Pastor to Pastor: A Little Humility, Please

humilityArchbishop Thomas Wenski’s editorial in the August 12, 2014 edition of the Democrat Democrat (“’Marriage Equality’ can change words but not facts” ) makes some serious charges against anyone who favors marriage equality. With sweeping and (to my mind, uncharitable) generalizations, he characterizes those who favor marriage equality as “progressive elites” who can’t tolerate “their fellow citizens who oppose the erosion of democratic self-governance by aggressively activist judges legislating from the bench, and the further erosion of their freedoms of conscience and religion.”

Not only that, Thomas, my brother in Christ, accuses inclusive marriage proponents of reducing sexual activity to “merely a recreational activity without any moral significance.” According to the good Archbishop, even to think in terms of inclusive marriage “renders the idea of all marriages meaningless.”

I respect the deeply held conviction behind my brother’s words, but I urge him to argue his case without impugning the motivation of those who disagree and without the thick veneer of moral condescension. As a Christian pastor who favors inclusive marriage, I assure by brother that I do not wish to render marriage meaningless or to reduce the divine gift of sexuality to “merely a recreational activity.” Nor do I promote, as he accuses me of promoting, “a radical autonomy that believes that anyone can essentially create his or her reality by one’s individual will without reference to the truth of things.”

Regarding the “truth of things,” let us acknowledge that, through the centuries, ideas about marriage and sexuality have changed. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures attest to a time when marriage was essentially a contract for the transfer of female property from one male to another male, when men were encouraged to take multiple wives, and a man whose brother had died was obliged to take his brother’s widow as his own wife. It is simply not the case that marriage has always been defined as “a union of one man and one woman.”

I favor inclusive marriage because I favor marriage as a life-long covenant, because there is far more to marriage and sexuality than procreation, and because “the truth of things” is that nurturing, loving, families can come in many shapes and sizes.

Just as it is true that some passages of ancient scripture condemn what we now call “homosexual” behaviors, it is also true that other passages condone slavery, the subjugation of women, the killing of children for disobedience, and mass murder. The “truth of things” is that even scripture is a lot less monolithic and a good deal more nuanced than my brother Thomas lets on.

Given the spate of recent headlines concerning the abuse of children at the hands of Christian pastors and the reluctance of Christian leaders to repent and reform the institutions they oversee, pastors both Protestant and Roman Catholic would do well to follow our Lord’s admonition to tend to the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck in our neighbor’s eye. It is possible to argue moral issues without impugning the morality of one’s opponents.

We who stand in the pulpit every Sunday would do well to come down from that lofty height and exercise a bit more humility. If we need a good example, I’d say Pope Francis fits the bill.