Yes, I’m afraid it’s time to haul out my tired old soapbox again.
I started drafting this post a couple of weeks ago when U.S. President Obama saying he thought gay people should have the right to marry each other. The next morning, I saw this on Facebook and it made me laugh:
It’s a tough row to hoe, I have to tell you, supporting same-sex marriage when I live much of my life in a religious environment where everyone not only disagrees with me, but considers the issue to be such a no-brainer it’s not even worth engaging in a reasoned argument about it. (There are exceptions, and I have had some intelligent discussions with very thoughtful people, including my pastor, who probably deserves some kind of Pastor Medal for his patience with me).
My dear friend Jamie, a couple of years after he’d come out of the closet and about a year before he died, told me that he was never going to bother debating “the issue” again with anyone who believed homosexuality was a sin — he just didn’t see it worth his while to even engage with people who held this view. I completely understood the pain and frustration that lay behind this decision but I have a different perspective (partly because I’m straight so the issue’s not as emotionally charged for me). As a Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventist Christian, I am completely happy to discuss this issue with other people whose views may be different from mine, particularly with those who, because of their faith in the Bible as God’s Word, believe that all gay relationships are sinful. I believe we can have respectful and mutually enlightening conversations.
Unless you’re Rush Limbaugh.
What I really mean is, unless I think you’re a flaming hypocrite.
As I reflected on why that Rush Limbaugh graphic appealed to me so much, I started breaking down in my head exactly whom I consider to be a hypocrite: that is, whose views I don’t respect enough to engage in debate with them on this issue.
If you are in a monogamous relationship with your opposite-sex spouse, the only person with whom you have ever had intercourse and on whom you have never cheated, then 1) we have a lot in common, and 2) I respect your opinion on the gay-marriage issue and I’d be willing to have a conversation with you about it.
If you are living with a common-law partner, if you’ve ever committed adultery, if you’re divorced and remarried — and if you believe that your relationship is blessed by God but that of two loving committed same-sex partners isn’t — I’ll try to be civil but please know that deep down, I may be labelling you a hypocrite.
I’m also judgmental about how you treat others, especially in church. Does your church allow people who have remarried after divorce — even if the divorce was caused by their adultery, even if they are married to the person for whom they left their previous spouse — to speak, sing, teach, or otherwise take leadership positions? If so, does that same church allow married same-sex couples to do those things too? If the answer is yes, then fine. If you allow those privileges to divorced, remarried adulterers and yet won’t allow a gay member even to sit in a pew with an arm around his/her partner … yeah, I’m feeling judgmental. It’s harder for me to take what you say seriously.
If you’ve publicly stated that you’re opposed to legal same-sex marriage because it “weakens traditional marriage,” and especially if you have spoken, preached, argued, written a letter to the editor or voted against it — can we still have a civil conversation? I think so — as long as you’re also opposed to giving common-law couples the same rights as married people, as long as you believe adultery should be a criminal offense and remarriage after divorce should be illegal. It would be best if you’re vocal and willing to speak out openly about your views on these issues, maybe even campaign for them. (It would also be good if you’re part of a campaign to ban The Bachelor and similar TV shows from the airwaves, because really — talk about “weakening marriage”!!).
If you hold all these views and are vocally promoting them, well, I don’t agree with you (except about The Bachelor), but I can at least respect the stand you take on same-sex marriage because it’s consistent with your other views. You are clearly supporting traditional marriage, right down the line. But if you’re OK with all those things — maybe not for yourself personally, but for society in general — and not OK with same-sex marriage, then yeah, I think you might just be a hypocrite.
Don’t get me wrong here. I am NOT condemning people who live together common-law or who get divorced or who get remarried after divorce. Frankly, I do believe the traditional line that says God’s original intent, in the Garden of Eden, was one man, one woman, together for life and raising kids. (I’m well aware that “Biblical marriage” included lots of other possible combos, but I would agree with a scholar like Richard Davidson in Flame of Yahweh, which I read and reviewed a little while back, that other Biblical paradigms for marriage, such as polygamy, are always shown in the Bible as falling short of the Edenic ideal).
But we’re not living in Eden. We’re living in this crazy, messed-up world where a lot of things don’t go according to plan and people have to muddle through and do the best they can. I have my own morality and standards about what I think is correct sexual behavior and to be honest, it’s pretty strict and I do my best to live according to it. But, despite my tongue-in-cheek comments above about judging you, I actually don’t feel qualified to judge other people. Especially when they’re faced with situations and problems I’ve never been faced with; especially when they’re doing the best they can to be faithful in a loving relationship, even if it isn’t with the partner they originally started out with. Surely the least bad thing is for two people to love and take care of each other. In practice I think most of us, even the strictest of conservative Christians recognize this, and whatever their personal morality they try to be kind and understanding to the divorced people in their circle, to those who are remarried (even for the third or fourth time like Mr. Limbaugh) and to those who are living in common-law relationships.
But too often, that tolerance and non-judgmental attitude ends at the door of the same-sex couple. That’s where we draw the line on love and acceptance, apparently. And lots of us would like to go even farther, to go beyond just barring the doors of our homes and churches to gay couples but to try to bar the doors of what’s supposed to be a secular, inclusive society to them as well.
Oh yeah, on the list of people I respect, put this guy — a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who’s willing to say, “I personally believe gay relationships are wrong according to the Bible, but I want the government to respect the civil rights of gays and lesbians because I want that same government to respect my civil rights.” Or this columnist (writing at Adventist Today where I also write sometimes) who is able to clearly articulate the difference between religious and political issues. Now these are people I can have a conversation with.
You don’t have to agree with me or read the Bible the same way I do in order to earn my respect. Just try not to be a great big flaming Rush Limbaugh-style hypocrite, and we can discuss this issue just fine.