Friday, June 28, 2013

Three Ways Conservatives can Defend Marriage

It's been an interesting couple of days in the life of our body politic, as two consecutive Supreme Court decisions have continued to bend our nation towards accepting same-sex unions.  This week's decision means the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, has been significantly gutted.

There have been and will be two significantly different responses to this trend.  First, there will be celebration and relief among those myself...feel that same-sex marriage should be afforded the same legal status as my own marriage.   These unions, like my own marriage, can also be covenanted, meaning they intentionally represent a bond of mutual love and commitment that reflect God's intent for us as human beings.  That such relationships can increasingly be open and spiritually healthy is a good thing.

Then there are those who will take this decision as a source of confusion and spiritual anguish.  They will interpret this as yet another sign of the collapse of marriage, and the gradual decay of our society.  As the attitudes towards gays and lesbians continue to shift, it will become harder and harder for them to make headway in a democratic republic, and that will create a sense of increasing estrangement and isolation.

For Westboro Baptist types, it will likely become the primary explanation for the impacts of climate change.  Of course it's 117 degrees in Las Vegas today!  The Lord hath spoken in His Mighty Wrathy Wrathfulness!  Pat Robertson, bless his soul, has rumbled about God doing something significant at some point that might indicate displeasure.

Within my own denomination, the ultraconservative gadflies haven't yet figured out how to respond.  It's so hard for Presbyterians to process being not only out of step with the culture, but out of step with constitutional precedent.  We're just so danged law abiding.

But the truth of most conservative Christians, when you get to know them personally and not their stereotypes, is that they aren't monsters.  For all the cries of bigot and homophobe on the left, most I've known are not hateful people.  They simply aren't.  Not at all.  They try to hold on to what is good, as they've been lead to understand it, and they're deeply worried about losing something that is a deeply positive thing.

For those folks, I have a few humble and well-intentioned offerings:

1) Defend Your Own Marriage.  What you'll notice, in the months and years ahead, is that the legal unions of gays and lesbians have absolutely no impact on your own.  None.  But that isn't to say that there aren't challenges arising directly from our culture.  Financial stresses and the relentless pressures of competitiveness and consumerism drive us to live and act in ways that make sustaining a marriage increasingly challenging.

Resist those pressures.  Fight them from the heart of your faith.  Take time to delight in your husband or wife.  Treat them as the flesh of your flesh, and don't allow the anxieties and bitternesses that can arise from life's frustrations to tear you apart.  By maintaining a healthy, loving mutually-honoring relationship, you'll be showing the world what a relationship grounded in faith really means.  Rather than denigrating and cursing those who you disagree with, bless them with the truth you're living out.

2) Don't Go to Ground.  The temptation to circle the wagons is going to be a powerful one following these decisions.  With a culture that is moving further and further away from the position of the right, there is going to be a strong push to seal the bulkheads and lock down in the underground shelters.  There is a biblical basis for this, I'll admit.  If John of Patmos is your primary biblical author, then the task of every Christian is to maintain purity at all costs in the face of an irredeemably corrupt and decadent culture.  Retreating into an echo chamber does that.  But it also destroys your ability to proclaim and spread the good news.  If you cannot speak the language of Athens, you can't stand on Mars Hill and share the grace of the Gospel.

Paul...whose greatest gift was the capacity to communicate and a better guide. The Gospel is a robust and powerful thing, when grounded in the reality of God's work in creation. Stay connected. Stay in conversation. Stay out there in the world. Don't hide your light under a lampstand.

Because though I disagree with you on some things, I know I have much to learn from you on others.

3) Take Gamaliel's Advice.  In the Acts of the Apostles, Gamaliel was the venerated rabbinic teacher who saved Christianity.  When the Sanhedrin was in a position to annihilate the fledgling Jesus-movement, Gamaliel had a simple, wise counsel.  He reminded the Sanhedrin that every messianic movement had flamed out or collapsed, and suggested that rather than butcher these individuals, they should let God be at work.  If Christianity was of God, it would thrive.  If it was not, it would fail.  So rather than risk going against God's will, it would be better to simply let this Way stand or fall.

Gamaliel's teaching has purchase now, because evil and sin are self-annihilating.  Every movement or worldview that is grounded in self-seeking power and sinful hunger will tear itself to pieces.  It is the nature of sin that it destroys itself.

If the proponents of same-sex marriage are wrong, then it will prove a ruin.  You won't need to do anything.  If, however, they are right and this represents a new and more spiritually healthy way for gays and lesbians to live into the Kingdom, then this way of being will thrive.

So trust in the Creator of All Things.

Because the Christian calling is not to curse and destroy.  It is to be a beacon of grace, mercy, and kindness, so self-evidently good that those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness are drawn to you.