Arland Jacobson: The Use of the Bible in Debates about Marriage and Sexuality
The Bible has been, and is being, used by those supporting a variety of positions on marriage and sexuality. Arland Jacobson tried to show that the Bible has no coherent view of either, but rather a plethora of views. This requires that one’s interpretive principles be made clear, and he very briefly suggested how this might be done. He also tried to describe what underlies biblical views, e.g., about marriage and homosexuality, and how these same assumptions are probably still operative today.
Dr. Jocobson’s personal and professional experiences include various trips to the Holy Land, book publications on the life and emotional intelligence of Jesus, volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Peace Project, and serving as the Executive Director of the CHARIS Ecumenical Center at Concordia College.
Dr. Jacobson’s message was one about the Bible being full of mixed messages. He believes it is intellectually dishonest to cite particular verses as the “Biblical” view of anything. He stated that these mixed messages do not render the Bible useless, but honesty and openness about the interpretive principles a person uses is necessary. His interpretive principle is to declare parts of the Bible most clearly illuminating of God’s intent. He believes that individual verses require careful and literal (when possible) reading.
He talked about marriage and divorce in the Old Testament. He highlighted parts including monogamy was probably common, but polygamy was frequent among the elites (Abraham, Moses, etc) and was seen as a sign of wealth and power. Polygamy is even explicitly recognized at times (e.g., Deut. 21:15-17). The wife is often seen as property of the husband. And when it came to divorces, that was at the discretion of the husband. Dr. Jacobson has concluded that there is no unified Biblical view of marriage, and that if such marriage laws existed they would been seen today as incompatible with our values and moral standards.
Dr. Jacobson also touched on the subject of homosexuality in the Bible. Although he gave a few examples that are often cited as examples against homosexuality such as Genesis 19:1-25, Judges 19-21, and the one probably most cited Leviticus18:22. He went on to talk about other examples of how God separates creation into distinct, separate parts, and all plants and creatures are to stick with their kind. Examples such as not planting two kinds of seed in one field, wearing clothing made of two kinds of fabrics, etc. are almost totally arbitrary (based on choice or personal whim) distinctions reflecting cultural values and prejudices. He concluded that homosexual behavior is rarely mentioned in the Bible. Nothing was known about homosexuality as an orientation. He stated that the Old Testament offers no principled (theological or ethical) basis for rejecting homosexuality or even homosexual behavior.
Given that information, it seems to me that when the Bible is cited to reinforce a cause, those who are doing the citing are usually “cherry picking” passages to justify their own personal beliefs and values. Many people believe that when reading the Bible you must keep in mind the time period and the societal structure of the region when the Bible was written. Many of the passages aren’t meant to necessarily be reflective of God’s messages, but many of them are passages about not showing the same behaviors as their “enemies” and following the same ways.
I love the fact that here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fargo-Moorhead we do not use such things to judge people or to separate “us from them.” I am proud to be be part of a community not held together by a dogma or a creed, but instead we are led in our community by the Unitarian Universalist Principles. We are truly a free religious community rooted in a rich tradition that honors the inherent worth and dignity of all people and all religious perspective. We believe that we are called to help shape a more just and compassionate world through our words and our actions.
I fell our position at FMUU is best summed up in our Covenant words by James Vila Blake:
“Love is the Spirit of this Church and Service its law. This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace, To seek the truth in love, and to help one another. “