Last week, a friend, colleague and wonderful pastor, Rev. Jean Southard, faced the highest court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) after being accused of violating her ordination vows and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) by presiding at the wedding of two women.
The facts of the case -- that Rev. Southard had performed a marriage for two women -- were not up for debate. Instead, it was Scripture and church polity that the defense, prosecution and commissioners looked to. After two days of deliberation, the court decided that Rev. Southard was innocent of all charges.
So, why is this notable?
In the last 40 years, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement has made huge strides toward full equality and inclusion. As another dear friend and colleague, Elder Michael Adee, puts it, "discrimination against the LGBT community was like a three-legged stool." The first leg classified same-gender love as a mental illness -- until the American Psychiatric Association removed this classification in 1973. The second leg criminalized same-gender love -- until in 2003 the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision struck down these laws. Only one leg of the stool is regarded by many as still standing -- that same-gender love is a sin.
This third leg of the stool is wobbling, ready to fall. The truth is that if there was anything close to a rule against same-gender marriage in the Bible, Rev. Southard would have been found guilty last week, as would the other ministers who have been compelled by their faith to marry same-gender couples and went before her to church court -- and were acquitted.
What the Bible does say is that God has called all creation very good. In other words, God makes all kinds of people and loves the diversity of humankind.
What the Bible does say is that we are not meant to live alone. God creates LGBT people, knowing them in their mothers' wombs, and declares them good. And in Genesis, the Lord said, "it is not good that the man should live alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." The loving relationships and families forged by LGBT people are gifts to them from God because they, just like all humans, are not meant to live alone. And these families of choice that include friends, sometimes, and, more and more, children, are beautiful gifts from God to our communities.
What the Bible does say is that God is love. Out of this love, God enters into covenantal promises with Noah, with Abraham, with Israel, with Jesus' disciples, with the world. More than any other Biblical material dealing with marriage, these loving covenants in Scripture are the foundation for our current understanding of marriage as a long-term commitment between two people to support one another, build families together and up build their communities together.
When we open our eyes to our neighbors, we recognize gay and lesbian couples whose lives bear all the qualities we recognize as marriage. God's love as expressed in the Bible has led us to our present conception of marriage as a bond of loving commitment.
What the Bible does say is that God can help us see new things where we were blind before. For example, God inspires us to use the covenantal pledge of fidelity between two women, Ruth and Naomi, as the second most-read Bible passage at weddings. The first most-read is 1 Corinthians 13, the ode to love which, of course, was not written as a primer for marriage but can serve well as one. When we know same gender couples whose marriages and whose service in our communities epitomize the qualities of love captured by the Apostle Paul, we must stand up for the revelation that God has inspired us to see.
What the Bible does say is that judgment belongs to God. Period. Jesus said it many times: Judge not that ye be not judged. The faithful thing to do according to Scripture is to listen to and to love your neighbor as yourself. We are to examine the log in our own eye long before we have the audacity to point out the speck in the other's eye.
Progressives of faith need not flee from the Bible in order to stand up for the beauty, truth and goodness of love. Let's stand on Scripture -- the examples I have given and more you can supply -- as we knock away the feeble lie claiming that same gender love is a sin. Let's gain strength from the witness of Rev. Southard and the acquittal that upholds the wedding she performed. Let's complete the work needed to flatten the three-legged stool of prejudice against LGBT people. God is giving us this job to do. We sin when we shirk it.
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