A few weeks ago, I was walking past the tables outside the Sadler Center dining hall, which consisted of the usual roster of charitable fundraisers, Greek events and AMP speakers, when an unusual one caught my eye, and I doubled back.
A sign was decorated with a bright sky blue canopy and two golden gates. On top of the gates was written, “Do you think you’re going to Heaven? Take our easy 2 question quiz to find out.” I stopped and talked with the local pastor for a while before the subject of same-sex marriage came up.
As a double major in government and religious studies, I find the issue of same-sex marriage fascinating. The battle over same-sex marriage is one of the political debates that clearly has been filtered through a religious prism.
While these political and religious forces can certainly be felt here, and the College of William and Mary can claim both a significant number of Christian student groups and a vocal LGBTQI community, the College is fortunate not to be rankled by the polarization of our political process.
However, one day we will leave the Williamsburg bubble and take our places as stewards of our nation’s future. It is critical to examine the context of our core beliefs, specifically in the controversial same-sex marriage debate, so we will be ready to take charge when that happens.
I believe that conservative elements in modern-day Christianity are wrong to use the Bible as justification for denying marriage equality. Some might argue that I am ill-suited to discuss Christian theology, as I am not Christian. But it does not matter whether I subscribe to the Christian Bible or any other specific scripture.
Taking my cue from the late David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, I believe that everyone, atheists included, chooses something to worship. Given that we all do worship something, we all ascribe some measure of holiness to our value system.
Therefore, the question is not whether I believe the Holy Bible is holy or eternal. Instead, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the question to be asked of the text is what exactly does “holy” mean? Should consecrating a document as holy free it from continuing reinterpretation?
I consulted religious studies professor Sandy Jo Rogers about the issue. Rogers is simultaneously working toward her doctoral degree in biblical studies with an emphasis on the Hebrew Torah at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond and her ordination at Ginter Park Baptist Church.
Rogers explained that “the Bible has been used to support holy wars and genocides, all kinds of hatred throughout human history and this [homophobia] is just another example of that. It doesn’t make the use of it right. Anyone who is using the Bible to oppress,” Rogers finished, “is guilty of breaking the third commandment. That is what it means to use the Lord’s name lightly, that is what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain.”
Furthermore, context is key. On the same pages as the verses in the book of Leviticus that many use to justify anti-gay marriage positions are other verses prohibiting planting different kinds of seeds in the same field and wearing clothes from multiple sources. Honing in on verses condemning homosexual relations for a specific people during a specific time divorces the message from its larger aims.
I am not a Christian. As such, I have no real authority to claim that my simplistic theological interpretation is the correct one. However, as a citizen of a country whose politics are increasingly being shaped by the presence of Christianity — see California’s 2008 Proposition 8 and Ken Cuccinelli’s 2010 ban on sexual orientation-based legal protections — I have every right to demand that one interpretation of a holy text not be deemed holy itself.