Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I'm Out

This is a coming out of sorts, though much less personal, challenging, and life changing as the one millions of gay Americans have faced. Yet it is similar in some ways- burdened by fears of being ostracized, questioning whether it is just easier to stay silent and live a lie. But I have realized two things over the last few years - the value of scrutinizing accepted norms and authority (whether they be cultural, relational, governmental or spiritual), and being quiet in the face of injustice; while it may bring you short term peace, also brings feelings of being stifled and living an inauthentic and shallow life. I have an opportunity, however small, to provoke thoughtful discussion and introspection within my circle of Christian acquaintances, and I feel obligated to do so.

For many Christians across America, the issue of marriage equality is cut and dry:
The bible says that homosexuality is sin, so enabling gay Americans to marry is wrong. It is condoning or legitimizing sin. I think it really is that simple for most.Yet there are many reasons that I feel this belief is deeply flawed, and I want to challenge my brothers and sisters to open their minds and reconsider this position.

I want to touch briefly on an issue that many atheists and the formerly faithful have with the bible, with us, and it's validity - especially in this argument. That is the willful disregard for parts of the bible that are difficult to comprehend or execute, while embracing the parts that feel right or good. As an example - the Old Testament tells us that tattooing is prohibited, that haircuts are prohibited, that a menstruating woman should live outside the city limits in a tent during her monthly so as not to contaminate anyone, that you may not lift a finger on the seventh day of the week, that you shouldn't drool over your neighbor's new car, and that eating meat from an animal with a split hoof is deplorable (sorry Christians, no more bacon!) And of course most of those, and scads of other requirements, suggestions, and laws are disregarded today because, Christians say, they were rules for a different people group in a different time. (Yet they will still embrace Leviticus 18:22, and 20:13 whole heartedly). So then perhaps the New Testament is all that should be followed - in that case women should never wear jewelry, cannot sit in church service with the men, should not be in a clergy or leadership position, and if I sin by looking at porn - I should cut my eyes out. These are just a few examples of how inerrant scripture is selectively read by believers. Each Christian is guilty of manipulating the text to support their own desires and whims at times. And how we choose to interpret, believe and apply is very often decided by religious leaders, spiritual movements and culture. At one time, Christians around the world whole heartedly supported slavery and segregation - and used the bible to justify it. I argue that we are living in similar times now, and that those who crowd the steps of courthouses around the nation, holding signs that share messages of condemnation for the estimated 1 in 5 Americans who are gay, will live to regret it. I predict that all of you who are "defending marriage" on religious grounds are going to be on the wrong side of history. And hopefully will look back in 30 years with disdain at your bigotry and realize that people can no more choose to be gay than they can choose to be black.  What I am suggesting is that you not simply accept every word that falls from the lips of your pastor, or the radio evangelist or your favorite author. But to read your sacred text with an open mind, and curiosity. It is not a sin to question. God made your beautiful intelligent mind - use it to think for yourself.

But my aim isn't to convince you that homosexuality isn't sin, because that actually has little to do with why DOMA should be repealed. While there are so many arguments and angles to this debate that I cannot address them here, I want to address human rights, individual freedom and ethics. Because, whether you are religious or not, that really has to be the focus of the conversation. So I will lay out a few simple reasons below, illustrating why all Christians should be fighting for human rights, not squashing them.

1) Jesus wouldn't care. Jesus lived during the reign of one of the most corrupt governments in history. Yet every time his disciples, religious teachers and rowdy crowds tried to incite in him to some sort of action against the government, he never took the bait. (such as in Mark 12: 13-17) He encouraged social justice - calling on all of us to love our neighbors, to care for the less fortunate, to honor God and to reject sin in our own lives. But, he also knew that the governments we'd be living under would not mirror our beliefs and he never once encouraged his followers to get involved in politics, and illustrated that we are not to act as citizens of this world, but of the next. (see John 17:14, John 18:36)

2) This isn't your church:

You know what Christians? You are not the only people who live here. And you don't get to play moral police with the millions of Americans who don't subscribe to your belief system. Is that the country you want? Sure - as long as it serves your interest, right? But what if churches and religious schools were outlawed? What if the government took over the airwaves and removed Christian radio and television? We have an obligation as citizens to fight for freedom - to keep it alive and healthy. The idea of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution is that all Americans regardless of race, age, gender or religion should have access to the same rights. Not conditional rights - if you choose to look and breathe and live like such and so, but inherent inalienable rights. When you limit the rights of others, you are setting precedents that will someday lead to the removal of your own.

3) Laws are in place to protect us from one another. The laws of this land should stop just short of infringing upon the freedom to choose for myself. I have the right to get drunk as a skunk every night if I want to. I do not have the right to drive a vehicle afterward, because then I infringe on my neighbor's right to life and safety. I don't want the government to protect me from myself, and in all honesty - you probably don't either. We should all be able to live the lives we feel are best so long as they don't harm anyone else. Many religious people argue that gay marriage harms society, but I have yet to see any valid argument or study about why that is a reasonable presumption.

4) What do you care? Really? What skin is it off your nose that the lesbian couple next door gets a piece of paper and tax benefits that you have and enjoy, versus simply co-habitating forever? Do you think that by keeping DOMA in place, and by voting down states rights to same sex marriage, that you are going to eradicate homosexuality? And why would you try? As I recall - Jesus said something about removing the deck board from your own eye before you try and take the splinter out of your neighbor's. How's this - you worry about your everlasting soul, and let others work out their own salvation. Your responsbilitity as a believer is limited to loving God, loving others, and telling people about the love of a God who sent his only son to rescue you. That's it. You do not have to judge, parent, or play moral authority with every person you meet. That is nowhere in your job description. And really, all you do by standing against people in judgement, is turn them off from a God who desperately loves them and wants to be in relationship with them, and leave your own fool self open for judgement.

I am not asking you to change your mind about what is sin and what isn't sin. I am simply asking that you take your feelings out of your political beliefs and consider this very concise statement from blogger, the Church-State Guy that sums everything I've said up very nicely:

"Probably the simplest, lowest-common-denominator explanation for evangelical support for same-sex marriage:
"You can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal." -- Pastor Tim Keller

Separation of civil rights from doctrinal teaching. That's how people of faith need to understand the 1st Amendment. It's NOT the right to fight for your government to be "religious", it's fighting for your government to stay secular in order to enable ALL OF US to be religious."

There - I'm out. I am a recovering Fundamentalist Christian who believes that homosexuality is innate and not choice, who believes that my opinion on the moral implication of practicing homosexuality is completely irrelevant, and that gays should have the same right to the joy and misery of marriage as the rest of us.


Patti LaRosa said...

Brava!A tour de force of rational, ethical thinking that needs to echo from pulpit and Supreme Court bench alike.
Rev. Patti LaRosa

Kelly Covert said...

Wow, just wow! As a Christian this is a topic that I have struggled with, mostly because I think I am scared to say what I really think because other Christians will judge me for that. This is so brave and SO TRUE! What a wonderfully written post that challenges all of us to use our minds AND our hearts. Thanks so much, Shelley.

ATLRB said...

You have picked a singular issue that is certainly applicable and relevant. Now think about how many more areas we all need to apply similar patterns of thought. Why do we annoint ourselves as judges of right and wrong?

Thanks for speaking out. It could not have been easy for you to challenge the Christian norm.

Christians for Marriage Equality said...

<3 This is beautiful and brave. You make me proud to be a christian :)

Wendy said...

Wow is right. This is everything I have been saying recently. This is not our jo.b our job is to get their souls saved. Jesus will make their robes white not me.

sjstone21 said...

Wonderful post! As a very 'liberal' Christian I agree with everything you wrote. I wish that more Christians would show God's love instead of turning others away from God with their judgment. Too many Christians take an elitist stand instead of being humble and showing love and acceptance. You bring up some great points and i only wish that your words could be heard by those whose minds are still closed.
Great post!

Longboat said...

Great post. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Right On!

If a heterosexual couple can get married and have legal and financial benefits so should the homosexual. All else is irrelevant in the political arena and confuses people enough that they can not make a logically correct decision.