As the reverberations of Monday’s Supreme Court decision regarding same-gender marriage continue to spread across the country, I’ve made sure to spend some time listening to those who are opposed to the spread of same-gender marriage.
Why do I do that?
I do that because I think it’s important to hear what those who disagree with you really think first hand – not settle for listening to others summarize the “other groups” beliefs in ways that may (or may not) be entirely accurate.
As I listened to some of the responses from opponents of same-gender marriage, it seem clear we are in the midst of a third wave of responses from opponents to same gender marriage.
The first wave involved religious traditionalists simply asserting all same-gender behavior was inherently sinful. Because it was sinful, they argued, same-gender marriage should NOT be recognized. This first wave passed for two reasons. First, an increasing number of people felt that it was not the government’s job to decide what does – and what does NOT – qualify as sin. That job should be left to the faith communities. Second, more individuals were willing to step forward and question the seemingly foregone conclusion that same-gender behavior was in fact sinful.
This lead to stage two.
Stage two was a time where religious traditionalists said that same-gender marriage should be banned because the people (and by people, they meant the registered voters who bothered to cast their ballots in an election) did not want same-gender marriages to be legally recognized. They cited the passage of bans on same-gender unions to prove their point.
There is a HUGE problem with this second approach for religious traditionalists who try to appeal to the will of the people. As history has shown time after time, what is popular is not always what is right. In Germany during the 1930’s, for instance, it was popular to blame and then punish folks who were non-Aryan heterosexuals. Because it was popular, did that make it right? And in South Africa, decades went by when voters were comfortable endorsing apartheid. Because it was popular, did that make it right? And don’t think the electorate in the United States gets off the hook either. It took a couple hundred years for the citizens of what became the United States to believe that slavery (and in particular, the discrimination heaped upon African-Americans) was no longer acceptable. I would NOT want to be a pastor asked to stand before television cameras and say, “The status quo is good and morally accepted because more than 50% of the registered voters think it’s a good idea!”
This takes us to the third wave that is unfolding as we speak.
The third wave involves religious figures asserting that the spread of same-gender marriage is a violation of the country’s First Amendment Rights involving religious freedom. As I talk about this third wave, I should be honest at the outset. This third wave pushes every button I have.
Why does it bother me so?
This wave is based upon a nostalgic appeal to the first wave – a time when religious traditionalists were able to assert that same-gender behavior was sinful and those assertions went largely unchallenged.
And why did they go unchallenged?
Because many religious moderates and progressives were reluctant to go in front of the cameras and talk about their faith and why that faith caused them to conclude same-gender behavior was morally acceptable as a part of God’s beautifully diverse creation. Because the moderates and progressives took themselves out of the public faith-based debate, it allowed the general public to incorrectly believe that ALL Christians were opposed to same-gender unions.
Religious traditionalists are trying desperately to appeal to the notion that the legalization of same-gender marriage – by its very definition – is an affront to Christianity (or at the very least, good Christians) and should therefore be stopped. It’s going to take a while to undo the damage that was done by earlier moderates and progressives silence.
So how long will the third wave last and what lies on its other side?
I can’t say exactly. All I know is that the length of the third wave will be directly related to the willingness of religious moderates and progressives to speak out and share their faith-based perspectives on why same-gender unions should be legally recognized. They must also state that the denial of same-gender unions is nothing less than a denial of their First Amendment rights as well.
And what might the fourth wave look like in the years ahead?
Once again, I can’t say exactly. I hope that the fourth wave represents a time where religious people from across the spectrum talk directly with each other and establish a two-levels of awareness.
The first level would involve the recognition that the legal recognition of marriage is a function of the government – not the church. No one religious perspective should be used as an excuse to block the recognition of unions between committed, loving, life-long partners.
The second level would involve acknowledgement that not all religious communities understand human sexuality the same way. We need to get to a place of honesty where we can say, “Some people of faith see same gender behavior as sinful; others do not.” Each faith community has the right to choose for themselves which unions to bless and which unions not to bless – and we will continue, as sisters and brothers who are all beloved Children of God – to talk with each other and share our faith – and our faith-based convictions – in order to better understand one another and the amazing God whom we celebrate.
As we live into these turbulent days of change, I hope you will be a voice in this important conversation.
See you next time.