A lot has changed in the last few weeks and we are trying to figure out what we think and how to adjust. Two weeks ago, a federal judge ruled Alabama’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was in conflict with our U.S. Constitution. After a week of confusion, it appears that same-sex marriage is now legal in Alabama, and thirty-six other states. Furthermore, while I would never presume to predict the action of the U.S. Supreme Court, it appears that they may well rule that same-sex marriage should be legal and available across the nation. In addition, last Saturday, the North Alabama Presbytery voted 28-24 to support an amendment to our Book of Order, allowing same-sex marriage to us/them the Presbyterian Church. It would be up to each local session to decide for their church. Indeed, change is in the air. Several people have asked me what I think.
First, same sex marriage. I have friends who have joined in same-sex relationships, even marriage. I love them and want the best for them. As this issue has progressed in our culture and the church I have searched the Bible to understand what God wills for us in the use of God’s gift of sexuality and the gift of marriage. I have read resources advocating the morality of particular same-sex relationships and marriage, but I have not found them to be compelling. They have made me think deeply about God’s will, but they have not changed how I interpret Scripture. In so far as I discern God’s Word, sexuality is a gift of God intended to be enjoyed in a loving and respectful marriage between a woman and a man. In addition, it appears clear in Scripture that God’s vision for a marriage relationship is a life-long relationship between man and woman based upon mutual love and respect. Hearing and understanding God’s revelation I am challenged by God’s holy standard and humbled by the way I, and we all, fall short. In spite of our continued failures to live out God’s vision, I am led once again to the foot of the Cross; we will stand in need of God’s gracious and merciful love. However, the fact that we all fail does not abrogate the high calling God gives.
Second, I have observed the legal battles over same sex marriage with concern. The legal basis for granting same-sex marriage seems to be that marriage is an individual right. Consequently, if someone wants to get married, it is their right. I understand this reason and am sympathetic. At the same time, I am concerned where the legal logic may lead us. For example, if marriage is a right that cannot legally be denied, by what legal right would we deny a polygamous marriage, or polyamory (group marriage, e.g., two men and three women). Or, if two fourteen-year-olds want to marry, how might a court rule, given it is a legal right. I ask myself, is this direction good for our society? Should society, even our government, support or endorse a particular form of marriage? Is doing so in the interest of society? These are important questions and I wish we had been able to debate these questions as we have moved along the path to “marriage equality.” I think such a national conversation would have been helpful to all of us. However, anyone who questions marriage equality in the public marketplace is likely to be accused of homophobia, judgmentalism, or prejudice. In many, if not most cases, that is simply not true.
I and many others who have concern about marriage equality are fully supportive of the rights of people who live in same-sex relationships and want and deserve legal rights to make decisions for their partners in medical crises, or on estate tax issues, or even medical insurance issues. These are complicated, but solutions could be achieved without redefining marriage.
Moving on to the Church of Jesus Christ. The first thing I would say is that the church (through its many expressions) has erred in our condemnation and mistreatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. We have gone along with the rest of society in looking down upon, outcasting, and mistreating people who are different from the norm, people who were drawn to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, people whom Jesus accepted, cared for, and loved. We do well to acknowledge our sin in such mistreatment. We are called to love others as Jesus loved, and we have failed, and continue to fail.
However, this does not mean we have to approve of or condone every behavior. Surely, we agree that some actions or behaviors are contrary to what God desires and envisions for us. The question is which are acceptable, or are to be encouraged, and which are not. On many, if not most we agree; on some we disagree. An example is last week’s vote at our presbytery meeting (representatives from twenty-nine churches in North Alabama). The vote was 28 in favor of allowing same sex-marriage within the church and 24 not to allow it. (The action allows it in a church but does not require a church to allow it.) I voted against the motion, as I have expressed, because I am not convinced this is what God envisions for the marriage relationship. I have friends who disagree with me on this issue. We are yet friends; we just don’t agree on this issue. This begs the question: how do we go forward?
Our Session will prayerfully and respectfully discuss what happened and decide upon a way forward. We welcome your thoughts and prayers. (Names and email addresses of our Session members are on page 12). More than anything we want to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, to act, lead, and live in ways that bring honor to His Name.
Let me share with you a few of my thoughts that inform my thinking. As I have contemplated the violent battle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, my heart has grieved – two expressions of Islam who share many beliefs, yet disagree over whom Muhammed chose to lead Islam. Their historical disagreement has led each group to demonize the other, which in turn has led to hatred, death, and destruction for centuries. We see in full view the fallout on the nightly news. While I am frustrated by some of the disagreements within the Presbyterian Church and the larger Body of Christ, I wonder, “what is the best witness for Christ as we go forward?” Should I be angry at those with whom I disagree? Should I demonize them as less Christian than I? Should I break fellowship with them? Does our community need to see another church split? Should I leave the church over this?
I already know what the world’s answer to these questions is: YES! It’s why we see a painfully and destructively high divorce rate in marriage. It is why so much brokenness exists in family relationships. It’s why people have hated and killed one another since the fall of mankind.
What is my best witness for Christ? I’m not sure about everything, but I am certain of this: Jesus said in John 13:15, “the world will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.”
Once again, Jesus calls me to a holy standard, a way of life that is challenging, impossible without His Spirit, yet a vision that is good for me and for all of us.
In Christ’s Service,