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Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like if We Actually Followed the Bible

How many so-called Biblical literalists have actually read the whole Bible? Let's see what God really has to say about marriage.
 
 
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Traditionally, Republicans tend to run on a platform of God, guns and gays. This time, it’s God, gyne-policy and gays – a set of urgent priorities straight from the mouths of conservative bishops and evangelists who call themselves Bible believers. 

There’s no way to understand politics anywhere without understanding religion, but to an outsider American Christianity -- and so American politics -- can seem almost incomprehensible. Over the last 2,000 years, Christians have quarreled themselves into  30,000 different denominations. On top of that, American Christianity, like American culture more broadly, tends to flout hierarchy and authority, which means that a sizeable number of American Christians consider themselves “nondenominational."

The ever faster splintering of denominations and non-denominations, from crystal cathedrals to house churches gives a particularly elevated status to the Bible, which is why, along with the Catholic bishops and charismatic preachers we find the Good Book in the middle of our public policy debates. “Bible-believing” Christians, also called “biblical literalists,” believe the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, essentially dictated by God to the writers. Thanks to the determined work of historical revisionists like David Barton, many of them also believe (very, very wrongly) that America’s Constitution and legal system also were founded on principles and laws drawn from the Bible. 

Not all Christians share this view. Biblical literalists are at the opposite end of the theological spectrum from modernist Christians, who see the Bible as the record of our imperfect spiritual ancestors who struggled to understand what is good and what is God and how to live in moral community with each other.

A Christian’s view of the Bible often dictates social and moral priorities, which brings us back to the current political context. The Catholic bishops are well organized and so, under the banner of "religious freedom" (for institutions, not women), they have lead the charge against women's reproductive rights. But they have been able to limit contraceptive and abortion access in this country for decades only because FEB (fundamentalist/evangelical/ born-again) Bible-believing Christians rally to the cause. In my home state of Washington, conservative Catholics and Bible believers rallied by the hundreds this week to protest against universal contraceptive coverage. As I write they are gathering signatures to reverse our historic gay marriage legislation.

Even though  divorce and teen pregnancy rates are lower in more secular parts of the country, Bible believers see both as problems caused primarily by America’s loss of faith. To hear them tell it, from the time of America’s founding until the 1970s (when gays, atheists and bra-less women began tearing down the social order) this country prospered because we attended church and lived as God commanded, and our courts protected the righteous institution of biblical marriage. Now gay marriage laws are creeping across the nation, threatening the last shreds of our moral fabric.

Let me tell you a secret about Bible believers that I know because I was one. Most of them don’t read their Bibles. If they did, they would know that the biblical model of sex and marriage has little to do with the one they so loudly defend. Stories depicted in the Bible include rape, incest, master-slave sexual relations, captive virgins, and more. Now, just because a story is told in the Bible doesn’t mean it is intended as a model for devout behavior. Other factors have to be considered, like whether God commands or forbids the behavior, if the behavior is punished, and if Jesus subsequently indicates the rules have changed, come the New Testament. 

Through this lens, you find that the God of the Bible still endorses polygamy and sexual slavery and coerced marriage of young virgins along with monogamy. In fact, he endorses all three to the point of providing detailed regulations. Based on stories of sex and marriage that God rewards and appears to approve one might add incest to the mix. Nowhere does the Bible say, “Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you.”

 
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