Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Marriage: It's Not Only For Gays

Everything Biblical is not Christ-like, and these particular verses, involving more hate than love, have no place whatsoever in the human heart. For Christians, the problem is not how to reconcile homosexuality with scriptural passages that condemn it, but how to reconcile the rejection and punishment of homosexuals with the love of Christ.
William Sloane Coffin

It's as if there is no such thing as gay marriage. There's only "marriage" and gay people have the same right to it as everyone else--which quite frankly makes the whole point of marriage seem kind of gay.
Stephen Colbert

These past couple of weeks have unveiled a bit of a shift back to 1990s style cultural wars in regards to sexual issues. Conservative Catholic bishops (and their GOP political pawns) have been crying wolf over federally mandated contraception ("Obamacare") while a handful of states are making important decisions about legalizing gay marriage (Washington, Maine, California, Maryland & New Jersey) or rolling it back (North Carolina & Minnesota).

This past Sunday, in the midst of this political sex addiction and right in time for Valentine's Day, the LA Times published an important piece from Harvard Law's Michael J. Klarman on the inevitability of gay marriage in the United States. Klarman declares that in the next decade, like it our not, gay marriage is going to be a far more widespread (perhaps even national) reality for us. He cites two key reasons for this ever-quickening transition:

One factor that most strongly predicts support for gay equality is knowing someone who is gay. As more gays and lesbians come out of the closet, more parents, children, siblings, friends, neighbors and co-workers know or love someone who is gay. Because few people favor discrimination against those they know and love, every gay person coming out of the closet creates more supporters of gay equality.

The number of Americans reporting that they know somebody who is openly gay tripled between 1985 and 2000, reaching 75%. One study in 2004 found that among those who reported knowing someone who is gay, 65% favored either gay marriage or civil unions, while only 35% of those who reported not knowing any gay people supported them.

A second reason that gay marriage seems inevitable is that young people so strongly support it. One study by political scientists found a gap of 44 percentage points between the oldest and youngest survey respondents in their attitudes toward gay marriage. A 2011 poll found that 70% of those age 18 to 34 supported gay marriage. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which young people's support for gay marriage dissipates as they grow older.

Things are changing. Rapidly. And Christians (of all stripes) are posting up all over the gay marriage spectrum:


A. Affirming: Christians who advocate for the full dignity of gays and lesbians on the basis of Scripture. For example, theologian and biblical scholar Walter Wink:

Approached from the point of view of love, rather than that of law, the issue is at once transformed. Now the question is not “What is permitted?” but rather “What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor?” Approached from the point of view of faith rather than of works, the question ceases to be “What constitutes a breach of divine law in the sexual realm?” and becomes instead “What constitutes obedience to the God revealed in the cosmic lover, Jesus Christ?” Approached from the point of view of the Spirit rather than of the letter, the question ceases to be “What does Scripture command?” and becomes “What is the Word that the Spirit speaks to the churches now, in the light of Scripture, tradition, theology, psychology, genetics, anthropology and biology?”

See also the legendary pastor of Riverside Church William Sloane Coffin, the activist and biblical scholar Ched Myers and Loyola Marymount professor Jeffrey Siker for a few other important "biblical" voices articulating position A.

B. Balanced: Christians who believe that homosexuality (in any form) is a sinful "alternative lifestyle" (according to Scripture), but they advocate for marriage rights for gays and lesbians on the basis of general human rights and constitutional principles. See Washington State Senator Mary Haugen:

For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe, to this day. But this issue isn't about just what I believe. It's about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It's about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed.

C. Cynical: Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin and continue to fight against any public policies that might benefit the LBGTQ community. This is exemplified by Rick Santorum who claims that allowing gays to marry and raise children is "robbing children of something they need, they deserve, they have a right to. You may rationalize that that isn't true, but in your own life and in your own heart, you know it's true" (back in '05, he said gay marriage is no different than "man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be").

D. Denial: Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin and live in a virtual bubble of Evangelical (or conservative Catholic) culture. The issue, for them, is totally under the radar. No one they know is gay (or so they think) and the topic seldom (if ever) comes up in social settings. This is represented by the 6 Evangelical megachurch pastors whom I know and whom I emailed a proposal for a sincere civil dialogue focusing on this issue--only one of them responded and he responded with, "Hey, I just wanted you to know I got this message. Hope you are doing well." That's it. Awkward.
Is there any doubt whatsoever that same-sex marriage is headed down the same path within both the Church and society that slavery & women's rights have traveled historically? Unfortunately, many within the Body of Christ have come late to the abolitionist and feminist parties. In fact, history reveals that the convictions of millions of Christians, in the US especially, have followed government legislation (not vice versa). Once again, we see history repeating itself with the same arguments attempting to defend gay marriage (on the basis of biblical interpretation, what's best for society/economy, nature/biology and especially "for the good of the children").

With the way things are going, Christians in the C and D camps will be on the wrong side of history in a matter of years (not decades). Our children and grandchildren will raise eyebrows at positions C & D (not to mention B). And, at the very least, the next generation will wonder out loud why the Church did not expend more energy and resources towards protecting gays and lesbians from violence and urban legends. Racial and sexual minorities need government to protect them today because the popular forms of the Church (conservative Evangelical & conservative Catholic) refuse to make this a priority of their public witness. This can only start to happen if positions C & D move to X to participate in a good faith dialogue about how Jesus might actually approach the mystery of gay marriage.

No doubt, the statistics that Harvard Law's Michael Klarman provides offer an immense jolt of hope that this younger generation will possess a combination of conviction and moxie to create a whole new world for gays and lesbians. For many of our largest faith communities ("megachurches"), the only way this shift towards a more queer justice will start is with the spark of conversation.
A reminder for all those who still unclear about what the Bible says about marriage:

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