November 24, 2008


I think it's funny that people like to label other people. Somebody called a friend of mine "intolerant" once. Another was called "closed-minded." And all because of their attention to another labeling issue: Marriage.

Because that's what marriage is, right? At least, in the eyes of the state, marriage is a label that says you and your partner have a certain set of rights. To the state, which is supposedly separate from religion (yet at the very least subscribes to the religion of politics), marriage is just another label. In other words, it uses the same word to refer to something totally different than what religions use it for. Christianity, for example, uses "marriage" to refer to a very specific set of practices between a very specific sort of people; two people - one guy, one girl - who have committed to live their lives together in (relative) harmony for the rest of their time on earth. So it only makes sense that the Christians and the rest of the world would get upset at each other over its definition at the legal level. It's a conflict that's been brewing since some girl decided another girl was worthy of her sexual attention, since one guy decided another was worthy of prolonged embrace.

What is it, exactly, that makes a couple want to call themselves "married"? Is it the committment to one another? Is it the financial benefits given by the state? Or is it the recognition by the government (and the people who vote for them) of the couple's legitimate, "not weird" status within society? I'd wager it's the third. People want to be accepted, and in the West, people want to be accepted no matter what choices they make. We Americans like to make a choice and have everyone tell us how amazing that choice was. We don't like it when somebody tells us "no, that's wrong," no matter what the choice is! It's just part of American DNA. We don't deal well with relational conflict; we can't take it when another person or group of people condemn us for being or acting in ways we believe are right. We want to do terrible things to those people like hit them or shoot them or call them names like "closed-minded" or "ignorant."

Two things to draw from this. First, for those of you that are gay/lesbian, please read this whole thing before you react - I'm trying very hard to be sensitive to you as I write this, but it's a hard subject to write on without insulting or offending people. I'd ask why you're insistant about the label - do you really need it? I understand wanting it for the rights to visit your partner in the hospital or get counted the same as a heterosexual couple would with their taxes, but ... why does the government telling you that you're "married" change anything about your relationship with one another? Speaking from my own personal experience, I don't really care about the marriage certificate I have from NY for Liz and me; what matters to me is the choice we made, the promises we gave each other in front of God that we would never leave or forsake each other. It's a very high standard, one that a LOT of Christians (and non-Christians, about the same number) these days are breaking, but a standard that no law or rule or declaration or piece of paper from a government - or lack thereof - will change. So why do you actually care that you get "married"? That's not supposed to be a dismissive question, it's supposed to provoke thought; so often we say we are doing things for one reason and never confront our deeper motivations, the ones that really drive everything. Forcing a law allowing marriage for gays and lesbians is just as much based on a belief in the same realm as that which forces a law prohibiting said marriage.

Please forgive all those Christians who are upset at you for wanting this; they don't honestly know any better. Most of them have been taught all their life that your lifestyle is a sin or evil, and whether or not that is true, they don't know how to separate your behavior from your personality, your sexuality from you as a person. In other words, they don't know what it means to love you despite your differences from them. Nobody has ever shown them how to do that. To be fair, it's really hard to do. We should all learn how that works, honestly. But if you think about it, most Christians who condemn homosexuality like this don't actually know any homosexuals. You can remedy this by getting to know the Christians! If you don't spend time getting to know the Christians that you condemn as "intolerant," then you are as much to blame for the disparity between the two groups as the Christians are! If you do not understand their perspective (and reading their articles isn't really the way to do this, sorry), how can you communicate with them in a way they will understand? I know it will be tough, but you should get to know a few Christians, if they'll have you.

Second, for those of you who are Christians, I'd suggest that getting up in arms about homosexual marriage is probably not helpful; you're not supposed to recognize the Government as the ultimate authority anyway - God's the one who legitimates "marriage" as a spiritual union, not the good 'ol USA. You believe that homosexuality is a sin - fine. You've a right to your belief, you may even be right. But that gives you no right
to treat gays and lesbians in a manner akin to enemies of the state. They're just like us, trying to make it through life as best they can; and for the record, God asks us to start wherever the people are. There is no "prerequisite" for a person to hear the good news and repent - the change part comes after they've met Jesus, and it's something that God will have to change in their lives. In the meantime, you're speaking two completely different languages; when you say "marriage," you're not saying the same thing as they are - they hear something very different. There's a difference between "state legitimated legal union" and "spiritual covenant," and it's up to you to know the difference and know who is saying what. Let's also remember that if homosexuality is a sin, it's no more a sin than, say, gluttony or lust or coveting.

And we all do those things on a regular basis.

I remember Jesus saying something about
specks and planks ... just be careful who you condemn and why, especially when your own life is far from perfect. And as I mentioned above, if you are a Christian who condemns them but you don't actually KNOW any homosexuals (and by "know" I mean "have gotten to know a homosexual in a personal way," like friends or colleagues), you have no right to condemn them, because you cannot possibly understand their perspective. And so you should go get to know some of them, however hard it might be for you. I will say this: homosexuals tend to be more accepting of your perspective than you are of theirs. While you may not accept their perspective, you still ought to understand it in a way that loves them. If you can't do that, maybe you shouldn't be writing articles in newspapers and blogs.

That goes for all of us: the question of "why" needs to be asked.

And honestly answered.


Anonymous said...

I have many friends and acquaintances who happen to be gays and lesbians. They raise children, pay taxes, work hard; some have messy personal lives, some have stable and healthy lives. Some go to church or synegogue; some don't. The issue of marriage has partly to do with a perception and stigma of second-class citizenship much like the separate-but-equal treatment (that turned out not to be equal at all) that blacks recieved for much of the 20th century.

What exactly is the "sin" of two people who promise to love and care for each other? Christians who oppose civil rights for gays always fall back on the claim that it's "not god's plan for the family." -- And "Children need a Mommy and a Daddy." Would they force single parents to wed or outlaw divorce? Should we force infertile couples to divorce or adopt? What these Christians really mean is that marriage should be for fertile heterosexuals only.

The legislation to ban gays from adopting children is just plain cruel all the way around. There are too many straight two-parent families who are horrendously dysfunctional and too many unplaced children in foster care to start prohibiting a large group of capable people from adopting just because of their sexual orientation.

About the issue of getting to know one another: This is partly true but I also have self-proclaimed christian friends and acquaintences who work with and know very well my gay friends. I see no kumbaya enlightenment whatsoever.
A. Annie

Anonymous said...

-And one more thing. Why is it that Christians say that the entire western world will collapse in a heap if gays are given the right to marry? What is the threat to heterosexuals if gays are allowed to marry? The apoplectic rhetoric about the "destruction of the family" from James Dobson of Focus on the Family makes me wonder if his own marriage is in trouble. OK-- soapbox is relinquished now.
A. Annie

Anonymous said...

The fact that you would actually phrase it "if homosexuality is a sin" speaks volumes as to your view of Scripture. Seriously - you do not belong in a Wesleyan Church. PCUSA, maybe. ELCA, sure. But Wesleyan - not a chance.

Chris said...

Anonymous: obviously you don't know me. End of story. I'd love to talk with you through email, or if you're here in Mitchell, we can get together for coffee and I'm perfectly willing to talk through some of your concerns. However, until then, I strongly advise you stop speaking to things you don't understand.