Newsweek’s sermon

Newsweek’s coverage of religious responses to same-sex marriage caused some huffing and puffing. As a set of arguments, the article was rather weak; but a news magazine is not a academic journal. Among the great flurry of commentators, I think Bromleigh McCleneghan is right when she comments on Theolog that Newsweek’s cover piece is more a sermon than anything else.

Newsweek‘s December 15 cover story by religion editor Lisa Miller has provoked a good deal of talk about how the newsweekly, in printing what amounts to a liberal Christian apologia for same-sex marriage, has thrown caution and objectivity to the wind and become a (gasp) opinion journal. Christianity Today criticized the piece in an editorial, and its blog linked to a 2004 article laying out exactly why God has ordained marriage solely for men and women. Newsweek itself ran a Web-only debate responding to the piece, while OnFaith published a number of reflections on the subject by more liberal religious thinkers. And Kurt Soller, who writes Newsweek‘s letters blog, has his hands full with responses.

Amid all this chatter, the thing that interests me most was Miller’s article itself. Why? Because it reads like a sermon. Not a great or super-ingenious one, but the kind of sermon you might hear in a liberal, mainline Protestant church-if and when a preacher actually deemed it appropriate to talk about sexuality from the pulpit.

Even those Christians who agree with Miller’s basic premise may be frustrated by her article, noting that in places it fails to compel, or lacks nuance. But my point is thi while we’ve been dueling over sexuality and collectively editing our resolutions, the task of offering a public, explicit argument for same-sex marriage and a nonliteralistic biblical hermeneutic has fallen to the religion editor at Newsweek.

If our parishioners have learned something critical about their faith tradition from Laura Miller because their pastors are unwilling to teach it themselves, we mainliners should be ashamed. (And if we’ve hesitated out of fear of opposition from those in the pews, we might simply be wrong. If those outside our struggling, homogenous churches decline to join us in worship and discipleship-not because they lack a desire to know God, but because they are not sure they won’t be welcomed-our institutions and communities will continue to decline. I hope that Miller’s article will be a starting point for further conversation, deeper attention to scripture and greater honesty about the role of sexuality in all people’s lives and identities. …

I hope that the church will find the renewed courage to teach and preach the word of God, to proclaim the gospel to all with ears to hear it.