Leading social conservatives blasted Newsweek for its current cover story, "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage," which they said misinterprets both biblical scripture and their own political movement.
“It doesn’t surprise me. Newsweek has been so far in the tank on the homosexual issue, for so long, they need scuba gear and breathing apparatus,” said Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “I don’t think it’s going to change the minds of anyone who takes biblical teachings seriously.”
Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council, agreed, calling Newsweek’s cover story “yet another attack on orthodox Christianity.”
“I hardly think that Newsweek is a credible venue for theological discussion,” said Perkins. “I mean, I thought it was just full of holes.”
In a note at the front of the magazine this week, editor Jon Meacham predicted a backlash and struck a preemptively defiant note.
“Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their values (or their ‘agenda,’ a favorite term to describe the views of those who disagree with you) on a God-fearing nation,” he wrote. “Let the letters and emails come. History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion.”
And in an email to Politico, Newsweek managing editor Dan Klaidman invited further responses, writing: “The piece speaks for itself and we welcome the debate.”
Lisa Miller’s cover story argues that the Bible’s lessons on marriage are ambiguous and lack the prescriptive clarity some ascribe to them.
“Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition,” Miller writes. “The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.”
Perkins doubts that social conservatives will find this case persuasive.
“If they think they’re going to cause Evangelical Christians or Bible-believing Christians of different stripes to somehow say, oh, the Bible doesn’t matter on marriage, I think they’re mistaken,” Perkins said. “I don’t think too many in the Evangelical world are too concerned about what Newsweek has to say.”
What’s more, Perkins, Land and other religious conservative leaders cited textual evidence to counter Newsweek’s contentions.
Quoting chapter and verse, Land argued that the Bible lays out a very clear prescription for opposite-sex marriage, starting with the passage in Genesis where God pairs Adam and Eve and proceeding through Ephesians, in the New Testament, when the apostle Paul compares the relationship between husband and wife to the relationship between Jesus and the Church.
“How can you address the subject of marriage from a religious perspective and utterly ignore the two foundational texts that deal with marriage: Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5?” Land asked. “If a student turned a paper in to me on a religious argument for or against gay marriage and neglected to reference the two foundational texts, I would give them a pretty poor grade based on that alone.”
In addition to contesting Newsweek’s specific scriptural arguments, some social conservatives took issue with the basic premise of the magazine’s story: that conservative opposition to same-sex marriage is based on specific biblical instructions.
“I see it as an attempt to caricature and reduce to a cartoon the social conservative belief in the efficacy of traditional marriage, and try to reduce it to some formulaic, scriptural literalism,” said Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition. “There’s more of a practical, sociological foundation for why we seek to affirm marriage as an institution than I think is generally understood by those who want to legalize same-sex marriage.”
Though Reed said he had respect for Newsweek, he said this week’s cover story was based on a “false assumption”: “We’re not trying to take the Bible and put a bill number on it and legislate it.”
Land pointed to campaigns for anti-same-sex marriage referenda around the country as evidence that biblical instructions were not necessarily the main impetus behind social conservative opposition to same-sex marriage.
“The arguments that are used are often not biblical arguments. They are secular arguments, arguing about marriage as being a civic and a social institution, and that societies have a right to define marriage,” Land said. Broadening the definition of marriage could “shatter” the social role married couples have traditionally played, he said.
In an e-mail to Politico, Maggie Gallagher, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, took a similar line, calling marriage “the one necessary adult relation in society – the way we bring together male and female to bring the next generation to life in a way that connects those children in love to their own mother and father.”