The morning that the Supreme Court announced its decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 marked a significant moment for marriage equality. It did not grant sweeping equality for same-sex relationships, but it at least opened the door and set a marginal line of precedent that, hopefully, will be the foundation upon which a final, national position will be made. This was something worth celebrating, but it was certainly not the final battle.
The next steps are not entirely clear. Looking around, I see a lot of people who fully support marriage equality, but I also see a lot of people who oppose gay marriage. Note the difference; it is not accidental. Those who support this cause, allies, see it as an issue of equality, that everyone should be allowed to marry whomever they wish. Two consenting adults should be equally respected and afforded the same legal rights and protections, including the right to be married. For allies, this issue is “marriage equality”.
The unfortunate fact of the situation is that most of those who oppose marriage equality in this country are Christian. The only way to have a significant impact on the number of people supporting or opposing marriage equality will be to address that largest population of opposition. But how do you accomplish that? The first step is to understand why some Christians are opposed to marriage equality.
I’m going to take some license here and (1) generalize people opposed to marriage equality and (2) speak for them, even though I do not agree with their beliefs. (You can read some of my thoughts on the subject, if you would like.) For many of those who oppose this issue, it is not about equality in their mind. They know the Bible clearly says in several verses that homosexuality is an abomination to God. Offering legal recognition to a union that is abhorrent to God is not something that should be supported, endorsed, or even an issue on which you should sit on the sidelines. To these people, homosexuality, as an “act” or “lifestyle”, is a perversion and should not be condoned. This issue is “gay marriage”.
Most Christians who oppose marriage equality do so based on what they’ve been taught from, or read in, the Bible. For some this is just an excuse, but for others, it is really about trying to make decisions based on their understanding of God. This is important, because our understanding of God and His Law shapes our morals, how we live our lives and how we interact with other people. Even if it makes us uneasy, or it doesn’t agree with what “everyone else” thinks is right, God’s Word is higher than our own opinions or desires. Even if you believe in a different god, multiple gods, no god, or something other than a god, it is important to understand what the Bible says, to effectively engage a Christian on this topic.
If a Christian believes that the Bible calls any homosexual relationship an abomination, then that needs to be addressed head-on. If you see someone about to step off the curb in front of a moving bus, it would be reasonable for you to try to physically restrain them, in an attempt to save their life, even if they don’t want your help. Likewise, if someone truly believes that homosexuality will lead to eternal punishment, they can reasonably feel compelled to try to inhibit someone’s ability to harm himself or herself. Only by changing the Christian’s understanding of what the Bible says will you open them up to seeing marriage equality as marriage equality, as opposed to “gay marriage”.
When someone quotes the Bible as their basis for opposing marriage rights (or anything related to homosexuality), a frequent response is to attack the Christian back with other verses from Leviticus that the Christian does not follow (“nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together” ~Leviticus 19:19 being the one I see the most). The flaw in this strategy is that it is antagonistic and frames the discussion as a debate. This is not going to be effective in changing anyone’s mind. You are not going to convince a Christian that the Bible is a fairy tale or that it is wrong. A better approach would be to address the specific verses being quoted and try to help the person see them in a different way. To do this, you need to understand what the Bible says and why it is being misunderstood.
You will have more successful discussions if you show someone how to read the Bible differently or if you show someone how their understanding is flawed, instead of trying to convince them that their entire belief structure is false. This can’t be an argument or a debate; no one is going to change someone else’s mind by throwing catch phrases at them. The key is to help the person understand the truth in the words that they aren’t seeing.
They believe that the words are truth, and above that, they believe that God’s Law stands above all else, even if they don’t always understand it. God has authority, and just as a child may not know why a parent is telling them to do something, they are expected to recognize the parent’s authority and obey. This imposes a large burden on one to make sure that you understand your instructions accurately, and that is the key to this approach: show Christians that they have been misunderstanding the instructions, and help them see what’s been written in a different way. That is how to get Christians to support marriage equality; help them understand that “gay marriage” is not against the Bible, it is not against God, it is not against Jesus. In fact, loving and encouraging and supporting your neighbor are at the heart of all of Jesus’s teachings.
Just so I’m not misunderstood, I am not saying that it is the responsibility of the LGBTIQ community to drive these changes. That responsibility lies solely on Christians who do understand the truth of this issue. We cannot stay silent when our friends or family or church members or pastors/preachers/priests speak falsely. We have to confront this issue and share our understanding. We have to stand up and be heard, to engage this topic, and stop hoping that everyone will come around if we give them time. The reason this post is targeted to the LGBTIQ community and allies is to try to offer some guidance on how to have these conversations, if you’re going to have them. You are not obligated to change the dominant Christian view of homosexuality, but if you choose to engage someone, if you choose to challenge someone, if you have a friend that just doesn’t get it, this is how you can reach them. The arguments and debates are not being effective; this is something that may be effective.
God does not hate people for their sexual orientation, or for the person they love, or for the identity they feel in their heart. God loves everyone. Every broken, screwed up mess that we all are. He loves us. Every single person reading this, He loves you. He knows everything in your heart, and He loves you more deeply than you will ever know or comprehend. Anyone who has told you any differently was not representing God, and that is a tragedy. God does not exclude anyone, even if some of the institutions in His name have.
I know that a lot of people have been hurt by Christians and the “Church”, and that has pushed a lot of people away from trying to know God. I cannot undo whatever has been done or said, but that is not how God feels, and that is not how all Christians feel, and I am heartbroken that people have been so poorly treated. I just want to make it very clear that God does not exclude you, and God does not hate you. God will always welcome you. If you have ever wanted to know more, or wanted to explore God, I encourage you to do so.
I’m not trying to convert anyone; that is not my purpose in this. But I also don’t want anyone to walk away from God because they have been given the wrong image of who God really is. We, as Christians, are supposed to be representing God, to be showing everyone else who He is and how He calls us to live our lives. We do not always do this well, but don’t let our flaws be the reason that you decide not to search for Him.