Friday, August 6, 2010

Shooting Straight: What Christians Don't Seem to Get About Prop. 8

Once again, we’ve got Prop 8 back in the news.  For those of you who aren’t from our fair state of California Prop 8 refers to a ballot initiative and constitutional amendment limiting marriage to the traditional 1 man/1 woman format.   This week we had one more step in the continuing trench warfare as activists on each side continue to slug it out. 

I’m not quick to jump on a soap-box to make pronouncements on political issues.   As a Jesus-following pastor, frankly, I’ve got bigger fish to fry.  But at the same time, I cringe as much as anyone else when I see the collateral damage that we continue to inflict on each other in the name of personal rights.  Here are four things I wish we in the church would take more seriously.

1.  Just because the Bible speaks to an issue doesn’t mean that we should make a law to enforce it.    I’ve heard my red-state brethren frequently echo the claim that we’re “A Christian Nation”.  News flash--we aren’t.  As I recall from Civics class, we’re not supposed to have a government endorsed religious perspective.  What we ARE supposed to be is a place where Christians can be Christians without legal recriminations while their Muslim neighbors can be Muslims with the same freedom.   If the Muslims in my community tried to pass an initiative outlawing pork, I’d rightly complain. 

2. Just because a personal belief comes from my religious perspective doesn’t make it politically irrelevant.
For a variety of strange reasons we have become very religio-phobic in our country, perhaps especially here in the Golden State.  OK, I made that word up, but I’m referring to our paranoia about expressing and defending the validity of our spiritual points of view.  Somehow we’ve developed this underlying assumption that our spiritual perspectives are like digestive problems:  ideally people shouldn’t have them, but if they do they ought to at least avoid talking about them in polite company.

The fact is, everyone has a spiritual worldview.  Even the people who claim that we shouldn’t have spiritual worldviews are themselves expressing their particular view on the Bigger Picture of our existence.  The thing that matters is what we do with those perspectives. My devout Muslim friends have strong convictions about right and wrong that are not shared by my devout Mormon friends, who in turn have moral convictions that contrast markedly from the convictions that I hold dear.   While it’d be offensive if one of us tried to pressure the others into adopting our worldview, it’d also seem pretty weird if we tried to pretend that we didn’t really care about these things.  We do.

And following from that, there’s nothing wrong with any of us voting on issues based on what we believe to be true.  Last I checked democracy was supposed to be about people voting based on their personal convictions.   If a lot of Muslims want to speak strongly on a pork-rights issue, they should be able to do that.  And if they get out-voted, they shouldn’t complain about that.  After all, they’ve had their say.  It’s a democracy.  And so if a lot of folks have religious viewpoints that lead to convictions about whether marriage should include same-gender couples, there’s nothing wrong with them voting their conscience. 

3. The Christian church needs to recognize that it has VERY little credibility in the gay rights issue, and that’s a problem.
Here’s an ugly truth.  One of the reasons why the Christian church has such a hard time putting its foot down when it comes to gay rights issues is that that foot seems to be perforated with bullet holes.  When it comes to gay rights we’ve shot ourselves in the foot so often that we’ve got very little appendage left with which to stomp.

Our challenge, of course, is that the Bible simply does have a few passages that make it  pretty clear that homosexual unions are not what God originally had in mind. Based on this handful of verses we have all too often voiced outrage towards anyone from the gay community who shows signs of…well, being from the gay community.  At the same time we quickly breeze over the page after page after page of scriptures that speak about caring for the poor or forgiving those who have hurt us.   Actually the Bible seems to treat gossips with the kind of scandal we assign to gays.   We, on the other hand, typically accept gossiping as normal, even entertaining—after all, some people just seem to be born that way, right?  And as for gays, well…

So here’s an off-the-wall idea:  what would happen if the church quietly agreed to treat gay people the same way as, say, we treat people who have been divorced? After all, both “lifestyles” represent major patterns that are presented in scripture as something less than God’s ideal.  Both seem increasingly common and both generally seem to be life-long irreversible situations that usually prove to bring a lot of trauma into the lives of those involved.   

I have a lot of people in my life whose lives are marked by divorce.  And while I’m not ready to say that those divorces represent God’s best for my loved ones (even if they might not agree), I still cringe with them in their pain and rejoice with them as they move on…still divorced.  I do that not because I’ve decided that divorce is good, but because there’s a sort of biblical rock/paper/scissors by which I need to determine what is and isn’t worth losing relationships over.  It’d be a shame for me to lose really dear friends because of a shadow in their past, just as it’d be a shame for them to reject me on the basis of some other kind of shadow they might find in my past. 

What if the church learned to approach GLBT folks in much the same way? Obviously many who don’t share our perspective on the authority of scripture wouldn’t necessarily agree with our position, but it could allow us to stop having all these rallies at which we chant ugly things about each other.

Well, we  haven’t.  OK…let me be a little more candid than that.  I haven’t.  I, and a lot of others in the church, have been all too willing put GLBT folks into some separate category of people who somehow need to be “fixed” before we who happen to be broken differently can accept them.  The thing I love about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it allows someone like me to discover the many layers of my brokenness while at the same time being shocked at a God who loves me in ways I didn’t even realize I needed.  Seems to me that there ought to be a lot of room for GLBT friends in that community of broken healing.  Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be happening very much.  And that, I believe, is a problem that extends far beyond this issue.  

4. There are some important underlying questions that few people seem to be asking.
Underlying this whole Prop 8 discussion I see a bigger question that has been getting very little air time.  How DO we figure out how to define marriage?   If “because the Bible says so” isn’t a credible grounds for a nation’s views on marriage, what exactly is? 

Is it simply a matter of passing fashion?  Gay marriages seem much more popular than they were a century ago, so we’re trying to change things so we can do those kinds of marriages.   What if polygamists managed to grow in numbers over the next century—would we someday decide that may having multiple husbands wasn’t so bad after all?  Or what about adults and children?  Cats and dogs? If marriage based strictly on a popular vote then there is no principle that might prevent us from someday embracing any of those aberrations. 

On Wednesday Judge Walker pointed to the lack of a “rational basis” for showing why gay unions shouldn’t be considered genuine marriages.   I believe the problem runs deeper than that.  Beyond simple popularity, I don’t think we have a rational basis for considering any union to be a real marriage.  And so we fight. 

I still have this crazy idea that the followers of Jesus Christ might help our communities develop a “rational basis” for this kind of long-term issue. 

Unfortunately that seems to be the one thing in this issue that the church doesn’t get...uh, straight.


  1. Good, bad or indifferent...seems to me the people of California voted and we are still a democracy (although who knows for how long!).

  2. anonymous, we're actually a republic that teaches democracy. With a simple majority, if a democracy, we could vote in anything that was popular for that moment. While I vote my conscience (yes on 8), I'm reminded that sin is sin, but, that doesn't mean that government services/entitlements be withheld from certain groups. Two things happen if we allow gays to get married. Acceptance in society (whether real or not) and the entitlements of "married" couples. In reality, it doesn't seem like much. And, the fact that the term didn't even come into play until the 1300's or so. For Christians, it seems to me that our "marriage", or, the "nomenclature" of marriage, is more of a covenant with God and your spouse, especially since anyone of the opposite sex and consenting, can get "married". That's still a different "marriage" than the one "we" have, right? Hmmmm, gonna have to rethink my vote, considering the fact that I'd rather get along and witness to others than to not get along and watch the protests. You know that "render to Caesar" thing. If we didn't have propositions in this state (one of very few states that do), the politicians would have probably already voted for gay marriage.

  3. As we continue to allow the motivated and mission-oriented Christian right to mobilize their moronic voting base, they get to elect their more authoritarian, geared-toward-the-End-Times government. Those more conservative governments generally appoint the judiciary. Together they are slowly but surely tweaking the laws toward the right, while at the same time screaming as loudly as possible about how Christians are under attack (from what? 13% of the population?) from the Sinful and their rights need protecting. Its a shell game and they're controlling the game...