Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I Opposed Gay Marriage, and I Repent

In 2004, when I pastored a fundamentalist church in Michigan, I stood before my congregation and said something to this effect, “Regardless of what party you belong to or how you normally vote, I think we can all agree as Christians that the Bible clearly teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman. I want to encourage you to sign the petition in the welcome area of our church to get the defense of marriage amendment to the Michigan state constitution on the ballot in November. I also want to encourage you to vote for that amendment in November.”
I collected signatures. I voted “yes” and urged others to do the same. The measure passed with nearly 60% of the vote ... and 8 years later, I repent.
I was wrong when I said that the Bible clearly teaches a traditional definition of marriage. I was wrong to be insensitive to the lives and struggles of gay and lesbian people. I was wrong for perpetuating state oppression of a group of citizens. I was wrong and I repent.
The Bible and Marriage
I have come to recognize that reading and understanding the Bible isn’t nearly as easy as I was taught it was in Bible college. The older I get, the more I recognize that simply applying a few hermeneutical tools to a passage isn’t necessarily going to give me a crystal clear interpretation of what God definitely wants for my life and the lives of others. It can be difficult sometimes to know when the Bible is being descriptive, simply describing the way things were, and when the Bible is being prescriptive, prescribing the ways things ought to be. Is Paul’s use of husbands and wives as an analogy for Christ’s love for us descriptive of most marriages in his time or prescriptive of what marriage should be always and forever?
In the debate about same sex marriage, much has been made about the definition of marriage. Does the Bible actually define marriage or does the Bible simply describe what has been most common, though not exclusively, in human history? People on the traditional marriage side of the debate often argue that they want to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. But isn’t it pretty commonly accepted that the definitions of words evolve? Language is living and dynamic. Shouldn’t our theology be as well?
Further, even if one argues that Bible “clearly” teaches that homosexuality is a sin, does that mean that in a pluralistic society people who engage in such behavior should have certain legal rights or privileges revoked or limited? The Bible “clearly” teaches that gluttony is a sin. Parents who are gluttonous often raise their children to be gluttonous. Should fat people have their right to become parents be revoked because they are engaging in sinful behavior?
Even further, just because I accept the Bible as authoritative for my life, does that give me the right to expect others to do the same? If I believe that the Bible “clearly” teaches that I should not cheat on my wife, should it then become a crime for all people to cheat on their spouses? In a pluralistic society, which ours is, can we really appeal to prooftexts from the Bible as the standard for what our civil laws ought to be?
Gay and Lesbian Friends
In 2004, I didn’t really have any gay or lesbian friends, that I knew of anyway. My world, and therefore my perspective, was very cloistered. I had not listened to the stories of LGBT people. I had not heard their perspective and didn’t care much about what their lives were like. I was insensitive to the struggles, pain, and heartache they have faced at the hands of pastors like me, churches like mine, and the culture I sought to preserve.
I am a white, straight American male. I have all the power, all the privilege. I don’t know what it is like to be an outcast. I don’t know what it’s like to be bullied for something over which I have no control. I don’t know what it is like to be excluded or shunned. I don’t have any idea what it’s like to live in a society that codifies my inequality.
I now know differently. Well, I don’t really know in any experiential sense, but I have a better idea. And that has changed my perspective. I realize now that those in the LGBT community are people, not the butts of jokes or political enemies advancing an agenda. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that people, all people, are to be loved, not made fun of, bullied, opposed, or ignored. I also have come to believe that my comfort with a particular version of our culture is not more important than the people who live in our culture. The victory of my political party is not more important than people. My sense of right and wrong is not more important than people. Nothing is more important than people.

God Is On the Side of the Oppressed
I now read the Bible much differently. I see it not as a collection of prooftexts to bolster my arguments, but as a story, a story in which I find both God and myself. The narrative of the Bible presents a God who is on the side of the oppressed. God watches out for those who have been forgotten, for those who have been discarded, for those who have been rejected.
God heard a banished maidservant crying and delivered her and her rejected son.
God provided sanctuary for the illegal alien within the Jewish legal system.

Jesus touched the untouchable outcasts.
Jesus talked to and spoke up for the shunned and judged.

The church is home for the lowly, the despised, the have-nots.
The church is a family for those with no family.

The kingdom will be made up of people from every walk of life.
The kingdom will be for all.
Who today is rejected, outcast, and condemned? 
Who today is without a family? 
Who today is discarded and forgotten? 
Certainly, we could answer these questions with a laundry list of Christian cause celebes: Orphaned children in Africa. Victims of sex trafficking. The unborn. But couldn’t we answer these questions with LGBT people as well? Haven’t they been rejected, outcast, and condemned as well? If so, doesn’t that mean that God is on their side as well? And if God is on their side, shouldn’t I be as well?
I Repent
And so, I repent. I repent of seeking to preserve a culture I was comfortable with at the expense of love for people. I repent for putting my theological and political heritage ahead of grace. I repent for perpetuating a church culture of oppression. 
I repent.
From here on out, I will speak up for the rights and privileges of all people.
I will speak up and vote for the dignity of all people.
I will seek to befriend and love those whom in the past I had rejected.
I will seek love and grace for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom.



jandcwed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heidi said...

"Even further, just because I accept the Bible as authoritative for my life, does that give me the right to expect others to do the same?" I don't remember when it happened, but a number of years ago I started to ask myself this question. Looking at the world with this perspective really changed my entire worldview. I am a far more gracious and loving person as a result...including towards the LGTB community.

I've known a number of people from high school and college who were gay. In fact, one was my best friend through high school. Its no surprise that they have no love for Christians, God or the church. As a mom, I often wonder what it would be like if one of my own children were gay. Will they have to walk away from the church because they've been demonized by Christians? Or will they be a welcome part of a community of loving Christ followers? Figuring out their sexuality would be a big enough struggle...I certainly hope they could do so surrounded by a strong community of believers. This is all hypothetical since my kids are still very young. But, if this is something my family never deals with, I will still be part of the change that I believe Jesus came to bring.

nanc said...

Matthew 7:13-14.


Thank you for being humble, loving, and REAL.

Jason said...

I think starting from a place of humility and repent for things in the past is a great place to start and I agree with almost everything you said, but can I offer another perspective?
I think far too often we are stuck at looking at the issue from only two sides and we don't take the time to step back and think if there is another option. I don't condemn nor judge those that are homosexual, it's not my job but God's and Jesus didn't condemn them but rather loved the sinners. However, neither do I have to endorse political or social movements to grant "marriage equality." By doing so we are accepting that rights are granted to us by the state and not from our Creator. Marriage is not a function of the state. If Christians were serious about upholding the sanctity of marriage they would tell the government to butt out of marriage, and also stop getting so many divorces (hard to take the sanctity argument serious when the divorce rate is nearly identical within the church as outside of it).

We don't expect the government to legislate adultery, lying, gluttony much like you said. However, neither do we endorse government programs that say these things are ok. Government simply doesn't involve itself in them. Marriage was the same until the late 1800's when marriage laws were introduced to keep blacks from marrying whites. More marriage laws are not the answer, in fact the opposite is true.

Michelle Roller said...

Robb you brought tears to my eyes. You are so human and real and transparent. I seem to have evolved to the same place also and I find it so hard to hear others condemn. I miss you and Vintage.

Dogeared said...

Jason, you sound just like my husband. :) I agree that the government has no place in marriage to begin with and I'm an Evul Librul ;) It confuses me a lot that many people are so very Anti-Big Government and yet they turn around and want the government be all up in their marriages and bedrooms which is to say they demand that the government have control over OTHER people's marriages and bedrooms.

Nanc--you post a Bible verse and we can guess what you mean by it, but it would only be a guess. Can you explain why you personally feel it is relevant? And why you personally feel it is applicable to our government? I really would like to hear how you feel because my guesses are often off-base. Just ask my husband.

Dogeared said...

Also Robb is awesome and I am proud to have him as a friend and "Narrator"

Anonymous said...

Gotta start off saying I love you and am praying for myself and you are we engage together in our faith journey. I agree with what you have said about Jesus caring for and loving people. We have the responsibility to do the same. Jesus does not love us so much that He lets us continue in anything that harms us.
I have friends and family in the arms if much sin and harmful action... I love them and want them to become healthier. Just like I am growing and striving to become healthier. If I'm understanding your philosophy in this correctly we have to let any person simply continue to do whatever they want because they like it at that moment. Wow, my friend, that is so off (again if I'm understanding correctly.)
My culture that I'm in is becoming increasingly more violent so I should adjust my theology to allow for more violence? Really? Is this the principle we want to use? Or is there a measure that we use from one Greater than ourselves - a standard that is arbitrary THEN and only then Can GRACE and Mercy be given.
I love you all and trust that we will sharpen one another. And that Grace abounds because we are not afraid to admit when we are wrong and let others know as well. Honesty comes with truth... that Truth originates from the Lord.
Peace my friends.

Anonymous said...

In my last post near the end it was to read... "a standard that ISN't arbitrary THEN and only Then can GRACE and Mercy be given"
Apologize for not missing those letters at first.
Peace my friends.

The Mother Tongue said...

Well said. May many eyes be opened because of your wise and loving words.

Dave said...

@ jason, There are two parts to marriage. One is the legal/governmental side which has duties, privileges, and responsibilities attached to marriage. It's things like inheritance rights, medical power of attorney duties for one's spouse, the right and responsibilities associated with one's children - either biological children or adopted children. There are many more things like this that are valid things for the government to consider.
The other side is much more personal. It's what I call the real side of marriage.
As a gay man of faith living in Oklahoma, if God brought the right man to me as my spouse, I could get married to him in a religious ceremony now. I could not do that in the church I'm a member of, nor could my pastor be involved due to denomination rules so far as I know. But I know other pastors who are willing and able to do the ceremony. However, I would have none of the legal things that normally come with marriage that the government grants.
Some same gender married couples carry a number of legal documents with them at all times especially if they have children, and especially if those children are adopted. Some states ban homosexuals from adopting children. What if they are traveling in such a state and something happens where the child (children) end up in a hospital. Who decides who has legal custody of these children? How long will this process last? What happens to the kids during this process? Will they lose their kids? The same goes for medical power of attorney if one's spouse ends up in the emergency room. Will you have the right to make medical decisions for your spouse?

I could go on.

George said...

It all comes down to "God is Love". The absence of Love in our judgements clearly shows the absence of God.

Danny C. said...

I understand the rationale for the author's change of position. The question I have under this philosophy is: Will the same approach be applied towards polygamy, pedophilia, and other socially-unacceptable lifestyles? If not, what rationalization is there for the decision?