Miss California of 2003 (and winner of the Miss America swimsuit competition in 2004) is Nicole Lamarche, who won her titles while studying for master of divinity and master of arts degrees at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. Married to fellow seminarian Jeremy Nickel, Nicole now serves as minister at Cotuit Federated Church in Cotuit, Mass.
“As a pastor and a former Miss California, I am often asked to interpret what the Word of God has to say on a particular subject,” Rev. Lamarche says. “I am quite confident that God prefers that we human beings stick to speaking for ourselves. And yet there are occasions when God’s Word is used as a weapon, and I feel compelled to speak.
“In the past few days, much has been made of the words of Miss California USA, Carrie Prejean. She stated that marriage is between a man and a woman. I write not in response to her opinion, but rather about her comments that followed: that the Bible condones her words. She said, “It’s not about being politically correct, it’s about being biblically correct.” While this sentiment is shared by many who seek to condemn gay people and gay marriage, citing pieces of the Bible to further one’s own prejudice fails to meet the Bible on its own terms.
“Most people seeking to condemn gay people point to the Book of Leviticus, where we read that men lying with men is an abomination. However, we rarely hear of other verses found in the book of Leviticus that are equally challenging. For example, Leviticus also tells us that eating shrimp and lobster is an abomination. And that a person should not wear material woven of two kinds of material—an impossible mandate for a pageant contestant!
“In Paul’s letter to the community in Corinth we read, ‘For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church….’ And yet these words have not prevented Christian denominations from ordaining women, such as myself. Sadly, the Bible has been used to further prejudice throughout history. We have used it to permit ourselves to enslave people; to conquer and kill; and to denigrate the earth.
“The truth is that it is difficult to know for sure the intentions of the biblical authors, but we do know something about God. Those of us who know God through Jesus of Nazareth know that he went to great lengths to express God’s love to people who were labeled as outcasts. He spent time with children, prostitutes, and lepers, all of whom were labeled as outside of the grasp of the Holy. As we continue to seek God’s vision for us as a nation grounded in a love for justice, I pray that we might move closer to the cause of grace.”
Mary A. Tolbert, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion, where she also teaches biblical studies, agrees with former student Nicole Lamarche. “As the New Testament gospels tell us, Jesus summarized all the law and the prophets into two central commands: love God with all your being, and love your neighbors as yourself,” says Professor Tolbert.
“Even our interpretations of the Bible should be held to the standard of these two founding principles. To deny to gay and lesbian families the protections, rights, responsibilities, and respect of civil marriage—rights and respect that heterosexual couples value greatly and hold fully for themselves—very clearly to me violates the command to love your neighbor as yourself.
“If the married state is something you want and value for yourself, you should also want and value it for all your neighbors, gay and straight alike. I think that the current Miss California needs to think through the biblical commands of Jesus in considering this issue; with prayerful thought, I believe she might come to a very different conclusion. Many people reading the Bible already have.”
Pacific School of Religion is a multidenominational Christian seminary that has been preparing bold leaders for historic and emerging faith communities since 1866. The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry was founded at Pacific School of Religion in 2000 and was the first such center at a seminary.