Over the weekend, my wife and I attended two joyful receptions to celebrate the marriage of the daughter of good friends to her same-sex partner.
Events like this will become more and more common until, finally, same-sex marriage will mostly disappear as a hot-button culture wars issue, except perhaps among people who would consider themselves biblical literalists or fundamentalists.
But, if I can turn to my own denomination for a bit, the truth is that we Presbyterians have been beating each other about the head and shoulders for years over questions related to human sexuality.
It’s time to stop — and not just because the U.S. Supreme Court has declared same-sex marriage to be legal in all 50 states, pleasing those of us who have long favored that result.
Rather, it’s time for some humility from all sides as the broader American community figures out how to live in harmony in a country in which opinions about homosexuality have changed remarkably in the last 20 years. We need to give each other space. And we need to understand what’s really changed and what hasn’t.
In 1993, the year before President Bill Clinton announced a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy for gays in the military, I wrote a lengthy commentary for The Kansas City Star outlining why I thought our historic religious and social hostility to the LGBTQ community was wrong. I received more response to that than anything I’d written in the previous 23 years for the paper — some angry and threatening, some relieved and complimentary.
From that vantage point, I could not have imagined that by 2015, my denomination would have allowed ordination of otherwise qualified gays and lesbians and allowed our pastors to perform same-sex weddings where it’s legal. Nor could I have imagined the Supreme Court decision rendered this past June.
But that is our reality now. In response, those of us who favored such changes would do well to show some modesty and love toward those who continue to be against them. For the most part, such people are not bigots or religious fanatics. Rather, they still believe what the church universal taught for centuries. (I have an essay on this blog explaining why I think the church was wrong. It’s here.)
I have found it helpful to remind people who were against the Supreme Court’s decision that it changes nothing about Christian marriage. The church still must be the one to define that. The court had no authority to do so — and didn’t. What it did say is that homosexual couples now have equal rights under the civil law when it comes to the privileges and responsibilities of marriage. But the court couldn’t force any faith community to marry any couple it didn’t want to.
Confusion about this matter has been exacerbated by the fact that in most wedding ceremonies two marriages occur. One is a civil wedding in which the pastor acts as an agent of the state. The other is a religious ceremony in which the faith community blesses the union.
It would be useful to separate those in all cases so that everyone — gay or straight — who wants to be married would first be required to have a civil ceremony. Then, any couples wanting the blessing of a faith community could ask for that. And that community would be free to say no, even as it sometimes has said no to straight couples that the presiding pastor did not think were ready to tie the knot.
Eventually — and I think sooner rather than later — this whole issue, as I say, will mostly disappear, much as opposition to racially integrated lunch counters and hotels finally disappeared when the laws and the courts addressed the problem in a definitive way.
I am not suggesting that 10 years from now we will find most PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) or EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) congregations offering same-sex marriages to members. That would surprise me. But who knows?
What I do know is that if those of us who advocated marriage equality and who were perhaps a bit overly joyful at the Supreme Court ruling this summer adopt an ungracious winner’s attitude, the resistance to change will strengthen.
Instead, let’s have a bit of cordial silence so that wounds may heal. Well, silence except for those of us who, in the proper venue, did and continue to cheer for Caitlin and Lydia.
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MEASURING THE 'FRANCIS EFFECT'
One question people have asked now that Pope Francis is visiting the U.S. is whether there really is a "Francis effect" among American Catholics. Religion observer and scholar Mark Silk says the answer is yes, for several reasons. I'll explore that question a bit in a piece that will run this Saturday in the Faith section of The Kansas City Star. In the meantime, you can look into the matter by reading the new book I've written with my pastor, Paul Rock: Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church.