July 17, 2011

A Handy Guide to Biblical Marriage

Just a quick thought to share today on the definition of "traditional marriage" - that favorite weapon of  the Christian right in their campaign to discriminate against same-sex couples. The graphic below provides a handy guide to all the types of marriage found in the Bible, and puts the lie to the argument that it's only ever loving matrimony between one man and one woman.

Click on image to view at full size.


lokywoky said...

This is absolutely perfect. Is there someplace where we can print this out so we can hand it to all the DOMA nutbags when they start in with the usual claptrap about traditional marriage?

I have been saying for years that "traditional" marriage is anything but, of course you know how well that goes over. I like that this has the actual chapter and verse.

Great work!!! Thanks!

PBI said...

Yeah, I thought this was pretty cool, too! Unfortunately, I don't know who authored it. If you click on the image in the post, it will take you to the largest copy I could find, which is suitable for printing...

Scott said...

From a non "nut job" Christian pastor here in St Louis:
The only problem with this chart is that it's conclusion is a misreading of the narrative.

Common (mistaken) assumption: The Bible is wooden book of morals we are to take at face value. “If it's in there, the Bible is affirming it” goes the thinking. This is a “I’m-pretty-sure-the-Bible-is-kind-of-like-Aesops-fables-somehow” view that is extremely common, in my experience.

Problem: The Bible is nowhere near that simplistic or wooden. Written by intelligent people, it covers multiple genres of literature. For example, the past President of USC (not a Christian as far as I know) in his book The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership names the Bible as one of a handful of “super-texts” he says form humanity as a whole. And any literary critic worth their salt will tell you that literature is meant to be read by the codes of its genre. To do otherwise is the worst kind of intellectual snobbery, rudeness and/or ignorance. Narrative (The Torah--from which the chart derives it's categories--is fundamentally narrative) has "rules." Chief among those rules is that what the text DOESN’T say is as important as what the text DOES say. In other words, you have to read the subtext as well as the text.

A prominent subtext of Genesis (the arc begins in Genesis 3) is that sexuality wrongly expressed breaks human beings, particularly the vulnerable—in that day, women and children. An example would be the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar and their sons (still at odds today), Isaac & Ishmael. Put another way, the Arab world’s current troubles began in polyamory. The other subtext in Genesis (the arc begins in Genesis 1-2) is that sexuality rightly expressed is a great gift to humanity.

Oddly, in my experience, both Christian fundamentalists and Secular liberals (I use those terms technically, not pejoratively) hold to the same wooden reading of Scripture.

If you maintain that wooden reading as a fundamentalist or a liberal, then the awkward position you obliged to hold if you choose to appeal to Scripture in any way for validity on your position about same-sex marriage is that slavery is ALSO a valid option for human relationships.

Here’s the logic: if Scripture is amorphous in the way it defines marriage, and we are to take it that way, then it holds that it must also be correct in the way it outlines situations involving slavery.

The only way around this completely reprehensible twisting of Scripture on the issue of human beings as personal property is to say that Scripture must mean more than you understand it to mean (which in fact was William Wilberforce's argument as well). There is a subtext or redemption, freedom and equality.

The more cogent Biblical argument for “traditional” marriage is that the arc of Scripture on women and slaves changes. The arc moves, post Genesis 3, from them as property to post-Resurrection of Jesus to them as equals (in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free—we are all one, included in Christ, writes the Apostle Paul). Try as some might, there is no similar arc that exists on the issue of homosexuality.

What holds true is that heterosexual or homosexual, we are all broken by our sexuality and in need of healing.

From someone who loves the Bible and hates to see it abused (in any form).


PBI said...


Thanks for your thoughts. I'm not arguing for or against the bible in this post.

Rather, my point was EXACTLY what you wrote here: "If you maintain that wooden reading as a fundamentalist or a liberal, then the awkward position you [are] obliged to hold if you choose to appeal to Scripture in any way for validity on your position about same-sex marriage is that slavery is ALSO a valid option for human relationships."

Fundamentalists have been using biblical justification for all sorts of bigotry for a long time now, and it is their "wooden reading" that forces us secular folk to simply respond with an "OK, fine. If you are looking to a literal reading of scripture to bolster your position, then you clearly must also believe these things - e.g. rapist and victim, conqueror and slaves, etc.- or you are a flaming, hypocritical bigot." A "liberal wooden reading" is about response to someone else's "wooden reading" - or perhaps an unwillingness to venture into the realm of tortured justification for all of the terrible things touted in the bible - and not a whole lot more.

While I think that, from the tone of your comment, you are operating with good intentions, with regard to being "broken by our sexuality and in need of healing," I think you are also making an incredibly sweeping generalization without supporting data. You are certainly and obviously welcome to hold that opinion of course, but I personally find that kind of projection presumptuous at best and obnoxious at worst.


PBI said...

EDITORS NOTE: I'm not sure what happened to Scott's last comment - it seems to have disappeared. Although I don't think I deleted it, if I did, I apologize, and am copying it into this comment. Scott's words appear below:


I can see understand the impetus to respond to a “wooden reading” with a “wooden reading.” I have the same response to a fundamentalist reading. It does immeasurable damage. Ergo the (paraphrased) quote that ‘no one does more evil than a religious person trying to do good.’ I am no more a friend of fundamentalism than you. However, my point is that the logic against the position in the chart is circular, i.e. “Ha, see the Bible itself militates against those fundamentalists’ position.” However, and this is my point in my original comment, in the Bible, that argument simply is not there! I do understand the chart is attempting to make a point. And per your comments, I would make the same point to a fundamentalist: Please don’t discriminate on the basis of ignorance.
However, to argue that someone takes it woodenly (and is wrong), therefore your point is demonstrably true is a tremendous leap.

I’m not positing “my opinion” about how to read the text. I’m saying what anyone trained in reading literature critically would say. If you are going to make an argument from it, you have to be true to it. I say this because the tenor of your original post seems to be using this faulty line of argumentation: “The graphic below provides a handy guide to all the types of marriage found in the Bible, and puts the lie to the argument that it's only ever loving matrimony between one man and one woman.” How is this NOT saying ‘Look, the Bible ITSELF says marriage between one man and one woman is not marriage?’ Please correct me if I misunderstand your point.

[continued below]

PBI said...

Scott's comments continue here:

And to the point of about data regarding “broken sexuality”: While I’ve read multiple refereed journals citing studies (in print, so hyperlinks aren’t readily available—would require digging that I am happy to do), my “supporting data” is two-fold: (A) A general assumption that would seem obvious to the average reasonable person (regardless religious stance or views on sexual orientation) that sexuality in human beings is a tenuous, hurtful experience fraught with uncertainty. Two anecodotal illustrations: First is Clotaire Rapaille’s book The Culture Code. Rapaille is a marketer hired by Fortune 500 companies (he is on retainer by several) to unearth cultural codes for the purposes of marketing. His extensive process found that the “code” for sexuality in America is “Violence.” Second is a prayer retreat I took led by a gay Episcopal priest who recounted, in some detail, the stops, starts and hurts of his sexual experience. I believe the word he used—if memory serves me correctly--was “broken.” (B) And far more relevant than refereed journals or books is my personal experience as a pastor of 15 plus years listening to students, individuals, families, and couples describe in graphic, painful detail exactly what Rapaille unearthed. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone describe deep heart-ache brought to them by sexual experience. Again and again and again in a multitude of ways: Abuse, trauma, life-long scars, inability to trust, rejection, alienation (from friends who “came out”…ad nauseum. And I am not alone. My pastor friends, therapist friends and social work friends repeatedly hear this same refrain.

I suppose my response to you is, how could you NOT see that human sexuality is on the whole a “broken experience in need of healing?” I’ve yet to find a reality that causes more brokenness. If you know of it and have the attendant supporting and anecdotal evidence, please let me know! What is your supporting evidence this is not the case?

PS I’ll have to end my part discussion for now and respond to any queries early next week. Have to finish preparing for a sermon on, ironically, a Christian vision of marriage. 
PSS Found your blog looking for that chart…not doing some sort of witch hunt. Thought that was important to note.

PBI said...


I'm unconcerned with "damage" a wooden reading in response to someone else's brings, just as I'm unconcerned when, if someone punches me or a loved one, and I strike them back, it hurts. I didn't start the overall confrontation, or bring into play the bible as moral crutch, and I don't care if it makes people who believe in Christian scripture uncomfortable. In fact, they SHOULD be uncomfortable, in my opinion, and they should be hammering on fundies rather than worrying about whether targets of discrimination or their friends and family are being kind to the bible. My target is not the text, but its abuse and its abusers. I can understand if seeing collateral damage is alarming to you in your role, but neither I nor that chart are the root cause.

There is no leap to my point - I am using my opponent's weight against him. While the argument against same-sex marriage is not as explicitly stated in the text as the rules depicted in the chart, it may as well be for the people making their case against homosexual union. I am far less concerned with reading the bible as literature than I am with its effects on human society. You appear focused on interpreting the text, and personally, I place no value on that unless it causes someone to inflict themselves on me, people I care about, or society in general, as it has with fundamentalists across a wide range of topics. (Who, by the way, would almost certainly argue that it is you who doesn't know how to read the bible.)

An interpretation, whether shared broadly or narrowly, is in its very nature, an opinion, necessitated by apparent contradictions or a lack of clarity in its subject. If you are interpreting something, you are forming your opinion of it, DEFINITIONALLY. As for my own "ignorance" or "lack of training", I'm extremely comfortable that my education and experience are more than equal to the task.

Regarding your question about how can I not be saying "Look, the Bible ITSELF says marriage between one man and one woman is not marriage", you have chosen an odd and self-serving parsing that is tough to support, ignoring the words "only ever". What my statement and the chart say is this: "Look, the Bible ITSELF says marriage is not only just between one man and one woman". I'm not eliminating one-man-one-woman matrimony; I am saying that there are other definitions included in bible conveniently ignored by people who state that marriage is narrow and/or immutable. You seem to have skipped the clearly stated reading in an effort to cloud was a very straightforward sentence.

[continued below]

PBI said...

On sexuality and "brokenness," a "general assumption in society" is about as far from data as you can get, and the idea that the anecdotal experience of a gay Episcopal priest - a microscopic sample if ever there was one - is representative of society doesn't pass the sniff test. Likewise, if there is genuine pain on the part of your parishoners - which I absolutely do not demean - that speaks more to selection bias than it does to either correlation or causality.

People who come to priests, pastors or social workers because they are troubled represent a troubled portion of the population - there's your real circular argument - and aren't a statistically significant sample unless demographics, psychographics and other factors are controlled. Your contention is essentially like one I've run into from a corrections officer I know, who now carries some pretty bigoted opinions about minorities because he deals with black and hispanic inmates all the time - as do his coworkers - and he correlates their "animal nature" (his words) with their race. I suspect you understand why that conclusion doesn't hold up.

As for my supporting evidence, I'm not the one who made a contention - you did - and just as with people who say "You can't prove God DOESN'T exist," providing the evidence is not my job in this scenario.


Scott said...

Part 1 (some sort of problem posting)
Perhaps some statements about a priori assumptions are due at this point in our (enjoyable) dialogue. It’s hard enough when two people know each other to communicate, doubly so when two people don’t know each other and are (by perception and self-described ideology) at (seemingly) opposite ends of the ideological divide AND are doing so in a public forum.

What are your assumptions about Christians in general, me in particular and why I commented in the first place? It seems there are issues in your mind that aren’t in my mind. Bible as moral crutch (hello left field!), etc.

My assumptions were/are:
You don’t share my viewpoint on faith.
You are operating from a secular perspective (mean that technically, not pejoratively).
Your assumption is that faith/reason are by definition opposing categories.
After seeing your response, that you are intelligent and reasoned.
Correct me if I am wrong!

My reason for commenting was singular:
To point out that the way the chart uses the Bible is a misreading of the text and has no warrant in combating a different misreading of the text. Two mis-readings don’t make a correct reading.
That’s it. Period.

The issues of what constitutes marriage weren’t directly in the purview of my comments (though I have opinions and assumptions about the issue).

Scott said...

Part 2
To your points.
Yes, it goes without saying that interpretation is to some degree opinion. That is Hermeneutics 101! However, as with any text—prose, history, parable, constitutional law--a careful reading of a text written in another time and to another culture enables us to move closer to the meaning of the text. Take an example from literature, Aesop’s Fables. When the goose that lays the golden eggs is killed, is it really biased opinion for someone to read out of the passage the assumption that we’ve just taken away the ability to get golden eggs? Or is that not the main point of the story? Kill the thing that gives you what want/need and you lose what you want/need. Of course we can read MORE interpretations into the fable, but to stay true to the form of literature, they will fall in line with the general interpretation of it.

However, if someone interprets it to mean that Geese actually DO lay golden eggs, we’d say they were off in their interpretation and missing the original point. That is precisely the fundamentalists error with regard to the Bible. And that is not my “self-serving” opinion about how fundamentalists handle Scripture (though as you point out, they would disagree—and have—with my interpretation), that is obvious to anyone who reads the text in an informed way! However, if someone were to retort to a Fundamentalist’s form of ignorance by insisting, “…but the text SAYS that a goose laid a golden egg!” they would not PROVE the ignorance of their reading, but actually reinforce it! “See, your wooden reading is right and I will prove to you by reading it just as woodenly as you do,” A lasting solution only comes from raising the level of discourse to what the text actually means. I am not attempting to get into hermeneutical readings of Aesop, by the way. Example only. :-)

Scott said...

Part 3
“While the argument against same-sex marriage is not as explicitly stated in the text as the rules depicted in the chart, it may as well be for the people making their case against homosexual union.” Without question! This is why I commented in the first place; in order to combat their misreading. Furthering the misreading doesn’t solve the root problem…how they read the text! THE issue at stake for a fundamentalist is the authority of Scripture. Changing the way they abuse the text is only done by changing how they read the text. In that, we are absolutely agreed. However, in posting the chart, you didn’t go far enough. In posting the chart on a public blog, I assume you want change (so do I). Keeping the discourse at their level only keeps the dysfunction going and applies a band-aid rather than doing surgery on a deep wound. If I understand you correctly, you are aware that the chart isn’t what the Bible teaches as normative for marriage, and while you may not agree with the Bible’s take on the issue, you are simply choosing to use the chart as an in-your-face-crazy-Fundamentalist move. I realize the point about shoving the text in their face to show the fallacy of the way it’s read, but it doesn’t go far enough to actually fix the problem. My experience with Fundamentalists is that they aren’t convinced by much, if anything. It’s a generalization about a whole group of people, but they think they are right. I try to point out their misreading, then let the issue drop and plant something healthy by doing what works instead of trying to fight dysfunction.

Scott said...

Part 4
1 – You didn’t at all discuss Rapaille’s research in The Culture Code and his finding (through a proven process) that the code for sex in America is “violence.” That seems dismissive because it didn’t fit your point.
2 – The analogy of correction officer to pastor is mistaken for several reasons.
(a) The inmate population is something like 3% of the general population (didn’t Google the stat, but seems close to the last stat I recall). The percentage of the general population who are in regular contact with a church/synagogue/mosque is something like 50%+. Some stats are much higher (80%), but I think that’s not correct. That’s the % who WANT to see themselves as religious/spiritual (usually for reasons of tradition and family) but in actuality aren’t.
(b) A correction officer is with a captive audience there because of a crime. They are (usually) there against their will. I see a moving, constantly shifting population there because they want to be there.
(c) A correction officer is there to penalize and enforce rules. Much of what I do is more akin to life coaching than counseling. People want help with their business, with leadership issues, with what to do with their kids, how to better their marriage, etc. It’s in the context of those conversations in helping people overcome their barriers that the issues about sexuality, confirmed by Rapaille’s research, usually come up. I certainly counsel some very broken people, but that’s the minority of my conversations, not the majority. In fact, my own working classification for what I do is leadership development and life coaching. I build community leaders. The thing is, I’ve yet to meet a significant leader who doesn’t have issues that hold back their leadership.
(d) Have you been around many pastors/priests and talked with them directly about who they talk to and why? Having worked as a pastor for 15 years now, unless you tell me differently, you are making quite a leap based on a lack of experience with the subject.
3 – Your analogy of correction office to pastor is correct for several reasons.
(a) I’ve yet to meet a person not influenced by their surroundings. That includes me. And you. We all come from a perspective.
(b) Constantly being around dysfunction disposes one to believe that dysfunction is all there is. A friend who was a police officer (now a Secret Service agent with some hilarious stories) said the same thing. He dealt with the portion of the population most likely to abuse or hurt others and constantly wrestled with seeing everyone through the same lens. It belies the point that the person who thinks they are the most OBJECTIVE is actually the person who is the most SUBJECTIVE! Without question, I am biased by my circumstances and experiences.

Your education and training are certainly up to the task. Without doubt. However, my point is that training lends itself, by its very nature, to exclude some things. If you work in finance or law and I start waxing eloquent about The Average Reasonable Person and what it does and doesn’t mean for how the President appoints a Supreme Court Justice or if I attempt to work through the finer points about Price-to-Earnings ratio and why our economy is in a slump, I am sure—despite my being well-educated and well-read in other fields, that my understandings will be off. I haven’t spent large amounts of time exploring the intricacies and complexity of the issues at hand. I’m simply making the same point about the Bible, reading literature and my specialized training. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m saying anyone can learn to do the same thing. Not sure you’ve understood the finer points yet.

Enjoying the dialogue.

PBI said...


Apologies for the delay in responding, but I have been, and continue to be, swamped. Thanks for the kind words - I appreciate your desire to engage.

Apologies also in advance if this comes across as overly-blunt, but I am apparently not having much success in conveying my position. Namely, I don't have any concern whatsoever about whether either the Bible or fables are mis-read or mis-interpreted for their own sake; that's an exercise in literature. My only focus is on how someone decides to USE their interpretation to affect the lives of others - including myself, my family, my friends and society in general - and whether their interpretation gains adherents.

You state that a literal reading of the Bible is incorrect - that there is a lot of analogy and allegory within it - while fundamentalists would say that you are in the wrong, and that it should be taken literally. That's a debate that simply has no relevance for me.

As a result, I do not care whether fundamentalists read the Bible correctly; I care whether what I consider to be their warped worldview gains traction and adherents, and using their own techniques against them is an effective means of combating the ignorance and intolerance they are trying to spread. You yourself admit that changing the mind of a fundamentalist is nigh impossible, and I agree. My attention is not on them - it's on anyone who is observing the arguments they make and considering them as potentially of merit.

From that perspective then, if someone says "The Bible tells us that homosexuality is an abomination!" then I am perfectly justified in replying that the Bible also says the same of eating shellfish and wearing blended cloth. Yes, those are stupid things to be considered abominations, but so is the idea that homosexuality is an affront to all that is holy. If some of the Bible's outright contradictions, magical thinking and Bronze Age ideas are exposed in the process, so be it; there's value there in combating future conversations in the same vein. I understand that you have a vested interest in the bible; I simply don't.

[continued below]

PBI said...

[continued from above]

With regard to the prison guard analogy I made earlier, you are addressing the wrong issue. My position is not in any way that you and prison guards perform the same duties; I was pointing out that your sweeping generalization about the role of sexuality in society was founded on unsound methodology.

If the prison guard comparison is confusing, try this: Your statement that people who seek your counsel widely complain of "broken" sexuality CANNOT be extended to the broader population, for the same reason that a doctor can't conclude that everyone in the world is severely injured or seriously ill because all the people he sees at his practice are wounded or sick. (This also applies to the very specific and anecdotal experiences of the gay priest you mentioned.) It's called selection bias, and it's one of the fundamental errors made in bad statistical analysis.

Finally, with regard to Rapaille, I am familiar with both him and his work. He has some interesting views about things - along with a massive ego and any number of detractors - and he can certainly add perspectives to a discussion about the qualitative aspects of marketing, which, as it happens, has been my day job for the last 18 years or so.

Rapaille's methodology is wholly based on focus groups - something on which no competent marketer would ever rely for core insights - and then some leaps of intuition that are neither consistent nor reproducible. (In other words, essentially a "black box".) The only core insights of any real worth in rigorous examination of a population come from quantitative analysis, which is not nearly as sexy or as easy as Rapaille's shtick, but which is a whole lot more reliable.

That's not to say there isn't value in qualitative analysis - there is - but only as a complement to the quantitative. I personally find Rapaille's one-word "codes" overly glib and simplistic, the man himself too much a self-promoter for comfort, and his methods only of use at the edges of understanding cultures and people. I certainly don't take anything he has to say uncritically or as gospel.

I don't know that I'll be able to respond in anything like timely fashion if you have further thoughts that require a lengthy repsonse - which is why my blog is on hiatus - but thank you for the discussion and take care.