On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court ruled (5-4) that all United States citizens, no matter their sexual orientation, have the right to a monogamous marriage. Social media flared to life with joyous rainbows and heartfelt celebrations. The next day brought comments like “The United States is going to hell for making decisions against God’s will” and the obligatory fear-mongering epitomized in Time’s article stating “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn to Live as Exiles in Our Own Country.”
A lot of that negativity came down to this little piece of supposedly Christian rhetoric: “The Bible is clear: marriage is between one man and one woman.”
I am endlessly frustrated at the “marriage is between one man and one woman” phrase’s persistence. Where did that come from? Who coined that? And did they know that a few years down the road Christians would be more familiar with that phrase than most phrases in the Bible?
I don’t understand that phrase’s popularity, but I do understand the appeal of “The Bible is clear.” Who doesn’t like to have an “of course” in their spiritual lives? Certainty is so comforting, but it makes for better soundbites than sanctification.
More helpful in the sanctification process is comedian Louis C.K.’s bit called “Of course . . . but maybe.” It is irreverent and shockingly relevant to Biblical hermeneutics. A sample:
“Of course! Of course children who have nut allergies need to be protected. Of course! . . . But maybe . . . maybe if touching a nut kills you, you’re supposed to die. Just maybe!”
And it gets worse from there (or better):
“Of course slavery is the worst thing that has ever happened,” Louis C.K. proclaims. “Of course! But maybe,” he says, it’s also the foundation for nearly every “improvement” humankind has made. The pyramids, the transcontinental railroad, the current cheapness of products most Americans buy: all are built upon slavery.
The pious person can say “of course.” The comedians, the Shakespearean fools, can teach the hard truths of “maybe.”
Translated into Christianese, only those who admit to their own personal sinful nature are able to play this awful game. There is no faith without this “foolish” questioning.
The fool questions the “of course” because he knows exactly how bad humanity is even in its best moments. He recognize that true evil can just as easily reside within the “of course” as in the “maybe.” (The fool has likely read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and had a good laugh.) These fools know just how wrong we have been in the past even with the Bible on our side: the earth is flat! Of course! Slavery is a natural state of being for stupider races! Of course! Women are too emotional to be trusted with the right to vote! Of course . . .
. . . but maybe the world is round. Maybe other races are different, not worse. Maybe not all women are more emotional and maybe emotional maturity isn’t a negative thing when it comes to decision-making.
John Piper and a lot of people who are far less learned about spiritual matters are so sure that homosexuality is sinful. I might agree because of course it is! Of course! It says so in the Bible—right there in Romans 1! Leviticus 20! Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve, amirite? Of course.
Then again, of course all men should be circumcised on the eighth day. Of course. It’s the covenant God has made with us and it is the same covenant he demanded we keep. The Bible is clear. But maybe, Paul said, maybe if you let yourself be circumcised because of that covenant Christ will be of no value to you at all. Maybe things change. Maybe it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Just maybe.
That “maybe” voice is not the voice of the devil, but the voice of humility. The voice our early church fathers listened to when Paul heard it and preached it. The voice of the Holy Spirit? Just maybe.
Of course homosexuality is “unnatural,” just as Paul described it in Romans 1. Of course. But maybe we have made idols of someone else’s interpretation of a scripture passage read only when discussing homosexuality.
Maybe someone’s “natural” disgust for such actions is similar to the disgust white slave owners had for their slaves. Maybe that is the sinful nature, not the Bible, not the Holy Spirit, clearly speaking. Maybe.
It’s hard to trust God’s sovereignty over the grey areas: maybe the choice to believe certain prescriptions are essential is born only of fear of uncertainty—fear that God might have left some aspects of righteousness ambiguous in order to give us truly free will.
Maybe none of us knows enough to fully understand the being of God that he’s imparted to us in our limited languages.
Maybe that’s why we are limited to inane but comfortable soundbites.
Maybe God is speaking new and bigger truths.
Maybe we’re all wrong.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).