Dearly Beloved

06/30/2015 05:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

"If faith communities lead the way in honoring the reality of same-sex marriage, the law will eventually follow."  -- Jim Burklo, BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS, 2008

 Oh happy day, Friday, June 26, 2015!  -- when our dearly beloved gay and lesbian friends celebrated the US Supreme Court's decision to make same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states.

The day came because of the bravery of gay and lesbian people who made their private lives public, risking ridicule and hatred by claiming a right that was theirs as much as it ever belonged to heterosexual couples.  It was their day, and with gusto they are still celebrating it.  Roberta and I celebrated, too - hanging in front of our house an American flag next to a chalk drawing of a rainbow that our grandchildren made.  It was day to feel great about being Americans!

The day arrived because lesbian and gay couples came out of the closet all over the country, making it harder and harder for their neighbors to claim that there was any harm to anyone in accepting their relationships as marriages.  When gay couples wanted to celebrate their marriages, despite their lack of legal status, progressive pastors and congregations welcomed them.  I officiated at my first same-sex wedding nearly two decades ago at the church I was serving as pastor.  Though I was fully committed to being part of the event, and the church was behind it, I did feel trepidation about how the people attending the wedding would react.  My concerns evaporated once the ceremony began.  Standing between the groom and the groom, sensing the overwhelming love they had for each other, it was all I could do to keep from weeping.  And the crowd was deeply moved, as well.  If they were not believers in the rightness of same-sex marriage before, they surely were after that ceremony.  I watched hearts and minds change before my eyes.  We knew that history was being made in front of us. 

Many other Progressive Christian churches and pastors performed same-sex weddings long before those marriages had legal standing.  We were engaged in what Jim Corbett called "civil initiative".  Corbett was the co-founder of the Sanctuary Movement, which smuggled undocumented Central American refugees into the US and sheltered them in churches and temples across the country in the 1980's.  (His books, GOATWALKING and SANCTUARY FOR ALL LIFE, had a great influence on me.)  Corbett did not see the Sanctuary Movement as civil disobedience, in which one breaks an unjust law and takes the punishment for the sake of promoting social change.  Rather, he saw it as civil initiative, in which one obeys what ought to be the law in order to hasten the day when that law is formally recognized.  

We Progressive Christians faithfully did our part to change the culture of the United States, bringing closer the day when same-sex marriage would be legally honored everywhere.  We didn't know how long it would take.  In 2008, when I wrote the quote that began this "Musing", voters had just put Proposition 8 into law, banning same-sex marriage in California.  It was a big setback.  But every same-sex wedding we officiated in our congregations created new believers for the cause.  We didn't just advocate for it politically: we married our way into same-sex marriage!

While we ought to celebrate this great victory, we should recognize that the struggle isn't over.  It's a time for joy, but certainly not for gloating.  I doubt that the right of same-sex marriage can be taken away; I predict it will gain more and more acceptance from the public.  But we can expect a fierce reaction from religious right-wingers.  They are losing the "culture war", and they are losing their grip on the Republican Party as a result.  Their influence on voters is diminishing.  Increasingly, they see themselves as victims of persecution who must rise up to claim their rightful leadership of a nation with no "wall" of separation from their versions of church and state.  Will their frustration lead some of them to abandon the democratic process and embrace violence to reach what they believe are divinely-ordained ends?  (Read what Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has to say about this possibility.)  The persecution the religious right claims to suffer is a fantasy:  religious freedom is alive and very well in the U.S..  But the anger is real.  This is a time for progressive religious people to wave American and rainbow flags, but also to reach out to those who still oppose same-sex marriage and draw them into dialogue wherever possible - for the sake of democracy and social peace. 



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