Maryland Pastor Derek McCoy recently made headlines by suggesting that people should vote against marriage equality because of Romans 1:32. You can see a video of him saying, in essence, that LGBT Americans and their supporters are deserving of death. If you don't want to be deserving of death too, he suggests, you should vote against same-sex marriage.
Romans 1:32 is one of seven "Bible bullets" that are regularly trotted out to "prove" that God hates gay people. There are major portions of the Internet dedicated to weighing in on these things, and I invite you to check them out. Possibly while drinking a cup of nerve-settling tea.
But for a "Christian nation," we know surprisingly little about the Bible. We only read parts of it regularly, and hardly ever the whole thing.
And we know very little about how it grew into what it is today.
The slow progression from scrolls to books divided by chapter and verse might seem nerdy and inconsequential in the face of the debates about marriage roiling Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state. But here's the thing.
When St. Paul was writing his letter to the Romans, he did not break it up into small chunks of easily digested chapter and verses. Those breaks and little pieces were invented bit by bit, mostly between the 1200s and 1500s.
What does this mean for Pastor McCoy's argument?
Well, if you read the entire passage as one piece, the way that Paul wrote it and how it was probably read for the first three-fourths of Christian history or so, here's what it says:
First, there's a whole list of sins starting with not loving God enough and then going on to various sexual sins. Then, Paul moves on to talking about other sins like envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossip and slander. Then, he reaches the part about sin and death. That's generally where we stop reading. But it's not the end of Paul's message. Here's what comes next: "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things" (Romans 2:1).
Because I'm a writing teacher, I have to point out that "therefore" is always a big deal. It's an important transition word that basically is an equals sign. To summarize Paul's message a little differently: sin + sin + sin + sin + sin therefore = don't judge.
Medieval Bible experts like St. Bonaventure believed that obscure parts of the Bible could be understood by relying on clearer parts talking about the same thing. So when I read about judgment in Romans and St Paul, I immediately think about what Jesus says about judgment in the Sermon on the Mount. You know, the part where he says, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For the measure you give will be the measure you get" (Matt. 7:1-2).
I'm no trained pastor, but whole revolutions have been fought over the radical idea that ordinary people could read the Bible and have opinions. So, here's what I think we can learn from the invention of chapters and verses in the Bible and how we relate to each other now and on election day.
Today, it is easy to view the Bible as disconnected bits. And it is easy to view America as disconnected bits: red state vs. blue state, rural vs. urban, men vs. women, white vs. everyone else, straight vs. everyone else. But the Bible isn't disconnected. And we aren't either.
Powerful men who say offensive things about rape are connected to women whose lives will be made better or worse by the laws they enact. Politicians actually do have daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, granddaughters and friends. They may or may not have gay friends (although they always seem to claim to have us). But eventually they will find that they are, in fact, connected to people who are LGBT and to people with LGBT family and friends. Like the old saying goes, we really are everywhere.
Rather than deciding who they think God says should be killed, I wish those people seeking power would think more closely about these connections. I wish they'd think about the line between judgment and compassion. (From Latin compati -- to suffer with, or feel pity. Also why we talk about the "passion" of Christ.)
The other thing I think we can learn is that the Bible is richer, weirder and infinitely more varied than we are generally lead to believe. Each verse that the Pastor McCoys of the world can quote about killing people can be balanced with calls to not kill, to not judge and -- above all -- to love.
Now call me crazy, but I don't think the form this love should take is calling for the execution of my neighbors. Nor, do I think it should be stripping them of their rights to visit each other in hospitals and to not die alone.
Because in the end, that's what marriage equality means for me.
Anyone can stick together in the good times. It's when the bad times come around that you want your spouse close at hand. When the end comes, we want our spouses perched on the edge of our hospital beds, holding our hands, reminding us that we are loved.
Is that a special right, like Gov. Romney says?
Is that why Pastor McCoy thinks I, my wife and the rest of my family and friends deserve to die?
Is that what Jesus meant when he said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39)?