Finally, Jimmy Carter has answered the question that has long vexed Christian theologians! Allahpundit posted about this yesterday, but (a) it’s a new day, and (b) I’d like a crack at this from a theological point of view. When asked in a Huffington Post interview whether Jesus would approve of same-sex marriage, the former president felt informed enough to pontificate in the affirmative on the question, even while admitting that he had no scriptural basis for his conclusion. That’s … an odd kind of Christian theology, to say the least.
There’s also a larger parallel to the legal machinations that took place in Obergefell in this clip:
HP: Would Jesus approve gay marriage?
CARTER: I believe – I believe He would, I believe Jesus would. I don’t have any verse and Scripture —
HP: No, but — just intuitively, yeah.
CARTER: I believe that Jesus would approve gay marriage. But I’m not — that’s just my own personal opinion. I think Jesus would encourage any kind of love affair if it was honest and sincere, and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don’t see that gay marriage damages anyone else.
Actually, we do have some hints on how Jesus might view same-sex marriage, as well as “love affairs” outside of traditional marriage, regardless of their sincerity. This came up not long ago in a Twitter debate on this very point I had with a SSM activist, who claimed that Jesus never talked about the composition of marriage. In Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus speaks directly to the role of marriage in God’s plan, and the role of complementarity in its composition:
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.”
Note that Jesus in Scripture not only clearly highlights marriage as one man and one woman, He also reminds the Pharisees that the complementarity of opposite genders was a purposeful part of creation, and in God’s plan. Jesus says nothing about honesty and sincerity being prevailing qualities, nor of whether the sin of adultery in the case of divorce is mitigated by the fact that it might not hurt anyone else. The same conversation occurs in Mark 10:1-12, and a hint of it also appears in Luke 16:18. The Gospel writers understood this lesson on the immutability of complementary sacramental marriage to be an important part of Jesus’ teaching, one that even “red-letter Christians” cannot easily dismiss.
That isn’t the only place in which Jesus discusses marriage. Another Gospel passage undermines Carter’s argument about Jesus caring more about not bothering other people than marriage as an institution. In John 4, Jesus stops in Samaria and begins having a conversation with a woman at the well, a tremendous breach of custom between Jews and Samaritans in those days. He tells the woman to call her husband, which sets up this rebuke:
The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”
If the standard here was just “not damaging anyone else,” Jesus would not have made an issue of the woman’s adultery. She convinces her neighbors to come hear him by telling them, “He told me all that I ever did,” not exactly a recognition of praise.
Any Christian with a passing familiarity of the gospels should already know this. (There’s also the matter of Paul’s scriptural teaching in 1 Corinthians 6:9, but we’ll keep this limited to Jesus Christ for now.) But Carter isn’t really engaging in “honest and sincere” exegesis; he’s simply replacing the text of Scripture for an “intuitively” derived rationalization to support Carter’s political point of view. The HuffPo interviewer wanted a talking point about Christ supporting same-sex marriage, and Carter obliged him with easily the lamest possible answer. It’s utter nonsense, especially since Carter could just easily say that what Jesus would do in this instance is immaterial, because the context here is secular law as opposed to theology. That at least would be “honest and sincere.”
By the way, one has to wonder why the HuffPo interviewer is so keen to hear that Jesus is totes kewl with SSM. Why should it matter to him or anyone else who doesn’t want religion informing public policy? Why not just stick to the secular arguments?
This also speaks to the kind of legal thinking that went into the Obergefell decision itself. Rather than rely on precedent which argued against taking such a position, Kennedy instead relied on his own “reasoned judgment” to decide that the cultural moment for SSM had arrived, not unlike Carter’s “reasoned judgment” about Jesus’ approach to marriage. Kennedy also gave a lot of airy paeans to honesty, sincerity, and the lack of damage SSM would do to others, notably other marriage and society itself. But those are questions for legislatures, not for courts, and certainly not for the intuition of five unelected and unaccountable jurists. The reliance on the “reasoned judgment” to overturn more than 230 years of legal precedent for keeping marriage a matter for the states bodes just as ill for the Republic as Reverend Carter’s mini-sermon does for theology.