The debate over same-sex marriage must be broadened to include a full range of religious questions, according to Emory University religion professor Mark Jordan in his new anthology,Authorizing Marriage: Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions (Princeton University Press).
"No progress in the debate can be made just by rehashing unexamined notions about marriage as we wish it had been or by citing a few biblical verses out of context, in disregard of such obvious facts as Israelite polygamy or early Christian celibacy," said Jordan, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Religion and a senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR).
Jordan calls upon a range of esteemed scholars to examine scripture, tradition, philosophical principles, liturgy, and church reform as a means of exploring religious arguments for and against same sex unions and marriage. Contributors include Jordan; Saul Olyan, Brown University; Dale Martin, Yale University; Mary Ann Tolbert, Pacific School of Religion; Daniel Boyarin, University of California at Berkeley; Laurence Paul Hemming, University of London; Steven Greenberg, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; Kathryn Tanner, University of Chicago; Susan Frank Parsons, University of Nottingham; and Eugene Rogers, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
The scholars take up questions in dialogue between Jews and Christians, in some cases finding divergences between traditions, especially around scriptural sources, and in other cases, discovering common ground. They also illustrate the complexity of the issues, particularly involving scriptural interpretation, the lost variety of traditional blessing rites for relationships, and the philosophical assumptions about what it means to be male or female.
The book's first three essays focus on biblical interpretation. Olyan reviews passages from the Hebrew Bible that often figure in debates over same-sex desire, focusing on David's famous lament over Jonathan that suggests a homoerotic and possibly sexual relationship between them. Martin considers passages in the New Testament that make a strong case against marriage of any kind. Tolbert concurs with Martin and shows how canonical texts offer an ideal of friendship that contemporary same-sex couples can find affirming.
The next two essays focus on weddings. Greenberg shows how elements of a traditional Jewish wedding might be revised or replaced in a liturgy for same-sex couples. Jordan examines cases for historical existence of rites for same-sex pairs.
The final three essays provide theological assessments of the contemporary debates. Tanner argues that "conservative" Episcopalian opposition to same-sex love is in fact a new Puritanism that undoes principles of Anglican polity. Parsons looks beyond opposition to homoeroticism from natural law or purpose to a theology of created relationship called into the future. Rogers argues that same-sex couples should be blessed in order to recognize that they are means of sanctification for those called to be within them.
Jordan says the book does not pretend to be representative of all viewpoints but does attempt to make two points: recognizing same-sex unions is much more complicated as a religious question than is typically admitted in public debate, and religious marriage itself has always been more problematic than most debators want to admit.
"It is particularly important to demonstrate these points because they seem to be forgotten week after week, year in and year out, no matter how many other topics advance and retreat through the public debates," he said.
is the third major volume that Jordan has published as a senior fellow in the CSLR project on "Sex, Marriage and Family & the Religions of the Book." The others: Blessing Same Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage (University of Chicago Press, 2005) and Telling Truths in Church: Scandal, Flesh, and Christian Speech (Beacon Press, 2002).
"This book serves to confirm anew Professor Jordan's standing as a most elegant, engaging, and erudite advocate for the proper place of same-sex ideas, institutions, and practices within church, state, and society," said John Witte, Jr., CSLR director and Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Ethics at Emory.
The Center for the Study of Law and Religion is home to world class scholars and forums on the religious foundations of law, politics, and society. It offers expertise on how the teachings and practices of Christianity, Judaism and Islam have shaped and continue to transform the fundamental ideas and institutions of our public and private lives. The scholarship of CSLR faculty provides the latest perspectives, while its conferences and public forums foster reasoned and robust public debate.