Will Christianity Accept Gay Marriage?

[There have been a number of important events in the United States these past two weeks, and I have been struggling to decide which one to discuss first.  It seems that once I have reflected on a topic, another significant event takes place that warrants study and discussion.  I have at last settled on the post below.  Other important issues will find their way in subsequent posts.  


I want to begin today’s reflection with questions I have discussed in the recent past: what is the purpose behind a church community, and what should a church community look like?  Near the end of last month, I reflected on the latter question (you can click here to read my May 28 post on the topic), and not long before that, I reflected on Peter’s willingness to accept non-Jews into the Christian community (click here to read my May 18 post).  On May 28, I wrote, “the ideal Christian community would be as diverse as the surrounding population is diverse.”  On May 18, I wrote, “Christians have the obligation to show everyone the love that God gives to all of us.”

A Christian is obligated to show Christ’s love to everyone; therefore, a church community ought to be the embodiment of this mission.  Also, a Christian church community should meet the spiritual needs of its members.

Tradition and Law
For a lot of Christians, this is where they get stuck in a complex web of tradition and law.  They know what culture has dictated in the past–they expect traditional acts to occur in specific ways because that is how things have always been done–and they know what specific Bible passages say concerning every aspect of life.

Such and such is right because in specific passages the Bible says such and such.  Christians love clear and irrefutable answers to difficult questions.

A Court Ruling that Has Changed the American World
On June 26 of this year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is legal in all fifty states.  This ruling only applies to U.S. governments, so it has no impact on church rules.  Nevertheless, Christians are talking about the decision.  The General Convention of the Episcopal church will likely discuss possible changes to its policy on marriage very soon, and I have read comments attributed to several Episcopal representatives who voiced clear support for change.  Representatives of other denominations have already expressed outright rejection of change: they point to biblical passages that clearly define marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

Should Christian Churches Institute Gay Marriage?
During the past few days, I have spent some quiet time asking God this question.   Whether asked from the liberal or conservative Christian point of view, one answer keeps sounding in my mind again and again: if someone has chosen to follow Jesus, then the church must embrace that person.

It is not enough to only welcome that person during Sunday worship, however: a church community has the obligation to support its members throughout all major life events.  Would a Christian church community ignore someone’s tears when a loved one passes away?  Would a Christian community turn away someone who has lost a job or a home?  And what about the joyful times?  Shouldn’t a loving church community celebrate the day when a person’s prayers are answered or when someone’s illness is cured? Shouldn’t a church community rejoice when a member of the congregation is moved to volunteer for a ministry?  All Christians need a loving church community throughout their lives, not just on Sundays, and gay Christians are no exception.

Intimate relationships are also a vital part of every human’s life, and within those relationships are spiritual needs that only a loving religious community can support.  If gay couples are called to follow Jesus, how can a church deny them the spiritual support that is offered to everyone else?  The Gospels show that the apostles were astonished when Jesus met with all sorts of people outside of the traditional Jewish definition of who was safe to hang around.  After The Lord’s resurrection, the apostles were moved to accept gentiles, criminals, even people who killed Christians.  With such a diverse list of people that the apostles were willing to embrace, why would modern Christians insist on limiting the community membership?

A Selfless Love
It is important for me to emphasize that I am referring to gay couples who choose to follow Jesus Christ.  There are many gay couples who prayerfully make this choice, and If a gay couple is called to follow Christ, then isn’t it right to assume that God has already settled the matter?  Why would God attract people who are not worthy to be part of a loving community?  If a gay couple has chosen to abandon self-centered living and join a community of love, then how can a church say no?  And if two gay people meet those criteria and wish to live the rest of their lives together as both spiritual and physical partners, then how can a church deny them the sacrament of matrimony?

Marriage is a term reserved for a selfless love, the same love that comes from God, the same love that fills the entire universe, the same love that the church needs if it is to survive.  I know gay couples who possess and project this love–it is time for the church to accept that God’s love exists within all of humanity.


A Church for All People

Acts 10:44-48

Recent events in my life have reminded me what it feels like to be a new member of a church community.

The new person begins his membership as a visitor, a stranger who has perhaps found the church through research but is a complete stranger to the community.  A stranger is in a vulnerable position and can feel alone even if the church is full of people.  It can be a frightening experience made even more frightening by the order of the worship service, the style of music, and the arrangement of the seating that are unique to that community.  A new place can feel like a different planet.

The transition from visitor to community member can be short or it can take months depending on the community.  How accepting are the parishioners?  Are they willing to let in someone who is from a different place?  More importantly, are they willing to show the visitor around and help him learn the nuances of their spiritual community?

Today’s passage in Acts serves as a guide for church communities, but it is also a reassuring message for people who are strangers to a new spiritual home.  Peter’s willingness to baptize gentiles highlights a central feature of the Christian faith: everyone is welcome to the community.  Christians have the obligation to show everyone the love that God gives to all of us, but it is easy for Christians to fail in this obligation.

Today’s reading says, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”  The passage suggests that the Jewish members of the early church were astonished that people from other faiths can have a connection with God.  My mind wonders if much has changed all of these years later.  Would I be astounded if Jesus appeared to a Buddhist friend of mine?  What if my friend is so moved by the experience that he chooses to follow Jesus’ teachings but at the same time chooses to remain a practicing Buddhist?  Should I then consider my Buddhist friend a member of my church community, or is he still outside of my church community?

God does not follow our labels, and this truth should be at the center of the Christian way of life.  A Christian must accept a world full of different people–diversity should not be a mere goal for this faith: it is an unambiguous command.

A visitor to a church community can feel alone.

A visitor to a church community can feel alone.

Acts 10:44-48

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Why Is It So Hard to Explain the Christian Faith? (And Do I Understand It?)

This entry is more of a confessional than a reflection.  I do not completely understand God, even now after years of reflecting and praying.  There is no way that I am alone with this dilemma, but I see it as a good problem.  The only harm it has caused me is a feeling of embarrassment–it feels silly to profess a belief in something that I cannot fully understand–but in my mind this is not a defeat.

The lack of understanding simply encourages me to keep thinking and praying about God.

My dilemma came to the forefront of my mind recently when I tried to think of a way to explain my Christian belief system to a non-Christian.  What is up with this Jesus?  Was he a holy man or was he actually a God?  The answer is both, but that is a nonsensical answer.  The biggest religions in this world profess to not worship a human, but to an outsider it sure looks like we Christians worship a human being.

Since this is a confessional, I will come out and say that my mind has yet to fully understand the nature of Jesus and the Christian God.  I do not understand the religion’s concept of a many but one God, but I choose to stick with this belief system anyway.

Christianity makes a little more sense when I consider the diverse needs that people have.  People connect with God in a variety of ways, and when I consider a typical church community, I can see how a church can serve those different needs.  For the more thoughtful group, a church service will contain philosophical mysteries.  For those who better relate to action instead of reflection, a typical church will offer many volunteer opportunities.  Some people better connect with God through physical activity, so the ministries that involve physical work (building houses or constructing irrigation systems, for example) can offer them a spiritual experience.

This idea of diversity and inclusiveness is the closest I can come to explaining why I have not given up on my belief in God, and it is my best explanation of the impossible-to-understand Christian God.  God is made of several different forms because different people have different needs: this does not have to result in a religion of chaos.  God embraces all of us, and we in turn should embrace each other: this is the truth behind the Christian faith.


Diverging Views, Yet One God

Mark 6:53-56*

Most of the Christians I know accept that God exists, and they are unlikely to ever change their minds on that matter.  Ask them for a more specific detail about their faith, however, and you will receive many different answers.

Do you believe in angels?  I have asked this question to just about everyone I know, and some of the responses have rendered me speechless.  One devout Catholic–and when I say devout, I mean someone who goes to church every Sunday and regularly volunteers for various parish duties–laughed and declared that angels were irrational nonsense.  And what about the biblical passages that mention angels?  Literary devices, of course.  It was not the response that I anticipated from this individual.

Another question that has yielded a variety of answers is whether or not you believe in miraculous healing.  In other words, can praying to God heal someone of an untreatable medical condition?  Answers have ranged from “Of course.  I wouldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t believe in miracles,” to “Of course not.  Science has disproved miraculous healings.”

How can people who believe in God possess such different views?  My guess is that it all depends on one’s personal experiences.  The person who rejected the existence of angels probably received little help from others: if you see few people who assist those in need, then you are likely to have a difficult time believing in angels.  Those who accepted the concept of miraculous healings likely witnessed someone recover from a bleak health condition, and those who rejected miraculous healings probably witnessed someone succumb to a health condition.  Experience seems to have a major impact on our capacity to believe.

So what can we say about the people at Gennesaret in today’s reading?  They know about Jesus and His ability to heal the sick, but most importantly, they believe that Jesus has the ability to heal.  Their past experience of watching Jesus heal has made it easier for them to accept that the sick will indeed be healed.  Other parts of the Gospels show us that not every community accept Jesus’ miraculous powers, but I cannot imagine that the doubters are doomed just because they cannot believe at one point in time.  I also cannot imagine that the people at Gennesaret will live perfect lives because they accept Jesus.

Our different views only prove that we are individuals and that human beings have been designed to be different.  I do not see this as a problem–not as long as we all accept that at the heart of our differences is God’s undying love.


*Mark 6:53-56

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

The Guest List

Matthew 22:1-14

22Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.13Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’

Today’s Gospel passage ends with Jesus saying, “many are called, but few are chosen.”

I am not one to disagree with any of the red type in my personal Bible, but from what I can tell, the parable of the wedding banquet calls for a different word than “chosen.” It seems that the king in the story invites a number of people to come to his son’s wedding banquet (first a noble guest list, then a guest list full of common people and sinners), but the invitees are the ones actually doing the choosing.

Jesus tries to explain through the story that everyone is called to follow His new way of living, but the reward is not automatic. The people still need to do something in order to receive all of the joy that the wedding banquet offers, and, surprisingly, many of them do not accept the invitation.

Of course, Jesus is telling a story, and stories are not quite the same as real life. It’s easy for the audience to think, “who on earth would turn down an invitation to this wedding banquet?” I mean, it’s the wedding banquet for a prince. Not only will there be food, but it is certain to be the best food. Not only that, but Jesus invites everyone, not just the wealthy, not only the Jews. Who can say no to that?

In real life, however, this spiritual calling is not like a wedding banquet. Following Jesus can bring you joy, but the path requires new thinking.

In the United States, many Christians forget who is on the guestlist. People from all backgrounds and all religions are invited. This should be an equalizer, but Christians tend to put each other back into categories even after they realize that heaven is for everyone. Choosing to live a Christian life ought to mean that you accept everyone as your equal, but many people who call themselves Christian do not adopt this mindset.

Tara and I do our best to follow what we call a “moderate” Christian philosophy, and the way we interpret the word “moderate” is we accept all spiritual views as long as they favor peace and love. The world probably considers this thinking more liberal than moderate, but we also keep away from joining public protests or debating with those who disagree with us. We have no ill feelings toward other faiths because we believe all people are welcome in heaven. What matters is not a person’s religion, race, economic standing, or place of origin–this indiscriminate acceptance is an easy concept, but few people can think this way.

And what happens to those who cannot accept such a diverse guest list? The parable turns violent when people ignore the banquet invitations, and I am not comfortable with this violence. Aren’t there worse crimes to commit than to refuse a party invitation? I can only hope that Jesus uses the violence as a storytelling device to help the audience understand that one’s spiritual path is of vital importance.

Do you want to attain that perfect state of peace referred to as heaven? You must accept the reality that all people are invited. Embrace this sort of diversity and you will find eternal life. If you reject the different people on God’s guest list, then your soul is as good as dead.