My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
I was better than halfway into today’s originally scheduled post when an email from my parents came in. I cringed on seeing the subject:
Fw: Short video on VOTE YES on 2 and effects of Same Sex Marriage on Parental Rights: Very interesting
As many of you already know, my parents are retired Pentecostal ministers. They tow their church’s doctrinal line against homosexuality and while they’ve slowly managed to accept my being gay, they’re a long ways off from accepting homosexuality or believing it's acceptable to God. After a terrible rift over this, we recognized that how things are isn’t what any of us wants. But it’s all we’ve got to work with and we’re doing our best to stick together despite our differences. We keep our lines of communication open and candid, which often taxes one end or the other. Realizing the fragility of our connection, neither side goes out of its way to introduce volatile topics like politics or social controversy; we’ve learned all too well how quickly and dangerously they turn personal. So it surprised me to find an email from them—forwarded, no less—about same-sex marriage.
I opened it gingerly, as if it were a letter bomb. It read: “Hope you are having a good day. You probably already know about this. We received it today. Love You. Mom and Dad.” The original email came from a minister at their church. Her note said: “Short but a stark reality that you as a Christian parent Could be jailed like this Massachusetts dad for protecting his children.”
No, I didn’t already know about this and my folks’ decision to risk trouble between us by sending it my way stirred my interest. I stopped working on the blog long enough to take a look. Sensing they were hoping for a reaction, I decided to write them back immediately. Seven hours passed. As I read what I wrote one last time before sending it, I felt strangely compelled to share it here with you, my other “faith family.”
This is a policy breach—and a significant stylistic departure—for me. When I started Straight-Friendly, I purposed that I’d protect it from getting dragged into political and theological debates. There were bigger, better things to discuss: God’s acceptance, following Christ, loving our neighbors, and so on. I also pledged to keep each day’s post as short, crisp, and clear as possible. I’m breaking both rules here for one reason. I truly believe the same-sex marriage debate crystallizes the entire “gay issue” that presently divides the church and is responsible for the alienation of countless earnest believers, gay and straight. All of our disconnects feed into the discussion and how we as Christians and Americans conduct ourselves regarding this will have long-reaching impact on our lives, our faith, our culture, and the world at large.
So I’m asking your indulgence in the length and focus of this post. Very little, if any, of what I say below hasn’t already been said by many others and in better ways. But given what Straight-Friendly is all about, it seemed necessary to break with convention long enough to address the issue here.
The Massachusetts Story
The video that prompted this is directly below. It’s produced by The Family Research Council, hosted by that group’s president, Tony Perkins, and is sponsored by protectmarriage.com. It runs nearly seven minutes and I encourage everyone to look at it, particularly if you’ve somehow managed to escape exposure to the prolific “protect marriage” propaganda that’s run amok before the upcoming elections. For those of you cramped for time, however, here’s a brief overview.
Massachusetts parents David and Tonia Parker were outraged when their five-year-old son returned from Kindergarten in a public school with a “diversity book bag” that included descriptions of same-sex households. They went to the school’s administrator to protest this as contradictory to their religious values and overstepping the school’s educational responsibilities. They asked the administrator to inform them prior to producing any future programs or materials that similarly endorsed same-sex relationships and to provide them with a waiver excusing their son from these activities. The administrator refused, stating that since same-sex marriage was legal in Massachusetts, it was the school’s job to present it as “normal” and “acceptable.” Mr. Parker refused to leave the office until his demands were met. The admin called the police, had the dad arrested, and a new martyr for religious intolerance was born.
Making Mistakes to Correct Mistakes
"We didn't think it was appropriate to discuss that with our five-year-old, number one, and if we ever felt it was necessary, two, to have that discussion with our son we would choose the timing and manner in which to discuss that with him."
Ms. Parker is absolutely correct about this. And this story grieves me deeply—it's a terrible example of the state attempting to overcompensate for social inequities by creating new ones. Unfortunately, though, this is how democracy works. In trying to correct one mistake, we often make many more mistakes. And it takes time, a long time.
Two prime examples of this, I think, are slavery and women's rights. Emancipation and suffrage were not only necessary; they were essential to our integrity as nation committed to "liberty and justice for all." Yet here we are, decades later, still struggling with how to ensure equal rights for racial minorities and women without denying other groups' rights. The Constitution strikes this note at its outset: "in Order to form a more perfect Union." The greatest thing about America—what sets us apart from virtually every other nation on Earth—is our acceptance that we're a work in progress, a steady strive for perfection. That's what makes us "a city on a hill," as Reagan so beautifully applied Jesus's description of justice to us.
Marriage, Divorce, and Eunuchs
I bet I'm asked at least two or three times a week about same-sex marriage. And the majority of those who ask are initially taken aback by my reply. "Marriage" is a holy sacrament ordained by God in the Garden of Eden. In Matthew 19, Jesus unequivocally defines it as the joining of a man and woman. Case closed. But there's a lot to consider before arriving at this decision and I'll try to explain it as best I can. (Prepare yourself: this is going to take some time.)
Jesus's definition of marriage comes in a larger discussion about divorce, where He also says that divorce is unlawful except in cases of adultery. He says Moses's relaxation of this principle—permitting divorces of convenience—happened because the Jews' hearts had hardened toward God. This seems to be the case with us, too, particularly those of us in the church, who have taken a casual position on divorce and remarriage that totally contradicts Christ's teaching. When Jesus says this, the disciples suggest if all marriages are iron-clad then it would be wiser not to marry than risk living in inescapable misery. Christ's reply is most perplexing. He upholds marriage as a commandment for all heterosexual men by exempting three kinds of "eunuchs"--those who are "born that way" (Type 1), those made by man (castrated servants; Type 2), and those who practice celibacy for the Gospel's sake (Type 3). He prefaces His teaching by saying, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given."
If we take Christ's teaching in its totality—and we must, especially if we rely on it as Scriptural proof that marriage is an exclusively heterosexual institution—then we have to acknowledge, endorse, and live by its three precepts. 1) Marriage is solely intended and sanctioned between a man and a woman. 2) Divorce and remarriage are only permissible when either spouse is unfaithful; anyone who divorces his/her first spouse for any other reason (incompatibility, negligence, etc.) and remarries is an adulterer. 3) While the vast majority of men are expected to marry, there are three distinct exceptions to this rule: castratos, priests, and what apparently are homosexuals.
Of course, one might object to interpreting "born that way" as a reference to gay men, choosing a narrower, more literal reading that suggests Jesus was talking about infant boys born with "ambiguous gender" or hermaphrodites. Yet both these phenomena are so rare (2 in 10,000 for gender ambiguity and only 500 documented cases of hermaphroditism in all of human history) that it seems unlikely Christ meant physiological malformation or that the disciples even knew such anomalies existed. What we do know, however, is that Type 1 eunuchs were a common fixture in Jewish and other ancient societies.
The Prophecy of Acceptance
Mosaic law banned them from temple worship. Most historians and theologians concur that this was because Leviticus forbade same-sex relationships and therefore supports the notion that Jesus indeed was speaking of gay men as born eunuchs. Then, in Isaiah 56, we hear God call "the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant" back to worship. "I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off."
This is Messianic prophecy and we see it fulfilled in Acts 8, when Philip leads the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ by explaining Isaiah to him. We can be certain the Ethiopian was a Type 1 eunuch because Luke specifically describes him as "an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace," meaning he was neither a castrated slave nor a celibate priest. Furthermore, we're told that he had just come from worshipping in Jerusalem—presumably in the temple's outer courts, given his status as a eunuch and non-Jew—and I think Luke makes a point of telling us this to give us a very specific example of God's faithful promise to welcome previously excluded eunuchs who obey and please Him once the Messiah had come.
Stuck at a Crossroads
I know this is a lot of background, and I imagine you'll find much of it questionable or frustrating, but I wanted to include it because it significantly affects how we should approach same-sex marriage from a Scriptural and spiritual standpoint. Jesus's doctrine of marriage puts us at a crossroads. It's good news and bad news for both sides of the "gay debate," albeit in different ways.
On the right, Christians who oppose same-sex marriage should rejoice because not only did He conclusively confine marriage to heterosexuals, He went on to specifically disqualify homosexuals. That's good news for religious conservatives. Now here's the bad news. In doing so, He categorically confirmed homosexuality as a fact predetermined at birth. It's not a choice, an "alternative lifestyle," or any other label that implies it's something that a person decides to become or a habit that can be broken. Jesus says it's in the genes, as much a part of a person's make-up as the color of his/her skin or his/her family's medical history.
So, by basing their opposition to same-sex marriage on Jesus's teaching, conservative Christians have to reconcile that with their belief that homosexuality in and of itself is a sinful practice, rather than the congenital condition Jesus says it is. Taking the first part of His message to advance what is basically a political agenda and ignoring the back half amounts to straining at gnats and swallowing camels.
The Question Is…
The question isn't whether homosexuality is fundamentally wrong. It's whether homosexual individuals live according to Christ's law in a manner that pleases God. In other words, according to Isaiah 56 and Acts 8, gay people and straight people are equally entitled to Calvary's inheritance. We're all the same in God's eyes and we should be united in faith, working together to reach perfection through Him. This is good news for gay folks, especially those who've been ostracized from practicing their faith because of their sexual orientation. (And they number in the tens of thousands.) God wraps up His promise in Isaiah by saying, "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." No one is excluded and I can't imagine any true Christian would support a ministry or pastor who suggested otherwise.
But given that God specifically called out eunuchs (and foreigners) prior to saying this, it directly contradicts any teaching or dogma that insists gay people can't follow Jesus and accept their sexual orientation at the same time. It's what they do with it—how they live and the priorities they make. On this level, their issues are no different than their straight brothers and sisters—with one exception.
Lost in the Margins
Social and religious intolerance has done such a fine job of marginalizing gay people—removing them from the mainstream—that they've been forced to create their own subculture. While there's much about it that's positive, just as much is dangerous and damaging. With no other place to go, gay society grew in, and continues to thrive, in bars, nightclubs, and bathhouses—commercial venues that promote values and behaviors directly opposed to Christ's teaching.
Every day, another gay kid gets off the bus from Louisville or Des Moines or St. Louis [in Chicago] and the first place he heads is Halsted Street, because that's where he "belongs." At first, it's fun and exciting; if gay people know how to do anything, it's how to have a good time. The opportunity to be himself, to feel accepted without having to deceive or mislead others, is profoundly thrilling—particularly if he's either too terrified to come out to his family and friends at home or if they saddled him with rejection, fear, and shame when he did. Because he's emotionally vulnerable, gay culture can be very seductive. Its alternative to faith is hedonism and its resentment toward the church and believers runs deep. The assumption is that Christ and His followers want nothing to do with any self-accepting non-hetero person. And while this is absolutely a lie, the hostility leveled at gay rights and the gay community in general in Jesus's name proves otherwise. The propaganda speaks for itself.
Meanwhile, literally millions of gay folks are slipping away, drowning in a whirlpool of promiscuity, substance abuse, depression, suicide, and alienation. In America and the rest of the western world, the vast majority of these people come from families and communities with strong Christian traditions and values. Once they establish a level of personal comfort with their sexual identities, they find themselves disoriented, incapable of finding their way home—back to God and the life in Christ they knew. They're prodigals. Unfortunately, if they arise and go their Father's house, their reception is seldom anything like the one Jesus described. Instead of being embraced and surrounded by rejoicing, they're told they can't be true to themselves and please God at the same time, despite the fact that God says "Not so!" in Isaiah and Acts. So what do they do? They turn right back around and head for the pigpen. This time, however, they're not listening as others tell them their faith and the church is useless—they're saying it themselves. The cycle continues over and over, and with each spin more precious souls are lost.
Stoking the Fires
Thus, while I agree with the video in principle—and I hate that overly zealous equal-rights policies resulted in the Parker family's suffering—I have to disagree with it in practice. The church, its leaders, and its people do themselves a great disservice by taking their opposition to same-sex marriage into the streets instead of being content to exercise their voting privileges as American citizens.
First, they actually generate wider controversy that ultimately ricochets by stoking the fires of those who advocate same-sex marriage. I've seen dozens of Public Service Announcements opposing straight-only marriage initiatives in Arizona and California, all of them in response to fear-mongering ads produced by the Christian right. In Phoenix and LA, two priests who defied their Bishops' directives to instruct their parishioners to vote for same-sex marriage bans have been pulled from their pulpits and are now incredibly powerful symbols of religious victimization. After their stories were publicized, polls in both cities surged in opposition to the initiatives.
Second, while the church is theologically correct to oppose same-sex marriage, the spirit of its campaign against it is sadly wrong. The Parker video is a perfect example of this. Undoubtedly, what the Parkers experienced was horrible, unnecessary, and most definitely illegal. As a die-hard liberal, I could never conscientiously approve of any action that lands a man in jail for protesting public policy and asserting his parental rights. (Besides, it's just stupid for the school officials to defend their nutty decision to introduce diversity training at the Kindergarten level. We know dozens of gay couples who've adopted and are raising beautiful, well-balanced children and they'll tell you the last thing their five-year-old needs is to be singled out as "special" because of them. Kids that young don't need to be subjected to that. Furthermore, every gay parent I know would side with the Parkers—this discussion should stay in the home and happen at the appropriate time. It's not the teacher or school administrator's job, even if same-sex unions are state law.)
Having said all this, though, I think it's wrong of Tony Perkins to exploit the Parkers' case as a means of spreading fear. And it amazes me how boldly he states his intentions to do so. "If you don't vote to ban same-sex marriage, this very well could happen to you! You could go to jail!" That's true, evidently. But is it realistic? Hardly. In fact, due to the Parkers’ case, I'm sure school boards everywhere are revising their diversity curricula because you'd have to live in a cave not to see the lawsuit that's coming. And from a legal standpoint, the issue of same-sex marriage is moot. Mr. Parker could have been protesting any topic that infringed on his parental and religious rights—dress codes, sex ed, bilingual instruction, etc.—and the school would still have been at fault for not accommodating him, let alone having him arrested.
A Spirit of Fear
By using Parker's story to scare unthinking people into voting his way, Perkins is completely out of line with Christian doctrine. Its rallying cry is "Be not afraid!" Jesus told us He has overcome the world—there's nothing to fear. Paul said we haven't been given a spirit of fear, but one of love, power, and a sound mind. John writes, There is no fear in love, because fear has to do with punishment, but perfect love drives out fear. Fear and love can't occupy the same space and from where I sat, I saw no love at all in this video. This saddens me because according to Jesus, it's love that shows the world we're His—not righteousness and most certainly not fear. I can't imagine who Perkins is trying to reach with this message; it seems to me he's preaching to the choir. His motives are so transparent and his distortion of the case is so obvious that I hardly believe any thinking person could be persuaded by it. If anything, the video's undertow of fear and malice most likely would drive undecided voters the opposite direction, leading them to think voting against same-sex bans is the Christian thing to do.
This applies not only to this video, but to the Christian right's overall shock-and-horror publicity strategy. No doubt about it, fear works. But it's not of God. And using fear in His name is every bit as dangerous and unscriptural as ignoring Jesus's marriage doctrine, perhaps even more so, because it's misleading. If not overtly, these religiously framed anti-rights campaigns implicitly promote prejudice and hatred; they're so primed with fear and hostility they can be easily misconstrued by weak-minded people as sanctioning violence and hate crimes. We've seen this in the abortion conflict, where excitable individuals have taken the right-to-life message as a cause to kill. The same holds with race: the KKK and other white supremacist "churches" have combined fear and faith to incite riots and lynching. While no sane person would interpret this or any other pro-ban video as a license for gay-bashing, they inadvertently prey on the fears of people who will. This is grossly irresponsible on their part as citizens but even more as Christians. If you cause one person to fall into sin, Jesus said, better you should tie a millstone around your neck and jump into the sea.
The American Thing
And, thirdly, if it's not the Christian thing to do, it's still right to vote against the same-sex marriage ban because it's the American thing to do. When we declared our independence, the first principle we adopted was this: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." In America, what's good for one is good for all. We believe in the unalienable, God-given rights of every man and woman to have equal opportunity, regardless of class, ethnic, or religious differences. This is why the Founding Fathers so adamantly insisted on separation of church and state.
This street flows both ways and as Christians we need to understand and accept our civic responsibilities in keeping with the laws of the Land. As an American, I cannot possibly support any policy that deprives my fellow citizens of the same rights and privileges I enjoy. This essentially is the principle that the California and Massachusetts courts upheld in their same-sex marriage rulings. It's illegal and un-American to tell gay couples they can't have the same rights as straight couples to common property, next-of-kin status, medical access, tax exemptions, etc., because they don't meet Christian marriage standards. On the other hand, it's completely legal and totally American for Christians to exercise their freedom of religion and limit the sacrament of marriage to heterosexuals. This is how democracy works.
Is it not obvious to everyone that we're using one word—"marriage"—to mean two different things? Marriage in the courts and marriage in the church are not the same. When the courts overturned discrimination against same-sex couples, their decision had no religious connotations whatsoever. Nor should they have. They weren't approving or endorsing same-sex marriage as morally acceptable. They were rejecting discriminatory statutes as legally unacceptable. Morals fall under the province of the home and church. That's where this controversy over the legitimacy of same-sex marriage should live—and not in the political arena, where many Christians have placed it. This has stirred up needless confusion between how our laws define marriage and what Jesus said it was. This should not be. Christ Himself drew a line between civic law and religious doctrine: Render unto Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God's. The religious right’s attempts to superimpose its doctrine on our legal system disobey this principle.
What's more, it diminishes God's authority and power by dragging His name into human affairs. This brings to mind Jesus's response to the Pharisees who accused His disciples of impiety because they ate without washing their hands. (Not surprisingly, He quotes Isaiah in the process.) "You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied of you: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." Is that what we need? A manmade rule to enforce a spiritual doctrine? Surely we know better than that. Surely we know where it leads.
The minute we let our religious beliefs dictate our civic responsibilities, we open ourselves to all kinds of threats. Actually voting for propositions that legalize inequality—now that's something we really need to be afraid of, because once that horse gets out of the barn there's no telling where or far he'll go. And the church should be the first to worry about this. Once we make a practice of ignoring Constitutional precedents to suit our personal values, we're well on our way to propositions against religious organizations' non-profit tax status, curriculum standards in parochial schools, government licensing of ministers, etc. If we invoke religion on one matter, we make it an issue for all. And given the rising tide of alarm and disgust over how many political and religious leaders have tried to leverage fear and faith to run rampant over the Constitution, it's most probable that the voting majority will have no compunction about voting for propositions that reel these rabble-rousers back in by limiting religious freedoms for everyone. It's a slippery slope that we'd be foolish to try and navigate. And we're all the more foolish for not seeing that these "marriage protection" initiatives are just the thing to send us sliding downhill fast.
The Red Flag
But finally (and I so apologize for going on this long, but I guess I really needed to try to explain myself as fully as possible), I'm most troubled by this video because of how it deceives gay (and gay-friendly) people into believing Christ nor His church cares about them. Of course, this isn't so, yet what else are they to think after hearing Ms. Parker call homosexuals sinners and Mr. Parker equate gay inclusion in mainstream society as "a war against the family"? I totally sympathize with their anger and outrage—it's undeniably justified—yet there's no denying the hostility and fear underlying it.
When gay people see and hear this, a red flag goes up that says, "Keep out!" Unfortunately, they don't attribute that to the Parkers and Perkins. They view them as typical of all Christians and it becomes one more reason (or excuse) to avoid Jesus, His church, and His followers. It pushes them ever farther from knowing His love, grace, and power in their lives. It strands them in the shallows of a culture and community consumed with transient pleasure, self-gratification, and abusive habits. And for the relative few who, like Walt and I, make do by pursuing our faith in more tolerant, welcoming denominations, it just reinforces the idea that we're not likely to be able to return to the churches, service, and worship we were raised to love any time soon. In fact, I've pretty much given up believing that will happen in my lifetime. I've put all my hope into making up for the joy and fervor I've lost down here once I get to the other side.
What would happen, I sometimes wonder, if Pentecostals and Fundamentalists and Catholics and other sects that aggressively oppose homosexuality wholeheartedly embraced what God said in Isaiah 56, what Jesus taught in Matthew 19, and what Philip demonstrated in Acts 8? What would they do if they opened their hearts and doors to gay men and women and viewed them the same as every other believer in the room? What would the world see if these highly impassioned believers channeled their faith and courage to stand against homophobia, inequality, and social injustice? How would our society change if tens of thousands gay folks could be convinced that God and His people love them, accept them as they are, and want them to live healthy, productive lives that please their Maker? How would straight believers benefit from overcoming their fear and assuming the role of faith models for countless gay people to emulate? How many lost souls would be redeemed? How many alcoholics and drug users would be healed? How many AIDS cases would be prevented? How many suicides would be disabled? How many homes would be mended? How many more soldiers of the cross would take the field? How many more poor, sick, and spiritually distraught people around the world would find the help they need?
Mr. Parker is right—there is a war going on. But it's not gays versus Christians, liberals versus conservatives, or sinners versus saints. It's good versus evil. We already know who wins. I just wish we could get over our disagreements and fears of one another and learn to fight together for what's right.
I pray this helps you understand my position on this issue. How and what you believe is yours to decide and account for. More than anything, I want you to know that our differences about this or anything else are not important. What matters is that we continue to understand and care for each other despite them. I love you both very much—with all my heart.