I'm a firm believer in the notion that images communicate in ways words cannot, and this image hits home in a big way. It speaks. It says that in a nation where we value equality under the law we cannot justify the denial of marriage rights to any minority group, including the LGBT community. Sounds reasonable enough, right?
Apparently not everybody is so convinced. As I peruse the facebook-scape I am confronted not only by these red equals signs but by the (unfortunately) inevitable parody placards made by Christians in favor of preserving the "sanctity of marriage":
|And while we're at it we might as well make this about gun rights too.|
|Here we have some mischievous little droids who want in on the fun.|
I'm not one to weigh in on political issues but I can't seem to shake this one off my heart. This aggressive response on the part of some in the Christian community is actively frustrating me. I understand there are lovely, well-meaning people on both sides of the discussion but I simply do not see how retaliatory action like this is in line with the ethical thrust of the Gospel. It is snippy, immature, and reactionary. It is not love as described in 1 Corinthians 13 (patient, kind, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs). So I am stepping up to say something, a potentially controversial something, because I feel a distinct calling to remind my brothers and sisters in Christ to return to the loving heart of God for His children. Bear in mind, I will not be responding to this issue with any particular stance one way or the other; my mission is instead to speak a potentially-convicting word to my fellow subjects of God's Kingdom about how we ought to handle issues like this. Here we go, get your pitchforks ready.
Things Christians must keep in mind when discussing gay marriage:
1. Christians, by and large, have not done a very good job of loving our gay brothers and sisters.
I'm sorry guys and gals, but this is the plain truth. We are not doing a good job of making our gay brethren feel loved. If we were, then we would not have so many gays speaking out their heartbreaking stories about persecution and exile perpetrated against them by Christians. And I believe these accounts, and internalize these complaints, each leading me to believe we are doing something very wrong. After all, if we were to prioritize loving our gay friends and acquaintances, then they would feel loved by us. We who worship a God of love ought to be able to love effectually, in ways that our gay friends actually notice and appreciate. Judging them, their behaviors, their "lifestyles" and orientations, is not love; it is tainted piety. And as I search and study I am beginning to notice at the root of this judgmental impulse an identity issue, a misunderstanding of our divine calling. We have lost sight of the fact that it is simply not our place to judge God's children. In the words of the great Billy Graham, "It is God's job to judge, the Holy Spirit's job to convict, and my job to love." And that's all I could ever hope to say on the subject.
2. Those who support gay marriage are not actively trying to destroy the sanctity of the institution.
Don't believe me? Ask somebody who supports marriage equality why they feel that way. Chances are they won't say, "I'm just really excited about the dissolution of the institution of marriage." That's not where they're coming from. In fact, most of the marriage-equality proponents I've talked to about the issue are driven by a sense of love for and solidarity with gay men and women. And whether or not you agree with their stance, this is hardly an ignoble intention. Some "marriage-defenders" may retort they are not accusing gay-marriage-types of being ill-intentioned, only ill-informed and reckless, but I contend that the hostile rhetoric so often associated with this debate comes across like Christians believe there is a deliberate, malicious attack on marriage taking place in our country, while this is simply not the case. No one wants to de-sanctify or sabotage marriage (particularly the gays trying to get married). We might disagree on what marriage is and how the whole thing ought to play out but we must not mischaracterize the intentions of those with whom we disagree in order to paint them as monsters. Such is the tactic of politicians, and we ought to know better.
3. We will not save the world by digging in our heels on a political issue.
I understand the tension here that some might not agree this is a political issue rather than a religious one. Marriage is a sacred institution, handed down by God, right? Well yes, by and large I agree with that, but I challenge my fellow Christians to take a look at the state of contemporary marriage in this country. Does it look like something God gave us? When as many marriages take place in city halls as in churches, when half of American marriages end in divorce (rates essentially identical within the Church by the way) and these divorces are condoned unreservedly by the law, we must evaluate whether this "marriage" we're defending is the divine institution or a human one, a secular, legal one. We must face the fact that marriage in the eyes of the government does not bear much resemblance to marriage in the eyes of God. And this brings another interesting question to mind: why is our government dictating the terms of a sacred institution at all? Our nation's semi-Christian heritage has resulted in an odd enmeshment and unequal marriage between church structures and government workings resulting in a multitude of Christians accustomed to political power and terrified to lose it. We Christians are so afraid of a post-Christian world (even though it may be the best thing to happen to the Church since Constantine) that we are digging in our heels on this issue at the expense of all the beloved humans caught in the crossfires. And my concern is, within an increasingly religiously pluralistic milieu, the Christian former-majority will cling to the vestiges of its power until the whole world is turned off to the Gospel. Our exercise of political muscle here is compromising our presentation of the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God, where power is weakness and weakness is power, where the last are first and the first are last. The heat of our rhetoric and our desire to preserve national, legally-mandated morality may threaten the validity of our message, which is first and last our commitment to a loving God and a redeeming Christ.
What is the answer then? How ought Christians respond to controversial issues such as these? My position is simple: let us take our cue from Jesus. How did our Lord respond to marginalized groups? In a word, love. He loved them, radically. He identified with them and walked alongside them. He seldom if ever spoke judgment toward them. No, he reserved judgment for those so firm in their opinions they had buried their heads beneath the sand (protected from the intruding voice of God). Yes, Jesus embodied the prophetic role to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, speaking conviction and judgment to the stodgy religious while proclaiming the Kingdom, the better way, to the hurting and outcast. And how, in the name of all that is good in this world, does our ministry of facebook sarcasm look like the countercultural character demonstrated by our Christ?
If it is not clear yet, please believe I am not attempting to cast the Gospel by the wayside in my treatment of this issue. I am in fact asking myself, asking God the hard questions and I do wonder whether or not we can reconcile the Christian mission with more compassionate treatment of our LGBT friends. As I have searched and prayed, however, I have discovered the better question is this: how can we reconcile the Christian mission with anything less than utterly compassionate treatment of them?
1 John 4:8
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged.