In recent days, an editorial in the Midland Daily News argued that “conservative Christians need to take a stand” regarding the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage in our nation. The author compared the present situation to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, in which Rosa Parks took a stand (by sitting down, ironically) against the cultural requirement that she yield her seat at the front of a bus to a white passenger. This editorial suggests that conservative Christians are being isolated, quieted, and accused of intolerance when they speak against current trends in society.
A few years ago, on an Easter Sunday, we had our usual lineup of special services and activities for that day. A “sunrise” service – I use the term loosely because the sun had already been up for a couple of hours – began the festivities. With awe and humility, we celebrated the mystery of the empty tomb. And then we shared in a special breakfast, a celebratory meal that reminded us of Jesus’s post-resurrection breakfast with his disciples. Our children participated in games, hunted down dozens of Easter eggs, and won a variety of prizes. Finally, our regular morning worship was full of praise and adoration of our risen King and Savior.
On this particular Easter Sunday, two middle-aged couples visited our congregation. Both couples visited us with other family members who are regular members of our congregation. And in both couples, the partners are of the same gender.
I’m not sure if others in the congregation realized this at the time, but I was aware – and happy – that we welcomed both a gay couple and a lesbian couple into our Easter Sunday worship service. After all, any time we join in worship, we do so in honor of Jesus Christ, not in honor of our particular worldview or political opinions. Everyone is welcome to worship the Lord.
In recent days, a pizza shop in Indiana closed its doors after its owners stated that they would not serve pizza at a same-sex wedding reception. The intense furor and passion around this story – by those supporting the pizza shop and those opposing it – has been amazing to witness. It seems that everyone has an opinion on this, whether or not they can even identify Walkerton on an Indiana map.
A few years ago, in another place, Tara and I built a close relationship with a wonderful young woman who is now in her early twenties. I’ll call her Nicole. She spent a great deal of time with us due to some instability in her own home. She loved us at least as much as we loved her in return – and probably more. And even now that we are far apart, we still remain in contact with Nicole and count her as part of our family.
Nicole is a lesbian. She “came out” to the world last year. She has shared with us some of the joys and pains of her relationships that have succeeded and failed. Because of her sexual orientation, she has experienced some emotional distancing from some friends at her local church, which I consider an unfortunate development in her life.
Nicole has held down a job for the past few years and works hard at what she does. She has purchased her own car, she pays her own rent, and she contributes to society in a number of ways. Nicole is a regular person, with regular needs, regular laughter, and regular tears. And for some reason, she counts us as part of her family too.
In recent days, the Indiana state legislature passed Senate Bill 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. No small amount of media coverage has accompanied this bill since it was signed by Indiana’s governor a few weeks ago. Again, everyone has an opinion on this, whether or not they are experts in law or politics. I, for one, am not concerned about this law; its worst elements will be corrected and its best intentions will be honored. In any case, I firmly believe that we cannot legislate morality (that is, make people behave by creating laws). Ban same-sex marriage, legalize marijuana, ban assault rifles, legalize gambling: the systems we form do not create morality and goodness. The law is not the ultimate measure of right and wrong. On the other hand, the law should uphold the cause of justice for all people, a goal that is much higher than any Senate Bill.
Many years ago, and in a very different place, a carpenter’s son crouched down and drew designs in the dirt with his finger. The people eagerly awaited his response to the most pressing moral question of the day: what should they do with a woman caught committing adultery? The conservative religious leaders wanted to stone her to death, as the religious law required. And if this carpenter’s son did not give the officially correct answer, then they could silence him as a radical progressive. Rather than taking sides on the issue, this carpenter’s son, this teacher, this divine reformer recognized the humanity of all those around him and called each of them to a higher moral standard:
“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
“Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 7:53-8:11 NIV)
I believe the recent editorial’s appeal to Rosa Parks is inappropriate. After all, people on the other side of this moral question can make precisely the same appeal as an argument to stand up against discrimination. Comparing conservative Christians (or the LGBT community, for that matter) to Rosa Parks is comparing apples to oranges; it is a rhetorical device intended to create an immediate victory. After all, who can argue against Rosa Parks?
But Rosa Parks’s victory was not immediate, nor, indeed, is her struggle finished. The issue of racial reconciliation and justice has not been resolved in twenty-first century America. Similarly, the gay and lesbian couples who visited our church, my friend Nicole, conservative Christians, and other Christians are all involved in an ongoing struggle over the question of homosexuality.
In some ways, this struggle is similar to the conflict in John 8. Jesus’s answer to the question in that story is not “black and white” or “quick and easy.” He understands both the value and the imperfections of each individual around him. He creates a new way of answering the moral dilemma: not by adhering to religious law, not by accepting sexual immorality as the new norm, but by extending love and grace to everyone. He desires justice for all and calls each person to higher standards of righteousness and holiness.
Perhaps we would do well to learn to imitate him in how we think about, discuss, and act on the important moral questions of our day.