July 16, 2008
In a recent letter to the Desert Sun the Rev. Kevin A. Johnson firmly asserts that "marriage has improved over history." I am of the view that in many ways marriage has changed, and for the better; however its fundamental nature of being between men and women has not and cannot. Further, Pastor Johnson's understanding of this "improvement" is silly and self-defeating.
He argues that we can find evidence of how much better marriage is today than it was before in the story of Isaac and Rebecca. He says, "I was interested to note the customs reported and startled to read where the wedding ring was placed - not on a finger but in her nose. It was not a sign of unending grace and intended fidelity but a receipt of transferred ownership of the daughter from the father to the new husband." I am no expert in Sumerian mating practices, but this strikes me as fishy. While contemporary secondary scholarship might say differently, I recall no indication in the Bible of Isaac turning Rebecca into Ferdinand the Bull. King James and Douai-Reims both mention "earrings"-a term supported by St. Jerome in the Vulgate ("inaures"). While the image of women brutally subjugated and treated like cattle under traditional "Biblical" marriage makes a convenient image for the Pastor to use in pillorying conservative Christians, it sadly seems to have little actual Biblical support.
What does have Biblical support in the time of Abraham and Isaac, however, is polygamy. Polygamy's relegation to the dustbin of social custom in the Judeo-Christian world is certainly one of the preeminent ways in which "marriage has improved over history." Yet, this same decision by the California Supreme Court, so celebrated by Pastor Johnson, opens the door to legalized polygamy in the United States. (The ball here is already moving in cases like Holm v. Utah.) I wonder, when some of his neighbors use the precedents set in California to return to the polygamy of the Patriarchs, if Pastor Johnson will see fit to preach on "irony"?