Jul 2, 2015

Sea Change

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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When I was a kid, I got into an argument with some of the grown-ups at my church. (Yes, I have always been as I am today.) I had been at a youth service where we had sung fun, kid-friendly songs instead of hymns. One of the songs was "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love." These are the lyrics.

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord

And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side

And we'll guard each man's dignity and save each man's pride
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah, they'll know we are Christians by our love, our love
By our love, our love, by our love, our love, by our love, our love
By our love, by our love, by our love, our love
by our love

I was bothered by it. It seemed paradoxical to me, even offensive. It's all about unity, but at the same time, divisive. The obvious implication, it seemed to me, was that non-Christians were not loving. How insulting. Don't Buddhists love, I asked. Hindus? Jews? Are Christians really the only loving people in the world?!

One of the women who'd organized the service patiently explained to me that it was just that love was central in Christianity, not that no one else was loving. Love was Christ's message. Fair enough. After all, it was in the Book of Common Prayer, read on every communion Sunday.

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

So, I accepted that answer, but it did not go down easily. It still seemed a little grandiose to me and I wasn't so sure Christians were all that loving, anyway. If love is the litmus test, how many Christians are really genuine?

The Supreme Court delivered a decision last week that seems to come down solidly on the side of love. Gay couples can now marry in all fifty states. It was, among other things, a rather remarkable bookend to a fight that began at the Stonewall Inn in late June of 1969. A mere 46 years later, gay people are full citizens.

The fulminations of the Christian Right are deafening, headline-stealing, and decidedly unloving. But much more quietly and with decidedly less notice, another story is unfolding throughout Christendom. It's a story I've been reporting on for some time. To their credit, a number of Christian denominations and many more Christian individuals, have been choosing love and tolerance over judgment and condemnation.

 photo EpiscopalChurchRainbow_zpsdsqsbbyh.pngI read last night that the Episcopal Church has officially approved same-sex weddings. This did not come as a great shock. The Church has been moving in that direction for some time, but as it is the religion I grew up in, I find it gratifying.

The vote came in Salt Lake City at the Episcopal General Convention, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide. It passed in the House of Deputies, the voting body of clergy and lay participants at the meeting. The House of Bishops had approved the resolution Tuesday by 129-26 with five abstaining.

The Rev. Brian Baker of Sacramento said the church rule change was the result of a nearly four-decade long conversation that has been difficult and painful for many. Baker, chair of the committee that crafted the changes, said church members have not always been kind to one another but that the dynamic has changed in recent decades.

"We have learned to not only care for, but care about one other," Baker said. "That mutual care was present in the conversations we had. Some people disagreed, some people disagreed deeply, but we prayed and we listened and we came up with compromises that we believe make room and leave no one behind."

Not long ago, the Presbyterian Church also ratified same-sex marriage.

More surprising is the rising tide among evangelicals. I have been following this trend for some years and have been quite moved by the courage of trailblazers like Tammy Faye Messner and her son Jay Bakker. It's a movement that is only gathering steam. A growing list of signatories to this evangelical response gives some indication of the growing trend toward tolerance.

As Evangelical pastors and leaders, we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of good news for all people. Following in the way of Jesus, we are compelled to be a voice for the voiceless and to fight for the dignity and equality of all people, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender identity. Today, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in favor of civil marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans. We join with millions of people around the country in celebration of this major step towards justice and equality for LGBTQ people in the United States. While we believe that the Supreme Court’s decision is a major step in the right direction, we are also reminded that this victory is only one step towards true equality for LGBTQ individuals and highlights our need, as people of faith, to continue to work for justice. In many places across our country, discrimination against LGBTQ people continues to be protected by law.

So, when Ted Cruz opines that the SCOTUS ruling disenfranchises protestants and evangelicals in "flyover country," he is disregarding two protestant sects that have ratified same-sex marriage and a growing number of gay positive evangelicals.

I don't think Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Scarborough, or any of the other conservatives who have positioned themselves against gay marriage mean to misrepresent Christians or the majority of Americans. On the contrary. I think they really believe they are defending Christian doctrine and a predominating value system. But, they've been living inside an echo chamber for so long that they've completely lost touch with the culture at large. We reached a tipping point on this issue some time ago.

Even in the notoriously hidebound Catholic Church, change is brewing. Pope Francis, has been more flexible than his predecessors, even signalling some tolerance for civil unions, but he still staunchly opposes gay marriage. Throughout the western world, Catholic people disagree. Here in the US, vast majorities of Catholics support gay rights. In one Catholic majority country after another, including the pope's native Argentina, same-sex marriage is being ratified. In Ireland, a referendum landslide was accompanied by a stunning rainbow over Dublin.

I know that there are many Christian conservatives who think that this cultural shift is a violation of something fundamental in Christianity. But, the anti-gay sentiment within the church has always been more cultural than religious. As I've said repeatedly, the biblical argument against homosexuality is unusually weak. And, using the Bible as a model for one man, one woman marriage is risible. Barely a handful of scriptures can be used to justify bigotry against gays and they're all very debatable. Wouldn't it be simpler, and more Christian, to choose love?

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