Some thoughts on “marriage equality” and such…

[The following is a series of somewhat fragmented thoughts… I’m sure I’ll offend a few people out there, and make a few people mad, and I’m sure there’s a lot I need to learn, but honestly, I’m just trying to “wrestle through the issue” (I realize how ridiculously cliche that sounds these days, but nevertheless, that’s what I’m doing.)]

I feel conflicted.

I am for traditional marriage.  I realize that not everyone sees it as being as obvious as I see it in the Scriptures, but for me it’s as plain as day.  There is a design of the Creator (appealed to not insignificantly by Jesus in Matt 19) that serves as the “norming norm” against which all sexual expressions are measured and judged.  It is highly significant to me that for the most part, at least as far as I can tell, among Christians it is 1st world Protestants who are having a hard time with this.  Gay marriage it appears to me (I realize I’m broadbrushing here, and I’m sure there are exceptions) is a 1st world problem compounded by a theology that pays little heed to Tradition.  But I digress.

I sincerely love gay and lesbian folks, and am aware that there are many in our congregation, Bloom.  (There are many in yours too, despite how “traditional” or even “conservative” you think you are.)  I’ve tried not to make “public pronouncements” about this stuff, preferring a more relational path, since I think that the church has bigger fish to fry than getting lost in cultural crusades.  I want everyone to know that they are loved and cherished as they are, and that no one – NO ONE – is an “issue.”  They are people with names and faces and stories.  It’s for that reason that we’ve never published a “public stance” on the LGBTQ issue at Bloom.  For us it seems inherently divisive.  Whatever your public stance winds up being, you’ll attract those that agree with you.  And groupthink continues unabated.

Nevertheless, our faith is a public faith, and it has bearing on public life.  Which is why I’m conflicted about all of this business about so-called “marriage equality.”  On the one hand, it seems to me that if the government is going to be officially agnostic when it comes to the Christian meaning of marriage (lifelong monogamous fidelity between two partners of opposite sex, taking place within the creational and sacramental theology of the church), preferring instead to see marriage as a “no-fault” legal arrangement between two consenting adults, then denying that arrangement to gays and lesbians seems hopelessly irrational and unfair.  If “marriage” is simply a companionable arrangement that confers legal benefits, it is, I say, ridiculous to deny this anyone.  It is a social justice issue.

So that makes me think, why should these arrangements be called “marriages” at all?  “Marriage”, it seems to me, is a religious word.  Perhaps all of these arrangements should be called “civil unions”, whether they are gay or straight, and we just leave it at that.  If churches want to, according to their convictions, bless and sanction certain of these arrangements, bestowing upon them the honorific and theologically loaded word “marriage”, let them do so, according to the sphere of sovereignty assigned to them.  But leave the government’s hands off of sacred words, and sacred institutions.

But another voice inside my head nags at me.  Having a “public faith” and being a responsible citizen, in my understanding, means participating in public life in ways that promote the common good.  There is a growing widespread sentiment in our society that the move to “marriage equality” is part of the inevitable march of progress.  “Progress”, of course, is a talisman that nearly everyone attaches to whatever it is they want to do already, conferring it legitimacy in a nearly quasi-religious way, and usually has no empirical basis.  Who’s against progress?  But then, what actually counts as progress?  Tearing down rain forests in the name of industrialization seemed like “progress” at the time, but now we know that it has had disastrous consequences.  The mass commercialization of farming seemed like progress at the time, but the price often was local economies and quality of food–a step backwards in many cases.  Nuclear energy seemed like “progress” at the time, and then we had Chernobyl.

Each of us could multiply examples in nearly every realm of human society.  The point is that “progress” is a notoriously slippery word when it comes to introducing (I use the word broadly here) “technologies” into society.  As beneficial as they seem in the moment, it’s typically unwise to label them as bits of “progress” until every conceivable effect they can have is had upon society.  And when it comes to something like community and social life, at the heart of which is sex, with all its perils and possibilities, which binds generations together, I personally don’t know that we’ll know whether any innovation in the area of our sexuality counts as “progress” until several generations into the future, when the effects are fully appreciated.  A decade (even two) is not a sufficient sample size here.  There is an “ecology of community” at work here, built up over generations.  New inputs and/or drastic changes to the system will take generations to take full effect.

It’s for those reasons (and some others) that I find myself feeling cautious personally to jump on the “marriage equality” bandwagon.  Gay marriage is not marriage at all, as far as I can see (that is a theological conviction).  And while I feel the tug of justice on my heart with respect to the “civil unions” conversation, I also find myself pulled on by my sensibilities about the myth of progress and the ecology of community, at the heart of which, as I said, is sexual life.

I would love your thoughts on the subject.  I will just say that I am well aware that not everyone will agree with me here.  That’s fine.  I just ask that you speak respectfully AND keep the conversation on-topic.  I’ll be moderating comments, so if you use this to sound off, rant, or insult people, you’re gettin’ deleted baby.

Grace and peace.