I am up early this morning, waiting to hear for news from the Supreme Court on marriage equality. But as I wait, I am thinking about a conversation earlier this week at the Idaho State Capitol, when there was a presentation to a senate and house committee on why we should include sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Codes.
There were some questions asked by conservative lawmakers (whom I suspect would not want to vote in favor of this) that seemed they were trying to find any loophole to help them in their opposition to this legislation. One asked the Boise Police Chief (who is my new civic leader crush, btw, after his wonderful testimony) something to the effect of “since you said there haven’t been any reported cases of violence since Boise enacted non-discrimination language, does that mean there really isn’t a problem and we can just move on?” (As I said, not a direct quote.) The Police Chief replied with (also not a direct quote), “No. People are still afraid to report this kind of violence because there is no state wide protection.”
I encountered it this past summer at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly too. People who were unhappy about the recent move toward ordination equality in our denomination were afraid of what was going to happen if we approved same gender marriage too.
Equality is arriving quickly, no matter how slowly it is arriving to those who are facing discrimination. But the shift in our culture is gaining more steam with each court decision, with each referendum, with each vote, with each politician, football player, and pastor coming out in favor of it. In my lifetime, we’ve gone from open discrimination to same gender marriage in a number of states and other countries. And while the shift to equality and justice has not happened in time for too many people, it will happen.
What has been dawning on me, ever since seeing the fear in my colleagues this summer at GA, is as we move forward with equality, how can we do so with grace? And yes, I know that many opponents to equality have not been extending grace in their rhetoric.
How can we move forward with grace?
Take this protest sign, for instance. It is clever. But it also says people who are opposed to gay marriage are all assholes.
Or this image, which equates people who oppose gay marriage with racists.
I’m not claiming either of those images are wrong. Are they helpful?
As we seek to move forward into this new world where equality is coming, how can we do so in a way that invites our opponents to join us? If we’ve called them racist assholes, they might be less interested in accepting these changes.
Because people who disagree with me on this issue are in the pews on Sunday morning as I preach. They are beloved people in my family. They are gifted colleagues and friends in ministry. I believe things need to change and we need to end discrimination. But I don’t want to demonize the people who see this issue differently.
As Walter Wink writes, “…the means we employ must be commensurate with the new order we desire.” (“The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millenium p 113). So, are our means matching our desires?
I don’t have the answer to my own question. I’m hoping you will comment and continue the discussion. I wonder both about the process and strategy we use moving forward. And I wonder about how we will live together once the inequality is erased from the law.
Moving forward, I love the campaigns that show real people affected by the inequality in our laws and church practices. Here is a video showing the first people to get marriage licenses in Washington State after it became law in December 2012.
I think images of people we know and love, or of people who look like people we know and love, will do more to change hearts and minds than will equating our opponents to racists.
I am thankful for my friends who share their stories without casting aspersions on anyone else’s stories. This story by my friend, Martha, is a good illustration.
And, again, I think the tough reality we face, especially in the church, is the argument has often gone like this. “Yes, scripture has a few verses about homosexuality. It also has verses endorsing slavery and we no longer support slavery. It also has verses subjecting women to unequal status, and we no longer support sexism…..”
I am sure I have made that argument many times. And it isn’t incorrect. But it leaves my brothers and sisters in Christ to be equated as racists and sexists if they don’t agree with me.
I have recently joined the Board of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. I am thrilled to become more involved in this work. Covenant Network seeks to work toward a church “as generous and just as God’s grace”. Here is the statement Covenant Network filed in support of marriage equality. I appreciate the way Covenant Network is seeking to live into this future in ways that allow churches who support equality to live out that calling while giving space for those who don’t support it to continue their own calling.
So, what do you think? Can we support the rights of one minority without demonizing another group in the process?
13 thoughts on “Equality, with Grace”
We need not demonize those who disagree with us, but, as an Idaho native of 60 years, I can tell you, people aren’t going to go gently into the night on this issue, or, on many other progressive issues for that matter. They might if Glenn Beck suggests it….
Thank you for addressing an essential question. It is so easy to fall into “us vs. them” thinking, into an attitude that actually stands in contrast with everything that marriage equality is truly about. I struggled to find the right statement to add to my Facebook profile picture and finally came up with this:
“I recognize that people of good intent can hold differing opinions on the nature of marriage. That’s probably been the case for as long as marriage has been part of the human experience! It is certainly something that I have seen as a wedding celebrant, with each couple bringing their own sense of what marriage is. At the heart of all those understandings, though, is the concept of an intimate partnership that carries rights and responsibilities both for the couple and for society. I think that all couples should have the right to enter into such partnerships and have them recognized as valid under the law.”
Marci, thanks for your call to holy civility.
glad you’re on the board of CovNet, Marci! thanks for the post.
I kind of wish for the calm of a Joshua when the Israelites renew the covenant at Shechem. You can do what you think you need to do, but this is the thing I need to do.
I had a kind of epiphany about this during the Chik-Fil-A thing this summer — that I couldn’t be silent about it any more out of fear of offending people. I didn’t need to seek to be offensive or provoke, but that my silence was in fact a kind of homophobia that imagined that while heterosexuality was coded public, it was acceptable, out of consideration, to agree by my silence that homosexuality should necessarily be coded private.
Of course one doesn’t always realize what is provocative, and I’m not always equally in control of my emotions on this issue. Once I said I was going to stop being silent, there was definitely a period of sometimes explosive and harmful expostulation …
Yes. I feel I can’t be silent any more. Too many people I love have been hurt by our collective silence (and my personal silence in the midst of it).
And while I can’t base my actions on the potential response of someone else (we can each only control our own function, and all that), I don’t want to stop listening to the people with whom i disagree on this. And I don’t want to paint them into a corner where they feel no way to respond other than defensively.
Your blogs, and your sermons never fail to make me think. I do think the pendulum is shifting. In my work with clients I often advocate not for silence, but for moderation. As the pendulum begins its movement it may initially swing with great force – knocking over whatever is in the path – without concern for what “good” that person might represent or what great value that person might bring to the conversation. Moving forward with grace may mean baby steps. But it will not mean standing still.
Right. The pendulum image is helpful. May not be able to keep people from being “knocked over”, but it sure would be nice if we could figure out how to pick them back up as we move forward.
Thanks for the comment.
I stumbled onto your blog via a discussion on FB. I find your position to be fascinating. As a non-Christian who was raised in the Presbyterian denomination and who has a father who is a pastor with the PCA, I have a very hard time understanding your position. How do you choose what to follow in the Christian Bible? I don’t want to sound offensive, but is it merely pick what sounds right to me and to hell with rest of it?
Thanks for your comment, Jared.
I’m not sure what about my article makes you think I choose what to follow in the Bible.
But my reply to that question is longer than a “reply” on a blog post. I will work on a longer post in the next few weeks and post the link to it here.
Thanks for reading.
Thanks for your continued dialogue on these issues.
Is Jesus the center of your message?