Johnson lays out the historical context of same-sex relationships from what we know of the practices in Rome and in Greece at the time of Paul, when such relationships were hardly consensual, to the scholarly work of the Middle Ages, where there is much evidence that profoundly close same-sex relationships (which may or may not have been sexual) went unquestioned by the church. What is clear in this history is that there was never a single way of approaching or dealing with same-sex relationships across time or place or faith.
In grateful celebration of today’s decision by the Supreme Court, I am posting this video produced by my friends in the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The struggle for equality is not yet over, but today marks an epic victory. As a Christian, I’ll continue working with my UU neighbors and others in the quest for equality in our country and in the Presbyterian Church.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
“God is in the connections” is a point Beverly Harrison, the noted ethicist and theologian, makes so well in her book Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics. With the “power of relation to sustain us … we can learn what we need to know. Christian love—both God’s love for us and ours for God and each other—means this: that we discover and experience, in the power of praxis and solidarity, a new wellspring of caring that fuels our passion.”
This kind of passionate connection should be at the heart of the commitment of love in marriage. The “holiness” of holy matrimony comes from this kind of sacramental practice. It is not given to a couple, any couple, whatever their sexual orientation, by virtue of a pastor like me saying the words over them in a sanctuary, though the promises couples make to each other in marriage ceremonies are very important. But these are not “once for all” kinds of promises. I tell couples (and myself!) that they must choose to be married every day. Every day you have to get up and decide to perform this holiness, giving and receiving, confessing wrong and forgiving wrong, caring enough to stand by in sickness and in health, and talking it through.
It’s a reflection written by a pastor in my denomination who I have come to deeply respect. On two very public occasions, she went beyond the letter of the law in order to incarnate the spirit behind it:
The first was when she officiated at the wedding of two women, even though our denomination’s polity does not yet provide for that function.
The second was when she willingly stepped down as Vice Moderator of our General Assembly, even though she had been duly nominated and elected to that position.
Tara has earned my admiration.
This is her story in her own words:
Here is the rub and the theological bankruptcy I feel I am “pastoring” in. I am not permitted to order worship and celebrate the love of God in the covenant of marriage for the same folk whom I have baptized, confirmed, served communion, and even ordained as pastors. There is a gross error in how we as pastors and congregations are then honoring the whole child of God whom we have started with in baptism.
Thanks to a post I published over a month ago, I’ve managed to build some good will and credibility capital with my evangelical brothers and sisters, especially those in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Today, I want to “cash in” on some of that capital.
We’re all well aware of the renewed heat underlying the debate about same-sex marriage that expands far beyond the boundaries of our own denomination. In recent weeks, North Carolina passed Amendment One and President Obama publicly endorsed marriage equality.
Most of the evangelical Christians I know are intelligent, compassionate, and dedicated people who despise the use of verbal or physical violence against any group of people. I wish that more of them understood the nature of systemic violence that forms the backbone of oppression and heterosexism, but I’m willing to accept that most of them are not conscious homophobes or bigots.
Over the last 25 years or so, evangelicals have evolved in their understanding of and fight against HIV/AIDS. In the early 1980s, it was more common for well-known preachers to deem the virus a plague of God’s wrath against the LGBT community. Since then, the majority of mainstream evangelicals have come to realize that this is a global health issue. Evangelical churches like Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore have started outreach programs like Hope Springs to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS in their own communities. Like President Obama’s views on marriage, it’s fair to say that the mainstream evangelical perspective on the HIV/AIDS crisis has “evolved”.
Today, I would encourage evangelicals toward a similar “evolution” in the fight against homophobia. I repeat that most evangelicals are not homophobes. The vast majority of the ones I know are sickened by stories of physical violence levied against people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
This country needs a widespread call from evangelical pulpits that takes a firm stance against homophobia as a sin against God. This is not to say that such churches should immediately alter their views on marriage or interpretations of scripture. Keep those as they are for now.
But evangelicals should take seriously the ends and means that they already espouse. Their endgame is to lead the whole world toward greater wholeness through a relationship with Christ. They passionately believe in preaching the Christian gospel in word and deed wherever they go. They affirm that friendship is the single best method of evangelism.
What would it do for their witness to Christ if there was a large movement of traditional and orthodox evangelicals who, while maintaining their views on marriage, called for an end to homophobia and violence? What would happen if they, as entire churches, consciously nurtured personal relationships with folks in the LGBT community? What kind of gospel credibility would be built if evangelical pastors made a sustained effort at condemning homophobia from their pulpits?
Let me offer you a picture of the other side. This is a sample of what folks in the LGBT community are hearing from evangelicals:
The first video is Rev. Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church, the second is Rev. Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church.
Most evangelicals I know detest this kind of talk. They would agree that it does nothing but damage the entire church’s witness to Christ. However, the voices of these bigots are much louder than the voices of evangelicals I know. The message that folks in the LGBT community are hearing is not the one that says “Jesus loves you.” The voices being heard are the ones that say, “You’re disgusting. You’re an abomination. You don’t matter in this country. We wish you didn’t exist.”
It’s up to evangelical Christians to change all this, if they want to be effective witnesses for Christ. Even those evangelicals who limit their understanding of marriage to heterosexual couples need to stand up and add their voices to the fight against homophobia. Pastors, don’t keep silent out of fear of what your congregation will think. Your silence implies agreement with bigots and hate-mongers. What’s more important to you as evangelicals: not appearing “soft on homosexuality” to your congregants or effectively witnessing to the love of Jesus?
You don’t have to change your views on marriage or re-interpret your Bible, just be faithful to what you already believe the Bible is telling you.
Take a stand against violence and homophobia. Preach the gospel. Be the gospel.
This is a follow-up to my earlier post. The results are in and the senseless act of institutional hatred called “Amendment One” has passed in my home state of North Carolina. There is much that I could say.
The tone of these two posts is consciously different from recent ones, where I have tried to cultivate a sense of commonality with evangelicals and conservatives. I still hope to do so, especially as my church (the Presbyterian Church) moves toward its consideration of same-sex marriage at this summer’s General Assembly. I maintain that there is much that is worthy of respect in the theological convictions of evangelicals and the political ideals of conservatives.
However, Amendment One is not representative of that which I respect and admire in them. This is an outright attack against liberty and equality. And, for the moment anyway, it appears to be a successful one. My conservative and evangelical brothers and sisters in North Carolina have bowed down before the demonic gods of fear and fanaticism. They have betrayed the very best that is in their traditions. I weep, not for myself but for them, as their idols will one day be their undoing.
And the real tragedy is that they look upon yesterday’s events as a victory for Jesus, who they have just re-crucified in hearts and minds of those who already feel nothing but alienation and rejection from the Christian church. I weep for you, my brothers and sisters, because you have hindered the cause of the gospel that I know you love so much. Just as you have done unto the least of these homosexual brothers and sisters of Christ, so you have done unto him.
But now, the deed is done, the votes are cast, and sun will rise today on a world that is a little less just than the one it rose over yesterday. But the sun will rise. And so will we.
We love you. And we will resist you. We bless you. And we will break your cursed laws. We will not bow our heads in silent resignation. Those who are truly free do not wait for the government to legitimate their freedom. True believers do not depend on institutional coercion to mandate the practice of their faith. Just ask any Christian in the People’s Republic of China, where the underground church flourishes in spite of persecution. I do not depend on the U.S. government to define the mystery of the Trinity for me, why then would I depend on them to define the covenant of marriage? Rosa Park was free long before she sat down in her seat on that bus. Even so, I declare to you in the name of every gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered child of God that we too are free believers. We will marry and be given in marriage. We don’t need your permission. Love speaks for itself. As Jesus once said, “Wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
I am fortunate enough to live 500 miles away from this most recent oppression. I live in a state that has already decided to recognize marriage equality (a recent development in which I am proud to have played a part). This summer, my church will decide whether or not to join that choir of angels. I have decided within myself that I will not wait for their decision. Whatever happens at our General Assembly, I will continue to solemnize same-sex marriages in the name of Jesus and I will refuse to call them anything other than what they are: marriages.
Worst case scenario: someone will successfully challenge the legitimacy of my ministry in a church court because of what I’ve written here. That’s okay. I’ve been defrocked before. There are other churches who will have me. I say this in writing here and now because I want to be on record as one who stood up for what he thought was right before it was considered proper to do so. I want my children to be able to look back and know the kind of man that their father was on this day.
I was touched and surprised tonight as I prepared to put my three year old daughter to bed just after reading the news about the amendment passing. I found her playing under the desk in the office. When I called her out to get ready for bed, she said, “Look what I found!” She emerged holding a rainbow pride flag in her hand. I take that as a sign of things to come. It gives me hope.
There is a song that I’ve played over and over again in my car as I’ve driven from errand to errand and meeting to meeting today. It sings like a hymn and rises like a prayer. I invite you to pray it with me now, as we begin a new day:
It’s kind of a pointless gesture to comment on this now. My true comments are comprised of the moral and intellectual framework that I’ve been laying down in my preaching, writing, talking, marching, and loving for the past several years. Posts like this are merely symbolic gestures offered by those of us who wish to go on record in moments of truth as people who took a stand for truth, according to our best understanding.
I think Amendment One is a pointless piece of garbage that I refuse to dignify with the term “legislation.” I am not currently a registered voter in North Carolina, but I’ve spent the majority of my life so far in that state. Therefore, it matters to me, personally, what happens today, since many people who I love will be affected.
North Carolina, if you pass this amendment today, it will become an albatross around your neck. It will be an embarrassment and a mark of shame to future generations for whom the question of same-sex marriage will be a non-issue (and that generation is coming much sooner than you think). You are neither preventing the secularization of North American culture nor laying the foundation for a biblical regime by doing this. Read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and then tell me if theocracy is even a goal you want to achieve. To loosely paraphrase William Stringfellow, human beings are most effective at bringing hell to earth when they believe they are bringing heaven.
I’ll close with the lyrics of a song by Evangelical Christian songwriter Derek Webb. Here are the lyrics and the video. Listen and read. I hope it gets stuck in your head while you head to the polls.
You say always treat people like you’d like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
About what you believe
Make you sound like a freak
‘Cause if you really believed
What you say you believe
You wouldn’t be so damned reckless
With the words you speak
You wouldn’t silently consent
When the liars speak
Denying all the dying of the remedy
Tell me brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me sister, what matters more to you?
If I can see what’s in your heart
By what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straight
Is all it’s about
It looks like being hated
For all the wrong things
Like chasing the wind
While the pendulum swings
‘Cause we can talk and debate
Till we’re blue in the face
About the language and tradition
That He’s coming to save
And meanwhile we sit
Just like we don’t give a shit about
Fifty thousand people who are dying today
Tell me brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me sister, what matters more to you?