Two events from the past couple days have created quite a stir in cyberspace. The first came from the vote by the people of North Carolina to establish a constitutional amendment which effectively seeks to ban same-sex marriage. The second event is President Barack Obama's statement of support for same-sex marriage.
Not so long ago I would have rejoiced at the first and roundly denounced the second. When my own state – Arizona – put a similar measure before the voters in 2008 I voted in favor of the restriction (at least to the best of my memory. As I wrote earlier this year, I would now vote differently. I would reaffirm what I wrote in February and refer the reader again not only to my post but to the links I reference from Elizabeth Esther.
Yesterday Rachel Evans posted on this topic and received a huge response ranging across the spectrum. As always with Evans, she argues her point tactfully and clearly, without seeking to bash those who disagree with her. I found Evans' quotation of one college senior particularly to the point:
“When evangelicals turn their anti-gay sentiments into a political campaign, all it does is confirm to my gay friends that they will never be welcome in the church.”
As Evans says regarding the support of her former home church for a similar measure in Tennessee, the signs the church put on the front lawn agitating to ban same-sex marriage communicated a clear and simple message to the community: “EVERYONE BUT GAYS WELCOME.”
As I wrote in February, I don't think it is the place of the secular state to define who should be allowed to marry whom and enjoy the legal benefits of doing so. I find it quite interesting that the same conservatives who so adamantly advocate for government to get out of areas where it has a very legitimate interest in restraining human greed, abuse of power and self-interest such as in business, advocate equally strongly (if not more so) for the intrusion of government into this most personal of relationships.
More importantly, as Rachel Evans strongly emphasizes, by pushing for laws that ban same-sex marriage, are conservative evangelical Christians erecting barriers that keep people from Jesus, rather than opening the doors to them? Are they, in their efforts to defend what they view as a vital truth, keeping people from encountering the love of their Creator God? I understand, I think, why conservatives take the position they do. As Evans writes in her book, “for fundamentalists, Christianity sits perpetually on the precipice of doom, one scientific discovery or cultural shift or difficult theological question away from extinction.” To concede this battle, in the conservative mind, is to take one more step on a slippery slope that will result in the complete collapse of our civilization and the Christian faith. But is our faith or our civilization as tenuous as that?
It seems to me at this point in my life that Christian faith is far more about moving forward, progressing toward a greater realization of the Kingdom of God, not about trying to defend against the encroachment of anything that seems to threaten our perception of the way things should be (which more often than not corresponds to a particular cultural image of what is ideal rather than to the radically transformative Kingdom of God.) Christian faith is not primarily about holding on to some golden age in the past but about extending the wildly inclusive, radical grace and love of God to all creation. For this reason I find myself increasingly less conservative in my thinking. The best does not lie behind us – it lies ahead of us. We have not yet attained to the ideal society. We may not attain it in this world, but certainly the ideal doesn't lie behind us and our goal is not simply to restore or cling to some golden era that has already passed.
So today I respond to these two recent events quite differently than I would have not so long ago. I grieve over the vote in North Carolina. And I embrace the statement of President Obama. I know that by acknowledging this I will receive untold amounts of negative feedback from people I hold dear. But I believe our God has room in his house for a lot bigger group than the conservative evangelical agenda allows.