Rabbi to the Rescue

Screenshot 2015-07-11 14.41.56My Dad, a wise presbyter, counseled me shortly after I was ordained, “You don’t have to speak in every debate on the floor of presbytery. If you wait a little while, someone else will probably make your speech for you.”

I give Dad, now in the Church Triumphant, credit for my decision not to respond in print to Father Eric Dudley’s editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat regarding marriage equality.

Back in August I took Archbishop Thomas Wenski to task for his uncharitable diatribe against supporters of marriage equality. I figured my parishioners could do without seeing their pastor’s mug in the Democrat yet again. Surely, I figured, somebody would make my speech for me.

Well, somebody did. My friend Jack Romberg, rabbi at Temple Israel, produced his own guest editorial in response to Father Dudley’s. Not only did Jack point out that the Bible does not reflect a single, monolithic model of marriage, he also suggested that insisting that there is only one way to interpret the Bible is a form of religious hubris.

I agree.

Two elements of my brother Eric’s opinion piece bothered me most. First were his words about “loving” gay friends and family members. He wrote:

It is not that we dislike homosexual people; on the contrary, we have friends and family members who are gay and we love them, and treat them with the warmth and kindness with which we treat anyone we love. But we cannot support them in their desire to marry.

“Love” that is reduced to “warmth and kindness,” but does not demand justice is not “love” in the biblical sense. “Love” in the biblical sense calls us to acknowledge the full humanity and dignity of the other, not just to treat him or her with “warmth and kindness.”

Growing up in the South, I remember all too well those Christians who maintained, “Some of my best friends are Negroes and I love them.” That “love” did not prevent my white Christian friends from denying people of color their civil rights or from telling and laughing at racist jokes.

I’m often wary when my fellow Christians speak of “love.” “Love” can easily become Christian-speak for “condescension.”

I also take issue with Father Dudley’s assertion that marriage equality hastens our nation’s slide down the slippery slope toward secularism. For him, the Supreme Court’s ruling represents “ . . . yet another unraveling of the Christian fabric of our country, another step in the direction of secular Europe.”

I’m not sure what Father Dudley means by “secular.” In Henry VIII’s time “secularism” meant the disposition of one religious system by another. To gain support for his throne and in his fight against the Pope who refused to grant him a divorce, Henry “secularized” church property.  Some of the “secularized” property went into the royal treasury; some went to his supporters.

“Secular” is also a term used within Catholicism to distinguish the world from the church. I take it that for Father Dudley, “secular” means society’s descent into agnosticism or atheism.  Secularism in this sense goes hand in hand with the waning influence of churches — especially government-supported “established” churches.

We Reformed Christians aren’t too keen on the word “secular.”  It rubs against the grain of our theological tradition.

I agree with Marilynne Robinson that “secularism” has no real meaning in today’s world. The incarnate God, the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, is present and active in all of creation, including all of humanity:

. . . All I wish to suggest is that faith lives in the human world by the grace of God, because of the love and loyalty of God, and in the presence of God, which is free, indifferent to our anxieties, to our categories, and quite emphatically, I think, to our very negative judgments about the spiritual state of our neighbors . . .” (Christian Century, July 8, 2015, p. 25).

It doesn’t help to label marriage equality as evidence of creeping secularism. That’s just a another way of pointing out the speck in my neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in my own eye.

I thank my colleague Father Dudley for his provocative editorial and my colleague Rabbi Romberg for his response. This is the kind of exchange that makes me proud to live under the United States Constitution.

More Light Welcomed

Last Wednesday President Obama announced his support for “marriage equality.”  He was nice enough to write me an e-mail about it — well, me and a few million others.

I have been as forthright as I can be about my struggles with this issue.  Same-sex marriage is not allowed in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  As a Teaching Elder, I must live under the authority of the church. From the standpoint of the church’s constitution, marriage is between one man and one woman.

On the other hand, the General Assembly of Church has repeatedly called for equal rights for lesbian and gays.  I can’t offer a resolution to this matter because neither I nor the Presbyterian Church has arrived at one yet.  But I can at least clarify a couple of points about the President’s position.

First, I respect the President and the stance he has taken.  In his e-mail announcement he said that, although he once thought that “civil union laws that conferred legal rights upon gay and lesbian couples were a solution,” he has now concluded that “same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.”

Of course, the President is speaking in terms of secular law, not church law.  He writes, “ . . . I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them.”

As people say these days, “I’m fine with that.”

Second, I appreciate the President’s respect for people of faith who will, based on their religious convictions, find themselves at odds with his position.  He writes, “I respect the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines.”

Some religious leaders are already saying that the President wants to force churches to perform same-sex marriages.  This is not the case, but that won’t keep people from asserting that the President wants to annul the First Amendment.

I have clergy colleagues in the African American community and in the Roman Catholic Church who will find themselves at odds with the President over this matter, even though they are in agreement with him in most other matters.

And, of course, I have gay and lesbian colleagues who are frustrated and angry that they are being denied in church what some states already allow in law.  For them, and for those who love them,  “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

For this Christian President, the Golden Rule trumps any reservations he might have had.  I honor that reasoning.  I also honor those who think that he has framed the matter wrongly.

I thought about preaching on the matter last Sunday, but neither the lectionary texts nor my state of mind would cooperate.  I’m not even sure a sermon would be helpful.  Sometimes a sermon stirs the pot without feeding the flock.

In 1620 John Robinson addressed a portion of his flock upon their departure to the New World.  Convinced that God’s Word is living and active, he told the pilgrims, “God hath more light and truth to break forth from his Holy Word.”

I don’t think God has spoken the final Word in this matter.  I welcome more light.


For other blogs on this issue, see Rev. David Lewicki’s “The Case Against Christian Marriage.”  David makes some good points, but his dismissal of the  the Genesis “myth” is problematic, in my opinion.

Also, see Adam Copeland’s post in A Wee Blether.  I agree with Adam that the theological challenge is to construct a positive case for same-sex marriage based on scripture.