Category: same sex marriage

Rerun Sermon: “Three Beeps Means ‘I Love You'”

For those who look at my blog to get ideas for preaching (all two of you), I have a link to a sermon I preached for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany in 2005.  It even sounds timely because it focuses on same sex marriage. Click on the link below to learn more.

Sermon: “Three Beeps Means I Love You”.

“The Right Side of History” and Other Fundamentalisms

right side of historyOver and over again, I heard one phrase being used on my side of the same-sex marriage debate: “the right side of history.”  Yes, most of us who believe in marriage equality do think this is the right thing to do.  We liken this current debate in the backdrop of the civil rights movement and interracial marriages where equality was seen as the march of progress and those who disagreed were out of touch and archaic. The steady march of progress on marriage equality can make one think that those of us on the pro-same sex marriage fight are truly on the “right side of history.”

Despite all of this, if I were King of Everything, I would have that phrase banished from the English language.

The problem with the “right side of history” is that it smacks of hubris and certainty, the very things we accuse the other side of all the time. I’ve said this before, my coming out experience was based less on certainty than it was on faith and grace.  The Bible really doesn’t say much positive on being gay (probably because in biblical times the focus was on the sex act not the person’s sexuality).  It also doesn’t say much about the gay man who is in a monogamus long-term relationship, either.  So, since the Bible is not telling me much to help me, I have rely on faith that God loves me no matter what and also rest in God’s abundant grace.  Grace isn’t about being on the “right side of history” as much as it is how we can be loving to one another; how we can welcome each other even when we disagree.  For Christians, same sex marriage is not about the inevitable march of progress as much as it is about two people entering in a covenant with God and each other.  That’s not as thrilling as being on the right side of history, but it is what Christians are called to do.

Earlier this year former Anglican Bishop and well-known author N.T. Wright warned Christians who use the “right side of history” or progress as the reason to do something.  Not every mark of progress is a good one.

“Now that we live in the 21st century,” begins the interviewer, invoking the calendar to justify a proposed innovation. “In this day and age,” we say, assuming that we all believe the 18th-century doctrine of “progress”, which, allied to a Whig view of history, dictates that policies and practices somehow ought to become more “liberal”, whatever that means. Russia and China were on the “wrong side of history”, Hillary Clinton warned recently. But how does she know what “history” will do? And what makes her think that “history” never makes mistakes?

We, of all people, ought to know better. “Progress” gave us modern medicine, liberal democracy, the internet. It also gave us the guillotine, the Gulag and the gas chambers. Western intelligentsia assumed in the 1920s that “history” was moving away from the muddle and mess of democracy towards the brave new world of Russian communism. Many in 1930s Germany regarded Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his friends as on the wrong side of history. The strong point of postmodernity is that the big stories have let us down. And the biggest of all was the modernist myth of “progress”.

He then remarks on the then failure of the Church of England to allow women bishops:

It won’t do to say, then, as David Cameron did, that the Church of England should “get with the programme” over women bishops. And Parliament must not try to force the Church’s hand, on this or anything else. That threat of political interference, of naked Erastianism in which the State rules supreme in Church matters, would be angrily resisted if it attempted to block reform; it is shameful for “liberals” in the Church to invite it in their own cause. The Church that forgets to say “we must obey God rather than human authorities” has forgotten what it means to be the Church. The spirit of the age is in any case notoriously fickle. You might as well, walking in the mist, take a compass bearing on a mountain goat.

What is more, the Church’s foundation documents (to say nothing of its Founder himself) were notoriously on the wrong side of history. The Gospel was foolishness to the Greeks, said St Paul, and a scandal to Jews. The early Christians got a reputation for believing in all sorts of ridiculous things such as humility, chastity and resurrection, standing up for the poor and giving slaves equal status with the free. And for valuing women more highly than anyone else had ever done. People thought them crazy, but they stuck to their counter-cultural Gospel. If the Church had allowed prime ministers to tell them what the “programme” was it would have sunk without trace in fifty years. If Jesus had allowed Caiaphas or Pontius Pilate to dictate their “programme” to him there wouldn’t have been a Church in the first place.

Progress is not always a good thing and it shouldn’t be the basis for ministry and mission in the church.  Sometimes the church will do things that might mirror society.  Other times it might be in direct opposition to culture.   We can only discern where God wants us at a point in history.  But we can’t be so sure that we have history on our side and in the end that isn’t our concern.

Sociologist Peter Berger notes that the certainty of liberal Christians tends to mirror the fundamentalism of conservatism.  Berger looks at the recent goings on in the Episcopal Church and how the denomination is beset by two fundamentalisms:

I am not concerned here with the merits of these various contentions. (By way of examples, I see no reason why gays and lesbians should not be priests or bishops, but I have serious difficulties with an endorsement of abortion without any limitations.) My point here is simply to point out that two fundamentalisms are embattled here. I am not acquainted with Bishop Schori, but I am prepared to stipulate that as a person she may be amiable, even tolerant. But her public record impresses me as representing a dogmatic adherence to current progressive ideology. This fundamentalism is mirrored by fundamentalism on the conservative side. In the Anglican case this is a mix of Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical groupings, which are at odds with each other but (sort of) allied in opposition to the liberal theology and (less strongly) progressive politics dominant in mainline Protestantism. The two fundamentalisms are very visible in their respective approaches to the Bible. Anglo-Catholics are more concerned with fidelity to tradition than to the Bible, but for Evangelicals the Bible, Old as well as New Testament, has an absolute if not “inerrant” authority. It seems to me that there is a different “inerrancy” operative on the other side—that is, an unquestioning certitude of being “on the right side of history”. Both conservatives and progressives comb the Bible for “proof texts”, an exercise that often leads to very imaginative exegeses. Take, for example, the problem of excluding from imputed “inerrancy” some of the hair-raising penal texts in Leviticus. Schori’s exegesis of the text from Acts is a nice example of hermeneutic imagination on the other side.

In the next few days, I will head down to Orlando, FL for the 2013 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  We will be discussing a resolution on being a table of welcome to all including gays and lesbians (or LGBT).  While I’m in favor of the resolution, I hope that those on my side will not talk about the church “getting with the program.”  We don’t need to be modern as much as we need to be faithful.

Repost: I Miss the Old Mel White

The following is a post from June of 2012.

I recently read an interview with Rev. Mel White. Most of you know him as someone who grew up as an evangelical, was a ghostwriter for many big evangelical stars and then came out as gay. I remember hearing about him in the mid-to-late 90s and back then he was kind of the SpongeBob Squarepants of the gay community. I mean that SpongeBob thing as a compliment, because he just seemed so darned positive, when it seems like most gay men were known for snark and bitterness. He was kind of a breath of fresh air to me and I was amazed and applauded his attempts to meet and even persuade his some of the people he used to work for. Yes, it might have been hopeless, but there was something wonderful about how he really tried to do that whole “love your enemies” thing that Jesus talked about.

This leads me back to the article I read. The positive Mel White of old is long gone. What’s left is a man that’s pretty pissed off at the church and when I say church, I mean the whole church. White is angry not just at evangelicals, but also more mainline denominations that either still haven’t voted in favor of equality (like the United Methodists) and those that have recently allowed for non-celibate gays to become ordained (like the Lutherans and the Presbyterians):

For example, in the United Methodist Book of Discipline homosexual behavior is labeled, “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Methodists—with their misleading logo, “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors”—have voted against us for approximately 40 years and yet they are the largest and most progressive of the mainline churches. Changing the basic statement of the mainline churches from anti to pro has been the activist’s primary goal for decades with very little to show for it…

After debating the issue for almost half a century in recent years the Lutherans and the Presbyterians have finally voted to ordain lesbians and gays, but the United Methodists still refuse to ordain us. In fact, they still have on their books that local clergy can even deny membership to gay and lesbian Christians…

Again, after at least a decade of futile debate, the ELCA (Lutherans) voted to ordain and marry us, while the Presbyterians and United Methodists continue to deny us the rites of marriage. Even the liberal Episcopal Church is losing local congregations because this most progressive of the mainline denominations appointed an openly gay bishop.

On one level, I can understand his frustration. Many Methodists are upset that even a measure stating they agree to disagree failed, and rightfully so. Living in Minnesota, I know a lot of Lutherans and I know a lot of them either had to live in the closet or face ecclesiastical courts before the ban on gay clergy was lifted.

But the fact is, whether we like it or not, change like this moves slowly. Always does. It moves slowly in society and it moves slowly in the church. It takes a while for people to change their mind or see another way of looking at things. That’s frustrating, but I’ve come to learn that justice comes in its time and till then all you can do is press on making the case for change.

Another thing we have to do is love our enemies. Some times we can love them close and maybe even be friends. Sometimes you gotta love them from afar. White used to at least try, but it seems like these days, he’s just sticking to those who agree with him:

Christian fundamentalists, like fundamentalist Jews or Muslims, read their “holy books” literally. For fundamentalist Christians the Bible is clear: homosexuality is a sin. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Trying to build bridges with fundamentalists is a game I’ve played—a war I’ve fought—for 20 years and I’ve lost almost every battle.

Fundamentalists don’t listen to facts let alone to personal experience. What the Bible says to a fundamentalist Christian parent is more significant, has more weight, than what they see in the lives of their own children. I have stopped even trying to build bridges with fundamentalists. When one of them asks me, “Have you read Leviticus 20?” (a verse when taken literally demands that men who sleep with men should be killed) I reply, “You’ve confused me with someone who cares about what you think of Leviticus 20.”

Evangelicals see salvation as an act of faith, a very personal encounter between the believer and his/her God. The more historic churches see salvation as a sacramental act, through receiving the Eucharist. Most fundamentalists are evangelical but all evangelicals are not fundamentalists. There are many examples of progressive, even open and affirming evangelicals and we should go on trying to build bridges with every progressive evangelical we encounter.

And, needless to say, we should go on trying to build bridges with the liberal or progressive churches but if the label can be trusted, if a church or denomination is correctly described as “liberal” or “progressive” they are already working with us. Unfortunately, we continue to call the historic mainline churches “liberal” and “progressive” when on our issue they are neither.

Okay, but we aren’t really building bridges if we build them with people who already agree with us. It’s not bridge building; it’s building an echo chamber.

I don’t think trying to reach fundamentalists/social conservatives is a waste of time. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have tried to reach out to social conservatives. Some folks aren’t ever going to listen to me and I tend to “love them from afar.” But others, I do try to sit and listen to them and have them listen to me. I don’t expect to change their minds; I leave that up to God. And I truly believe that God is powerful enough to change minds. But that’s not my end goal- my goal is to love them as God loves them even if I disagree with it. That’s not a waste of time to me- it’s what being a disciple of Jesus is all about.

I can understand some of the bitterness found in White and in many of my fellow gay folk. When you live in fear that people don’t like you or worse, it’s easy to have a chip on your shoulder and ready to do battle.

Maybe I’m a coward, but I also think that as a Christian, I have to learn how to also learn to love others- even others that might hate and revile me. The Old Mel White had that Christ-like love that allowed him to meet with Jerry Falwell in the long-shot hope that Falwell might repent. It was a foolish and extravagant love that I was amazed to see.

The New Mel White is not so foolish. Some would say he has the righteous anger that Jesus had turning over the moneychangers’ tables in the temple. I would agree we need that passion at times. But we also need that crazy, stupid love that White showed towards his enemies as well, and I think the world is poorer for losing that Mel White.

Happy To Be Stuck With You

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, 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.”

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.  What has been shown are same sex couples kissing each other, holding hands and the like.  What we see is what we are told by secular culture what marriage is all about: romance and personal fulfillment.  In their 2002 pamphlet, Preparing for Christian Marriage, John McFadden and David McCarthy explain how the world views marriage:

Moonlight and roses; hearts and flowers. A young couple romping through the surf on a lonely beach, holding hands. A slightly older couple, cheering exultantly as little Jenny scores her first goal, or smiling ruefully as Tommy tracks his muddy feet across the recently cleaned kitchen floor. A couple advanced in years, still holding hands as they assist one another
to the front-porch swing of a charming farmhouse. Such are the images of healthy marriage regularly featured in the media, particularly in advertising.

When we understand marriage only in reference to private pleasures and personal fulfillment, we lose the ability to understand how marriage in community will transform us. We miss the full meaning of living in communion with others “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer.” We miss the profound experiences of sharing difficult times, being present to each other’s suffering, working to understand each other and to communicate better, and joining together with others in making community life ‘life-giving’. Ironically, our culture’s emphasis on personal fulfillment limits our fulfillment as whole human beings. Common cultural understandings of love and community are shallow. In their fullness, love includes steadfast endurance, commitment, and duty; community includes finding ourselves through our dependence upon others, and their dependence upon us. Jesus’ words ring true: we gain our lives when we give them away, and lose them when we attempt to keep them for ourselves.

In contrast, marriage in a Christian view is more communal than individual, more about committment and duty than just romance:

Our consumerist society encourages persons to pursue their own needs and desires at all costs. As a result, human relationships — marriage, family, friendship — are increasingly viewed as transitory and disposable. Families are now dissolved and created like corporations. When no longer useful, commitments are broken. But a clear contrast is found in the logic of Christian community, which gives a distinctive shape to Christian marriage. In community, each individual is an indispensable part of the body, with different gifts and duties. Likewise, each married couple is called to offer their special gifts to common life. Married couples are called to regard their relationship as a commitment that is more important than their own individual desires, and in doing so, husband and wife open the possibility of loving in a profound and life-giving way. Such a couple helps to make this a world fit for children to grow in, a world where children are loved and protected by adults who care more deeply about the future of the world’s children than about their own gratification in the present.

Marriage in this sense is counter-cultural in a society so thoroughly steeped in individualism, for it is centered in the conviction that we have given ourselves to a relationship that is more important than our individual wants and wishes, and that we are a part of something greater than ourselves. Whether we are blessed with children of our own or not, our marriages are a gift to the world’s children. Such a healthy marriage offers an alternative to a consumerist, individualist world, insofar as it puts into action the possibility of a deeper, more gracious way of life. In the way that we love, we will see the steadfast faithfulness of our forgiving God.

So marriage isn’t all about moonlit beaches, but it’s about being committed to a person, someone that we’ve placed above our own interests.

I think that’s what commentator David Brooks was getting at in his latest column.  He wrote that in a culture where freedom means having no obligations to anyone, marriage is something that binds two people together and in essence, means giving up some of that freedom.

A representative of millions of gays and lesbians went to the Supreme Court and asked the court to help put limits on their own freedom of choice. They asked for marriage.

Marriage is one of those institutions — along with religion and military service — that restricts freedom. Marriage is about making a commitment that binds you for decades to come. It narrows your options on how you will spend your time, money and attention.

Whether they understood it or not, the gays and lesbians represented at the court committed themselves to a certain agenda. They committed themselves to an institution that involves surrendering autonomy. They committed themselves to the idea that these self-restrictions should be reinforced by the state. They committed themselves to the idea that lifestyle choices are not just private affairs but work better when they are embedded in law.

And far from being baffled by this attempt to use state power to restrict individual choice, most Americans seem to be applauding it. Once, gay culture was erroneously associated with bathhouses and nightclubs. Now, the gay and lesbian rights movement is associated with marriage and military service. Once the movement was associated with self-sacrifice, it was bound to become popular.

Brooks’ explaination of the loss of freedom in marriage prompted a lot of pushback.  Among them was an article in Rolling Stone that called Brooks an “asshole” and mean spirited. Amy Davidson, writes in the New Yorker that Brooks overlooks the oppression that gays have faced:

it’s worth challenging Brooks’s central, blind assertion: that marriage equality represents a move from a state in which gays and lesbians lived free to one in which they are constrained—from an absence of state supervision to life under society’s careful watch. Unsupervised and hidden are hardly the same thing. Brooks sees the bathhouses as if there were never raids on them, or as if gays and lesbians had all chosen anonymous settings over the option of holding hands while walking on the street just because they liked dark rooms better. The discovery that even in the most oppressive of circumstances one can create spaces where love survives does say a great deal about the indomitable search for freedom, but to call it freedom’s apotheosis is just absurd.

I think so of the people who are attacking Brooks are not really understanding what he’s getting at (nor do they care to understand).  As I said earlier, he’s basically restating what was said in the above paragraphs, but in secular terms.  Marriage is about losing some sense of choice, it is about placing limits.  Of course, in our culture, not just on the cultural left, but the right as well, no one likes to be told they have less freedom instead of more.
When working properly, marriage should be about limiting freedom instead of expanding it.  That’s okay, because limits aren’t all bad.  In being married to Daniel, I don’t have the freedom to sleep around with others.  I can’t just do anything I want.  I have to take Daniel’s views and feelings into account.  I am stuck with him.
Yes, gays and lesbians have a lot of examples of partners who cared for the other, so it’s not like we are all a bunch of selfish bastards.  But marriage might just place some societal restraints that were only private restraints in the past.  At least, I hope it does.
Ruth’s pledge to go with Naomi was in some way limiting her choice.  She would have to learn to live in a different culture with a different language and different god.  She lost a lot in her pledge, but she also gained a lot too.  Limits in marriage may not be what we want to hear, but I think the benefits far, far outweigh the inconvenience.

Now That We’ve Won (Maybe)…

526563_10151536092120549_414515262_nThis week’s drama over the issue of same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court has been nothing short of historic.  American society is at a point that I thought wouldn’t come for several years, if not decades.  Same sex marriage might be legal in most of the nation in a few short years. Here in Minnesota, it might be that by the end of the year we might have the right for gay couples to marry.  It means that I can have my relationship with my partner Daniel, recognized by the state and therby able to receive benefits that heterosexual couples have enjoyed for a very long time. There’s been a sense of celebration among my friends, as we see places like Facebook ablaze in the red equal signs with people showing support for same sex marriage.

But there has also been a darker side.  I’ve seen friends kind of using this moment to make fun and belittle those who have opposed same sex marriage.  Of course, when you are on the winning side, especially in the culture wars, it’s very easy to start “spiking the ball;” enjoying the tables turning.

But before we pop another bottle of champagne, those of us who all ourseleves Christians need to make sure we are offering love and grace to our opponents instead of spite.

On Good Friday, we see Jesus on the cross  surrounded by soldiers and religious leaders laughing and taunting Jesus.  It is a total hatefest.  Now, Jesus had every right to ask God to send down angels and put this obscene display to a fitting end.  But Jesus didn’t seek revenge.  Instead, he said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

It’s pretty common in the gay community to not always be so gracious to our enemies.  After all, we see them as the equivalent of modern day segregationists, and why should anyone treat them with kindness?

And let’s be honest, there are a lot of gay folks who were hurt by people who called themseleves Christians.  Those hurts take a long time to heal, if ever.  You can’t blame folks if they don’t feel charitable to people who may have hurt them.

As Christians, gay or straight, we are called to love our enemies.  I am to love those who might still think being gay is a sin, or who might disapprove of same sex marriage.  I know I’m right about this issue, but it is also equally important in my view to be loving as well.

And this all matters because people are watching us.  They are wanting to see how we act.  If go around calling everyone a bigot because they don’t see things our way, we will be seen as a poor witness.

A few years ago, I shared a blog post about an elderly man I encountered at church.  He and I didn’t see eye to eye on being gay.  I shared what happened one day between the two of us:

I had just graduated from seminary and was doing my CPE at a local nursing home. I was still involved at the church where I was an intern and was asked to serve on the church board. It came to a vote and I was voted in nearly unanimously. I say nearly because one person voted against me. I knew who it was and so did many others. It was an elderly member of the church. He had some idea I was gay and many people assumed that was why he voted against me. After the meeting concluded, he asked me to come with him into another room. He explained that he prayed and studied the scripture on the issue of homosexuality, but his conscience was not swayed in favor. As he said this, he began to cry.

I was and still am touched by this guesture. He did have to speak to me to explain his actions, but he did. He might not approve of who I sleep with, but he did treat me with respect. This wasn’t simply about being right for him, but about being loving.

Yeah, I know that his actions were hurtful. Yes, it would have been nice had he voted in favor. But I could respect his decsion even if it was wrong, because he valued me enough to respect me.

That experience told me that even though some people might not approve of me, they are also human beings and need to be treated with love, not judgement.

People are watching to see what gay Christians will do.  Can we show love to our enemies?  Can we allow for grace to breakthrough?

This might be the biggest test for gay Christians in America.  Will we pass the test?

Sermon: “Three Beeps Means ‘I Love You'”

This is a sermon from my Community of Grace days.  I think my sermon writing is a lot better than it was back then, but the essence of the sermon is still prescient. 
“Three Beeps Means ‘I Love You’”
Micah 6:1-8
January 23, 2005
Community of Grace Christian Church
St. Paul, MN

I’m going to break tradition here in that I am using a text that is appointed for next week.  However, since we are a bimonthly church, I think that’s okay and I think this text is timely-I didn’t want to miss the chance of preaching on it.

A year ago, next month, my best friend Erik and I moved into a home we purchased together.  It was a heady time.  Neither of us could believe that we were buying a home.  We were surprised that any bank would even loan us $100,000-plus to buy a home.  We moved in and got situated in our new surroundings in North Minneapolis.  One day, I noticed this stocky woman come out of a house across the alley and into her Subaru wagon.  Now I know stereotypes are a bad thing, but I wondered if she was a lesbian.  When I saw the equal sign bumper sticker on the Subaru, I knew. Continue reading “Sermon: “Three Beeps Means ‘I Love You’””

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Conservatives

Timothy Dalrymple

I happened to look at a sermon I wrote about 7 years ago.  It was during the time I was involved in a new church start.  Reading the sermon, I tend to think it wasn’t my best sermonizing.  The sermon seems a fitting for the current context; it was based on Micah 6:1-8 and focused on same-sex marriage, which is a hot issue here in Minnesota with the upcoming vote on a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.

What I took from the sermon is how much I’ve changed over the last seven years.  No, I still believe in same sex marriage and I think it’s a mistake to place this amendment in our constitution.  What has changed is my opinion of social conservatives.  I still don’t agree with their views, but I tend to understand those views a lot better, which has led me to be more respectful of the views as well.

What has changed is reading some social conservative writers like Timothy Dalrymple, Rod Dreher and Ross Douthat.  Listening to the viewpoints, I learn that social conservatives are far more complex than I used to believe.  They aren’t the caritacture I had easily painted them into.  While I don’t think banning same sex marriage is going to solve the concerns they have, I do realize that their concerns about the family in modern America make some sense. Here’s a part of a post by Dalrymple on gay marriage from 2011:

Those who oppose same-sex marriage do not see the fight for same-sex marriage as a continuation of the Civil Rights struggle.  The Civil Rights struggle does not even enter their minds when they consider same-sex marriage, because they do not believe that a person has a civil right to marry a person of the same sex with the imprimatur of the state, or that a person has a civil right to adopt one course of action (marrying a person of the same sex) and have it treated legally the same as another course of action (marrying a person of the opposite sex).  In other words, in this view, there is no civil right to marry whomever you please, and “equal protection” does not enter the equation; people in themselves deserve equal protection before the law, but different courses of actioncan and should be treated differently.

Most social conservatives see the same-sex marriage movement as a continuation not of the Civil Rights fight, but of the sexual revolution.  The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s established a trajectory of greater freedom of sexual expression, of broadening the field of sexual behaviors that are accepted and celebrated, and of disapproving the judgment of sexual behaviors or identities.  Many social conservatives see the push for same-sex marriage as the next phase in the sexual revolution, the next phase in the deterioration of moral-sexual norms, and the next step toward the dissolution of the basic and God-ordained family structure.  The sexual revolution, they claim, has already done incalculable harm.  They see a direct connection in the past five decades between the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the family, with skyrocketing increases in divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and deadbeat dads — and all the poverty, stagnation and malaise those things bring.

It’s a slippery-slope argument made by people who believe they’re already halfway (if not further) down the slope.  Slippery slope arguments often seem exaggerated, because they invest all the importance of the whole downward path in the very next step.  Every step down a slippery slope only takes us a little way.  But it also creates momentum.  And when you look back, you realize how far you’ve fallen, how much ground you’ve lost.  Nearly 40% of American children are now born to unwed mothers.  And the disintegration of the American family has done the most harm in low-income African-American communities, where there was less stability and social capital to start with.  Over 70% of African-American children are born out of wedlock.  For all the heroic efforts of single mothers, the children of single moms are as a general rule less healthy and less educated, and more likely to enter gangs and engage in criminal activity.

The point is this: American society once built a bulwark around the traditional family structure.  Perhaps in some ways or for some people groups the removal of that bulwark has been liberating, but the conservatives who oppose gay marriage believe that the removal of the bulwark has, on the whole, been absolutely devastating.  The further and further we depart from the family structure God intended, they believe, the more damage we do to our society.

Rod Dreher

Do I agree with everything Dalrymple is saying here? No. But his argument is not one of a loon fortelling doom if two men get hitched.  He is bringing up some important issues: divorce rates, single parent families, the less pleasant effects of the sexual revolution.  What Darlymple along with Dreher and Douthat are talking about is what the see as a breakdown in society, a place where there are atomized individuals instead of communal groups like traditional families.  What social conservatives see is less about some kind of modern-day Sodom than it is the concern of the loss of community and the rise of individualism that is concerned more about personal fulfillment than it is about social cohesion.

No, banning same sex marriage won’t stop what social conservatives see happening.  The changes in society were already under way long before any gay person thought about getting married.  But we do need to ask ourselves how to best shore up families and how to find new ways to knit the frayed fabric of American society. In 2010 journalist Jonathan Rauch, who is gay and supports same-sex marriage, wrote an insightful article about the changing state of families in America and how that has impacted people in “red” and “blue” states.  He explains that some of the opposition is not fueled by homophobia, but something else:

We know that gay marriage is very controversial. But why, exactly?

Well, we know that some people oppose it because they oppose homosexuality, and gay marriage, in their view, would give society’s and the law’s imprimatur to a deviant lifestyle. Those opponents will, on the whole, never change. Fortunately for people like me, their numbers are diminishing with time.

Contrary to what some of my friends in the gay-marriage movement believe, however, homophobia is far from the only reason for opposition. Another group, which I think is at least equally large, feels threatened—less by the normalization of homosexuality than by the abnormalization, so to speak, of the conventionally defined family. “Nothing personal, do what you want,” they tell us, “but leave the definition of family—of marriage—alone!”

I would urge you to read the entire article.  Rauch uses the story of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy in 2008 as an example of the different worldviews regarding sex:

Remember Bristol Palin in 2008? During the presidential campaign, it came out that the Republican vice presidential nominee’s daughter was having a child out of wedlock, but the family announced her betrothal to the father, Levi Johnston.

You might have thought that Bristol’s broken chastity would offend conservatives while evoking support from liberals. In fact, reactions were more the reverse. To Red Americans, Bristol was making her pregnancy okay by marrying the boy. They were kids, to be sure, but they would form a family and grow up, as so many generations before them had done. To Blue Americans, on the other hand, Bristol and Levi had committed a cardinal sin. They had children much too young. This was the height of irresponsibility, and a poor example to set!

Rauch isn’t a social conservative, but he has listened enough to see that their opposition to same sex marriage is not simply because they are mean.  Move beyond the anti-gay marriage talk and you see that there is fear and not necessarily of gays.  What they are afraid of is the disintergration of family units around them as well as the unintended consquences of the sexual revolution that has impacted them harder and harsher because they don’t have the financial resources to weather the storms of cultural change.

Columnist Rod Dreher is another example of the complexity of socons.  He is glad gays aren’t persecuted, but he lays out some fears he has, namely the fear of being forced to go against their beliefs:

Ross Douthat

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I think it’s progress that gay folks aren’t stigmatized as they once were. I don’t want to live in a culture in which they are persecuted. I am pleased that gay people can live openly, even in my small town, without fear — and if I saw someone being persecuted for being gay, I would speak out against it. In my experience, very few conservatives who have actual experience with gay friends and gay folks in general fear and loathe them, as many did in the past. I know I move personally within a pretty narrow group of religious conservatives, but my guess is that most of us share the Church’s moral teaching on homosexuality (which is within a context of a broader teaching on what human sexuality is for), but we know and like gay people, and don’t feel the visceral hostility towards gays that some on the Right do. I think this is a generational thing, mostly. This, in my estimation, is what it means to be tolerant.

The problem is tolerance is not the goal here; mandatory affirmation is, to the point where individuals and institutions who won’t affirm are to be marginalized and punished. The other day I saw a tweet in which someone said that Ross Douthat, a Catholic who articulately defends the teachings of his Church on human sexuality, ought to be thought of as suffering from a psychological disorder. This is how religious and political disagreement becomes a matter of pathology — not a moral argument to be grappled with, but a disease to be cured. This is where we’re headed. It would be wise for conservative Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others to quit fighting a battle they (we) lost a long time ago, and start figuring out how to defend, constitutionally, our religious and cultural institutions from the coming legal assault. Ironically, if we traditionalists are going to be able to hold our ground, we’re going to have to function as libertarians.

I’ve met good Christians who are some of the nicest and honorable people and have treated me with respect.  The only difference is that they can’t cross that bridge to accept same-sex marriage because they believe their faith says it wrong.  As much as I disagree with them, I don’t want to force them to disavow their belief, either.  But that is their fear.  That leads me to ask questions: how do we treat those who disagree?  How do we handle them with grace and love?  What can we learn from their views on marriage that can be adapted to the new consensus? What authority does Christianity have in regards to sexuality? What are the limits?  What does family mean in this day and age?  How can we help shore up disintergrating families in red states and also in the ghettoes of our inner cities?

This is why in the end I’ve come to respect social conservatives.  Yeah, there are a bunch of folks that are still hateful bigots, but that is not all of them and they do have some valuable things to tell us.  In the spirit of tolerance and love of neighbor, the least I can do is listen.

A Pastoral Letter on the Marriage Amendment

I wrote the following for the church newsletter regarding the proposed Minnesota Marriage Amendment which would limit marriage to one man and one woman.  The thrust of this letter was to share why I stood where I stood, but do it (hopefully) in a spirit of respect towards those I disagree with.

I love chatting about politics and theology, but when you’re in the role of a pastor, you have to learn to be somewhat circumspect about your views.  I see the role of a pastor as one where I am called to serve everybody regardless of their political views.  Sometimes shouting too loudly about where you stand on an issue can turn people away, who might otherwise seek a pastor for counsel.

It’s with this caveat that I enter the debate around the proposed amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution that would limit marriage to one man and one woman.  My purpose here is not to tell people how they should vote, but give folks some background as to why I am voting against this measure beyond the obvious reason that I am gay and partnered.

First off, it’s important to note that we are not arguing about allowing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.  Minnesota statutes have already banned the practice and there has been no real attempt to have same sex marriage in the state.  So, no matter what happens on November 6, same sex marriage will still be illegal unless the legislature decides to not make it illegal.

I also don’t think that everyone who is in favor of the amendment is bigoted towards gays and lesbians.  People aren’t the cardboard cutouts we make them to be, are in fact, a lot more complex.  Some people do have animosity towards LGBT people, but for others its more about the specialness of marriage than it is about not liking gay people.  Some people that I have encountered are in favor of civil unions or will not object to gay marriage as long as there are cutouts for religious freedom.

What matters to me is not as much about love in the romantic sense than it’s about respect and hospitality.  As I said, same sex marriage is already against the law in Minnesota, so the passage of a constitutional amendment seems to be tantamount to “spiking the ball.”  That may not be the intent of the proponents, but to many LGBT Minnesotans and their allies, it will feel that way.  In a time when civility is so tenuous, a “Yes” vote would only add fuel to an uncivil fire.

It also reinforces laws that I believe foster an sense of inhospitality to people in need.  Four years ago, my partner Daniel woke me up with chest pains.  We drove a mile to a nearby hospital in North Minneapolis.  It turned out that he was having a gallbladder attack and needed surgery.  I can remember clearly him telling me to bring the legal documents we had drawn up a year earlier to allow me to visit Daniel.  Daniel’s sister drove from Grand Forks to see her brother.  At some point we were in a part of the hospital where only close family members could go.  Daniel’s sister could go in without papers.  Luckily, I didn’t have to show my papers and could join my sister-in-law, but it was only because of the kind people at North Memorial Hospital.  Again, come November 6 this won’t change, but having it enshrined in the state constitution seems allow hospitals and other public facilities the right to be inhospitable to Daniel and I.
I haven’t really made a religious case, at least not overtly.  But the Bible does call us to love each other, which can be express in a myriad of ways.  I think this amendment can violate the call of God to care for the strangers in our midst.

So, these are my views.  Some will agree with me and some won’t and that’s okay.  What I do want to say in closing is that no matter where you are on this issue, no matter how you vote, remember to love each other- even those you disagree with, because we all God’s children in the end.

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders

Theology and Same-Sex Marriage

In a few weeks, my partner Daniel and I will celebrate five years of marriage.  Since we live in Minnesota where same-sex marriage is not legal, it was not something recognized by the state.  But our marriage, our joining together, was blessed by the church.  We had our ceremony at an Episcopal church in the southern Twin Cities suburbs.

As Minnesota gears up for a vote on the state limiting marriage to just between a man and a woman, I’ve been thinking about same-sex marriage and marriage in general.  What is the theology behind it?  Is there one?  I know that conservatives will say that heterosexual marriage is ordained by God and liberals will talk about same sex marriage with talk of equality and love, but frankly none that really satisfies me.  What does it mean for two people, regardless if they are same sex or traditional, to come before God and the gathered community to have their union blessed?  Is it important to be married?  Why is infidelity wrong within a marriage?

I don’t think the church has done a good job of figuring this out.  We haven’t done it with heterosexual marriage and we seem to be doing the same thing when it comes to same-sex marriage.  As followers of Christ, what does it mean to be married, especially in a culture where marriage seems to not be taken so seriously?

An Episcopalian has written a blog post where he tries to talk about marriage in the context of the church and what this all means, especially when it comes to same-sex couples.  He writes it as a response to a Catholic friend. Here’s a little snippet:

“And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’  -Genesis 2

This seems exceedingly clear to me.  Many people have made the argument that men should be with women and vice versa.  It’s terribly important to separate out the arguments here.

1) It is not good that the (human) should be alone.  [“Adam” is not yet gendered at this point in the Hebrew Scriptures.]  I believe this in my heart of hearts.
We are all called to live in society.  It would be placing unreasonable burdens on the people to block them from forming loving relationships.  We should – of course – test everything to see if it really manifests the gifts of love in society.  This applies to marriage, friendship, monastic communities, even states.

2) The Bible does not say every man should have a wife.  Marriage and procreation are wonderful blessings, but the idea that every man should have a wife and every woman a husband is an import from other forms of philosophy.  Indeed tradition is abundantly clear in the examples of Jesus, Paul, and countless saints.  There seems to be a strange notion that procreation is an obligation in Christianity.  It is in Judaism, but Jesus and Paul both argue for celibacy (vowed singleness).  Modern thinkers have argued that “biology is destiny.”  We’re built that way.  As an evolutionary biologist, let me say that we are also built for promiscuity, selfishness, and greed.  Christian testimony has been unequivocal on this; we are more than our bodies.  Whether you say, “biology is destiny” or “natural complementarity” or “the design of our bodies” you have made a profoundly anti-Christian argument.

3) Not all people are called to celibacy (I Cor 7:8-9).  This has never been about whether a woman should find another woman to marry or find a man.  It is a question of pastoral advice for her.  If she has no romantic, emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual attraction to men, should she live alone, or do we give her an option for an intimate relationship with another woman.  Can a pastor bless and advise a same-gender romantic relationship?  The church has said yes.  In the Anglican Tradition, we say “all may, some should, none must.”  Many relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual are unhealthy.  Some heterosexual relationships are healthy.  The church has said to priests, if you believe (with due reverence, prayer, and study) that a particular same-sex couple has a healthy relationship – you may bless and advise that relationship.

At some point the church needs to have a discussion about what marriage means to Christians.  Not simply who can get married, but why marriage matters. It’s not the only way for Christians, but it has to have some sort of meaning more than what the wider society bestows upon it.

What is the theology of marriage?

Constitutional Amendments and the Church

This fall, Minnesotans will go to the polls to vote on two constitutional amendments.  The first one would ban same-sex marriage and the second one would require photo ids before a person could vote.

Now I have my own opinions on the amendments and I’m not shy about sharing them (I’m strongly against the first and somewhat in favor of the second).  However, when it comes to the context of church and in my role as a pastor, I am less comfortable in telling people how they should feel on this issue, let alone how they should pray.

Recently, during a time when prayers were being offered, someone asked prayers on both amendments and stated their viewpoint.  It was a little bit uncomfortable for me, mainly because the prayer focused on one side of the issue and because I knew there might be folks that had differing opinions on both issues.

Normally I would say something about how we are the Body of Christ and that at the communion table we are a diverse bunch but united together in Christ.  I would say something about how churches have people from all walks of life and we need to be aware how to be church amidst the differences.

I would say all of this…but in these polarizing times, I’ve come to believe that we don’t even see the church as a place where different people come together.  Churches are becoming like everything else in society: filled with people who tend to agree with each other.  So maybe it wasn’t so odd to see someone stating their views on a political issue as if there were no other folks who might disagree; they might believe that church is just “for us.”
I’m not advocating that we never talk about politics in the church.  But is there a way to talk about these issues without claiming that God is only on our side?

I don’t know the answer to that.