Q & R: Gay Marriage and God
Here's the Q:
I have been a follower of your blog for a few months now. Your book A Generous Orthodoxy has given much guidance, understanding, and hope.
My question may sound leading or ungracious, but that is not my intent at all. Some back ground on me, I was born and raised in the South. I was raised in a very conservative family. The churches we belonged to were all charismatic growing up. Considering my upbringing, faith communities, and general geographic location the subject of homosexuality was given the stamp of "It's wrong. Period. Don't talk about it." However, as I got older I began to have friends that admited to being gay along with several family members. It was shocking to my conservative evangelical system because I loved all of these people dearly. I was confused, but decided to simply show them love and not try to "change" them. Now I am in my early twenties, married, and finishing my undergradute degree with the hopes of moving on to seminary. My spiritual mentors and pastors have always seemed to be (considering the religious climate of the south) progressive in many ways. With independence of adulthood and guidance from those much wiser than I my attitude towards those who are LGTBQ is even more gracious and accepting than ever before.
Now with all of that info, how does God reveal himself in same sex marriage? My studies of the bible and personal experiece of marriage has lead me to believe that God wants to show aspects of himself as well as his glory through the institution of marriage. I know that right now if I had to decided based solely on my interpretation of the American Constitution I would vote for same-sex marriage to be allowed in my state. On the other hand, I still am trying grasp the spiritual implications of such a decision. I have heard arguments on both sides. I've seen countless amounts of evidence. I want my friends and family members that are in the LGTBQ community to be happy and love who they want to love. Hopefully my question was clear and not misleading of my intentions.
Here's the R:
I think the best reply I can give to your important, honest, and graciously-articulated question would be to share a personal story (with a few details changed for anonymity's sake). When I was a young pastor ...
... long before my understanding of the Bible's relevance to lgbt issues actually changed, I knew I wanted to show love to all people. I knew that was right. So back then I followed what has been called the "accepting but not affirming" position ... accept gay people, but don't affirm their sexual identity. It was the most "progressive" position I felt I could hold at the time.
A member of our church was a gifted musician, and one Sunday she was going to perform a song she had composed. She told me she wanted her brother to see her performance, but wanted to be sure he was welcome. He was in late stages of HIV/AIDS, she explained, and would be coming in a wheelchair accompanied by his partner. He was pretty alienated from church and Christianity, but this might be his last chance to see his sister perform. "Of course," I said. "He would be an honored guest."
He came. He was in bad shape. His every need required attention and help from his partner. Think catheters, urine bags, diapers, etc. I remember thinking how absolutely vulnerable this young man would be, if not for his partner's faithful care.
We had a part of our service in those days called "prayers of the people," where people could speak out prayers spontaneously. It came shortly after the song, and after a few people prayed out loud, the musician's brother spoke out. "I want to thank God for people who love you and stay by you no matter what."
I'm not normally a quick-to-cry person, but his simple words cracked open my heart. It was absolutely clear to me at that moment that this relationship was not simply about sin, sex, and so on - as the arguments about it so often assumed (especially back in the 80's) - it was about love, loyalty, commitment, service, courage, even heroism.
Perhaps because gay marriage was non-existent in those days, the loyalty and commitment of these two men struck me even more poignantly: the healthy one was staying with his dying partner not because he had to, not because he had legally vowed to, not because it was expected of him or he was obligated to do so, but because he wanted to, because of love. Nothing except love kept him in the relationship.
God was revealed to me in that commitment. (The essence of the marriage vows was also revealed to me ... for better for worse, in sickness and in health.)
Fidelity, faithfulness, dependability, a refusal to leave or forsake ... this quality of love, I think, is one of the highest and purest revelations of God.
The young man died shortly thereafter. That Sunday morning was his last opportunity to hear his sister sing, and his last time in church.
That morning nudged me a little closer to giving my inherited assumptions about sexuality a serious second thought.
By the way, you might find several chapters in my book A New Kind of Christianity to be helpful as you continue to grapple with this highly-sensitive and highly-important issue. Thanks so much for writing.