Robert Gagnon–More than “Mutual Joy”: Lisa Miller of Newsweek Against Scripture and Jesus

As its cover story for the Dec. 15, 2008 issue, the editors of Newsweek offer readers a hopelessly distorted and one-sided propaganda piece on “gay marriage” entitled “Our Mutual Joy.” The 2800-word article is by Lisa Miller, religion editor and author of the “Belief Watch” column for the magazine (her academic credential is a B.A. in English at Oberlin College). She claims that Scripture actually provides strong support for validating homosexual unions and no valid opposition to “committed” homosexual practice. She quotes from scholars such as Neil Elliott and “the great Bible scholar” Walter Brueggemann, who are strongly supportive of “gay marriage.”

There is not the slightest effort on Miller’s part to think critically about her own line or reasoning. The lone voice that she cites against homosexual practice is not from a scholar but from a certain Rev. Richard Hunter, a United Methodist minister who offered a short comment for a “roundtable” discussion sponsored by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. From the thousand pages or so that I have written on the subject over the past decade Miller cites not a word, including my critique of Elliott’s untenable claim that Paul in Romans 1:24-27 was thinking only of the exploitative homosexual intercourse practiced by depraved emperors like Nero and Caligula; and my critique (pp. 11-12) of “Brueggemann’s” use of Gal 3:28 (“there is [in Christ] no ”˜male and female’”) as support for homosexual unions (my critique is directed at Prof. Stacy Johnson of Princeton Seminary but it applies equally to Brueggemann’s claim).
Miller’s article reminds me of the equally distorted (but thankfully much shorter) op-ed article put out in The New York Times four years ago by Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof (“God and Sex,” Oct. 23, 2004). My response to Kristof, “”˜God and Sex’ or ”˜Pants on Fire’?”, showed how bad that piece was. My response to Miller will do the same. This essay has three primary components: a discussion of Scripture apart from the witness of Jesus; a discussion of Jesus’ witness; and concluding thoughts, which takes in also Meacham’s “Editor’s Desk” column.

Read it all.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Media, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education, Sexuality, Theology, Theology: Scripture

23 comments on “Robert Gagnon–More than “Mutual Joy”: Lisa Miller of Newsweek Against Scripture and Jesus

  1. tired says:

    “There is not the slightest effort on Miller’s part to think critically about her own line or reasoning.”

    But thinking critically – or even an honest survey of the topic – might disrupt the narrative.

    🙄

  2. Larry Morse says:

    What a sorry piece of left wing propaganda Newsweek has become. The [piece he refers to is shoddy work at every level – save as an exercise in agenda driven wishfulfillment. How can a rational being distort the utterly clear in the gospels? Talk about torturing text! Larry

  3. David Fischler says:

    The sad thing is that for lots of people, Newsweek, and the drivelings of a politically driven biblical illiterate will be their primary source of information about “what the Bible really says.”

  4. Frank Fuller says:

    All true, but we have to stop whinging and ask, why have they consistently won the public mind over the past three decades? I don’t think it’s because narcissism, infertility, and disease vectors are suddenly attractive to the American mind, but advocates for traditional sexual morality have lost the allegiance of two generations of our countrymen. It might be timely to reconsider why that is, in more honest self-critique, rather than belly-aching about journalistic dimwits following the herd, which they have ever done and will until jackals are no more.

    Our course in morality seems to me to have great parallels to the trajectory of the economic realities of our culture. We have not yet fully appreciated our fiscal bankruptcy, we have not begun to understand the cost of our moral bankruptcy. That day will dawn. When it does, advocates for scriptural morality will certainly need a more cogent message than “We told you so.” But to do that, we need to understand why and how the great Sexual Morality Bubble became so attractive and what we contributed to allowing the godly narrative to become unconvincing. Let us for now spend more time on our own optical lumber.

  5. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    (for a discussion of why these texts indict homosexual practice per se go here, pp. 46-50, 56-57, 72-73).

    Does anyone know the link in the article that he is referring to at the end of the 9th paragraph? That appears to be a dead link in the article, and I would like to read it.

  6. Ross says:

    #5: I’m not certain, but it might be here (PDF link).

  7. Undergroundpewster says:

    Why do Gagnon’s arguments fall on deaf ears? Is it because scripture is not considered authoritative any longer?

  8. DTerwilliger says:

    I’d like to follow-up with what #4 Frank had to share. I think it is very important to ask the questions he mentioned and look at what “our” (the traditionalists/conservatives) contribution to the mess has been. In doing so, I’d like to suggest a very unpopular perspective – one that doesn’t sell well even in many of the most orthodox of settings – and that is our casualness about marriage, divorce and remarriage within the church. I am not suggesting that the answers to this problem is an easy one. But, on the flip side, there is really very little teaching in the church today about just What is Marriage? and why should it matter to Christians today? Marriage does matter to God – the first covenant given to man in Genesis – and divorce is a very serious deviation from the Biblical norm which has been plowed under by a “no-fault” attitude within our culture and now in the Church. If we wonder why sexual relationships of all sorts (i.e., disordered forms such as homosexuality, multiple partners, the prevalence of fornication, and adulterous affairs etc) are surging into the life of the Body of Christ, then we must ask, “What doors have been opened to let these sinful issues stream in?” I would like to humbly suggest that one answer may be our casual, laissez-faire, attitude of acceptance of divorce – under pretty much any condition for members of the Church – be seriously considered. This problem has redefined the cultural pond of America and we ignore it our peril.

  9. Undergroundpewster says:

    #8
    I agree.
    Divorce and remarriage in the Church were among the early dominoes to fall.

  10. Jon says:

    Frank, DTerwilliger, and UP are hitting on something important. (I also like the fact that Frank is aware of the dangers of pride and self-righteousness in the “congenial task of bewailing the sins of others” — CS Lewis.)

    The fact that “orthodox Anglicans” (and their counterparts in other denominations) allowed very permissive attitudes about to divorce to become commonplace is really critical to understanding the skepticism of centrist Episcopalians about traditionalist rhetoric about gay ordinations and SSUs since 2003.

    We argue that we are NOT animated by slavering hatred of gay folks, but instead are simply being motivated out of an issue of scriptural authority (etc.).

    Well, the natural question of any reasonable person is: Doesn’t Jesus issue extremely clear prohibitions against divorce? If you aren’t gay-hating bigots, but simply people trying to stay true to Scriptural authority, why didn’t you have a problem with performing marriages for people who have been divorced, often multiple times — or ordaining such people as bishops? And why didn’t our brothers overseas consider THAT to be a communion breaking issue, if they are so high on Biblical authority and the definition of marriage and so on?

    In truth, it’s a very hard question to answer.

  11. Br. Michael says:

    Objections were raised to multiple remarried Bishops and the liberals approved their election anyway.

  12. Jeremy Bonner says:

    Br. Michael,

    Granting your point, ACNA could also have gone further than barring the consecration of divorced and remarried bishops, by prohibiting the ordination of the divorced and remarried and even asking those of its clergy who fell into that category to resign their orders for the good of the whole (not because they had broken rules previously in effect, but in order to symbolize the seriousness with which the Church took the issue).

    Some parishes – including Plano – would lose gifted and convicted clerical leaders, but as a truly counter-cultural gesture . . .

  13. DTerwilliger says:

    While I stand by my comments above, I don’t want to be perceived as “bashing” those who have experienced divorce, or remarriage after divorce, within the Church. Divorce is a tragedy that the Church and us as members of the clergy have not done enough to put instruction, safe-guards, counsel, and processes of “re-admittance” (repentance, accountability and positive expectation – a’la discipleship) into the full life of the Church, around. Formal procedures for repentance and re-admittance that instruct and safe-gaurd the sanctity of marriage for the worshipping community can, I believe, have a positive organic impact on the culture of the Church which separates it from the dominate secular culture in which we live. That may be one of a number of positive actions that the church can employ to turn this situation around. But turning a blind-eye to divorce and remarriage after divorce is surely – at least in part – a formal cause of the casualness of sexual relationships creeping in (or indeed storming the doors of) the Body of Christ.

  14. Scott K says:

    The Times article and Prof. Gagnon’s response are over two years old. His points are still valid but is there a specific reason this artilce is being resurrected now?

  15. Undergroundpewster says:

    #14 Scott,

    Maybe it is to provide a “theological resource” for folks in Upper SC who are going to the 1st Theological Council of Upper SC.

  16. Br. Michael says:

    12, well, how about applying the rule with no grace? No divorce and remarriage for any reason what so ever?

  17. deaconmark says:

    16 is that a suggestion of a “pastoral response?” As long as no divorce is suggested, one might also consider effecting the long neglected Resolution 68 (1920, Lambeth):
    “We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers – physical, moral and religious – thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control.” My understanding is that, like no divorce, it is based on the Word of Scripture.

  18. Jeremy Bonner says:

    Left to myself, I would. However, from a practical and pastoral point of view there are difficulties with such as stance, at least in the short term.

    An obvious difference is that one is involuntarily (so to speak) a layperson, while one elects to accept a call to ordination and implicitly to model the highest standard of appropriate Christian behavior. I didn’t mean to imply automatic deposition (incidentally), merely an invitation to demonstrate consistency on a point of cultural significance. Ironically, TEC spent much of the nineteenth century fighting to preserve the stricter standard on divorce for the laity as well as the clergy.

    You had suggested that TEC today naturally disregards warnings against consecrating the divorced and remarried. Why should they not merely argue that they were exercising grace themselves?

  19. Ross says:

    The church only holds a monopoly on sacramental marriage, not legal marriage, and doesn’t really even hold a majority of the mindshare in the idea of “marriage” in the broader culture. If the church forbids marriage after divorce, then I think you’d see a lot of people getting their second marriages in a courthouse, and blithely continuing to come to church.

    If you’re going to go down that road, what you have to think about is less, “Should the church permit marriage after divorce under any circumstances?” and more along the lines of, “If you have been married after divorce, then you may not ______ in the church.” Be ordained? Be a lay reader? Receive communion? Usher? Sit quietly in the back? Wherever you decide that line needs to be drawn, it’s the one you can actually make stick.

  20. Br. Michael says:

    Well, let’s do it then. No remarriage after divorce for any reason what so ever in order to assume any position of leadership, lay or ordained. And I include the adultery (Jesus) and abandonment (Paul) exceptions because some dispute that those are in fact exceptions. And as for 19, consider civil “marriage” as null and void. It is fornication and thus disqualifying.

  21. Larry Morse says:

    Everything #4 has warned of is sound. True, I have been one of the whiners, largely out of frustration because I cannot answer the question: Why has the far left won all the battles – and continues to win them: See Pres. Obama’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. Is there any doubt where he stands?
    But why? Why has homophilia taken on such a cachet, why has it become a sacred cow, esp since homosexuals themselves are quite clear that “marriage” to them is quite consistent with continued promiscuity, that adultery for them is a meaningless term? Or is it precisely this that the rest of left wing America wants – maybe right wing too – to live a life of continued self-indulgence without being hamstrung by moral restrictions? Have we become so sexually addicted that, like all addicts, we will do anything to get another hit?
    The divorce argument is interesting and important, but a red herring. If we argue from effect to cause in every matter of moral backsliding, then we are in what amounts to an infinite regression, wherein even clear distinctions become muddled by the loss of focus and ambiguous boundaries.
    The issue here isn’t divorce but the spread of cultural homosexualization wherein all matters homosexual are the putative norm now, All counter argument starts from being “back on its heels,” by imputation weak, ineffectual and irrational and wholly counter to established norms. But how did they BECOME established? Was it our failure (as Anglicans, or Christians) or is there a zeitgeist at work here whose momentum neither evidence nor argument can impede? Christianity is bleeding from this wound, and the rest of the western world seems to find it not worth a tourniquet. Larry

  22. Billy says:

    I blame it all on Dr. Spock – and I’m serious. What has happened from my parents’ generation (The Greatest Generation) to my generation (Baby Boomer) is that all prior standards (including and especially self-control or self-discipline) have been subordinated to the need, nee the requirement, for self esteem to be supported at all costs – at the costs of doing our best; at the cost of lowering our standards in schools, work, religious devotion, social interaction, morals, etc. Judgments of any kind are banned. We even cheapend God’s grace for us – we basically can do anything we want to do, no matter how evil, and we are going to heaven anyway – just ask Bp Robinson. And now, in the last several years, we have reached the pinnacle of this adoration of self-esteem with something called political correctness (and, of course, we now pray for respect for “the dignity of every human being,” regardless of their actions.) And, as we’ve raised this worship of self-esteem to godly levels, we have lost our fear of God; we ignore and rationalize the commandments and the Sermon on the Mount – oh, He didn’t really mean that business about divorcing one’s wife making her an adulterer if she remarries – he was just using that as an extreme example to show how He was fulfilling the law, not abolishing it. I’m not sure God is agreeing with our rationalizations and we may be seeing the fruits of our falling away from worship of Him in order to worship ourselves – and our wonderful self-esteem.

  23. MichaelA says:

    Frank Fuller wrote:
    [blockquote] “Let us for now spend more time on our own optical lumber.” [/blockquote]

    Why?

    In the context of this article, that appears to be precisely what we should not do.

    The fact that Frank Gagnon sins in some way, or that I sin, or that you sin (I guarantee you that every one of those propositions is true) does not absolve any of us from the obligation to proclaim truth and denounce error.

    In the same way, the fact that our churches may have not held to biblical teaching in some way (I note several posters are obsessed with divorce) does not excuse us from now proclaiming the truth on another issue.

    Let’s look again at the focus of Frank Gagnon’s article:

    [blockquote] “She claims that Scripture actually provides strong support for validating homosexual unions and no valid opposition to “committed” homosexual practice. She quotes from scholars such as Neil Elliott and “the great Bible scholar” Walter Brueggemann, who are strongly supportive of “gay marriage.” [/blockquote]

    It is Gagnon’s duty to publicly oppose such false teaching, regardless of whether he has lumber in his own eye. It is also your duty and my duty.

    Frank Fuller also wrote:

    [blockquote] “All true, but we have to stop whinging and ask, why have they consistently won the public mind over the past three decades?” [/blockquote]

    For the same reason that Christ was terminally unpopular. Its called sinful hearts. Those who were opposed to Christ and his followers “consistently won the public mind” for many more than three decades, and that fact was irrelevant to the imperative that lay on the church to proclaim the truth.

    And no, proclaiming the truth isn’t “whingeing”. Its just following in the footsteps of our Lord and of his Apostles.