Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Presbyterian Church and the Civil Rights Question for LGBTQ Persons in America.


There are many within the church who choose to restrict the conversation of Marriage Equality to those of opposite genders. But I would like to ask: Does not such a conversation neglect our other Presbyterian commitments to universal equality, human rights, and the preservation of justice not only at home in the U.S., but abroad as well?

While the PC(USA) has not voted to approve of the celebration of same-gender loving marriage rites, we have allowed pastors and congregations to perform and host holy-unions. At the same time, we have reiterated our call for the church to preserve the full access to civil rights for every LGBTQ person.

Ironically, what we are now seeing in many American states is the recognition of civil unions for all as a form of preserving equal rights for each of their citizens, even though the Federal Government does not now recognize such rights because of the Defense of Marriage Act. While many in the church are discussing this issue as a marriage issue, what is missing is any conversation about the inequity between the many human rights and tax breaks given to heterosexual couples that same-gender loving couples do not enjoy. And what about the immigration rights of partners whose partners are of the same-gender? Furthermore, should people have to be married to be guaranteed health insurance and inheritance rights? Should not every American be able to live their lives free of discrimination and hate-crimes? Why are we not in the streets fighting to give every American the same civil rights?

Right now a state Proposition collecting signatures in California will allow the state to only recognize civil unions - restricting the term ‘marriage’ to the arena of the churches. This would effectively move the Gay Marriage Debate to religious institutions. While this Proposition would bring about an equality between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, if this passes it will mean that the LGBTQ community will then ask which religious communities will recognize the full humanity of all of its members and which will not. Are we ready for this?



Marriage is usually discussed in Scripture, the Confessions, and the Book of Order in the context of covenant faithfulness. Those who make covenants are expected to remain faithful to those covenants. And, when in our human weakness we break covenant, God is faithful to restore us to faithfulness in love.

Such covenants are to be fraught with love - luring us into our best selves. While the context of biblical marriage is found mainly within polygamous relationships, as was the custom of the time (Patriarchs until circa 1000 CE), there is also a polemic in scripture against such marriage relationships, with a progressive display of the struggles between wives (ie, Sarah and Hagar, etc.). The prophet Hosea uses the metaphor of marriage fidelity as an example of the nation of Israel's lack of fidelity, and the lengths God goes to to redeem his beloved.

While the scriptures do include a polemic of the idolatry of the temple prostitution popular among the foreign nations (Lev & Romans), there is not a polemic against what we know today as same-gender loving couples because it was unheard of. The word homosexual was anachronistically imported into the RSV English translation, which is why we have a PC (USA) task force looking at creating a better version of the Heidelberg Catechism that doesn't import our modern biases into the our historic confessions. As believers who have made peace between religion and science, we will need to include our best human knowledge from both a social-scientific and scriptural perspective. Remember, that any 'natural argument' effectively becomes an argument from and for our cultural norms.

Jesus had some strong words about marriage and divorce, protecting the partner who was most at risk of being uncared for in a divorce during his era. I would contend that the real issue remains to be 'covenant fidelity' - do we keep our promises. Since it is clear that same-gender loving couples are as able to live in covenant fidelity as heterosexual couples, the question will eventually move from the state's rights arena into the church: Will this church recognize the covenants of every believing couple who desire to live in covenant fidelity?

Perhaps the real question remains: What if the Mainline Protestant Christian Tradition was not prepared to lead in the realm of human sexuality when it was most needed? We weren't ready to talk about the Sexual Revolution because we had been denying our sexuality for so long that we could only deny it. We had little understanding about the diversity of human sexuality, and so we gave a knee-jerk reaction. Perhaps today we are almost ready to offer a well-considered response. But if we lead with 18th century theology and biases, we will continue to be laughed at by the rest of our culture. We Protestants lost our chance to lead the culture 40 years ago because we were unprepared. Same-gender loving couples have shown that their covenants are as fraught with love as those covenants made by heterosexual couples. The question for us as a church remains: When we will be the church of Jesus Christ. When we will begin to live out our discipleship as a function of Christ’s love, rather than as a function of the culture wars at this particular time in the U.S.



Today, our only hope is to repent from our collective misrepresentation of sexual minorities, and reclaim those parts of our tradition that welcome all. Perhaps we need to reclaim Isaiah's 'House of Prayer for all Peoples' which included those priests who were made eunuchs in the courts of Babylon, and recognize Philip's preaching to the eunuch whom the Spirit of God fell upon and he could not refuse baptism. It is time to separate ourselves from those hermeneutics that have oppressed those least understood by our society, and to reclaim an ethic of covenant faithfulness that includes who have stood firm within Christ’s covenant even though we have not stood firm with them.

1 comment:

Willy Mac said...

Yes, I was arrested during civil-disobedience after the California Supreme Court decision of Proposition 8, and I would do so again to stand for equal rights for every Californian.

But I want to hear from you. What do you think! Please comment on this blog with your thoughts and feelings, for or against (really, I can take it). Let's open an honorable conversation from the positions from which we all find ourselves: