Monday, June 29, 2015

Deafening Silence

Can you hear the silence?

I can and it's been deafening.  I, for one, have been grateful for that.  Since SCOTUS was passed, decided on, whatever, last week, I have noticed very little what some would label hate, in my newsfeed.  I breathed a sigh of relief as my family members and friends, who I know don't agree with gay marriage, chose to keep their mouths shut and their fingers stilled.

I come from, what I would freely label as a conservative Christian family, notice I did not say fundamentalist, no that label wouldn't describe us.  (This is how we were raised, not what all of us believe now)  There are a lot of us, 60+ people on just my mother's side.  They could make a lot of noise if they wanted to.  I also attend an Evangelical Seminary, again not fundamentalist but yes, conservative would be an apropos description.  So I am well aware that within my circle there are many people who disagree with gay marriage.  Yet through all of this, they have remained quiet.

Which got me to wondering why?  If I read what some of my proudly SCOTUS supporting friends are saying I would be led to believe that all of my friends and family who still hold conservative Christian values are walking around spewing hate.  But they're not, they're not saying anything at all.  It is as if they now have adopted the opinion that their voices are irrelevant, because they have become counter-cultural.   It is wiser to be silent than to speak.  I think the reasons for this collective silence is fear.  They are afraid to say anything disagreeing with what appears to be majority public opinion, less they be labeled a bigot or a freak and be bullied into adopting a belief they don't really agree with.  I'm sure many of my gay friends can identify with that emotion, with that experience.  I have been afraid to speak my mind and my opinion isn't even dissenting, it's just of the food for thought variety.

But just like I don't want my gay friends to have to live in fear, I will choose not to do so either.  I have an opinion and some thoughts on this issue and while they may differ from yours I hope you can hear me out as respectfully and thoughtfully as I will endeavor to hear you.

Let me start by saying, I am not against adult men and women having the legal right to marry any other adult man or woman they choose.  As I see it, this is a legal issue and it has very little to do with my faith.  I base this on my interpretation of Jesus' interactions with his government while he was here on the planet.  As I see it, he had very little to do with the government except to say "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and give back to God what is God's (Mark 12:17 NLT)."  I tend to take the same approach.  I don't believe that the government is my agent of change, nor do I believe it is a tool I will use to further the cause of faith nor is it something I will use in an attempt to benefit humanity.  It is simply there, I submit to its authority, am grateful for its protection but the government can in no way hinder my ability to live out my faith, so whether it makes various types marriages legal or not is irrelevant except in the way that law affects those I love and care about.

I don't believe the often quoted adage, "God will turn his back on this nation."  I don't believe that God is in the business of backing nations unlike Islamic extremists who seem to believe that and attempt to achieve acceptance from Allah by beheading those who don't covert, or throwing homosexuals off buildings.  I therefore believe it's not really possible for God to turn his back on a nation, this one or any other.  As I understand God, he's in the people business, nations are sort of irrelevant in his book.  Unless we're talking the Old Testament nation of Israel, which requires a whole other discussion not best served in this brief dialogue.

I also don't agree with the even more often quoted "we were founded on Christian ideals."  I'm no history expert but what I have read leads me to the conclusion that while the majority (not all) of our founding fathers (and mothers, let's assume they should get a mention) were Christians, what they wanted to start here was a nation that did two main things: freed them from religious persecution and gave them an opportunity to speak into their government.  Which is pretty similar to what we have now.  We can worship whoever, however, whenever we choose and we vote people who we believe will speak best for us into offices in our government in hopes that they will represent our voice.  

That is why SCOTUS happened to begin with.  The people demanded it.  I know the vote was a close one, but I have felt that the legalization of gay marriage was an inevitability in our country for quite some time.  It was desired by a large segment of our population and because of that it was going to happen.  Government for the people, by the people - I read that somewhere.  From what I understand, in a very limited capacity, the way in which SCOTUS passed has caused some consternation because it wasn't done in the most legally credible fashion.  I can see that, when I read it, my first thought was: state's rights, what about those?  The Supreme Court just totally trampled those.  However, again, the people demanded this and it was going to happen, one way or the other.  I will leave that debate to those who have law degrees and understand politics in a way I do not.  What I do hope for is that those who championed this cause, who do understand politics and the judicial structure, would step back and consider the how behind this coming into law and perhaps encourage a more constitutionally respectful approach for laws to be put into place in our future and now.  Because if we go around undermining the constitution now, there will be no stopping it later.

However that is not my bailiwick and certainly not my area of expertise. In our country the legal process of getting married does several things for us: gives us the ability to insure our partners, it helps with end of life issues such as wills, it ensures your spouse can be there in the ER, or ICU with you and it tells the doctors and nurses who is allowed to make decisions for you when you're unable to, it gives you some tax sheltering and it protects your assets in divorce supposedly, like it or not legal marriage has a lot to do with divorce in our country.  This is why the #lovewins seems like such a misnomer to many because our government was not saying before SCOTUS that you couldn't love whomever you chose.  What won with SCOTUS was legal protection, but #legalprotectionforgaycoupleswins doesn't have the same ring to it.

 What I have long deliberated as this issue has faced our country is the separation of Church and State.   But what many have failed to consider as they have asked the conservative Christian community to sit down and shut up about gay marriage is that the Church and State are completely married to one another in this issue.  Who MARRIES the majority of people in our country???  Pastors, Priests, Ministers, Rabbis, in short: our faith leaders.  We can wax poetically all we want about how this isn't a moral issue that other people shouldn't be able to legislate morality for us but the bottom line is, who can marry who has been legislated morally for us since the beginning of our nation.  Because our legal marriages have occurred in our churches and the churches, mosques and synagogues had an opinion on what marriage looked like.  We can say they're separate, but they never have been.  Yes, judges can marry us, but very few people actually go that route.

So perhaps what this discussion needs is some understanding behind why this issue is so upsetting to  many members of our community now.  This issue doesn't feel separate for them and in actuality, it's not.  If we want legal marriage to have nothing to do with morality, then we need to take the responsibility for legally marrying people out of our faith communities.  As long as our pastors are the ones performing the marriages, gay marriage will continue to be a moral issue.  How could it not be?  If Church and State are really separate then must they not be separate in this incredibly divisive issue?  Let's not pretend that they are and then have all of the parties involved in bed together.  Gay marriage has plagued every denomination in our nation for the last 20 years, they have all had to decide, have decided already (for or against) or are still debating their position on gay marriage.  Churches have split, people have lost their ordination, lots of feelings have been hurt, not to mention individuals' relationships with God have suffered.  But partly churches have been forced to debate this because our pastors are the ones marrying our people.

In my opinion, these two things should be distinctly separate the Church and faith communities over here and the legal process of marriage over there.  Perhaps because I love peace and I do believe that this would bring some peace to this issue.  Perhaps because I'm in seminary and I have actually had to think about whether or not I would marry a gay couple and what denominations do that and what don't and if I should choose a denomination based upon that factor.  I haven't had the luxury of just saying, whatever other people do over there doesn't effect me, because ultimately I may be put in a situation where I am told I can't marry this type of couple or where I am told I must marry this type of couple.  Perhaps I believe this is a solution because I really love people and think they should legally be able to marry who they want and no one else's belief system should determine that.  After all, I'm a divorced woman, there are plenty of belief systems that would love to tell me that I should not be able to get remarried.  Isn't that exactly what freedom from religious persecution is?  The inability of the government to inflict its chosen religious position on its people?  I don't know.  I certainly don't have all the answers.  I just would like us to stop pretending that suddenly with the passage of SCOTUS we now have all of them, because we don't.  There are many more questions now.

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