On Thursday, the Illinois Senate is expected to vote on SB – 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Once passed, it will move on to the House where it will await a final vote before becoming law. The bill, if passed, will grant same-sex couples the freedom to marry in the State of Illinois. The bill will not, however, require any clergy to perform marriage ceremonies against their faith traditions. I write this letter of support as a Christian lay person aware of the movement within many churches toward welcoming all of God’s children as we are, regardless of our sexual orientation.
Many of the arguments over same-sex marriage and homosexuality center on religion. As a religious person who also believes in equality regardless of sexual orientation, this is disheartening. However, I know that any frustration I may feel regarding this debate pales in comparison to the hurt that many of my LGBT friends have experienced over a lifetime. It is with great respect for brothers and sisters truly at the heart of this issue that I hope to offer something constructive to the conversation. What follows are responses to some common “faith” based arguments regarding homosexuality, and four reasons why I feel compelled as a Christian to voice support for marriage equality.
1. There are well-researched and faithful readings of the Bible that support full inclusion and equal rights for the LGBT community. But, some will say, the Bible clearly says that homosexuality is an abomination! Or, is it just homosexual acts? Or is it just the Old Testament. Wait, what did Jesus say? Maybe it is not quite so “clear.” While many are quick to cite a few select verses to support anti-gay beliefs, one can also find verses condemning eating shrimp (another abomination) and even condoning taking your rebellious child to the city gate to be stoned. Thankfully, there is a stunning lack of support for this 'biblical' child-rearing tactic. In other words, when we cherry pick or read without historical context, we can use the Bible to defend or promote any number of issues from slavery, to women's rights, to whether or not to spank our children. The point here is that a Bible verse taken out of context can be harmful, and we must be careful to thoughtfully consider the Bible’s text in light of our experience, history and tradition.
2. The Biblical call to “go forth and multiply” is no longer as critical to the continuing of humankind. Many argue that same-sex couples are not able to have biological children and therefore their union is not natural. While it is true that same-sex partners cannot procreate (without donors, gestational carries, medical intervention, etc.), it is also true that 10-15% of heterosexual couples are infertile and often unable to have biological children without medical intervention. And, many heterosexual couples choose not to have children. Do we grant marriage rights only to those who are biologically able and/or choose to have children? Do we recognize the commitment of these childless heterosexual couples as less than? Of course not, that would be ridiculous, right? With a world population of over 7 billion, humankind is likely to continue to thrive (in terms of population, at least) whether or not every married couple is biologically able or chooses to reproduce.
3. For many Christians, the call to follow Jesus leaves no choice but to treat our LGBT brothers and sisters as equals. Many feel that this is not only justified, but what is demanded by the Gospel of Jesus. While there is much debate over the translation and context of a few Old Testament verses, in the gospels, Jesus was actually rather silent on the issue of homosexuality. However, he was very clear in his call for justice and love of neighbor above all else. Time after time, Jesus is a champion for the oppressed, the minority, the meek. Is it all that radical to believe that Jesus would welcome gay brothers and sisters into the church with open arms? Too radical to believe he would even go a step beyond to wash their feet as with his disciples? Perhaps the lack of any evidence that Jesus turned homosexual followers away is evidence enough that he welcomed them in. Let us focus our efforts on heeding that call, as demonstrated by Jesus, for social justice. Let us be known for that. After all, shouldn’t the church be the one safe place for us to be who we are? Aren’t we called by Jesus to be the church?
4. Regardless of what our individual interpretation of scripture tells us, let's look at what's happening in the present day. Let us ask ourselves the following question: What do we honestly believe to be the greater sin? Do we stand by and watch as our society and our churches treat our brothers and sisters as less than equal, stand idle as our LGBT youth attempt suicide at a rate five times greater than that of straigh youth, and feel satisfied with a message (at best) of "we love you, but you must change.” Or, do we commit the 'sin' of treating everyone as an equal regardless of the object of their consensual relationship, reach out - sincerely - to youth struggling with issues of rejection and self-worth, and proclaim, boldly, "Welcome. Come as you are. God loves you. We love you."
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…
It is my hope that our state, and our religious institutions, will be a leader for justice and work for the latter. It is my prayer that, in my own home, we will faithfully follow the call of Jesus to do so as well.
For other Christian voices (much more eloquent than my own) please see:
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Adam Hamilton and his most recent sermon on the homosexuality and the church, Bishop Sally Dyck's letter regarding Marriage Equality, and Rachel Held Evans’ blog posts, particularly here, here and here.
A final note regarding comments: I am very aware that we feel passionately about both sides of this debate. If you feel compelled to offer a comment, please do so in a way that is constructive, civil and helpful to the discussion. And, most importantly, please be mindful of all of those who may be reading. Thank you.