A Mutual Misunderstanding: Lisa Miller and Newsweek Misinterpret Scripture

A Mutual Misunderstanding:
Lisa Miller and Newsweek Misinterpret Scripture



In the 15 December 2008 issue of Newsweek, Lisa Miller penned an article entitled, “Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy.” There, she makes the case that opponents of gay marriage are improperly citing Scripture to defend their position. Her thesis is that the Bible’s teachings on love, acceptance, and inclusion trump any condemnation of homosexuality and gay marriage. Her point is that conservatives have misapplied the teaching of Scripture and should be focused on accepting the outcast and aiding the oppressed. The ultimate example of these outcasts and oppressed, she argues, is the gay community seeking acceptance of gay marriage.

Ms. Miller’s arguments come at a pivotal time for the gay agenda in the United States. After the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the electorate of California spoke clearly by approving Proposition 8, in effect amending the state constitution to set the boundary for marriage in the state as between a man and a woman. At the frontlines of the debate for traditional marriage in California and across the nation are various religious groups committed (in one way or another) to a biblical understanding of marriage. These are the groups Ms. Miller is attempting to disarm and discredit. With this in mind, I want to address her arguments and show why we must stand against homosexuality and gay marriage.

A Misunderstanding of Marriage


At the heart of Miller’s piece (and much other material on marriage) is a general misunderstanding of the biblical concept of marriage. Miller writes, “‘Marriage’ in America refers to two separate things, a religious institution and a civil one, though it is most often enacted as a messy conflation of the two.” Her description of the civil institution includes “contractual rights having to do with taxes; insurance; the care and custody of children; visitation rights; and inheritance.” Her description of the religious institution includes a traditional commitment of love before God to honor and cherish “in accordance with God’s will.”

Following her description of the conflated view of marriage, she makes the mistake of undercutting the basis for the rest of her argument. Her goal for the rest of the article is to debunk the views of “biblical literalists” and present a “biblical” case for gay marriage. However, she destroys her own argument before she ever gets started. She asserts, “Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history.” In this sense she is undermining the authority of Scripture just before she starts to appeal to Scripture.

Utilizing a postmodern form of reading, she claims that the proper interpretation of Scripture lies within her community of reference. But what happens when her community clashes with one that interprets the text differently? For Miller, her community’s interpretation trumps the other, but she has mistakenly undermined her own foundation because she does not believe that the Bible says now what it said nearly 2,000 years ago. Therefore, the foundation of her argument (or lack thereof) bears little or no significance for her encounter with that other interpretive community. In fact, the “biblical literalists” have a stronger foundation for building a biblical argument because they claim that the Bible continues to convey the same arguments that it made 2,000 years ago.

One of the apparently more substantial arguments that Miller makes throughout her piece concerns the apparent lack of adherence to the biblical teaching against divorce by those who claim to believe the Bible. The weight of her argument appears to hit home when we consider that 32% of self-identified born-again individuals have been divorced which is almost the same incidence among non-born-again individuals (33%).(1) Miller is correct—the church has not clearly communicated the importance of marriage and its lifelong, monogamous intent. This is our failure, but past failure is not justification for continuing failure.

The answer to moral failure among many Christians with regard to covenantal marriage obligations is not to advocate further moral failure by encouraging that gay marriage be made legal. The church’s responsibility is not to justify human action but to challenge it to conform to divine justice. For instance, we would not argue for the legalization of theft simply because we discover that many people have taken something not their own. Rather than justifying immoral behavior, the churches should exercise internal discipline. We must focus our efforts on understanding the biblical teaching on marriage and communicating it clearly to the people.

We must understand that marriage was instituted by God as the most fundamental relationship between a man and a woman (Gen 2:18). It involves a one-flesh union between the two that is depicted in one way through the sexual consummation of the marriage according to God’s design for how the bodies of a man and woman are brought together in intercourse (Gen 2:24). Although marriage is but a temporal institution, it reflects an eternal relationship between Christ and his Church (Matt 22:30; Luke 20:35; Rom 7:2–3; Eph 5:22–33; 1 Cor 7:39).

At the center of Miller’s article is a flawed understanding of marriage. Her entire argument is flawed because she views it as a cross between a contract and a sacrament. In contradistinction to Miller, Scripture teaches that the marriage bond is covenantal in nature (Prov 2:16–17; Mal 2:14). Scripture pictures marriage as a creation ordinance, rooted in divine law, that creates an unbreakable bond between a man, woman, and God. It is analogous to the relationship between Christ and his bride, the Church (Eph 5:22–33). It is monogamous, faithful, lifelong, complementary, and heterosexual in nature (Gen 2:24).

The Ruse of Gay Marriage

After showing what she believes to be all the problems with the Bible’s teachings on marriage, Miller moves to make her plea for the acceptance of gay marriage. She proclaims, “The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to the outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference—all these biblical values argue for gay marriage.” The ruse of gay marriage that Miller presents is that gay marriage is akin to slavery and civil rights—an issue of justice. Her claim is that the denial of gay marriage is tantamount to refusing an African American the right to vote.

Yet there is one huge difference. We need to recognize that there is a vast chasm between the inherent color of a person’s skin and the behavior in which one chooses to participate. I recognize that some will shout that there is something inherent about homosexuality that makes it equivalent to skin color. They will claim that one’s predisposition to homosexual behavior makes it the same. However, the two are vastly different. Skin color is genetic. Sexual orientation is not.

The arguments put forth by Miller claiming for justice to prevail in the acceptance of gay marriage actually have nothing to do with gay marriage per se. They are merely common arguments for justice. In fact, one could insert a number of other behaviors into her argument with the same effect she desires. For example, incest works nicely in her paradigm. The following paragraph should be understood as a false argument. We make it only to demonstrate the fallacy of Miller’s own reasoning.

One could note, using Miller’s rationale, that the only proscriptions against incest in the Bible come from the Old Testament laws for ancient Israel or a couple of culturally specific comments by Paul. However, the biblical commands of justice, inclusion, togetherness, and community should demand that we accept these outcasts. It is not as if we are talking about pedophilia (although the same arguments could be made there, too). We are just talking about two adult siblings who happen to be attracted to each other and want to spend a lifetime together in an intimate relationship rearing their own biological children. It is only social convention (and an outdated one we could argue) that prevents this practice from being accepted.

Of course, I am not calling for the acceptance of incest, but Miller’s arguments for gay marriage fit this social taboo quite nicely. We can add polygamy and polyamory to that list as well. Thus, her argument for justice has nothing to do with the person, but it is only a call for justice in general. The leaders and admirers of the Civil Rights movement should be horrified that their plea for equality without regard to the color of a person’s skin—which is determined genetically—has now been surreptitiously attached to a call for equality by those who choose an unnatural behavior (Rom 1:26–27).

The Inclusive-Exclusive Gospel

One final theme that constantly arises in the article by Miller is a call for inclusion based upon the narratives about Jesus accepting sinners and tax collectors, who were the social outcasts of his day. Miller even quotes Walter Brueggemann as saying that the argument for gay marriage “is not generally made with reference to particular texts, but with the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness.” Brueggemann based his argument on Gal 3:28, which reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” What Brueggemann espouses and Miller promotes is the concept that Christ’s message is inclusive of all types of people.

On one hand, Miller is correct. Christ’s message was to all people without discrimination. We see in John 3:16 that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. We see that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:8–13). We understand that Christ has offered his free gift of salvation (Eph 2:89) to those who will place their faith in him. Therefore, an inclusive element is certainly present in the message of the gospel.

On the other hand, Miller has neglected the second half of the gospel. There is an exclusive message to the gospel. Christ himself proclaimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle John declared:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 1:3–6)

The exclusive message of the gospel—that the only way to salvation is through Christ—and the personal implications of the gospel—that those who have placed their faith in Christ will seek to walk according to his commandments—demands that Christians stand in opposition to gay marriage.

Although Miller believes that the Bible cannot be used as a manual for marriage (even though I would disagree), we can trust it as a manual to show us our sin and point us to Christ. The Scripture is very clear regarding the issue of homosexuality and addresses it directly in at least six different places—Gen 19:1–11; Lev 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 6:9–11; and 1 Tim 1:8–11. If homosexuality is condemned by Scripture, then we cannot support gay marriage.

The gospel is inclusive, but it is also exclusive. It is open to everyone, but it is only open through Jesus Christ. It calls us while we are living in sin, but it calls us out of sin into the light. The apostle Paul sums it up best after listing a number of sins, including homosexuality. He declares, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11).

As a people who have truly repented of sin, faithful Christian churches will stand against homosexuality, declaring it a sin. Therefore, we stand against gay marriage, proclaiming that it is a perversion of God’s design for marriage. But we cry out to our Father in prayer and proclaim to the world with passion. We proclaim the gospel message so that people ensnared in this sinful lifestyle will come to faith in Christ and be brought out of sin into the light.

(1) The Barna Group, “New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released,” http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=295, accessed August 7, 2008.

Established 1908 Fort Worth, Texas