I was raised in a household that was openly affirming of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks long before that was commonplace in American society. In the early 1990s, I joined my parents in gay rights rallies and parades in Wichita, Kansas. I grew up with GLBT folks in my community, and my parents encouraged me to watch movies and read books about the devastation that was being caused by a deadly combination of a virulent AIDS virus, and an equally virulent homophobia that permeated much of our culture. I was raised to be an ally.
Marriage equality has always been a no-brainer for me. As a child, I got to see my father and another important leader in my church have their ministerial credentials revoked by the Quaker Church because of their openly expressed conviction that gay relationships were not inherently sinful. The fact that they came to this conclusion out of a process of prayer and serious engagement with what the Bible says (and does not say) about homosexuality did not seem to matter. They were run out of my childhood church like heretics.
So why do I feel so conflicted about the current debate happening at (and outside of) the Supreme court?
We have clearly reached a tipping point in our country. There is little doubt that, sooner or later, gay marriage will be the law of the land. Just as surely as “states’ rights” ultimately could not trump the civil rights of black citizens in the 50’s and 60’s, the vigorous objections of a religious minority cannot long hold back the recognition by most Americans that gay folk deserve the same fair treatment that heterosexuals are entitled to. I should be overjoyed – and many ways I am! – so why do I feel so uneasy?
I feel all churned up inside, and I feel pain when I see pictures, read articles or hear stories about the debates happening in and around the US Supreme Court this week. The court may soon make a ruling that could have a profound impact on the rights of LGBT folks in this country, ensuring that all spouses enjoy the same protections under the law. And that would be wonderful! So, why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
I think the reason I feel so disturbed is because I can see myself in both sides of this argument. I am overjoyed that my gay brothers and sisters may soon be afforded full protection under the law, freedom to live their lives in peace and build healthy families. I think of my friends who have suffered from the lack of societal recognition and legal protection that my wife and I enjoy. I want them to be embraced and respected by civil society.
At the same time, I recoil from the rights language that so many advocates of gay equality have chosen to embrace. Though some of us have certainly chosen to make a moral argument for gay liberation, the overall conversation – especially from the liberation side – has mostly been cast in terms of legalities and appeals to human reason. The wisdom of this world.
While I profoundly disagree with the conclusions, reasoning and underlying assumptions of those who oppose marriage equality, I cannot help but feel that they, too, bring an important perspective that is being lost. I hear the voices that are crying out today – “But what about righteousness?” – and I know in my heart that this is the right question.
I believe that God creates people with gay orientation for a reason. I am convicted that God loves and blesses gay people and gay marriages. But if the best we can do as the Church is to back up some secular agenda (whether pro- or anti-gay equality), speaking in rights language and arguing legalities, we fall short of the Kingdom of God. I wonder what our country would look like if all of us – regardless of our beliefs surrounding gay marriage – would seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness.
What if we as a nation humbled ourselves to seek God’s way? I am convinced that we would find ourselves drawn into a society where steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. If we opened ourselves to seeking the love and truth of Jesus, I feel certain that not only would we affirm marriage equality, we would also affirm the basic moral impulses that currently lead some to conclude that homosexuality is wrong. Can we imagine a society in which we would have the courage to lay down our need to be right in order to seek God’s righteousness?
All of this is not to say that there is not a struggle ahead. In any movement for justice there will be struggle, and we have an obligation to participate. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must lend our prophetic voice to the call for gay liberation. But can we do this from a posture of firm, unyielding love and a humble seeking after God’s will for our society? What would that look like? If anything, I suspect it would look a lot more creative than the public debate we are witnessing now.