Living Together in a Changing World

Today, I was blessed to receive not one, but two questions – both concerning how we might engage people of faith who are strongly opposed to last week’s Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage.  Let me share with you the questions that were sent in, and then I will respond.

The first question came from Yvette.  She wrote: “Here is my question to you Craig?? How can some people stay so strong in the face of diversity?  Within the ruling by SCOUTUS on same sex marriage, I have seen my children and myself damned to Hell — and Jesus’ name being involved . First off, that is just not my take on Jesus.  Second, when dealing with other religious views, how do you stay strong enough to still have faith in humanity? I know my children are on the right path, but sometimes I feel they are attacked for their views.”

Beverly added a follow up question:  “Yes, I would also like to know if you have any tips for engaging in loving dialogue with people who disagree strongly on this issue. I know people who believe being asked to acknowledge the legal validity of a same-sex marriage is being “forced to sin against God,” and I would like to discuss with them to see if there’s any kind of “render unto Caesar”–style compromise that would allow them maximum freedom to live out their beliefs without trampling anyone else’s. But it seems hard to start the conversation without assumptions that I mean them ill or want to mock them.”

What I’ve learned about people over the years is that a significant chunk of them hate change – regardless of what that change is.  With that in mind, I try to begin conversations by affirming those things that have NOT changed.

This can be a tricky matter when it comes to the matter of same-sex issue, because some people think absolutely everything (especially the country’s moral compass) has changed overnight.

So what things have not changed in light of the Supreme Courts’ decision?

Here are a few things.

Every clergy person in the United States of America still has complete control in deciding which wedding services at which they will officiate and at which ceremonies they will not officiate.  Clergy persons, for instance, can decide for themselves whether or not they want to officiate at weddings for those who have been divorced.  Clergy persons can decide whether or not they want to officiate at interfaith services.  Clergy persons can decide for themselves whether or not they want to officiate at weddings for LBGT persons.  Clergy persons can decide for themselves whether or not they want to officiate at weddings for couples who have lived together prior to marriage.  Nothing has changed in this regard.

Over the past several years I have learned that many lay people do not understand this fact.  Sadly, many of the opponents of same-sex marriage realize this – and exploit people’s ignorance of this by insisting that clergy will be forced to officiate at weddings of LGBT persons.  No matter how many times they repeat this in an attempt to scare the general public; their claims are simply not true.

Another thing that has not changed is the government’s charge to see that all citizens of the United States should have equal rights.  This point is a little harder to make with some – because the government’s definition of who count as people has evolved over the years.  There was a time, for instance, when African-Americans were counted as merely 3/5 of a person.  There was a time when women weren’t considered equal enough to be trusted with the right to vote.  And until recently, LGBT persons were not treated as equals in terms of things like employment rights, housing rights, and marriage rights.  This is beginning to change.  I say beginning, because there are still places in this country where it is still legal to deny LGBT persons employment and rights.

With this said, I would say what has not changed is the government’s duty to protect the rights of each and every citizen.

Another thing that has not changed is the belief that the interests of society are best served when individuals enter into marriages/unions.  Society is best served by this situation because when an individual enters into a union, she or he is likely to be looked out for by a loved one – and not some government program.  This is true of opposite-gender marriages.  This is true of same-gender marriages.

These are just a few things that I would point out have not changed.  Let me now transition into the religious area and speak to concerns there as well.

One thing that has gotten lost in the same-gender marriage conversation is the fact that different religious traditions have different practices when it comes to acknowledging marriages.  The Roman Catholic Church, for instances, has long taken a very strict position on divorce and remarriage.  Their position is so strong that they deny the sacrament of Communion to those Catholics who have gotten divorced and remarried if the remarried individuals have not had their first marriage annulled by the church.

Because that is the belief of the largest Christian community in the United States, does this mean the United States government should be compelled to follow the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and deny marriage licenses to divorced persons?

Most fair minded people would say, “No!” – and in fact, that has been the position of the United States government.  The United States government and the Roman Catholic Church have found a happy way to coexist: the United States government allows the Roman Catholic Church to withhold Communion from divorced persons as an expression of their First Amendment rights; and the Roman Catholic Church allows the United States government to issue marriage licenses to divorced persons.

(I would note the treatment of divorce is a particular important example to use in this conversation because the Bible attributes words to Jesus concerning the matter of divorce, while there is NO record of Jesus himself EVER speaking to the issue of homosexuality.)

While I could go on all day with issues raised by your questions, let me close with one final observation as it relates to some Christians response to same-gender marriage.  Many of the folks who are so quick to invoke the name of Jesus to condemn the recognition of same-gender marriage and claim the recognition of same-gender marriage represents an assault on Christianity fail to realize one simple fact:  not all Christians are opposed to the legal recognition of same-gender marriage.  The Christian denomination in which I serve – The United Church of Christ – was the first Christian denomination to call for the legal recognition of same-gender marriages TEN YEARS AGO!  Since then, other Christian denominations (and hundreds of thousands of faithful Christians) have passionately spoken in support of the legal recognition of same-gender unions as a matter of faith.

Sadly, what happened in this conversation is that the federal government essentially picked sides in the debate.   For decades the Federal government essentially said, “We agree with those Christian who are opposed to same-gender marriage and put the weight of the government behind this one segment of the Christian community.  We disagree with those Christians who favor same-gender marriage and will create laws that do not support their faith position.”

The Federal government got away with denying a portion of the Christian community their First Amendment rights for decades!

Those are my initial thoughts about the matter of marriage.  There is one last thing I should speak to based upon things that are being talked about in light of the decision: specifically concerns that the Court’s decision will be a threat to the rights of all Christians.

Some individuals who provide services to the general public – who ascribe to a particular theology – want the right to deny services to LGBT persons because of their religious beliefs.  In the past, for instance, a baker was sued who refused to make a wedding cake for a same gender couple, and a photographer was sued who refused to take pictures for a same-gender wedding.  They said their particular Christian beliefs opposing same-gender marriage should exempt them from having to provide service to LGBT persons.

Should a person providing services to the general public be allowed to discriminate against a group because of their religious beliefs?

Here’s where things will get complicated.

If states and the Federal government enact statues that say it is okay to deny other people service because of your religious beliefs, we should stop and think about the repurcussions of such a law.  The Muslim owner of a restaurant would be able to legally refuse to serve a Christian.  An Orthodox Jewish bed and breakfast owner could refuse to provide housing for an interfaith couple.  An Evangelical Christian who owns a clothing store owner could refuse to sell clothing to a divorced individual because the owner doesn’t believe in divorce.

It’s ironic that some people are increasingly trying to use their faith as a reason to refuse other people service.  I am naïve enough to believe that our faith should instead call us to serve all people.

So what do you think about these matters?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 55-year-old who currently lives in Los Angeles, CA but will soon be moving to New Jersey. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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5 Responses to Living Together in a Changing World

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    Thank you, Craig. These are valuable thoughts and I hope to be able to apply them in discussions with those whose opinions differ.

  2. Olivia Brancusso says:

    Yes, thank you, Craig–that was beautifully and clearly put.

    I think my response, when this subject comes up, is very simply going to be: “I am sure about one thing: There is a shortage of love in the world, and this shortage is causing big problems. So for heaven’s sake, let love happen when it wants to. And don’t be so stingy about giving your own love. The world will be a better place.

    • Stevie says:

      Great explanation, Craig. I was with my cousin this weekend, and he reminded me that, after the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was signed, one of our elders said, “What are we going to do when the blacks take over the country?” Sounds pretty silly now.

      My guess is that before long we won’t have to worry about a retort. The fear that follows change will die down.

      I couldn’t think of anything better than Olivia’s reply. Love will take over like it always has. I have to say, though, that I haven’t heard or seen anything negative. (I mean in real life, not in the media😊).

  3. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    Just want to report back that I was able to use some of these thoughts in friendly discussions and am pretty sure I even changed a mind or two. The idea that broadly allowing people to refuse services for religious reasons might lead to dangerous consequences (I used the example of a towing company leaving someone stranded in the middle of nowhere because they have a bumper sticker supporting a different belief) seems to make people realize how unfair that is, and how likely to lead to greater conflict between people of different faiths.

    There may always be people who believe God calls them to shun and revile “sinners,” but I think even that sometimes helps our cause a little. The uglier their words are, the less people who see God as all-loving and compassionate want to be like them.

    • capete67 says:

      Beverly, thanks for updating us. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED your tow truck example. It is such a powerful educational tool. I will definitely borrow that in the future!

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