Some months ago, I posted a photo on my Facebook page of the living room wedding of Sean and Ron. There I am, saying the words that ministers always say at weddings; there they are, saying the words that couples always repeat to one another. But then the moment turned while we weren’t looking and before anyone knew it, we were all wiping tears from the corners of our eyes; the little living room had become holy ground.
After I posted the picture, a dear friend private messaged me and asked: How can I, a Christian minister, justify performing a same sex wedding? This is a long time friend (a friendship that goes back to college) and even though our lives have grown in different directions, we stay in touch and care deeply about each other. The question turned into an in depth theological, sociological and political email conversation over a period of several months. My short answer: I can justify it because it is just.
Here are some brief excerpts from my part of the conversation during our correspondence. Nothing definitive here; simply a part of my ongoing thinking.
My standard is the gospel itself: God – in Jesus Christ – has accomplished reconciliation for all. In the classic Christian understanding, this reconciliation means there is “no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female” (words of the apostle Paul). And I will add to this list ANY situation of humankind that historically has served to separate us from one another: black, white, brown, blue, red, old, young, gay, straight. The gospel claims that none of these differences has the power to divide us any longer. And yes I believe “gay and straight” are part of the essence of a person and so appropriately included here.
And then there is our proper response to the gospel: because we are welcomed into God’s amazing grace and unconditional love, we respond with love. We love God. We love our neighbors. Period.
One cannot argue marriage equality from Scripture; it’s just not there. But I do dare to argue for the gospel and its good news of wide and radical grace. I dare to argue for justice and to challenge the Church to live up to that bold standard. If marriage is to be sacred (and I believe that it is) then people who make that kind of spiritual and holy commitment to one another honor God and honor Love. If radical grace and justice are at work, no one can use the Bible to justly claim that such faithful love is not valid.
Historically, some parts of the American Church have lagged behind the secular culture when it comes to applying justice and equity to many significant social issues: slavery, civil rights, women’s rights and now the human rights of our gay brothers and sisters. I’m ever so grateful for civil law which has forced Americans to move away from some of our entrenched prejudiced practices – at least in part. On slavery and civil rights, too much of the Church came along kicking and screaming. On the human rights of women and gays – too many Christians continue to dig in their heels and refuse to budge. So be it. But at least I want the law of the land to insist that Americans treat each other with equity and justice. The changing of a human heart (I want to believe) will follow in time.
Theology and Bible has been our discussion, responding to your original question: how can I (as a Christian minister) justify performing a same sex wedding. We are arguing Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason according to our different Christian understandings and we obviously have different opinions. But Civil Law is another conversation altogether. The marriage license is a civil contract, issued with appropriate conditions such as any license should be. Drivers license, medical license, contractors license… The State does have authority to set standards and determine to whom it will grant some kinds of licenses. But look at the standards and the practice for marriage licenses. The state of Texas will grant marriage licenses to people past their childbearing years, licenses to murderers on death row, licenses to mixed race couples, licenses to those convicted of domestic violence, licenses to special needs citizens, licenses to people on their death beds, licenses for a 2nd and even 22nd marriage. Since the State has judged that its business is not to decide who is “worthy” of marriage based on who they are or what they have done in all these other situations, there is no legal justification for the State to deny a marriage license to a same sex couple. It is the government’s obligation to ensure justice for all. That’s exactly why “marriage equality” is the correct term and concept.
Years ago, when I was still struggling to understand homosexuality, still working to make sense of what was (for me) a troubling and complex issue, I came to a crossroads. I remember the day I made this decision: If God is going to judge me, I would much rather be judged for being inclusive than for being exclusive; to risk welcoming rather than to risk rejecting. I throw myself at the mercy of the God-Who-Is-Love as I seek to love others without judgment and condition. And in order for my always inadequate effort of love to even begin to approach the wideness of Divine Love, it must be on-the-ground practical; it cannot be in word only. This “issue” is no longer complex or troubling for me; the gospel is radically clear. So that is how I “justify” celebrating and officiating for same sex marriages – because I believe with all my heart that this is just.
I’m sharing my own words here; I don’t have permission to share what my friend said in reply, but please know the thoughtful, well-reasoned conversation kept both of us on our toes. I still appreciate the wisdom and grace that came to me in that dialogue.
My friend and I did not change each others’ minds; that really wasn’t the purpose of our conversation. Rather this effort to be honest and clear about our differences of opinion sharpened and refined both of us. This effort to discuss “our sincere differences sincerely” (my friend’s excellent phrase and the title of an earlier blog) helped us know one another better so that during this respectful dialogue, our respect for each other as friends and human beings grew.
I doubt articulating my arguments for marriage equality in a cyberspace blog will change anyone’s mind, but that’s not really the purpose. The point is the conversation: open, honest, soul searching, respectful.
The human mind will change when it is good and ready to change. A well articulated argument might help that process along, but I believe it is not words that cause us to grow as human beings; rather it is relationships.
Sean and Ron and I stood in that living room and said all the right words but it wasn’t just the words that made our eyes well with tears. It was the reality of loving commitment to one another; it was the bright and beautiful ideal to which the words point that transformed something simple into something profound.
Loving one another.
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith and politics. She frequently shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.