It has been a big week for debates around the issue of same sex marriage in our country. First on Tuesday there was the passing of a constitutional amendment in North Carolina that had some strict definitions of marriage and the rights of those who are married. Then yesterday President Obama set the internet on fire by taking a stance for the first time, publicly, in favor of same sex marriage. There is so much emotion tied up into this issue that part of me doesn’t really want to write about it. Enough people have reached out to me this week, however, asking for help in processing this difficult issue, that I will offer some thoughts.
When it comes to the President, I am confused by decision this week in numerous ways. In the last campaign he famously said, at Saddleback Church, that marriage was only between a man and a woman. Since then he has talked about his stance evolving and how he was thinking through the issue. His stance was changed, he said in his interview, through the changing climate around same sex marriage in our country. The younger generation is far more accepting of this idea and doesn’t question whether or not same sex couples should have equal rights. This was evidently very influential on the President.
Obama’s story is probably a lot like many American’s story on this issue. As soon as it became personalized and became a question of people you know and their rights it became a different issue altogether. What is confusing about the President’s stance, however, is why he made it now and what has caused his evolution.My confusion isn’t about why he believes what he believes, I have many friends on both sides of this issue, my confusion is to the why and the how. Should the changing beliefs of a new generation shift your own beliefs? Should an idea gaining popularity make it more convincing? Well if you are a politician maybe so. But when we are talking about issues of morality and justice they should be bedrocks, foundational beliefs that we hold onto despite the ever shifting opinions of our culture. It will be interesting to see if the President makes his view on this matter one that is tied to a bedrock belief that he has now newly discovered or rather if it just seems practical and politically astute.
The timing of his announcement is also rather unusual. This will galvanize some of his supporters, is fuel for most of his critics and will probably cost him some supporters. Politically I am sure he was under immense pressure from a number of donors to come out with a pro same sex marriage stance. The effects of this announcement on his presidential reelection bid are far from clear, however. This could cost Obama the election, or it could be a minor ripple. What a gamble at a time when the economy, the war, and so many other issues are making the political waters rough sailing.
In NC a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday. I still have a ton of friends in NC, almost all of them congregated in the Research Triangle (near Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) and almost to a person they were opposed to this amendment. Obviously the Triangle is not representative of the rest of the state. Opponents of this amendment cited that it could actually have effects on others beside same sex partners and that it was simply a poorly constructed law. Others in favor of it, including many church leaders and even Billy Graham, praised it as an action to protect the sanctity of marriage.
I didn’t have a vote in the state of NC, but if I did I would have voted against the amendment for no other reason than because it was poorly written and potentially very harmful. The issue wasn’t even about same sex marriage, it just seems like a unnecessary and harmful action. I am especially concerned about the harmful effect that these campaigns have against our brothers and sisters in the homosexual community. There are some very disturbing studies showing the effects a negative social environment has on this community, especially among teenagers. I seldom here Christians really talk about the effects of our campaigns and policies on the individual lives of those affected by them. This is a gross oversight on our part.
At the heart of this issue for us as the church is how we are to best go about our mission of making disciples of the nations. Included in this mission is the very community so many of us are campaigning against. Even if we don’t believe in same sex marriage, how are we supposed to build in roads into the lives of our friends, neighbors, family members and fellow human beings who have a homosexual orientation when we are contributing to such a hostile environment? Where is the balance between grace and truth?
If we are going to fulfill the mission of Christ we must follow the example of Christ. Jesus was able to at the same time hold onto God’s standards of truth and holiness while embracing those who were far from God. He shared his dinner table with them. He literally touched the untouchable. Jesus welcomed into his life those whom society had shunned and made laws to isolate and dehumanize. In the midst of all these debates on policies, laws and amendments we can’t lose sight of this being our primary action to make the truth of God known. We should care about the laws of our land. We should fight for justice. We should fight for morality. But, we should first and foremost love all people with the radical grace of God and allow our holy lives of welcoming hospitality and gracious acceptance shine the light of God into the darkness of this world.
In a season of great unrest and anger in our culture, may our lives of intentionally peaceful and gracious love of all people offer a compelling alternative to the broken discourse and pain of our culture.