When Washington state Senator, Mary Margaret Haugen, announced her support for legislation that would clear the way for gay marriage, I was impressed by her courage -- not just by her political support on a contentious social issue but by opening the interview with an unqualified statement that she did so as a Christian. Politics is one thing. Supporting gay marriage as an identified Christian is another. That takes real guts.
The coming vote in the Washington state legislature is likely to unleash another round of 'holy wars' on lesbian and gay families by those who presume to speak on behalf of God, the Bible, and all "real" Christians. To disagree with those holy warriors means not only to open your politics for debate but to open your Christian faith to attack. It is no wonder that so many progressive followers of Jesus would simply rather not be identified as "Christian" at all.
But there are reasons, as a Christian, to be thankful for this moment in history.
First, because this debate always gets us back to the basics -- what kind of God do we trust and what kind of Jesus do we serve? Christians like Senator Haugen seem to believe that the God we can trust is one of love and the Jesus we serve is one who creates family beyond biology, race, gender and even sexual orientation. More can be said -- and has -- but it is pretty much the bottom line for some of us Christians. And while there are those among the holy warriors who would be fine with most of the above, they would want to offer their conditions for each of them -- especially the sexual orientation part. So let's just say that the God we trust and the Jesus we serve seem to move in the direction of the un-conditional. That is pretty basic.
Of course, there have to be some conditions for human inter-relating and we are about to hear hair-raising stories about the dire ramifications of re-defining the conditions of marriage to include two adult women or two adult men who choose to make a family together. The slippery slope argument is always about some kind of condition that would render all arguments for any kind of social change untenable.
So, if we have to talk about conditions, let's talk about the conditions under which any intimate relationship between two adults could thrive -- integrity, mutuality, responsibility, maturity, and a certain amount of support. I think it is safe to say that Christians on all sides of the debate would agree that these are the kinds of values that are commended by Scripture. The legal contract of marriage does not, by itself, create nor insure those values. We only have to look at the divorce rate among heterosexual couples to see that. And, frankly, I do not think that we should assume that gay and lesbian couples will be any better at it -- but I think it's worth a try.
The point is: the legal marriage contract creates the conditions under which the expectations of these values come into play for two adults who choose to enter into it. The contract does not guarantee those values but it does create the social -- and I would say 'spiritual' -- expectation of those values and to affirm those in as many settings as a possible is, to my way of thinking, not to diminish the expectations of marriage but to expand them. As a Christian minister, I would prefer the language of covenant but, because we are talking about a legal contract issued by the state, we have to talk about contractual relationships.
And that brings me to the third reason to be thankful for gay marriage. Not only does this debate drive Christians back to the basics and to those values we expect in all our relationships, it opens up the conversation about whether religious leaders should be agents of this state-approved legal contract. If we have to talk about conditions, we cannot help but talk about control. And I, for one, believe that this is exactly the reason for the separation of church and state. That separation is not meant to dis-empower religious communities but to strengthen them for their most profound power -- the free exercise of the heart. Government can have no control over that nor should a particular religious perspective presume it to do so.
It seems to me that this is the testimony of Senator Mary Margaret Haugen. Her courage as a politician and a Christian inspire me. I do not know Senator Haugen's particular Christian tradition but I thank God for her. And gratitude, as the Medieval Christian mystic Meister Eckhart might say about theology or prayer, is everything.
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