First Comes Marriage, then Comes Grace

dde07baf134d52714f503dfb792443f9Well, it finally happened. After a decade or so of amendments, court challenges, referreudum and the like, same sex marriage is now legal accross the United States.  The 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court was a momentous day for many LGBT Americans, myself included.

Of course, this news is personal for me.  Like a lot of gay couples, I’ve had to say my wedding vows twice.  The first time was at my church wedding in 2007.  Then in 2013 same sex marriage became legal in Minnesota, and on Labor Day 2013, my husband Daniel and I had our civic wedding.  The result of that one meant that in the eyes of the state of Minnesota, we were married just like any other couple.

But there were still problems.  For example, if Daniel and I went to our home states, North Dakota and Michigan, we would not be recognized as a legal couple because those state had banned same sex marriages.  Now, we can go and visit any place in the USA and know that are rights are the same everywhere.

But while I along with millions of LGBT Americans and their allies rejoice, I am well aware that there are those that are not happy.  Some of these people are my friends even though we disagree.  They fear that America is losing its spiritual moorings and they fear that they will be forced to break their consciences into doing things that goes against their faith.

When social conservatives start bringing up the religious liberty argument, it doesn’t take long for the eyes of many an LGBT supporter to roll.  The claims of religious liberty are viewed as silly by gay marriage supporters and even progressive/liberal Christians make fun of these social conservatives and dismiss their arguments.

But what if there is something to those complaints?

Most of my fellow progressives ignore social cons, seeing them as backward homophobic hicks.  We tell ourselves that no one will force a conservative pastors to marry a lesbian couple, and they are probably right.  But the religious liberty argument is far more complex than this.

Damon Linker, who is not a conservative in any sense of the word, explains that there is something to the concern of some about religious liberty:

There’s very little chance that the government will force a church to marry a gay or lesbian couple, or forbid a priest or pastor from preaching from the pulpit against same-sex marriage….

But what about when that priest or pastor, or a conservative member of the parish or congregation, leaves the doors of the church? Throughout American history, the First Amendment has been understood to permit these Christians to act in the world as moral representatives of their faith communities — to exercise their religion by forming and joining groups in civil society that are affiliated with their churches or advance their moral vision of the world. These might be private schools, colleges, and universities, or hospitals, soup kitchens, and other charities. They might be think tanks or lobbying firms. They might be businesses whose owners want to express their Christian faith (as they understand it) in their dealings with customers.

…what about a conservative Christian college that seeks to conform to historic Christian teachings about sex and marriage? Should it be forced to allow same-sex married couples to live in married housing? Should the college lose federal funds for refusing? Lose its accreditation? Its tax-exempt status? Any one of these consequences could drive the college out of business, or force it to abandon the religious beliefs that define it.

Now, I would disagree with Linker about the businesses, but what about church-run schools? What about church-run colleges? Does the changed climate conflict with their beliefs?

What about the employee that might say they think same-sex marriage is wrong? Would they then be fired?

None of this means that I believe social conservatives are being persecuted, per se, but it does mean that the religious liberty argument isn’t as cut and dried as we would want to think.

My belief in loving the enemy, means I have to see my enemy as a child of God.  I don’t think most social conservatives are bad people.  Which is why I want to at least listen to them.

My guess is that most of us don’t want to be nice to social cons for very obvious reasons.  When one has been hurt by words that are supposed to heal, it can be hard to forgive that person, let alone see them as human being.

But I would also add that if social conservatives want to be respected, then they too must show respect.  Some have, but others haven’t and as Canadian evangelical Carey Neiuwhof notes, that isn’t good witness to Christ:

Even the first 72 hour of social media reaction has driven a deeper wedge between Christian leaders and the LGBT community Jesus loves (yes, Jesus died for the world because he loves it).

Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

People don’t line up to be judged.

Indeed.  If social conservatives want respect, they have to show it as well.  No one is asking them to change their views on homosexuality.  If you’re understand of the scriptures lead you to conclude that homosexuality is sinful then believe this.  But remember, Jesus didn’t banish sinners; he hung out with them.

I am happy that same sex marriage is now legal all over the place.  But I won’t make fun of those who disagree.  I will also try to listen to them and seek to treat them as a child of God.

I pray for a little grace on both sides.  But I know grace will be very little indeed.

Tiny Violins

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Some of the responses to to a recent post as well as some extra reading has me back at the keyboard again to share something thoughts about this rapidly changing situation in Indiana. I want to focus on one issue in particular: the demand by social conservatives to push for tolerance . So here goes.

Let me be clear: I am arguing for civility and love of enemy here, but I am not blind to the fact that social conservatives have never been accomodating to gay and lesbians. If you read blog posts, like the this one from Rod Dreher, you would think that they had never done anything wrong. They were just sitting around minding their own business when WHAM! those bad pro-ssm folks came and started taking away their rights. As Jacob Levy notes, the general public is having a hard time hearing the social conservative’s tiny violins right now:

…as I’ve said before, the newfound desire for opponents of same-sex marriage to defend pluralism and compromise rings very hollow.

The anti-same-sex-marriage movement during its ascendancy in the 1990s and 2000s was viciously and hatefully maximalist. Imagine the different history of America if conservatives in the late 1990s had energetically supported civil unions provided that they not use the word “marriage,” instead of pursuing the most aggressive and restrictionist DOMAs they could get away with in each context, such that where conservative majorities were strongest even ordinary contractual rights that might seem too much like marriage were prohibited, instead of mobilizing boycotts of firms that offered same-sex couples employment benefits! As it is, their defense of private sector liberty and the pluralism it makes possible is many days late and many dollars short. It kicked in only when, starting in the mid-2000s, the political tide turned.

That shouldn’t change our view of the right outcome; some particular cake baker shouldn’t lose his religious liberty because the movement that’s defending him now makes hypocritical arguments. But it does mean that the violin I hear playing when conservatives complain about the supposedly totalizing and compromise-rejecting agenda of same-sex-marriage supporters is very very small indeed.

So, I’m not ignoring that fact and it needs to be said outloud to our social conservative sisters and brothers. In my case, my desire for civility is not because they deserve it, but because I don’t want to act like they have to people like myself.

Beyond the social right claiming victimhood, there are some issues that really do need to be addressed. Ross Douthat shared recently a post where there might be some need for some clarification of what is okay and is an extention of someone’s faith and what is out of bounds. Douthat’s lists includes the following:

  • “Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes or covenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?”

 

  • “In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions? Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case? Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts? What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?”

This goes beyond the “baker-florist-photographer” issue. At this point, we don’t know where that line is. This means a lot of discussion to hammer out a new agreement.

This leads to a final thought: Why did the Legislature and Governor decide to craft legislation without gay and lesbian voices? Did they really think such a law would stand when we all know it was passed because of the changes in opinion? The federal RFRA was passed with bipartisan votes, but the reason it did is because it wasn’t aimed at a certain population.

There are legit issues concerning religious liberty. They need to be discussed. But such discussions need to have everyone at the table. If gays and lesbians are excluded from this, well we will know that social conservatives still see us more as part of the problem and less of the solution.

Fear Factor

indianaLike a lot of folk I’ve been interested in the goings on in Indiana.  As you know, the state legislature passed and the Governor signed a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Depending on who you talk to, the law is no different from the federal version of the law passed in 1993 or will allow religious owners of businesses to refuse service to gays.  I’m frankly a bit confused as to what the bill will actually do. Proponents see it as a bulwark against a radically changing culture.  Opponents see it as the second coming of Jim Crow.

As I was discussing this with a Methodist minister, he used a word that seemed to describe the whole situation: fear.  It’s not a surprise that I tend to think the proponents of the law are fearful of a changing culture, one where homosexuality is becoming accepted and where their views, which once ruled the culture are no longer in vogue.  But I also think my side of the debate is also operating on fear and distrust.  Like a lot of oppressed groups, it is hard to have any concern for your former oppressors.  As I’ve read responses, the attitude seems to be “let the bigots hang.”

What is interesting about all of this is how much this seems to have become a zero-sum game.  Religious conservatives seem intent on gumming up the works of progress on same-sex marriage.  Gays and liberals seem to not want to give religious conservatives any inch on religious practice.  Both sides seem to think that to win, one side must lose.

David Brooks wrote a couple of weeks ago that we live in a more uncertain age and that has changed the tone of politics.  Gone are win-win situations where compromise was possible, and coming in its place is the quest for power.  Here’s what Brooks says:

National elections take place within a specific global moment. In the 1990s, there was a presumption that we were living in an age of rapid progress. Democracy was spreading. Tyranny was receding. Asia was booming. The European Union was building. Conflict in the Middle East was lessening. The world was cumulatively heading toward greater pluralism, individualism, prosperity and freedom.

Today it’s harder to have faith in rapid progress. Democracy is receding. Autocrats like Vladimir Putin of Russia are marching. The European project is decaying. Economies are struggling. Reactionary forces like the Islamic State and Iran are winning. The Middle East is deteriorating.

In this climate, the tone and focus of politics change. Politics is less about win-win situations and more about zero-sum situations. It is less about reforms that will improve all lives and more about unadorned struggles for power. Who will control the ground in places like Ukraine and Syria? Will Iran get the bomb? Will the White House or Congress grab power over treaties and immigration policy?

It’s hard not to see the fight that is taking place in Indiana and many other places as tribal battles.  Religious conservatives feel under fire as liberals go after bakers and wedding photographers.

This clash of rights, between the right to marry and the right to religious freedom has always been difficult for me.  I have fought for the right to be able to marry my husband Daniel and to have that recognized by the state, which is what happened when we had our legal marriage in 2013.  But as a Christian, I also think people should be able to follow the dictates of their faith without interference from the state.  So on some level, I’ve never been as bothered by bakers not wanting to bake my wedding cake.  I just thought I’d go to another baker.  The baker had the right to refuse service, and I had the right to not go to that baker and tell others not to go either.

I know that it bothers some of my compatriots that I might sympathize with folks who don’t think I should get married to my partner.  But two things have guided me on this issue: my belief in Jesus dictum to love our enemies and my libertarian belief in liberty; that I can do what I want and you can do what you want so long as my rights aren’t curtailed.

Loving my enemy means that I have to look at that person as human being.  I have to at least try to understand their viewpoint and give them the space to do what they see as right, so long as I am not profoundly impacted.

Of course, my enemy should be able to look at me as a human being, a child of God and give me the space to do what I think is right.  (Translation: If religious conservatives want to be treated with respect, treat those you disagree with the same respect.)

As the various RFRA laws come up in various states, both religious conservatives and LGBT communities have to find a way to make room for each other.  Not because they like each other.  Not because they agree.  But because for a democratic society to flourish, we have to find ways to accomodate the Other. Because we must heed the call to love and respect our enemies.

Before all of the focus was on Indiana, some media attention was given to what was happening in Utah.  Dubbed the “Utah Compromise,” gay rights groups and the Mormon Church came together to support legislation the protected LGBT persons and also offered exemptions on religious grounds.  It is far from a perfect law (but what compromise is perfect).  But this seemed to be a place where the culture wars made a truce. A Wall Street Journal column explains how the Mormon Church, who not that long ago was bankrolling the effort to ban same-sex marriage in California, reached out the LGBT community:

The Mormon leadership reached out to the LGBT community, which was willing to reciprocate despite initial doubts. Although there were roadblocks early on, trust gradually developed. Neither side allowed the best to become the enemy of the good. Both came to see that protections for LGBT individuals and for religious conscience needed to be enacted simultaneously, as a package.

There is a lesson here for both sides.  For religious conservatives, it is to at least acknowledge LGBT persons.  You don’t have to approve of what we do.  But you do have to at least see us as persons created by God and deserving of respect.

For the LGBT community and our allies, it means respecting the faith of religious conservatives.  Within reason, no one should have to compromise their faith to live in the wider society.  We need to honor their consciences even if we think that their beliefs are wrong.

In late 2010, libertarian writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about how the tide was turning in the favor of those of us who support gay rights.  Because we were no longer on the defensive, our tactics must change.  He wrote:

…we—gay Americans and our straight allies—have won the central argument for gay rights. As a result, we must change. Much of what the gay rights movement has taken for granted until now, and much that has worked for us in the past, is now wrong and will hurt us. The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia in American society. We need to allow some discrimination and relinquish the “zero tolerance” mind-set. Paradoxical but true: We need to give our opponents the time and space they need to let us win.

Not giving them that room to deal with the changed landscape has its consequences:

…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.

So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:

Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.

They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.

At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.

Of course, this is exactly what religious conservatives are doing now.  So maybe the best way to defeat this kind of thinking is by not trying to shut them up, but by acting differently.  Maybe if we show that we will give them the respect they never gave us, maybe things could change for the better.

I don’t know what will happen in Indiana.  I do know I can do something to hopefully lessen the fear and increase the peace.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

Reclaiming The Counter-Cultural Christian Message of Marriage

The following is an older blog post that reworked for an essay series on same-sex marriage.  For the last few years, GLAD Alliance (Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples) have sponsored an Easter writing project.  I took part in it this year and what I wrote appeared on the GLAD blog on May 1.

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.

Ruth 1:16-18 Common English Bible

"My Gay Marriage Harms Nobody"On my wedding day in 2007, we had a reception for family and friends at our house. I remember Daniel and I were getting things ready for the event. Daniel kind of gave me an order to get something done. I looked over to a friend who smiled and said, “you’re stuck with him now.”

A few years later, we had another ceremony with family in Western Minnesota.  A month earlier, same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota and like a lot of my friends who were coupled, we had a small ceremony.  It was at this event that we signed our marriage licenses.  If I wasn’t stuck with Daniel before, I now had a state document proving that we were truly stuck.

The movement for same-sex marriage has been in high gear since the Supreme Court rulings in 2013.  More and more challenges in different states mean that at some point in the near future, same-sex marriage could be the law of the land.

As the push for legal recognition continues, the church is left wondering why should we care about this issue.  In the debate over same sex marriage, there has been a lot of talk about the weakening of marriage or about the freedom to marry, but there has been little talk of what marriage does to the people in question, or at least what it should do. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Sex?

nude-yabyum-ishA few months ago, Methodist pastor and blogger Allan Bevere wanted my viewpoint on the argument that the acceptance of same-sex marriage will lead to polyandrous relationships. (Allan doesn’t share that view, but is trying to answer that question.)

I have to admit that I haven’t answered Allan’s question yet.

It’s not for lack of trying.  I have thought about it.  But I haven’t been able to come up with an answer that says same-sex marriage is okay and polyandrous relationship aren’t- at least with what society and mainline churches have used as an argument.

The view that I have encountered from liberal Christians and liberal society as a whole is centered on a sense of equality.  As long as other people don’t bother us, then they are free to do what they want.  Being a soft libertarian, I think that’s the way I want to go.  Let people be.

But if that’s my answer, then I could also use that argument to support three people getting married as much as I could two members of the same sex.

The problem with the libertarian/equality viewpoint is that it can treat all forms of sexuality as equal if they don’t harm people.

Which is why I haven’t answered Allan yet.  I think the answer I could give Allan would come up short. Continue reading

On the WorldVision Retraction

World-Vision

Most of the people who read this blog know that I try to understand and respect the views of evangelicals and conservative Christians.  I came from that background and even though I’m a mainline Protestant, the theology that made me who I am is the evangelical faith of my youth.  Because of that and because I think God calls us to love our enemies, I want to give these folks some leeway even on issues that could affect me, primarily on issues of sexual identity.  I know and understand that we don’t see Scripture in the same way, so I think toleration should be the case as long as we respect each other.

However, when the other side is disrespectful and downright mean, all bets are off.

By now, most of us know that WorldVision, the evangelical relief and development agency, lifted a ban on hiring persons in same-sex relationships.  This was less of a “let’s celebrate marriage” guesture as much as it was “we need people who can help” or pragmatic move.

When I first saw this, I was happy.  I’ve always respected WorldVision for its work and I hoped it would signal a change in evangelicalism where gays would at least be tolerated.

Well, after a flurry of responses, including a number of nasty ones, WorldVision reversed it’s policy yesterday.  Via “YoRocko,” the head of the relief agency threw the gay community under the bus:

“What we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs. We cannot defer to a small minority of churches and denominations that have taken a different position.”

I’m checking my copy of the Nicean Creed to see where it says “don’t hire homos.”

While it is upsetting that WorldVision flip-flopped, what is truly maddening is that there were people who were so mad that they decided to not give to the organization anymore.  Really?  You were going to not help the world’s poor because of what WorldVision did?

I know that people sometimes withhold funding for various reasons.  But this just seems out of whack.  WorldVision is an organization that tries to alleviate the suffering of the poor among us.  I’m pretty sure when Jesus talked about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 I’m pretty sure it didn’t read, “I was gay and you shunned me” as a good thing.

The people who threatened WorldVision were threatening the poor in my view.  They cared more about who someone sleeps with than they do helping the poor and hungry.

I know that there are those who will say that they are defending an important institution in traditional marriage.  I understand that, but did people read some of the awful communication directed towards WorldVision? Look at the quote below:

Quote“Committed the children to the grace of God?”  Are you freaking kidding me!  Sorry kids, WorldVision committed a sin, so you’re on your own.  God be with you!

I know my tone here has been more harsh than…well, ever.  I don’t like to rant on this blog.  I also don’t want to offend my evangelical friends. However, I believe a line was crossed here.  I will defend someone their right to believe and practice their faith, even if it doesn’t mesh with my interpretation.

But I can’t support this.  This is just wrong.  You don’t hurt kids to prove a point.

I understand why WorldVision had to backtrack; they were going to take a hit to their finances which would hurt their good work.  I really don’t have a beef with them.  Some of the supporters of WorldVision are another story.

I remember my mother commenting about one of her brothers that was living with a woman that he wasn’t married to.  (He did later marry this woman.) Mom wasn’t crazy about that, she thought it was a sin.  But she still loved her brother.  She had her values, and love was one of them.

I wish that were the case with some WorldVision supporters.

 

The Anger You Don’t Understand

gay_s640x427One of the bloggers that I love to read is Rod Dreher.  While we share some similarities politically, we are on different sides of the same-sex marriage issue.  Rod has written a number of posts on what he sees as the coming troubles facing social conservatives as the opinion on gay marriage changes.  I decided to comment on a recent blog post.  One of the things he is bothered by is the meanness on the pro-SSM towards social conservatives.  While I agree that there has been a lot of spiking the ball on our side, I thought Rod needs to understand where some of that anger comes from and it doesn’t come from nowhere.

Before I share the response, I want to add that I do appreciate Rod.  He is one of the most honest people I know striving to honor God in the best way he can.  He has helped me see that not all social conservatives are horrible monsters.  So, while I am offering a bit of pushback here, I don’t do it out of anger.  I just want to him (and others) to understand a little about our side and what might be fueling the anger. 

Rod,

Part of the issue that needs to be addressed is the bitterness that many in the gay rights community has towards social conservatives. A lot of this comes from the pain we have experienced from people who were religious and yet treated their sisters and brothers with cruelty. One of the things that Ross Douthat shared in his Sunday column is the abuse LGBT folk have suffered in the past. I think it is important for social cons to at least admit that some of this vitriol is a knee-jerk response to some of the things we have faced.

The other issue that is a problem is how social conservatives are viewed by the larger society. When I was coming out in the 90s, the image I saw was Pat Buchanan venting at the 1992 GOP Convention in Houston. The image most gays and allies have of social conservatives is one of hateful people bent on destroying LGBT people. It’s not a true image, but it’s there. My view of social conservatives have changed for two reasons: one I take the call from Jesus to love our enemies seriously. Second, I’ve met many social conservatives and see that they don’t have five heads and eat gay babies. Because American society is so fragmented with like-minded folk clustering together, most gay folk have never encountered a social conservative and see them as complex beings instead of caritactures. And because we don’t know you, hence the hostility.

I don’t know what the answer is. I have used my blog to express that social conservatives are not all monsters, but I have also got pushback from people who write me talking about the pain they have faced and how it makes no sense to show mercy. The negative image of social conservatives is ingrained in many gay people and their allies and that is what keeps them from showing and sense of forgiveness and love. Gay people can and should speak up and maybe even seek out social conservatives and befriend them (somthing I’ve tried to do). But I think the only way this is going to change is when social conservatives themselves reach out and be Christ to gay people. When gay people can see that social conservatives are people, things will change. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but realize that a lot of the anger is warranted. Trust has been broken. LGBT people like myself can and should reach out, but until gays and trust social conservatives such hostility will continue, even if it is not right.