The Law of the Land has caught up with the Law of the Lord
With its historic ruling on Marriage Equality Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court finally caught up to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
That’s right. I said it.
While many in the church are wringing their hands in a panic, believing the sky is falling and the country has tumbled down the proverbial slippery slope on its way to moral doom, I’m not one of them.
I am an evangelical Christian pastor (and proud of it) and I believe that the freedom bell of love and justice just pealed a little louder and the arc of history is bent a little closer to justice.
When it comes to the realization of marriage equality in the United States, the church too often has been woefully behind and on the wrong side of history. It’s hard not to believe that when evangelicals, such as Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, shout defiantly:
And as the line between church and state strains gossamer thin as the presidential election season swings into high gear, religio-political reactions from would-be heads of state have come fast and furious. Take, for instance, Rick Santorum, who echoed Moore when he tweeted:
Mike Huckabee believes SCOTUS has committed an egregious sin by redefining marriage, writing in USA Today:
“No man — and certainly no un-elected judge — has the right to redefine the laws of nature or of nature’s God. Government is not God. The purpose of marriage is to socially and biologically unite a man and a woman to create the next generation and to train the next generation to become their replacements. Marriage is a sacred covenant, not just another social contract.”
Now, I think that Dr. Moore is providing some bona fide real leadership on racial reconciliation in this country. And Sen. Santorum and Gov. Huckabee are leaders in the fight against extreme poverty. But they’re dead wrong about the Bible and about their commitment to Marriage Exclusion.
My conviction is that we have nothing to fear except for not catching up to the winds of change — wind: what the Greeks called pneuma or breath — which many of us believe are led by the Holy Spirit itself.
Too often religious conservatives will claim that Marriage Equality not only redefines holy matrimony but is against biblical marriage. But the Bible has curiously malleable, sometimes contradictory, dramatically heterodox definitions of marriage.
There is the traditional understanding of marriage between one man and one wife, as gleaned from Genesis 2:24: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (NIV)
This traditional view of marriage is rooted in the story of Adam and Eve, with an invitation to all their spiritual descendants, to cling together and become one flesh.
But upon closer examination of the Scriptures, the very notion of “Biblical marriage,” becomes a thorny mess.
There’s the definition of Biblical marriage in which a man must marry his deceased brother’s wife. This idea of “Levirate marriage” is a strong tradition in ancient tribal family structures and makes it mark in early Jewish and even Muslim contexts. The mandate to marry one’s dead brother’s wife is all about promoting the family line, love be damned, and is found in Deuteronomy 25:5–6: If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. (NIV)
Then there’s the Biblical marriage definition that mandates a raped woman to be wed to her rapist but only after the rapist pays the raped woman’s father 50 coins: If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28–29, NIV)
Then there’s the complicated story where Moses and the Israelites conquer the Midianites and divide the spoils, including property, livestock and women, marrying conquered Midianite women off to the victorious soldiers. Sound like Game of Thrones? It’s in the Bible (see Numbers 31).
The Bible also defines marriage and family rules when it comes to slave ownership: the married slaves may eventually go free, but the children of that union must stay enslaved. And if you are now holding your head in your hands and wondering does the Bible really say this, then I invite you, dear reader, to read the complicated, inspiring and sometimes contradictory story of the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible.
The Bible allows for polygamy, too. Many heroes of the faith like Moses, Solomon, Jacob and David all had more than one wife. Unless they just had one wife and one concubine like Abraham.
Redefine marriage? People of faith have been wrestling with this for years in our holy books and in our Spirit-led convictions.
A dozen years ago, I was a seminarian at North Park University, part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, on Chicago’s North Side. The University had just fired an out-lesbian professor for being in a committed, long-term relationship.
Her alleged sin? Being born gay.
That’s when I began to rethink my own long-held, traditional views on same-sex marriage and orientation.
Why would we single out a faithful, monogamous woman and not single out others for perhaps more deadly sins such as greed, avarice, or gluttony?
Why were we so hung up on LGBTQ matters while children were dying for lack of basic health care in Africa and we were sending young American women and men into wars in the Middle East for dubious reasons?
As I explored Scripture, had many late-night and early-morning conversations with friends and neighbors (many of whom also happened to be gay), and leaned into prayer, I heard Holy Spirit’s call loud and clear: I am doing a new thing in your midst. Come. Taste and see.
These, of course, are the words of the Psalmist, who writes:
“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”
I switched my position on LGBTQ matters, not knowing what it would mean for me, my future ministry, or any prospects for a career in the church. As I quietly, but intentionally, voiced my convictions to my denominational leaders, they assured me I was not alone, and that one day the church, and our larger society, would come around.
Fast forward to 2015, when that dream for inclusion came crashing to a halt in February when the Evangelical Covenant Church — my faith family for nearly 20 years — severed ties with me and our new church plant in Portland, Ore. They cut us off from our support system, our broader community, and two years of promised funding and coaching. They kicked us out because of some inclusive language on our congregation’s website and because of my personal convictions on LGBTQ matters that they said were not “compatible” with the denomination.
It was utterly heartbreaking.
It was I, this time, who found myself singled out, not because I was gay, but because (like so many other evangelicals) I believed it was time to fully welcome and include our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in the life of the church. I even was willing to compromise as our denomination discerned what it might look like for us to navigate the emerging frontiers of marriage in this country as a larger faith community.
Because we are in dire straights as a country and society when it comes to marriage.
A 2014 Baylor University study found that nearly 17 percent of white conservative Protestants (read: evangelicals) are divorced, which is 3 percent higher than the average American.
As a pastor, I always am looking to ensure that no one goes through life alone, but that we journey through life’s joys and tragedies, challenges and triumphs, together with God. We need each other to figure out how to live life to the fullest.
In fact, I often wonder if the LGBTQ community might help us reimagine and recover marriage in this country.
I was having coffee with a friend recently when he shared with me his hopes for his own future marriage. Divorced, with three beautiful kids in tow, my friend was living life freely and out of the closet. He is one of the most spiritual, committed men I know. A great father, who happens to be gay, and in love with another man.
My friend remarked that he has paid a great price for his orientation, losing friends, family, and his church.
“So many people think I live some sort of over-sexualized, debauched life,” he confided in me. “I live a really simple life and I just feel that God wants me to have a life-long committed husband to journey through the rest of life together. This isn’t about being gay. This is about being a faithful Christian.”
I need friends like him to help me be a better husband to my wife, to walk with me as we strengthen each other’s relationships, which, in the end, will strengthen our communities, neighborhoods, and country.
Today is one of those days where the light shines a little brighter and the winds of change feel like a cool breeze on a sweltering summer day. While many religious leaders, politicians, and institutions collectively echo Chicken Little, so many more of us — the ostracized and vilified, marginalized and abandoned because of our prayerful hope that love does, actually, win — are breathing deeper and lifting a toast to God.
SCOTUS has ruled in favor of Marriage Equality, yes. And for me, it’s just another confirmation of this wild, beautiful loving God who calls us forward into new terrains, day by day, and with each passing moment. All of us. Every single one of us. Equally.
As Justice Kennedy wrote in his opinion accompanying today’s decision:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
Sounds strangely like the words of Jesus, who taught us that “love is the higher law.”