My new book is entitled Epiphany: A Christian’s Change of Heart and Mind over Same-Sex Marriage. Which at first glance is not the most obvious title to appeal to readers of Canada’s premier Jewish newspaper. But please stay with me. The personal story here is that for many years I was known as one of the country’s leading opponents of equal marriage. I was a social conservative and someone who while never intending harm did perhaps empower and enable those who did. It’s something for which I am profoundly sorry and I’ve written and broadcast countless times over the past two years my contrition and apologies.
My personal transformation from critic to passionate friend is multi-faceted and complex but is based in faith. In my case, even though three of my grandparents were Jewish, it comes from my Christianity; I became a Christian in 1984 and have never wavered. So it was through prayer, reading of Scripture, thought and experience that I came to a new understanding and approach on this issue. It’s something I thank God for every day, and this is the point. God.
Judaism is as various in Christianity in its application. Reform, Conservative, modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and so on, and all have their own forms of theology regarding the gay community and same-sex marriage. A relationship with God is personal of course but that relationship has to be informed by God’s word, which is revealed in the Bible.
Christians have what might be described as a sequel to what they call the Old Testament but in fact it’s actually the Hebrew Scriptures that say the most about homosexuality. Mind you, it’s still not much. Lesbianism is never mentioned at all and if you blink you’ll miss the entire subject. Contrary to what some might tell you, homosexuality is a wafer-thin component of the Bible.
It’s not for me, a Christian and a mere journalist, to instruct you in this area but some of the traditional biblical references are difficult to justify with consistency and integrity in the modern age. The Mosaic regulations had reference and relevance in their age and still provide a broad moral narrative but do any of us still observe every iota? It’s surely unfair and even disingenuous then to single out some parts of holy text and not others. Some of the teachings regarding, for example, punishments for adultery or rules regarding women’s rights would be considered bizarre and worse today.
Similarly with the example of Sodom and Gomorrah. While Sodom has so much to answer for regarding the treatment of gay people down the ages, when the people of Sodom’s behaviour is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible it is spoken of in reference to lack of charity, cruelty to strangers and barbarism, rather than homosexuality. It’s more likely an early medieval interpretation that had led many people of faith, Jewish as well as Christian, to believe otherwise.
At heart, though, is the essence of God’s teaching, and that essence is love. Love for God, love for His creation and love for His creatures. A love that defies understanding but a love that in Judaism as much as Christianity is supposed to be built around treating others as ourselves.
The reality is that Jewish people have often been at the forefront of the campaign for equality and for social justice and this is true for gay rights as much as any other. More than this, while the Jewish state – Israel – may not accept gay marriage as such it is ethically progressive and socially enlightened regarding its gay citizens and a glowing example to its neighbours.
Intelligent and rational religion is under siege, by aggressive secularism on the one hand and hysterical fundamentalism on the other. Gay rights and equal marriage have become litmus tests for tolerance and understanding, and if Judaism and Christianity are to appear relevant and authentically loving to the next generation they have to reconsider some long-standing opinions and even prejudices. If Scripture were absolute about homosexuality there would, alas, be no choice.
But it is not. It is largely neutral and should always be understood through the prism of contemporary knowledge, life experience and the unending, relentless, overwhelmingly joyful notion of God’s boundless love.
Epiphany: A Christian’s Change of Heart and Mind over Same-Sex Marriage has just been published by Random House/Signal.