Fresh from this morning's weekly reminder that I have not lived up to expectations,* I've been thinking about an unsatisfactory exchange I've been conducting on Facebook.
It is with a gentleman of orthodox Christian views who thinks that homosexuality is a sin and that Christians who countenance it are "led astray by seducing spirits." We have been talking past each other in an unsatisfactory way, but we have been talking, and that is a conversation worth having.
Gay people who, after decades of scorn and derision, are stepping into the light to marry and affirm their relationships make you weep for joy. But there are orthodox, traditional Christians who also merit our understanding and compassion. They are being pushed to step away from things that they have been taught by parents and clergy and the culture at large are timeless and eternal, and they are in difficulty in a secular, multicultural society.
Mind you, I am not urging you to soften on the Rev. Franklin Graham and the demagogues at Focus on the Family who prefer their Christianity in the harsh, condemnatory form, or those public officials like the two clerks in Kentucky who apparently aspire to become brummagem martyrs. I am talking about people like those I grew up among in Kentucky, who have sincere religious convictions and do not despise gay people. They are struggling.
Mr. Led Astray By Seducing Sprits says that homosexuals lack self-denial. I haven't inquired about this with him, but I assume he means that since homosexuality is sinful, men and women attracted to the same sex should stifle their impulses.
And I ask, why? Why should gay people be denied the joy and affirmation of expression of their sexuality? Because it's unnatural? Science no longer thinks so. It has been forty years since psychiatry dropped the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder. I may not be around to see it, but I expect that even the Roman Catholic Church will eventually come around to conceding that homosexuality is not unnatural. It took them four centuries to make peace with Galileo, but, bless their hearts, they finally came around.
What we have to keep insisting, and patiently explaining, is that same-sex marriage as authorized by the Supreme Court is secular. It is about property and inheritance and medical benefits and the state's interest in the welfare of minor children.** Churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques remain free to describe and sanctify spiritual marriage as they define it; that is none of the state's business.
There will be complications. There will be people like those county clerks in Kentucky galled that they are asked to honor the oath they swore upon taking office instead of using that office to impose private religious views on the public. There will be businesses that refuse to abide by the public-accommodation laws, like the ones that resisted desegregation, and it will take some time for the law to compel them to comply or shut down—provided public opinion doesn't do so first.
And there will be tricky issues, like accommodations for churches that operate schools, hospitals, and other institutions. The resistance of the Little Sisters of the Poor to the quite reasonable accommodations to the Affordable Care Act that the administration has offered suggests that it will take some time for legislation and the courts to sort this one out.
But secular same-sex marriage is an established fact, and the honoring of same-sex unions by some Christian denominations is a fact. The increasing public acceptance of gay people as equal citizens is a fact, particularly among the young. Some people find all these things abhorrent, but they must deal with the fact of them.
We can help them. We can show them that their fears of gay people and same-sex marriage (along with hysterical carrying-on that Christians are being persecuted) are exaggerated.
We can point to congregations like Memorial Episcopal in Baltimore, where gay people are fully accepted as members, as couples, as parents of children. We can point to the people we know—I know gay couples who have been together in stable relationships for forty years and more, despite all the cultural and social odds against them. And we can ask, who would begrudge them companionship amid the storms of life? In Eden, it was God first said that it was bad for Adam to be alone. Companionship came first, before mention of procreation.
Scripture is not kind about hardness of heart. We should call it when we see it.
*Done that which we ought not to have done, left undone that which we ought to have done, not loved our neighbors as ourselves, &c.
**Incidentally, if Mr. Led Astray By Seducing Spirits wants to parade instances of children mistreated by homosexual parents, I will match him, ten to one, with accounts of children tortured and abused by heterosexual parents; and I will not even work up a sweat, because all I need to do is look at daily news accounts.
Also, calling him "Mr. Led Astray By Seducing Spirits" is snotty, but really.
I was confirmed a Presbyterian. At Michigan State I took courses in comparative religion, Buddhism, New Testament, and the Protestant Reformation. I was then confirmed an Episcopalian, and for the past twenty-seven years have been a member of Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore, where I have been a weekly communicant and have served variously as a lector, crucifer, thurifer, substitute organist, and leader of adult education sessions. My views and convictions were not arrived at casually or without extended prayerful consideration, and they merit a modicum of ordinary decent respect.