My Turn “Faith Support for Marriage Equality”
Faith Support for Marriage Equality
by Phil Campbell for the Juneau Empire
Recent polls indicate that the U.S. populace is split in its reaction to the June 26 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same gender marriage. Many assume that people of faith line up with the opponents of same gender marriage, but often this is not the case. Religious traditions are divided. Within Christianity, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and others support same gender marriage in church as well as society. The congregation I serve is affiliated with two denominations and their official positions differ. The Presbyterian Church USA allows its minsters and congregations to celebrate same gender marriages, but the United Methodist Church does not. And official stances notwithstanding, there are Presbyterians who oppose marriage equality and Methodists who back it, and this diversity of opinion is present in virtually every communion.
Some argue that the Bible opposes marriage equality, but this is far from certain. Over the years, the Bible has been used to support and oppose a host of issues including slavery, discrimination against women, and decisions to go to war. In similar vein, one can find scriptural warrant both for and against same gender marriage. I am among those who support marriage equality and full participation of LGBTQ persons in all aspects of church and society, and I do so because of my faith, not in spite of it. Homosexuality is a minor topic in scripture, and the very few passages that address homosexual behavior do not refer to loving, committed, same gender relationships. The Bible lacks reference to sexual orientation; humans did not have the capacity to comprehend or describe sexual orientation until the rise of the discipline of psychology in the nineteenth century of the Common Era. In my view, the Biblical criteria for a healthy marriage are the same for heterosexual and same sex couples. It is not about who you love, but how you love – tenderly, mutually, respectfully and joyously. Marriage is not for everyone. No one needs to be married in order to live a full and meaningful life. But the church affirms that marriage is a “fitting estate” for two persons (for me, gay or straight) who love each other and who wish to share their lives together.
Two years ago I spoke at an “Equality for All Alaskans” event that called for human rights for LGBTQ Alaskans. In addition to marriage which is now legal, such rights include protections from discrimination in employment and housing which are yet to be guaranteed in our state. I was asked to speak because some in the LGBTQ community are people of faith who seek full inclusion in religious communities as well in civil society. Initially I was hesitant because the church is so divided and I feared my participation might fan the flames of discord. As I thought further, however, I concluded that there was a more important value at play than keeping an uneasy peace. Many in the LGBTQ community have suffered painful rejection at the hand of the church. Instead of the faith being a source of strength, inspiration, and comfort, it has been received as a message of condemnation. I needed to speak at the event to apologize for the treatment many experience. My participation was not for the purpose of deepening division; it was about widening the welcome.
Christians will continue to disagree about same gender marriage as well as any number of other issues, but I believe we can treat one another with compassion and respect across our differences. In a 1733 sermon, Methodism’s founder John Wesley famously asked, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”
According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said all the Law and the Prophets are summarized in two commandments – to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In his book, “The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry,” theologian H. Richard Niebuhr referenced this teaching when he stated that the church’s purpose is “to the increase of love of God and neighbor.” I am convinced Niebuhr is right, and from where I stand, support for same gender marriage increases the love.
Campbell is a Juneau resident and pastor of Northern Light United Church