I say to my fellow evangelical Christians who voted in North Carolina yesterday to ban gay marriage in a constitutional amendment, I get it. I know why you felt you had to vote the way you did. You aren’t out to oppress anyone, hate anyone, or even judge anyone. You honestly think you are loving them by making them unable to marry. You might not even like the conclusion you have come to, but your view of the Bible, the United States, and Christian ethics demanded it.
But I also recognize I probably don’t share your view of the Bible, the United States, or Christian ethics. So in addition to grace and compassion toward those with whom I disagree, how should I respond?*
Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians used their vote as an opportunity to “stand up for their faith” against gay marriage. But my faith requires that I stand up for equality and with people who do not enjoy the same rights that I do.
We will probably not ever agree. And that’s okay. They are still my family. But here are a few reasons why I still believe evangelicals should support gay marriage:
Number One: Supporting Gay Marriage is not Supporting Sin. I know it is hard to grasp, but this matter has nothing to do with whether or not homosexuality is a sin. If it does, then you are probably being inconsistent since there are lots of things that Christians consider “sinful” that they do not legislate against. For instance, if God wants us as a nation to live by his laws, why are we okay supporting the freedom of religion? Shouldn’t we be out trying to ban other religions? If we are okay with freedom of religion,which is a law that basically mandates that our country allow for idolatry (according to the Christian), aren’t we being hypocritical?
Now, if this were about gay folks in church leadership or even church membership, we would have to address whether or not gay sex is a sin (which is another issue entirely on its own). But Paul seems to make it very clear that Christians have absolutely no place to judge the behavior of non-Christians:
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral . . . . In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sisterbut is sexually immoral . . . 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. . . .” -1 Corinthians 5:9-13a
Instead of focusing on “judging those inside” and creating a “city on a hill,” evangelicals are very good at making sure people who are not Christians know that they are “breaking the rules” of Christianity. And as such, we have gained the reputation for being judgmental, a moniker well-deserved for the most part. It is God’s place to judge the world, it is our place to love it. And just like the story we find in Adam & Eve, when we put ourselves in God’s place, we make a mess of things.
Number Two: To Love is to Empty Ourselves of Power. We cannot legislate people into the Kingdom of God, we cannot politically strong-arm people into becoming Christians. To think we can is to win the battle and utterly lose the war. It is also to misunderstand the emptying of God in Jesus Christ, the most powerful one who shows his power in powerlessness, the one who was God in his very nature but didn’t take advantage of that power but instead emptied himself and became a servant (Phil 2), even to his betrayer, even to the point of dying as a traitor to his state. Does love mean legislating a person’s morality according to a worldview they do not share? That does not sound like love, that sounds like a paternalistic power trip.
I would rather show people the love of Jesus by supporting them in their fight for equality, to stand with them, even if they are gay, hell, even if they are my enemies. My main goal as an evangelical Christian is to reflect the resurrected Christ and his Kingdom, not put it into law. It is to invite people in, not force them in against their will.
And while many Christians believe the “Christian” thing to do is to keep Christianity in power, I believe the “Christian” thing to do is empty ourselves of power, to give up our legislating and to take up our cross. I believe Jesus is on the side of those without power and his kingdom is one of equality, where no one is a second-class citizen, whether that be conservative Christian, drug addict, GLBT, atheist, or politician. We all bear God’s image in this story.
Number Three: History Should Compel Us. I am not sure Christians realize that they were, for the most part, on the wrong side of the slave issue. The Bible was used regularly during the Civil War to support slavery as morally acceptable. Not only that, but by taking care of the “less than human blacks,” the white slave owners were being quite compassionate, taking care of a race that couldn’t survive in the civilized world on their own. It was so “obvious” that the Bible supported slavery. . .
And, lest we forget, it was a Christian culture that kept women from being able to vote until only 100 years ago. I am ashamed that a “Christian” culture didn’t support or even acknowledge the equality of women until . . . well, in some Christian circles, they still don’t. By the way, in many circles, the same oppressive structure presents itself with women as with gays. We love you emotionally and even personally, but not enough to actually give up my privileged position as the man/straight in power.
The way I see the text of the prophets, the life of Jesus, and the trajectory of the New Testament, I would much rather be held accountable to God for fighting for someone to have the same rights I enjoy (sorry God, I assumed I should fight for the rights of those who didn’t have them) than to be held accountable to God for excluding rights from people for the sake of religious rules (sorry God, I thought I was supposed to tell the world how sinful they are and that my government should privilege Christian culture at the expense of other people).
I might be wrong. If studies show that children of gay parents are somehow disadvantaged or if our society does in fact begin to fall apart because gay people can marry, then perhaps I will change my mind. But for now that’s a risk I am willing to take for the sake of people knowing that there are Christians who stand with them in their struggle to be seen as equals in the eyes of their government.
If the Church wants to keep marriage between a man and a woman because of their religious convictions, so be it. Remember, this isn’t about the “sinfulness of homosexuality.” I understand that stance within the Church. But I will not support using the government’s power to coerce powerless non-Christians into behaving like Christians. That, to me, seems thoroughly un-Christian. It is the Spirit of God who transforms the heart, not the laws of the powerful.
*This is an updated, expanded, and edited version of a post I wrote back in February when a similar event occurred.