WWGD: What Would Galileo Do?

The Bible is no more a textbook on human sexuality in the 21st century than it was a textbook on astronomy in the 17th. And the folks who get that part confused repeatedly end up on the wrong side of history.
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Here's a question from an email I received not long ago. The subject line was, "The Clear Truth of Scripture." The question was, "What we're asking for is a straight answer out of you people on where in the Bible you find a passage that shows God approves of same sex marriage. Can you do that or not?"

Finally a question I can answer without hesitation.

And the answer is "no."

There is no single text, no specific chapter and verse, that I can point anyone to and say, "Here it is: the clear truth of scripture in support of same-sex marriage!"

Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" in support of the equality or ordination of women.

Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" on the sanctity of interracial marriage.

Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" opposing the death penalty, supporting the abolition of slavery, or proving that the Earth revolves around the Sun -- which you may remember got Galileo in all kinds of trouble with the clear-truth-of-scripture crowd in his generation.

And yes, Galileo's opponents also cited biblical references in defense of their position that the Sun revolved around the Earth, including Psalm 93:1, which states that "the world is firmly established; it cannot be moved"; Psalm 104:5, which states that "the LORD set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved"; Ecclesiastes 1:5, which states that "the sun rises and sets and returns to its place"; etc.

Meanwhile, Galileo defended the science of heliocentrism to the point of being condemned by the Catholic Church for "vehement suspicion of heresy" -- and of course history eventually proved him right. In 1992 the Roman Catholic Church issued a declaration acknowledging the errors committed by the Church, and in 2008 Pope Benedict XVI praised Galileo's contributions to astronomy.

They say that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it -- and an excellent example of that theory is the folks who, 400 years later, are throwing around isolated scripture passages to support outdated understandings of human sexuality, just as others have done through the ages, on everything from slavery and integration to equality for women.

So here's the "takeaway" from this today's object lesson on life, the universe, Galileo, and heresy: the Bible is no more a textbook on human sexuality in the 21st century than it was a textbook on astronomy in the 17th. And the folks who get that part confused repeatedly end up on the wrong side of history as the arc of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice.

And here's the good news: we live in a country where the First Amendment protects not only your right to read the Bible any way you choose but your right to be on the wrong side of history. It does not, however, protect your right to write your theology into our Constitution and take away the equally protected rights of all Americans from some Americans because you've gotten the Bible confused with a textbook on human sexuality.

We begin this new year with anti-gay rhetoric in the presidential primary debates escalating while we await a decision on California's Proposition 8 to come down literally any day now and watch the move to repeal DOMA gaining support on Capitol Hill. There is therefore every indication that gay and lesbian Americans will continue to experience the collateral damage of seeing their lives and relationships treated like sacrificial lambs on the altar of partisan politics by those firmly planted on the wrong side of the history of LGBT equality.

It is a time of opportunity for everyone who holds fast to the fundamental American value of liberty and justice for all to remember that the First Amendment is both a protection of and a protection from religion, and to say so loud and clear.

It is also a time of challenge for people of faith to stand up and speak out in rebuttal to those who presume to speak for "traditional Christian values," which have nothing to do with God's values of love, justice, and compassion and everything to do with their own homophobia projected onto biblical texts taken out of context.

Galileo didn't live long enough to get the apology he deserved from the institutional church, and neither will we. But we're not in it for the apology. We're in it to win it -- as we work to make "justice roll down like waters" and to turn "liberty and justice for all" from a pledge to a reality for LGBT Americans.

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