Gay Marriage and Racism
Last week, the Supreme Court announced in a 5-4 decision that states are required to recognize the validity of same-sex marriage. It has, at least for now and probably forever, decided the issue. We will have a fuller post on the issue coming later this week, but for now, I want to address it in a specific context.
The decision is unsurprising; in fact, I predicted it months ago, as did most people analyzing the issue. Justice Kennedy tipped his hand in the Windsor decision last year – it is simply incomprehensible that he could have declared that the only reason to oppose same-sex marriage was born out of bigotry, and then acquiesced to the notion that states could legally do so. Despite the inevitability of the decision, conservative Christians have (somewhat understandably) responded with alarm and, in some cases, despair. Many have decried the fact that we are living in a country whose values, at least when it comes to sex and marriage, no longer reflect our own.
A friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous (and who is, incidentally, both a Christian and black) insightfully pointed out that many Christians who have been silent about issues of race and race relations over the past 2 years have been vocal about issues of homosexuality over the past few days. My friend’s point was not to say that we should be silent about our convictions regarding sexuality and marriage, but only to point out that the very points they make can ring hollow in the context of their silence over issues of racism.
I found the point to be profound. See, Christians are wrong about the United States no longer reflecting the values of Christianity, but not because the values of the United States still reflect the values of Christianity. They are wrong because the values of the United States never reflected the values of Christianity. The United States was birthed on the notion that all men are created equal, so long as the color of a person’s skin was substantially similar to the color of the skin of men asserting that all are created equal. That idea does not reflect the values of Christianity. The economy and social structure of our country was built on the backs of enslavement and discrimination. That idea does not reflect the value of Christianity, which was built on the notion that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free. The United States perpetuated the notion of inequality by, even after slavery was overturned, creating government-sanctioned inequality and denying African-Americans the same opportunities as those whose skin happens to be lighter to our present day; for centuries, it denied women basic equality; for 40 years, it has determined that the possibility of life for a baby is dependent on the will of its parents; none of these things reflect the values of Christianity.
As I wrote in a previous post, the idea that the most recent Supreme Court decision (and the general changing attitudes towards sexuality and homosexuality in general) are a sign that we are losing or will lose favor with God stems from theological confusion. “The U.S. is not the new Israel, and its rapid rise as a world power is more likely the result of an economy based on free labor and geographical advantages than on a special affection God placed on us. But even if it were true, the idea that it could be eroded by governmental recognition of gay marriage seems unlikely. It would require us to believe that while the government allowed people to be enslaved, beaten, humiliated and dehumanized based on the color of their skin, God had a special love for us. While the government found “manifest destiny” to be more important than the livelihoods or lives of Native Americans, God had a special love for us. While women were treated as second-class citizens and denied the right to vote, God had a special love for us. But when the government recognized the marriage of homosexuals, it was evidence that we had lost our way, the moral fabric of our country had been torn, and God no longer had a special love for us. Even if we believe God had a special love for the U.S. (and we probably should not), are we prepared to subscribe to a position that implicitly requires us to believe that God’s love for a nation is not determined by government-sanctioned slavery, or unjustified killing, or dehumanization of women and immigrants and African-Americans, or abortion, but is determined by government-sanctioned same-sex marriage?”
Or, as Joey Phillips put it, “the men we revere as the founding fathers of our nation held positions and beliefs that are completely contrary to good Christian morals. In fact, to find a time where the USA didn't have laws that were wicked, oppressive, and sinful, you might be able to argue there was about a 2 year period after all the civil rights legislation and before Roe V Wade where we were heading in the right direction. The fact of the matter is that our leaders, from Washington to Obama, Christian or not, have all presided over wickedness. So let's keep that in perspective as we discuss these issues with our unbelieving friends. It is reasonable for them to be confused at the degree to which we are alarmed at the recent rulings if we praise our history uncritically.”
None of this is to convince you that your perspective on homosexuality is wrong or misguided. It is only to suggest that our patriotism and perspective on the United States should not change. Gay marriage may or may not be a political issue that Christians should fight against – there are debates to be had about whether God’s prohibition against homosexuality means that a government that has no mandate to control the definition of marriage in the first place should limit marriage to specific people and the right mix of genders. People fight for the things that they believe in, and in a pluralistic society, that should mean the freedom to fight for and against certain practices. After all, it’s completely natural to fight for a society that reflects your belief. Fighting for a society that does not recognize gay marriage or prohibits abortion or does not allow divorce is, in one sense, no different than fighting for a society that does not allow prayer in school or does not allow people to do cocaine or prohibits prostitution. But being devastated about one thing ( let’s say gay marriage being allowed) while ignoring another (let’s say racism) always says something (just as being devastated about forced child labor while ignoring sex trafficking would say at least something), and my contention is that, in the context of sex and racism, what it says is not good.
Today, there are two major issues being discussed in society more than any others. One centers around the Confederate flag, and everything it represents, from 9 people gunned down by a white supremacist, to a young child gunned down by a government official, to every evidence of racism in between. The other is represented by a rainbow flag, and everything it represents, from the intolerant cries of the Outrage Industry, to the simple desire of equality, and everything in between. If we fight against the latter while ignoring the former, perhaps we should not be surprised if the world around us rolls its eyes.
At the end of the day, the Supreme Court did little to nothing to change much about our society; they simply gave legal recognition to relationships that already exist. As I said before, there is much to say about the decision, and I leave that to another day (and hopefully a better writer and thinker). I’m not suggesting that, as a church, we should have nothing to say about sexuality, marriage, divorce or any other issues surrounding marriage. I’m not suggesting that we should have nothing to say about the rainbow flag; I’m simply suggesting that we definitely have a lot to say about the Confederate flag. Sometimes what we are willing to talk about impacts the response to what we actually say.
Throughout history, the church of Christ has powerfully sounded a clarion call on behalf of the oppressed, from Ignatius to Saint Francis to Wilburforce to Dr. King to nameless missionaries around the world and across our streets to those decrying the murder of the unborn, as they followed the example of a Savior that defended the poor and spoke out against the privilege of the elite and powerful. The decision of the Supreme Court did not change that mandate. We have not begun to live in a world opposed to our values; we’ve always lived in that world, and we will continue to do so until we are taken to another.