Photo credit: 2010 Andreanna Moya Photography/flickr. Usage does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
I need to clarify right out of the gate that this post will not focus on the “choice vs. birth vs. childhood” arguments related to the origin of homosexuality in an individual. We must start from the reality that acknowledges the American Christian church as divided on that issue, and will be for some time. Many on the Right view homosexuality as sin, a growing number on the Left view homosexuality as God-authored and inherently beautiful, and those in the middle have varying views and distinctions to offer. For Christians across the political and denominational spectrum, it is often a struggle to find one’s footing in this complicated issue. After all, the GLBT community includes family members, friends and neighbors.
Instead, this post will focus on making a case from a Christian perspective that gay marriage should be allowed legally in this country, and will attempt to explain why the church will become more like it was intended to be when it concedes this legislative battle. Here’s why.
Are We Warring or Welcoming?
God did not instruct the church to force the rest of the world to have the appearance of the church.
But that is the inevitable objective of the anti-gay marriage movement.
An implication is that a ban on such marriage will cause homosexuality to go stealth and disappear from God’s radar. But even if we’re taking the side of the anti-gay marriage argument and their supporting reasons for a moment, why would God use one singular issue to determine the character of an entire population? Such a finely-tuned fixation not only simplifies God and mankind, but it shows how little the Christian church often chooses to focus on real problems with serious consequences, like unnecessary war, sex trafficking, extreme global poverty, gender inequality, our prison industrial complex, increasing poverty at home, growing income inequality, greed, rampant corruption and an unlawful and unaccountable federal government.
The sin of your sister Sodom was this: She lived with her daughters in the lap of luxury—proud, gluttonous, and lazy. They ignored the oppressed and the poor. They put on airs and lived obscene lives. And you know what happened: I did away with them.” -Ezekiel 16:49, The Message translation
The quest to deny gay individuals the right to marry in the broader culture is an example of Christian conquest which is and always has been a perversion of discipleship. The church must illuminate a path for seekers to pursue the light of God, and provide a place of solace where the Lord’s call can find a response of the heart. Instead, we have often crowded the path with protesters and picket signs, and drowned out the sound of God’s knocking with our shouting. The mistake of the anti-gay marriage movement in the Christian church is that it is an attempt at indirect discipleship by way of restricting another’s freedom, and discipleship has never succeeded in that way. Discipleship convicts, comforts, and points the way, but it does so established on a foundation of dignity inherent in every person’s God-given right to respond without coercion.
The church ought to be immersed in the business of transforming lives through teaching, compassion and care, instead of treading in the shallow waters that have us trying to govern lives through legislative force. God extends to all of us freewill and patience and it’s time we truly extend both to the GLBT community. And it’s also time we turn the other cheek if we insist on viewing gay marriage as an assault on one’s own values. Having fists raised and holding a posture that is ready to fight are the last gestures that will ever make a group of people feel welcome when they have already been bullied, marginalized, and scorned.
We wonder, after all of the stadiums filled with people cheering for heterosexual marriage, and the church demonstrations outside of schools during a day of silence for GLBT discrimination, and rallies at the capital, and harsh rhetoric, why people don’t believe us when we as the church say “all are welcome here.” The more vocal anti- gay marriage wing of the church must acknowledge the possibility that it is (at a minimum) sending mixed messages.
Anti-Gay Marriage Arguments are Rooted in What?
I can’t help but groan when anti-gay marriage pastors brag that they’re not homophobic, followed by statements of self-assurance when interviewed by gay reporters such as “do I look like I’m afraid of you?” Christian pastors need to model themselves after Jesus Christ rather than Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. Worse, the reasons used to prevent gay marriage are fearful arguments, ranging from fears about gays indoctrinating children to fears about gays taking over the government to fears about losing church rights. We have to ask ourselves if the victory of the cross was achieved through earthly supremacy or through surrender?
Framing the whole debate as a slippery slope is effective if we just want to recruit a bunch of worried people. This happens while some Christians accuse the gay community of doing the exact same kind of recruiting. This should not surprise us, for when we go to war in any form, we inevitably take on traits of the people we’ve branded as enemies. Christians don’t need to see a copy and paste of all the Scriptural passages that talk about a life based in love and not fear because we already know they’re plentiful.
Piety on Parade (the Most Offensive Parade in Town)
When those opposed to gay marriage also claim to be strict adherents to Biblical literalism, they should then be the first ones to destroy the term “sanctity of marriage” because it can be found exactly nowhere in Scripture. Sanctity of marriage is a man-made concoction, used to claim the moral high ground in the same way that organizations use “family” or “freedom” in their title as if they hold a monopoly on virtue.
Christians know that Christ told us to remove the log from our own eyes before we try to take a sliver out of the eyes of another. It is profoundly hypocritical to deny homosexuals the right to marry under the banner of marriage purity when divorce and adultery rates in Christian homes are equal to those in the wider world. Christians have a systemic problem of brokenness and unfaithfulness in our own relational sphere and we’ve preferred at times to answer by pointing the finger at someone else. This is not the way of Jesus.
Moving Towards Humility, Learning to Listen, Daring to be Curious
All of this isn’t to say that the church should give up on wrestling with the complexities of sexual orientation, nor is it to say that the church itself should perform gay marriage ceremonies. Those matters require far more than one blog post. At the very least, and perhaps as a start, we need to surrender the legislative conflict, practice more humility and recognize our shared humanity.
What would it mean to the GLBT community to hear from the church in unison “we were wrong to wage this war against you, and we are sorry for it and for all of the ways that we’ve hurt you.” What would it mean to those individuals willing to share that being gay is all that they’ve ever known, if members of the church would respond by wanting to hear more of their story rather than rushing to tell them its the wrong story to have?
The church lacks curiosity because it has fallen for the lie that says rigidity is close to godliness while openness is a form of spiritual weakness. We’re late to our own game. Theology is exploding in local bars, and in lyrics, and in movies and in art and the broader culture, at a time when the church has doubled down on a legislative issue that was never ours to begin with, wasting years in that fruitless space. The church must now recognize that there is no risk to our convictions of faith to enter into authentic dialogue with a genuine sense of curiosity in order to understand the identity and the struggles of another human being, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Here’s the moment when the Christian church will become more relevant, and it’s not when the church wins the culture war. The church will become relevant the moment its members unclench their fists for long enough to host GLBT family members, friends and neighbors for a meal, with nothing expected in return; the moment when true friendship between the church and the GLBT community is no longer contingent on conversion.
If you are a member of the GLBT community and have a story to share, whether you’ve been wounded or uplifted by the church, or something else entirely, please feel free to do so here. Other comments are welcome as always, but if yours is ugly, I’m going to delete it. Please stay respectful, remembering that this is first a human issue, and other humans are reading what you write.