices, these new jurists will be joined by the relatively youthful liberal Justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. That is enough votes to overturn Hobby Lobby (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.), ensure that anti-gay businesses do not gain a right to ignore federal law, reinvigorate reproductive choice, and potentially to shut off the flood of wealthy donors’ money into elections (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission). It would also halt efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act and shut down other legislation unpopular among Republicans through novel interpretations of the law and of the Constitution.

IF, on the other hand, Rick Perry, or someone with similar views, selects the next slate of four justices, America could be in for a seismic shift of earthquake proportions. Perry has argued that Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and federal clean air laws are all unconstitutional. He signed unconstitutional legislation purporting to nullify federal regulation of light bulbs. In his 2010 book, Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America From Washington, Perry also describes New Deal era Supreme Court decisions permitting labor regulation such as the minimum wage as “the second big step in the march of socialism.” According the Perry, the “first step” was a national income tax, which he has said stands alongside the direct election of United States senators as a major mistake among the amendments to the United States Constitution.

These notions place Perry to the far right of every sitting justice currently serving on the High Court. No justice, for example, has publicly claimed that Medicare is unconstitutional. Justice Clarence Thomas has argued, however, that Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce does not encompass the power to regulate “manufacturing and agriculture.” This position is the same argument that late-nineteenth and early twentieth century justices used to block federal child labor laws, among other labor regulations. So, if Perry appointed four justices who share his understanding of the Constitution, it is most likely that Justice Thomas would provide the fifth vote to declare most national legislation governing the workplace unconstitutional.

President George W. Bush appointed two justices – Samuel Alito and John Roberts. Chief Justice Roberts is a very conservative justice. Since taking the Court’s center chair, he has torn down barriers to money in politics. He wrote the Court’s decision gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. He has voted to restrict abortion rights. He joined the majority in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and in the salary discrimination suit, Ledbetter v. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Inc. (the Court has since overturned the decision limiting women’s access to equal pay for equal work). And he has supported decisions enabling businesses to require their workers and consumers to sign away their legal rights as a condition of doing business with that company. Yet Chief Justice Roberts is widely viewed as insufficiently partisan by groups that have significant influence over Republican base voters – largely because of Roberts’ decision not to repeal The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called the Affordable Care Act, or colloquially, “ObamaCare.”

Justice Samuel Alito, by contrast, is probably the Court’s most partisan member. He authored both Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Ledbetter v. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Inc. He spearheaded the conservative bloc of the Court’s efforts to defund public sector unions. And he was one of the four dissenters who tried and failed to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act. At oral arguments in a still-pending case seeking to gut Obamacare, Alito emerged as a more effective advocate for this effort to strip health care from millions of Americans than the attorney actually arguing the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. During a more recent oral argument on marriage equality, Alito repeatedly compared same-sex marriage to polygamy.

It is not difficult to predict some ways that the law would change if there were five justices comparable to Justice Alito on the Supreme Court, however. Roe v. Wade would disappear. Millions of people would likely lose their health insurance, and thousands would die as a result. Religious objectors would gain sweeping new rights to discriminate against LGBT Americans. And civil rights laws would wither – at least when they were not invoked by white plaintiffs. As federal Judge Harold Baer said of Justice Alito in 2013, the justice lacks “either understanding or interest” in the discrimination faced by women, African Americans, or Latinos.

Nothing is assured, of course, because it is impossible to know how health, fatigue, or politics might keep any particular justice on the Court or make them leave. But the odds are quite high that the next president will be able to leave the Court with a strong majority leaning toward his or her ideology. That kind of shift has not happened in decades; the last time a retiring justice was replaced by someone appointed by a president from the other party was in 1991, when Clarence Thomas replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall. Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama only had the chance to replace a justice they liked with another justice they liked, leaving the Court’s balance unchanged. But that streak will probably be broken by the next president. And the results for the country will be at least as profound as anything else the president does.

Again, as difficult as it is for me to admit it, Rick Perry is correct.

It is really too bad that Rick Perry will not be around the 2016 election for very long. It is refreshing to hear what a conservative like him is actually thinking. On this particular issue, Rick Perry does not have to say, “Oops.”

THE JUSTICES OF THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT Front row, from left: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts,  Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Badger Ginsburg Back row, from left: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Jr., Elena Kagen

THE JUSTICES OF THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT
Front row, from left: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts,
Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Badger Ginsburg
Back row, from left: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Jr., Elena Kagen

Keeping the Faith: A Requiem for Memorial Day

Memorial-Day2Note: While watching the several television programs devoted to commemorating Memorial Day this year, I came to the conclusion that many in the media confuse this day with Veterans Day, which is in November and recognizes the service of all United States veterans.

Memorial Day is, at its core, about lives never fully lived, marriages never made, children never born, and dreams never fulfilled. It is about the approximately one million men and women who have died in defense of the United States since 1775, frozen forever in time at the moment of the sacrifice they made to preserve the basic freedoms and liberties that most Americans take for granted. It is about the ones who did not come back, not about those who did, and to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. We express that appreciation on Veterans Day.

Since this is the Memorial Day Weekend, in order to focus on what we celebrate at this time, I offer the following Memorial Day tribute.


Brigid Schulte, writing in the Washington Post, penned an article entitled “Requiem for Fallen Fighters” that speaks to this point.

She writes: “On the first Monday of every month, the Rev. Robert H. Malm stands before his congregation at a special service and reads the name and rank of every U.S. serviceman or woman who was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan the previous month.

“Every week, the names of the fallen are published in the church bulletin. Every Sunday, the week’s death toll is read from the pulpit. Oct. 8: 18 dead. Oct. 15: 31 dead. Oct. 22: 24 dead.”

Schulte continues: “That with the United States deeply divided by the war and its costs; Grace Episcopal Church’s actions could be seen as controversial – political even.

“But to Malm, the monthly requiem is not about politics. It’s not about being for or against the war…. ‘These people need to be remembered,’ Malm said in an interview in his rectory office. ‘The names are offered as prayers,’ he explained. ‘And prayer is hard to debate… This war is so confusing, and most of us live in denial. It’s easier to go on our merry way, to take care of the economy, our personal needs,’ he said. ‘But we all need to have an awareness of this war. And its costs.’

“Those who have died are strangers to him. Not one was a member of the parish. And yet, Malm said, the experience of intoning each of their names is profound.

“The idea for the requiem came a few years ago from parishioner Mike Hix, a retired Army colonel who served two combat tours in Vietnam as a young man. He and his wife had traveled to New York one weekend and attended services at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest in Manhattan, which was founded in 1865 at the close of the Civil War as a memorial to the soldiers who died in that conflict.

“Hix said he sat transfixed as the rector read the names of the young men and women who had died that week. ‘As they read those names, it just brought me to tears and my wife as well,’ he said. ‘It was so powerful’

“Hix, perhaps more than most, knows that a casualty list is more than a collection of names. ‘These are real people, with real names.’ Hix said.

“Malm and Hix keep their personal views on the war to themselves. But the constant stream of names coming before Malm has had him meditating on the war’s costs. What does he think about as he reads the latest list of fatalities? ‘The profound failure of war,’ he said. ‘What has it ever ultimately achieved?’

“As the list of 105 names of those killed in October for the Monday requiem was readied, Malm sighed. ‘It’s just so sad.’”

As recent as a generation ago, it was still fashionable around Memorial Day to hear or to recite a poem written in 1915 by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician in the Canadian Army. After he witnessed the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, only twenty-two years old, he wrote these words:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our places; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from falling hands, we throw

The Torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

 Most schoolchildren today have never heard those lines. They do not know to what it is that those words refer. They cannot tell you the location of Flanders fields. At least, part of the reason could be that with the wars since Flanders fields, the words sound a bit passé and overly emotional, even a bit ominous – “If ye break faith with us who die . . .

On a Saturday morning in November 1918, two days before the Armistice was declared, a Georgia educator named Moina Michael was reading a magazine that featured McCrae’s poem.  She had read the poem many times before, but was transfixed by the words: “To you from failing hands we throw the Torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.” At that moment, Moina Michael made a personal pledge to “keep the faith” and vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders fields not only as a sign of remembrance, but also as an emblem for “keeping the faith with all who died.”

Compelled to make a note of this pledge, she hastily scribbled down a poem on the back of an envelope entitled “We Shall Keep the Faith.” Here are her words:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders fields,

Sleep sweet – to rise anew!

We caught the torch you threw

And holding high, we keep the Faith

With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led;

It seems to signal to the skies T

hat blood of heroes never dies,

But lends a luster to the red

Of the flower that blooms above the dead

In Flanders fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red

We wear in honor of our dead.

Fear not that ye have died for naught;

We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought

In Flanders fields.

To keep the faith with all who died and to teach the lessons that they have wrought should be our pledge as well. As Rudyard Kipling reminds us:  “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget – lest we forget!


They, and we, are the legacies of an unbroken chain of proud men and women who served their country with honor, who waged war so that we might know peace, who braved hardship so that we might know opportunity, who paid the ultimate price so that we might know freedom.” Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

3 Reasons Why I Could Never Vote For Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee ( photo by Gage Skidmore)

Mike Huckabee ( photo by Gage Skidmore)

In recent years, American politics have been dominated by a series of ideological conflicts that have come to be known as “the culture wars.” And, with Christian moralizers such as Mike Huckabee entering the 2016 fray, this is unlikely to change any time soon.

Now Michael Dale “Mike” Huckabee is an affable, sometimes funny, ordinary sort of a guy. He is a Southern Baptist minister and a former Arkansas governor. He is expected to play a pivotal role in the GOP primaries, mainly because of his popularity with a key Republican constituency: evangelical Christians.

Huckabee often bases his various policy positions in a particular, oft-times peculiar understanding of Christianity, regularly quoting Bible passages to shore up his right-wing opinions on a number of issues. His spiritual expressions will likely play well with evangelical voters, but for me, his claims – both theologically and politically – are dubious at best.

Now, I do not believe that Mike Huckabee will be the Republican nominee, but just in case he is, let me give the reasons why I could never vote for him.

Reason #1. Huckabee repeatedly cites the Bible to justify his opposition to same-sex marriage, even though a growing majority of Christians think his argument is absolute bunk.

For years, Huckabee has cherry-picked a few scriptural passages to bolster his opposition to LGBT equality, telling CNN, for instance, that same-sex marriage “is not a political issue … It is a biblical issue,” and further saying that he will maintain his position “unless I get a new version of the Scriptures.” He also responded to the 2013 Supreme Court case striking down California’s ban on same-sex marriage by tweeting “Jesus wept,” and recently condemned marriage equality to a group of Hispanic evangelicals by declaring “when it comes to the sanctity of marriage, the court cannot change what God has created.”

Unfortunately for Huckabee, there is a growing cadre of theologians who are challenging the idea that the Bible demonizes homosexuality, arguing passages typically used to condemn LGBT people have been taken out of context. This is partly why multiple Christian denominations now formally embrace marriage equality, and why the majority of most major American Christian groups favor same-sex marriage – even if their hierarchy disagrees. Despite the best efforts of Huckabee and the Religious Right, their brand of Christianity that is narrowly focused on LGBT exclusion is a dying breed in the United States.

As a Christian pastor, I strongly suggest that Huckabee obtain that new version of the Scriptures he alluded to, or to really read the one he already has more carefully. I can find nothing in the New Testament that can be construed as criticism of LGBT equality, certainly not the passage, “Jesus wept.” The few limited passages in the Old Testament that might somehow be twisted to do so would take a far more literalist interpretation than I, as a progressive Christian, am willing to make. And, lest the Reverend Mr. Huckabee has forgotten, Saint Paul, in his second letter to the Christians at Corinth writes that with Jesus Christ, by his birth, death and resurrection, the old things are done away, and all things are made new. This means, at the very least, the Mosaic Law, wherein those isolated Old Testament passages concerning homosexuality are found.

Reason #2. Huckabee openly doubts the theory of evolution, and hints that creationism should be taught in public schools.

Huckabee challenged Darwinism in 2004, expressing support for teaching children creationism and telling the Arkansas Times, “I do not necessarily buy into the traditional Darwinian theory.”

While most white evangelical Protestants share Huckabee’s perspective, that viewpoint’s influence is waning within the broader spectrum of American Christianity. According to a 2013 Pew survey, only fifteen percent of white mainline Protestants believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. The same study also found that a substantial majority of American Roman Catholics support evolution, which makes sense when one realizes that the Vatican has been open to evolution since 1950. In most cases, Christians who support evolution simply do not see a belief in God as a reason to doubt evolution and that there is no reason to doubt God’s power to work through an evolutionary process.

Huckabee has voiced his support of intelligent design (the pseudoscientific view that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection) and he has stated that he does not accept the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He was quoted in July 2004 on Arkansans Ask, his regular show on – get this – the Arkansas Educational Television Network: “I think that students also should be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution but to the basis of those who believe in creationism.” In the third GOP debate in June 2007, Huckabee was asked by Tom Fahey whether he believed in evolution, and he responded, in part: “I believe there is a God who was active in the creation process. Now, how did he do it, and when did he do it, and how long did he take? I don’t honestly know, and I don’t think knowing that would make me a better or a worse president…”

Huckabee’s statement about God being active in the creative process is something that I am sure he firmly believes and it is a sop to his evangelical base, but what really disturbs me is Huckabee’s final statement: “…and I don’t think knowing that would make me a better or a worse president.”

Au contraire, Mike! Science is absolutely critical in our nation, and given the current battle over putting intelligent design in the classroom, understanding evolution is essential for any President or leader. Science fuels technology, medicine, and the future of our environment in many ways. Evolution is central in biology, and that touches on medicine, genomics, HIV, vaccinations, green technology, global warming issues, and so much more. To not understand – or accept as fact – evolution would certainly do a disservice to the Office of the President and of the United States. We need strong leadership on science and education policy to guide our nation in all of these issues. We cannot afford to weaken our education systems and our children’s education because certain interest groups want to bring religion thinly disguised as “science” into the classroom.

Over 150 years after Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, a tome that has become the foundation of evolutionary biology, the scientific debate over natural selection is as settled as the medieval controversy over heliocentrism (the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun at the center of the Solar System, presented by such scientists as Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo). Evolution is a fact. But Mike Huckabee denies this fact.

As a Christian fundamentalist, Huckabee believes that every word of the Bible is the literal truth. Thus, Jonah actually hung out in the belly of a whale for seventy-two hours, and Samson really pushed down a stone building with his brute force. Huckabee believes that God made the earth in six days, and that the universe is just 6,000 years old. Never mind carbon dating. Huckabee falls into the “It’s a theory, so it’s not true” school of thinking. Such reasoning is intellectually dishonest.

Reason #3. Huckabee believes he would have “God’s blessing” if he won the 2016 election, because he wants to remake America as a “God-centered nation.”

The former governor has implied that, since he loves God, God would – by extension – bless his presidency. To be fair, he is not the first leader to invoke this sort of spiritual power, as European monarchs long claimed unmitigated authority by citing the “divine right of kings.” One of them, King Charles I of England, literally lost his head over that belief. They, similar to Huckabee, insisted that their leadership was ordained by God, and thus not beholden to earthy complaints.

Yet centuries of theologians have dismantled this claim, as does the Bible itself. The Old Testament is literally littered with examples of kings who came into power loving God, only to disappoint the Almighty. King Solomon, for example, was punished for his sins, and King Saul was rejected by God for his disobedience. To claim to be more righteous than these Biblical exemplars requires quite a bit of chutzpah, and the God of the Old Testament was not a huge fan of arrogant self-righteous leadership.

Like his well-tailored, suit-wearing, stage-sweating predecessors, Huckabee believes we need a “God-centered nation,” though it is never exactly clear what he means by that. When he is pressed about whether or not he is interested in a theocracy (that is, governance by religious officials) or theonomy (Mosaic law should be observed by modern societies), Huckabee always demurs, but he did say on the Life Today TV show: “We cannot survive as a republic if we do not become, once again, a God-centered nation that understands that our laws do not come from man, they come from God.” (Sounds like a theonomy to me.)

And yet his most ardent supporters seem to have received Huckabee’s message that America is in decline because we have collectively lost sight of the divine origins of our laws and customs, and have developed a preference for a secular solution instead. If America at its most authentic and functionally best is, as Huckabee suggests, a Christian nation, why not establish Christianity as our national religion?

I will tell you why. Huckabee’s major premise is incorrect. This nation was not founded as a Christian nation, but as a secular society that decreed that church and state be separated. There is to be no state religion in the United States of America and Huckabee knows that.

So there you have it: my reasons for not voting for Mike Huckabee. First, I do not want a president who cites the Bible rather than the Constitution as his authority, as evidenced by Huckabee’s views on same-sex marriage, as well as other social issues such as abortion, the minimum wage, immigration reform, and capital punishment. Second, I do not want a president who is anti-science, as demonstrated by Huckabee’s stand on evolution and creationism. And third and lastly, I do not want a president who would be comfortable in establishing a theocracy or even a theonomy as Huckabee seems to favor.

Sorry, Mike.

Marriage Requires Pizza

pizza-napolitanaFor some reason, I was thinking again of the O’Connor family in Walkerton, Indiana. In case you have forgotten, they are the family who owns Memories Pizza and have said that their restaurant will not cater a same-sex wedding because of their religious beliefs.

To my mind, there is no question that the O’Connor’s faith is an integral part of their business. According to several media accounts, Christian messages have long decorated the walls of their business establishment. This, of course, is not only their right; it is something that every American should support and cherish. It is their business.

So Memories Pizza is a family business strongly based on the O’Connor’s religious faith. And if we do not like the religious atmosphere in the place, we are free to choose whether we buy pizza from them or not. Is this a great country, or what?

But, in their obvious support for the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, recently signed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, what the O’Connor family said they would and would not do is very telling. They are very clear that they will not and do not discriminate against gay customers. They just will not cater a same-sex wedding. “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” said Crystal O’Connor, co-owner with her father, Kevin, of the pizza establishment.

And therein, my friends, lies the interesting confusion coming from those supporting the various Religious Freedom Restoration Acts across the country.

Gay weddings, as such, have never been illegal. What has not been legal in many states is a civilly legal marriage. Perhaps I am splitting hairs when I say that while currently thirty-six states and the District of Columbia legally recognize same-sex marriage, I refuse to say that the remaining states do not allow gay weddings; instead, I choose to say that the laws in those states prevent same-sex couples from receiving a marriage certificate and all the legal protections that go along with having a legally recognized marriage.

And here is why I am so damn exacting about the language that I use. When black slaves were celebrating their weddings in their quarters on the plantations in the Deep South, jumping their brooms and declaring their love and lifetime commitment to each other in front of their family, friends, and God, would any of us have called their relationships anything less than a marriage, even though they could not obtain a marriage certificate from the state? I think not.

I am talking here about marriages being legally recognized by the state, not about two persons having the right to devote their lives to the person with whom they fall in love. That right, I submit, is not within the state’s jurisdiction to grant.

Now, with every couple that I have ever counseled, I always advise them that a wedding is not a marriage. A great deal of time and money may be spent on a wedding, but it is not the main event. The wedding lasts less than an hour; the marriage hopefully lasts a lifetime. The wedding is simply a public declaration of a relationship that already exists. From my pastoral perspective, a couple is already married before they have a wedding. If that marriage relationship is not based on mutual love and respect for each other, I am no magician and I can pronounce no magical words in the wedding ceremony that will make that happen. My role as a priest at a wedding is to officiate (to preside, to oversee) and, in the name of the church, to give a blessing. The real “ministers” in the wedding are the couple themselves, not me.

So if the O’Connor’s – or others like them – would sell pizza to a gay couple on a regular basis, just not for their wedding, I believe what they are really claiming is a symbolic opposition to gay marriage.

That being said, I suspect that most people would not want pizza and a brewsky as an integral part of their wedding anyway. I know how snobbish I must sound, but be honest. Would you opt for a pizza at your wedding?

But pizza as an integral part of a marriage? “You betchum, Red Ryder!” That is another matter entirely. After all, marriage and pizza do go together.

Think about it.

On that day when both participants in the marriage are tired and have to drive the children to the next sports event, or to the ballet lesson, or to what have you, and neither wants to cook – what do they do? Call Papa John’s and order a pizza!

Or perhaps on that night when both partners just want to hunker down and cuddle up in front of the television and watch Call the Midwife and cry or The Big Bang Theory and laugh and, well, just chill out together – what seems to be the natural thing to do? Why, call Domino’s Pizza and order a pizza, of course!

Or how about the time when one spouse returns home from a long day at the hospital wondering if the other spouse will survive the next week and a meal has not been eaten all day – what appears to be the simple solution to the events of the day? Well, call Pizza Hut and order a pizza! That seems like the thing to do in that crucial moment.

Am I right? You know I am.

Pizza, for better or worse, keeps many families functional on a weekly basis. Pizza even has nutritional value and eating that tasty creation allows us the time to sit around a table, or in front of a television screen, or on the patio deck and just enjoy being a family. Savoring that matchless baked mixture of cheese, tomatoes, and whatever other ingredients we have chosen, gives us time to feel the love we have for each other. Perhaps eating pizza even allows us to focus on and talk about difficult issues that could lead to the strengthening of the marriage.

I am not trying to make of pizza something that it is not, but I do believe I can say without equivocation or fear of contradiction that pizza absolutely supports and sustains a marriage!

If it is same-sex marriages that the O’Connor family is objecting to, then they really should be arguing that they should never have to sell same-sex couples pizza at all.

Or perhaps they do not really understand what marriage is.

And perhaps, just perhaps, those religious beliefs are not as “deeply held” as the O’Connor’s profess them to be. I, for one, just do not buy that they have a deeply held religious objection to gay marriage. “Deeply held,” based on what? In many cases, people such as the O’Connor’s hide behind the Bible to cloak an anti-gay bigotry that is as much or more cultural than it is theological.

I say that because I suspect that the O’Connor’s and others like them are caught up in a period of rapid social change that they never anticipated. It must be both confusing and challenging for them to see the swiftness with which much of America has turned toward acceptance of same-sex marriage. This is certainly not the world in which they were reared, and that world is suddenly insecure and very scary. After all, the O’Connor’s of this world are just trying to make a living, have loving families, and live faithful lives. Just as same-sex couples are trying to do. Imagine that!

So, O’Connor family, for what it is worth, here is what I think. If you and others like you cannot support same-sex marriages and their families, then you should really hold fast to your convictions and refuse to sell pizza to same-sex couples at any time. At least that would be consistent. But to have civil rights and human dignity violated for something that is only a symbolic protest is wrong. Human worth and mutual respect mean much more than that.

And – if I were living in Walkerton, Indiana – the next time my marriage is in need of a pizza, I would order a large pizza, loaded with a mouthwatering combination of pepperoni, ham, spicy Italian sausage, fresh-sliced onions, green peppers, gourmet baby portabella mushrooms, and ripe black olives. It just will not be Memories Pizza that I will call for that pizza.

 

 

 

 

Biblical Marriage: It Isn’t What We Think It Is

Abraham and His Family Leave Ur by Jozsef Molnar 1850

Abraham and His Family Leave Ur by Jozsef Molnar 1850

Love and marriage, love and marriage

Go together like a horse and carriage

This I tell you brother

You can’t have one without the other.

The above words of a popular song from the 1955 television production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town may describe our modern concept of marriage, but they do not reflect how the Bible describes marriage. Biblical marriage is not what we think it is.

Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning the definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Those arguments echoed the same claims that have been dominant in communities and states across the country for the past several years.

The debate about marriage equality often centers on an appeal to the Bible. Unfortunately, such appeals often reflect a lack of biblical literacy on the part of those who use that complex collection of texts as an authority to enact modern social policy.

Many politicians have made a career out of using the Bible to justify opposition to hot-button topics such as same-sex marriage or abortion. Former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (Republican-Minnesota), for example, told a crowd of evangelicals recently that Americans cannot “retreat from our values and fail to make the case on issues like marriage because it is one man, one woman – because God said it is.” Sorry, Michele, but to such a statement, I have to say “Show me the text!” Bachmann and her like-minded colleagues use a strategy called “proof-texting” to appeal to their base. Politicians who use the Bible are not necessarily interested in the truth or in the complexity of the Bible. They are looking for one ancient sound bite to convince people what they already believe. I suspect that anyone who argues that the Bible speaks plainly on one issue, especially on something as complicated as marriage, has not taken the time to read past the second chapter of Genesis. Even a cursory reading of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) demonstrates that marriage was not understood or practiced in any way related to the modern idealism we have superimposed on this text.

As we gear up for another round of public debates, we expect some of the loudest voices to come from religious – especially Christian – communities. And although the number of Christian proponents of same-sex marriage is growing, I expect many Christians will stand opposed to same-sex marriage. To justify their position, some Christians will claim that history is on their side.

I know that marriage carries the long-established definition of a relationship between one man and one woman, but marriage as it is articulated in the Bible bears little resemblance to what we now have in 21st century Western civilization. Marriage has been just as fluid in its evolutionary process as the rest of society. The history of marriage defined as one man and one woman depends greatly on where one begins the narrative; the same holds true for the procreation arguments being sufficient reasons to sustain the existing matrimonial standard.

The primary purpose of marriage to which the Bible refers is procreation, and at least one child had better be a male heir! Sexual compatibility, mutuality, intimacy and certainly sexual faithfulness, at least for men, were neither values nor concerns of ancient biblical marriage.

Clearly, marriage has evolved since the days when the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets walked the earth. Five thousand years ago, the dissolution of a marriage could result in the perception that a woman could not bear children. It has been some fifty years since marriage was premised on procreation in the United States. It was in 1965, when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that marriage is not based on procreation. The case involved a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives. The Supreme Court invalidated the law on the grounds that it violated the “right to marital privacy.”

There are all kinds of relationships that qualify for marriage in the Bible, and thus would count as “biblical marriage,” and they represent quite a striking range of options. They include polygyny in which a man has more than one wife or concubine, simultaneously; open marriage for the man, since he can have access to the female slaves or servants in the house; marriage that forces a woman to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29); and levirate marriage, wherein a childless widow must marry the brother of her deceased husband. Those are just a few of the examples from the Hebrew Bible.

And what about Jesus’ thoughts on marriage? He encouraged people to leave their wives, children, parents and families in order to follow him (Luke 18:28-30); urged his followers to reject their families (Luke 14:26); and challenged conventional notions of family (Matthew 10:34-39, not to mention prohibiting divorce (Mark 10:10-12). Additionally, Jesus threw down the gauntlet in Matthew 19:10-12, wherein he discusses men being made eunuchs or making themselves such for the sake of the kingdom: “Let anyone accept this who can.” It is all there in the Good Book.

And Paul of Tarsus, the author of the earliest Christian writings, states in I Corinthians 7 that he endorses equality between husband and wife in a marriage. This idea is later refuted in Ephesians 5 when the writer (not Paul) endorses a return to the patriarchal ideal of men ruling over their wives. I think most people are simply unaware of the range of possibilities that qualify as “biblical marriage,” regardless of which part of the Bible they read.

Another point I would like to clarify is that, aside from that one section in I Corinthians 7, marriage is discussed in terms of the woman as the property of the man. This view of women explains why or how so many biblical stories show wives being treated as less than fully human, but I do hope that people who love the Bible can admit that this is an element of it that we ought not to continue to endorse. And remember, until fairly recent history in the Christian marriage ceremony in many churches a woman was still “given” in marriage to her husband as if she were a piece of chattel property.

Marriage in the Bible was much more about property rights, ensuring paternity of offspring, succession, political alliances and tribal stability than it was about companionship, mutual support and affection as we think of marriage today. The patriarchs of the Jewish tradition often had sex with multiple women, usually, but not always, for the purpose of procreation. Many of the women in the Bible who were slaves, or servants, or handmaids were reportedly “given” by the legal or primary wife to her husband for the purposes of securing children. The notion of consent, particularly for women, in matters of marriage or sexual intercourse was not a relevant moral norm in most of scripture.

Wives could “give” their female slaves to their husbands for the purpose of sexual intercourse either as co-wives in polygamous marriages or as concubines. Concubines were women engaged in sexual relationships with men whom they did not marry. Both of these practices are commonplace in the Bible. Sarah, for instance, is reported to have “given” her maid servant, Hagar, to Abraham “as a wife” so that God’s promise of offspring could be fulfilled (Genesis. 16:3). Abraham is not said to have married Hagar. Apparently he and Sarah had separate property, because Hagar remained her slave. So he slept with Sarah’s slave and made her pregnant. And then when that caused trouble between Sarah and her slave, he washed his hands of Hagar and let Sarah mistreat her. Hagar was supposed to put up with this graciously, but she was made of fiercer stuff than that, and one really has to root for her in this rather sick family situation.

Other notorious polygamous marriages in the Hebrew Bible include such biblical heroes as Esau, Moses, Jacob, Gideon, King David, and King Solomon, the latter reportedly having had 600 wives and 300 concubines! I would dare say that such arrangements would be incongruent with the thinking and beliefs of most people in contemporary Western civilization. We should look a little closer at King Solomon and his 300 concubines or sex slaves. In I Kings 11:3 it states: “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.” Led him astray! That is all the Bible says about this situation? How about abducting 300 people and keeping them imprisoned for sex? I think that a settled gay marriage is rather healthier than imprisoning 300 people in your house to have sex with at your whim.

Many prominent Biblical patriarchs had concubines, often in addition to their wives. Perhaps the most notorious concubine is the unnamed woman of Judges 19 who belonged to a Levite. She was offered up to a hostile crowd of brutes to save the Levite man from harm. The crowd gang-raped her and upon returning to their home, the Levite cut her body into twelve pieces and sent the pieces out to the twelve tribes of Israel as a warning of the depravity of the current age. No better example exists of how cultural context defines moral norms than the fact that this passage purports to tell the story of the moral breech of the code of hospitality that resulted in the attack on the Levite rather than the horror of a man offering up his sexual partner (or common-law wife) to be gang-raped all night to the point of death and then cutting her body into pieces to serve as a warning to his kinfolk.

While I do not think this experience happens very much today, in biblical marriage you might have to cut your wife’s hand off if she defends you too vigorously. That is correct. Suppose you are at a bar and this big intimidating goon starts smashing in your face. And further suppose that your wife loves you and wants to stop this guy from giving you a concussion. So suppose she reaches down and stops him by grabbing his testicles. Does the Bible reward her for loyalty and bravery and fast thinking?

Not on your life! Now you have to cut off her hand. I mean, you have to. You are not allowed to have a moment of weakness and think about how pretty her fingers are. Off with it, up to the wrist. It says so in Deuteronomy 25:11-12:11, and I quote:  If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals,  you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.” As I said earlier, biblical marriage is not what we think it is!

Further, when people say that the Bible says that homosexuality/gay marriage is a sin, I know they truly believe that the Bible says this, but in reality, it does not. There are passages such as the Sodom story (Genesis 19), which depicts every male in the town gathering to gang rape some visitors. The issue here is hospitality, not gay sex. These men were just plain cruel to outsiders. There are other passages people turn to, such as Leviticus 18:22, and focus on men having sex with each other as an abomination. But they do not take into account the why for this abomination. Just as in Genesis 38, where Onan is struck dead by God for avoiding making his sister-in-law pregnant by coitus interruptus, (pulling out early) and spilling his semen on the ground, the issue is about the people of Israel needing to grow in numbers. Any wasting of semen was not to be tolerated and thus was an abomination. As much as some would like it, neither of these situations is talking about two same-sex people in a loving relationship.

Finally, there is no specific place in the Bible where God establishes marriage as a holy institution. In fact, one could make the case for the Bible – and especially Paul – not even approving of marriage at all! In I Corinthians 7:8, he writes: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.” So contrary to the notion that the Bible authorizes only a single kind of marriage, of which it approves, actually it much prefers believers to die out in a single generation. Only the weak and the unbiblical get married.

And as for getting married biblically, one can do that in all kinds of imaginative ways: take two wives and someone else’s sex slave as Abraham did, or 300 sex slaves as King Solomon did (not to mention the 600 wives), or your brother’s widow in addition to your own wife. And remember, if your sex slave runs away because you are cruel to the person, the Bible (Philemon) says that other people have the duty to return the slave to you, i.e. basically imposes the duty of trafficking slaves back to sadistic sex maniacs who exploit them. But if the owner is nice and a good Christian, he might consider letting the sex slave go. But he does not have to. I repeat: Biblical marriage is not what we think it is.

When I hear people say that they only believe in “biblical marriage,” my knee-jerk reaction is to remind them that love is never discussed as foundational to marriage in the Bible. Thus, while same-sex marriage is not endorsed in the Bible, neither is a loving, mutually agreed upon union of a man and woman. But I will take the kind of marriage whose underpinning is love and mutual respect – whether it be same-sex or between a man and a woman – over a “biblical marriage” anytime! As the song says: “They go together like a horse and carriage.”