December 12, 2008

Newsweek Distorts the Bible and a Lot More

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Over the past couple of days, my mind has not been on gay marriage; it has been on an operating systems project. But even with my reclusive studying habits this week, I still have caught wind off the recent controversy over the latest Newsweek cover story by Lisa Miller, which alleges that the Bible actually supports gay marriage.

Now I acknowledge that Newsweek has the right to print whatever it wants, but that right has never been conditioned on the quality of what they write, a fact which has become manifestly evident when I read the cover story.

Premised on Editor Jon Meacham’s claim that the “conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism,” he describes Proposition 8 as the “impetus” for this cover story.

But if you look at the wide majority of ads run by the campaign to support Proposition 8, you will find no direct references to the Bible. (And to that end my arguments on homosexuality and the Bible are strictly theological, not political.) Go to YouTube’s YesOnProp8 channel and see for yourself if you do not believe me.

This has to be one of the most of blatant, ridiculous, and unethical uses of the straw man argument I have ever seen employed by a “reputable” news magazine. The same kind of contortions Meacham has used to reduce Yes on Prop 8 to the “worst kind of fundamentalism” have also been used by Miller to contort what the Bible actually says into a ridiculous caricature of the actual text.


Meacham’s “worst kind of fundamentalism”

One of the most ridiculous parts suggests that David and Jonathan may have been involved in a homoerotic relationship, based primarily on a passage where David describes Jonathan’s love in stronger terms than the love of women.

On the contrary, anyone remotely familiar with the story of David and Jonathan would instantly deduce that David speaks of a brotherly, not erotic love. The word used in the original Hebrew passage, ‘ahabah, covers the whole spectrum of love from God’s love to erotic love. But here is Lisa Miller’s take:

“What Jonathan and David did or did not do in privacy is perhaps best left to history and our own imaginations.”

Is this Newsweek or the National Enquirer? At least the National Enquirer got it right the last time it reported on a sex scandal.

In fact, no passage of the Bible has ever spoken of homosexual love in a positive light. So if you conveniently ignore or misinterpret the passages which speak of it in a negative light, or only focus on the words of Jesus as if the Bible only had four books to it, at best you can argue that the Bible is neutral on gay marriage, not supportive of it.

As for Jesus, Lisa Miller uses his preaching of love and inclusion as one of her central arguments. However, while Jesus did reach out to prostitutes, tax collectors, and other “sinners”, he never accepted prostitution, swindling, or sin in general. In fact, one of the most common phrases he spoke to sinners he healed was, “Go and sin no more.”

By the same token, Jesus would have reached out with love to homosexuals, but this never meant he would have accepted homosexuality. To argue otherwise would commit a fundamental theological mistake by equivocating sinners and their sins.

These kinds of theological mistakes pervade the entire article. I have not even begun to touch the surface of all the factual error and misinterpretations committed (feel free to shoot me an email if you want my perspective on anything else written in that cover story), but let me offer one last perspective to put the whole controversy in a new light.

In academic circles, the LGBT movement will often classify works as heteronormative for treating certain subjects from an exclusively heterosexual perspective. Since any and all references to marriage, including those from Jesus, refer to a heterosexual marriage, the Bible by definition would qualify as heteronormative literature.

And while LGBT activists will often criticize heteronormative literature as yet another form of discrimination, this is perhaps one of the rare occasions where I have seen someone argue that heteronormative literature actually supports non-heteronormative values.

Beyond all of this, though, there is an even worse mistake being committed in this article. Newsweek itself claims to be a news magazine, as the title suggests, but in its cover story by Lisa Miller, she uses this sentence:

“I would argue that they should.”

While Lisa Miller would obviously hold the separation of church and state in high regard on the issue of gay marriage, at the same time in this cover story she has blatantly disregarded the separation of news and opinion, which journalists often literally refer to as “church and state.”

Nothing she writes could possibly be any more damning than those six words. Both conservative critics and religious critics have long derailed Newsweek for their alleged bias against them. And by publishing an op-ed as a cover story, Newsweek has convicted itself of these allegations.

What I find even more disturbing is how Jon Meachem basically takes up the role of an LGBT cheerleader in his Editor’s Note. The New York Times was once criticized by its Public Editor or ombudsman back in 2004 for presenting “the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading.”

Furthermore, in Newsweek’s Readback blog, Kurt Soller describes the cover as “ultimately supportive of gay marriage.” Perhaps this is why the National Review’s Mark Hemingway has titled his response “Newsweek Comes Out of the Closet…as a magazine with a political agenda.”

Plus, all of this could not come at a worse time for the magazine. The Washington Post, which owns Newsweek, has recently come under fire after its own ombudsman, Deborah Howell, asserted that The Post did indeed have “An Obama Tilt in Campaign Coverage.

Now I do not completely dislike slanted sources. In addition to more typical sources like CNN and the BBC, I also enjoy reading NewsMax, an extremely popular online news sources among conservatives with its own magazine to boot. However, I do not pretend that NewsMax is objective, and neither do they. And it is time Newsweek stopped pretending, too.

Newsweek has a right to publish whatever it wants, but freedom of the press has never ensured an objective press. Either Newsweek should undertake serious, comprehensive reforms regarding how it does business (and how it lets the business department motivate its decisions), or it should go to confession and admit that it is throwing out the guise of an objective news magazine.

Mike Wacker is The Sun’s Assistant Web Editor. He can be reached at mwacker@cornellsun.com.