Part 5: Gay Marriage, The Church & State
Our commission is to create disciples, not to protect the sanctity of marriage or anything else. Those things which we hold sacred can never be made less so by external definitions or the rule of law. Spending time, energy and money organizing and campaigning to oppress people we disagree with is entirely wrongheaded. Support for gay-marriage bans is not even a peripherally implied aspect of the Great Commission Jesus Christ gave to His disciples, and it does not, in any sense, mirror the divine example of our Savior. Such political action, in fact, denies His words, denies the model He set for us. It is the religious invention of man, not the infallible commission of God.
Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Legislative Bill Drafting Commission No. 12066-04-01, the Marriage Equality Act, legalizing gay marriage in the nation's largest city. Lightning did not rain down from the sky. Swarms of locusts did not suddenly appear, fire did not consume the nation. To my knowledge, no black pastors preached about it here Sunday, but some may have. Commentary on important national and world events are rare from black pulpits here, as the pastors' concerns seem limited to a 10-yard radius around their church property. Hungry people, suffering people, civil rights issues: I've heard only scant, passing references to such things as pastoral comments settle around church events and pastoral sermons are more like Star Trek episodes; insular homilies teaching reasonable life lessons while existing within their own space-time continuum and having not much relevance to the world their congregations are sent back to after the hollering is over. The church, here at least, seems for the most part unconcerned with reality. Las Vegas could be flooded by a massive Tsunami and I'm not sure that get would get much of a mention from black pulpits here. The mindset seems to be one of escapism: behind these walls, we live out our escapist Star Trek fantasy, Spock ears handed out at the door. There is not much in the way of equipping the saints for what they will go home to—the bad economy, the steady dissolution of the American family, the crisis of values with our children. In too many of our churches, here, it's All About Noah: Noah and the Ark, Daniel In The Lion's Den. As often as not, our proceedings represent reasonable theater in music and oratory, but the songs sing about nothing: they are weightless, repetitive polemics, and the spoken word hardly measures up to even the most mediocre Spoken Word poetry. In toto, the experience usually has absolutely no relevance to the world we actually live in. That is, with the possible exception of the occasional gay bashing.
Gay-bashing is what passes for relevance, here. The war? No comment. The economy? No comment. The bankrupt and immoral urban black "culture"? No comment. But gay folk throwing a picnic? We most put a stop to this evil. Attacking gays is a safe place to go: you don't actually have to know what you're talking about, and you really do not risk the ire of the congregation. Everybody knows gays are demon-possessed, evil people, so wailing away at them is usually a crowd pleaser. Even closeted gays in the congregation won't complain; more than likely, they'll cheer right along with the rest. Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old Massachusetts boy, hanged himself April 9, 2009 after enduring bullying at school, including daily taunts of being gay, despite his mother's weekly pleas to the school to address the problem. This is at least the fourth suicide of a middle-school aged child linked to bullying this year. Not one word about it from a black pulpit.
Every pastor I know goes into
virtual if not literal hiding when the LGBT community puts on a
demonstration, like Pride. We won't show up, even if it's to
simply pray with and for them. Showing up doesn't mean you've
compromised your values, it means you've made those values
known. Instead, our values go into hiding, as if the Word of God
must run in fear from controversy. I know of no black churches working
with the Gay and Lesbian Fund or The Gill Foundation—even if it's
only to provide support for parents of gays or
children of gays. Any number of white churches cooperate to
whatever extent their doctrine permits, but most traditional
black churches here are adamant: no cooperation, no support.
To my experience, black pastors have been far less obsessed with civil rights questions like same-sex unions than fundamentalist white pastors, who spend millions of tithe and offering dollars trying to ram the bible down peoples' throats. It is an interesting dichotomy, black churches being so much more focused on survival while white churches seem more available for mission work. As often as not, white conservatives' mission field of choice is America, where, having failed to persuade us by the preaching of God's word, these folks now set about the task of forcing God's will upon people they consider ungodly. This practice is, itself, ungodly and therefore antichrist: God does not force His will on us. God never asked us to run around forcing people to accept Him. It is deeply troubling how wrong these "Christian" conservatives have it. They have so much apparent cash to throw around and, rather than feed somebody, they print up pamphlets and mount petition drives to force the kingdom of the world to resemble their view of the kingdom of God. Only, none of us have actually seen the kingdom of Heaven, and the evidence suggests these folks have a movie playing in their head of rolling green lawns, kids on bikes, Woofy, the family dog, and picket fences. There are usually no black people in this movie, in this idealized world these crackpots want us to live in. Everybody gets along and there is no hip-hop. It is a sanitized, modernized postwar vision, a racist, sexist and religiously intolerant vision, one which can never sync with reality. People who try and force you to live according to the movie playing in their heads are simply not rational. They refuse to accept the futility of trying to reshape the world into their idea of Utopia and they refuse to learn any lessons from the past of how dangerous that ambition can be (Adolph Hitler, anyone?)
Democracy is not about you. Not about your right to vote or, say, to play hip-hop. The real challenge of a democracy is to allow the other guy to play hip-hop. And not just to play it, but blast it whenever he feels like. Democracy is about legalized tolerance of things we don't agree with. Freedom means everybody is free, not just you and your cat. In order to protect our Christian way of life, we must defend the free speech and rights of our Jewish sisters, our brothers in The Nation of Islam. We must defend LDS and the Jehovah's Witnesses. In order for us to be individuals vested with freedom—real freedom—we must develop a tolerance for things we don't agree with.
I don't support gay marriage. To me, "gay marriage" sounds like an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp." But I am also completely, absolutely and wholly indifferent to what people decide to do. I don't tell fat people not to wear skimpy swimsuits to the beach. I don't tell these idiot boys to pull their pants up, something that enrages me, that assaults my dignity as a black male, way more than gay peolpe. I believe people usually get married too soon and for the wrong reasons, but I honestly don't care who marries who or what their deal is. It is not my place to endorse or condemn. As a Christian, it is not my duty to defend marriage or protect its sanctity. Man cannot diminish the sacramental quality of things God has ordained, things God has made sacred. I am not threatened by gay marriage, the institution of marriage is not threatened by gay marriage. The institution of marriage is threatened by divorce, something I am much more flaming-right-wing about. I believe that, if divorce were harder to do, people would respect marriage more and take it more seriously. People treat marriage like it's dating, mainly because they know they can always get a divorce and try again. Straight people have weakened, disgraced, undermined and virtually crippled the institution of marriage. All that shouting, all that marching, all that hatred—from people claiming to love Christ—is completely unnecessary. It dishonors God for us to start running around telling people who they can love or who they can be with.
Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, put it this way. "Everybody is betting their life on something. Now, the atheist is betting his life that there is no God. The Muslim is betting his life that Islam is the way forward. I my view, Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No man goes to the Father except through me,' and I am betting my life that Jesus was telling the truth." I like that. I feel that way. I find nothing in the bible that defines marriage as a union of two disparate souls. Biblical marriage was always gender-based. So, for me, gay marriage is something else. Maybe invent a new word for it. But I'm betting my life that the bible is true. And if the bible reveals truth to us, I'm going to be over here in a corner not in favor of gay marriage.
But I also don’t believe in divorce, which is why I'm a real
hardliner about people getting
Like homosexuality, divorce is also against God's law but, unlike
homosexuality, divorce was a topic Jesus actually spoke about
[Matt 19]. Remarried couples, some on their third or fourth
marriage, are accepted by the church as a matter of routine.
This is conduct Jesus condemned. I suppose pastors have
evolved some manner of doctrinal Heimlich Maneuver that allows
them to officiate these marriages with a clear conscience, but
until somebody explains that to me, so far as I am concerned
these couples are committing adultery, and their pastor is
helping them do it. I never hear pastors preach against
divorce anymore, but I see them, grinning, pronouncing husband
and wife. But whose husband? Whose wife? Where are the anti-divorce rallies?
I don't believe in Easter eggs, which are an abomination and affront to the Gospel. But our churches routinely have Easter egg hunts while showing hatred and intolerance to gays. I am, frankly, way more upset about Easter eggs than I am about gay marriage. But I don't invest my time and energy in either. Why are we putting so much thunder into Leviticus 18:22 while never, and I mean not heard once in my life, teaching on Jeremiah 10, in which a Christmas tree is described in startling detail as pagan behavior. But our churches put up these trees every year, without a thought, without a word, while making gays feel unloved and unwelcome. None of this has any real relevance to the work the church is supposed to be doing. We are so distracted by things we consider sinful or illegitimate that we miss the point the entire planet is sinful and illegitimate. We are not the sheriff. We are not here to clean it up. Do things I don’t believe in threaten the things I do believe in? If they did, my belief would be utterly meaningless.
But am I going to sign a petition or participate in a march or hold my breath and call people names? No. Why? Because that's not what Jesus did. Because that's not the biblical model. There is absolutely no evidence of Jesus Christ organizing to change the affairs of the state. The Roman state was far more wicked, far more depraved, than anything you can imagine. Wild, uninhibited public sex, orgies, incest, little boys, chickens—whatever filth you can imagine. Political killings, false imprisonment, religious persecution, paganism of every imaginable stripe. But not one word about Jesus petitioning Caesar or organizing a protest march. I've found no research to suggest Roman males married other Roman males, but homosexuality was commonplace and accepted. And Jesus did nothing about it. He didn't paint up a photo of Caesar to look like The Joker and stand outside the Senate hurling racist insults. And, I sincerely doubt, were Jesus walking America today in human form, that He'd have anything to do with political activism. His message was simple: the Kingdom of Heaven is coming soon.
I’ve never understood this fascination
with what people do in their bedrooms.
I mean, if you take sex out of the equation, gay
people are, well, people. Just like everybody else. So why do we
get so mad when we consider that, retiring from our day, some
people will be sharing a bed with folks of the same gender? Why
do we even care? "God hates sin, therefore we should hate
sin, too," a pastor once told me. Like most conservatives I
know, he mixes and matches the Old Testament God of the Law with
the New Testament Jesus pretty much at will, using OT rationale
and conduct to justify doing what he wants to do—hate. He wants
to run around pointing fingers and doing God's job for Him. It's
what conservatives are good at.
God never called us to protect the sanctity of anything. Not even the church. The first time you allow the government to take rights away from anyone—anyone at all—you are creating an avenue for the government to oppress us all. It is a slippery slope to the very repression the church claims to dread most: government interference in our right to free speech and, as a result, religion. These very same hateful tactics employed by conservative Christians can and, I promise you, eventually will, be turned back on them—on all of us. It is wrong to turn to government to resolve what are moral, ethical and spiritual questions. It is especially stupid to open the door to our own oppression by doing so.
The notion that God is so weak that He needs our help to
enforce His law is, literally, blasphemous. The fact is, we are no
longer under The Law but under Grace—something the religious
right routinely seems to ignore as they go about their Old
Testament methods of smiting the infidels.
Our commission is to create disciples, not to protect the
sanctity of marriage or anything else. Spending time, energy and
money organizing and campaigning to oppress people we disagree
with is entirely wrongheaded. I can only imagine what we, the
body of Christ, could accomplish if instead we put all of those
resources into telling people about Jesus—which is what He
actually asked us to do.
These religious folk who want to run around banning things: if they really want to uphold the sanctity of marriage, they should get a vote passed banning divorce. Jesus condemned divorce while saying nothing at all about homosexuals, and yet the divorce rate among Christians is nearly identical to that of non-Christians. Supporting Prop 8 on religious grounds is, therefore, hypocritical on so many levels, not the least of which is that running around passing laws and banning things is not our job. It is not even a peripherally implied aspect of the Great Commission Jesus Christ gave to His disciples, and it does not, in any sense, mirror the divine example of our Savior. Such political action, in fact, denies His words, denies the model He set for us. It is the religious invention of man, not the infallible commission of God. It is the behavior of Sanhedrin, the wrongheaded legalistic zealots whom Jesus condemned. That is the model we mimic when we use our liberty in Christ to oppress people.
The biggest threat to the sanctity of marriage—according to Jesus Christ—isn’t gays, it’s DIVORCE. Go ban THAT, and you’ll get my attention.