An Open Letter to John Kass

marriage equality icon(This post is in response to an editorial by Mr. Kass that appeared in the March 27 issue of the Chicago Tribune. Unfortunately, that column is currently available only to Tribune subscribers.)

Dear Mr. Kass,

I’m a Christian pastor. In my tradition it’s Holy Week; I should be working on sermons.

But your editorial this morning captured my attention. My response is not borne out of intolerance, but out of conviction and a genuine hope for dialogue.

First, let me thank you bringing several matters to public expression. I’m grateful for your willingness to articulate the position that your religion is deeply felt, deeply important, and deeply influential in your understanding of marriage and gender matters. I think for a lot of people, religion does play a role and as a culture, we’re all better off to acknowledge that.  Our founding fathers insisted that the government cannot show a preference for any one religion over another. They did not mandate that our faith has to be checked at the door when it comes to issues we care about.

I thank you for your moderating voice, that you speak not out of anger, but out of conviction. Me, too. I’m not angry. But I do hold my position out of a place of deep conviction.

I thank you for raising the matter of religious freedom as a laudable goal in this dialogue and debate about marriage equality. You have suggested that were the Supreme Court to issue decisions that would allow gay and lesbian persons the legal designation of marriage, that it would feel like the court was severely limiting your religious freedom.

Here’s where my gratitude dissolves into disagreement and the hope for dialogue: I fail to see the logic of your position. By allowing same sex couples to marry, the court would not mandate that you agree with the position or practice, sanction it, or become the agent of those unions. They would simply allow those who wish to make that covenant and to bind themselves to each other with a legal agreement the freedom to do so. I fail to understand how that impinges on your religious freedom.

I’m also puzzled by your association of same sex marriage with sin. I agree that our post-modern culture’s propensity is to let everyone decide what’s right and wrong based on what’s right and wrong for them; that’s problematic for me, too. But I disagree that the action of two people committing themselves to one another for life in an exclusive relationship of love and trust is “sin.” Where sin exists, let’s point it out and hold one another accountable for it; but let’s not call committed love “sin.”

For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re a “drooling white bigot of the Jim Crow era” for holding to your convictions. In the same fashion I hope you won’t consider me a liberal antinomian who is unwilling to set limits to any kind of behavior. I’m not. I, too, consider myself a traditional Christian. And the moniker of traditional Christian probably allows for a broad spectrum of views on many issues of morality.

Traditional Christians hold the bible in high regard. You obviously do, and so do I. Yet throughout the centuries Christians have looked at the bible and found the support for lots of different views about lots of different things. In the Old Testament, it’s difficult to find any correlation between the ancient practice of marriage and our own cultural definition of marriage. The practice of men taking many wives was commonplace; we have declared that illegal. Married men were freely given sexual privileges with servants; we consider that deeply immoral. (Just ask Arnold Scharzenegger.) To me, it’s difficult to find a rationale for our cultural view of marriage based on the bible. If we want to say that marriage equals one man and one woman and there can be no variation from that, then ok, let’s say that. But let’s be clear that it’s our cultural decision and that it’s not based on the bible. And to be clear, I believe that position to be an unduly exclusive understanding of mutual human love and the drive we have to commit ourselves to one we love.

For the church and “traditional Christians” to be making pronouncements of such certainty about same-sex marriage troubles me.  Institutionally, we have a long history of being wrong in the very instances where we have insisted we have been right. (Take slavery and the role of women as two instances.) I’m not saying we shouldn’t have convictions. I’m just saying that when we do, we should hold them with a healthy dose of humility and an honest admission of our brokenness and fallibility. If you take a look at Jesus’ ministry, it was the institutional “church” that comes out looking like the villain.  It was tradition that Jesus had in mind when he expanded the understanding of ancient laws when he gave the Sermon on the Mount. “If the law says, you shouldn’t kill, I say you break the law when you hate your brother.” “If the law says, you should not commit adultery, I say you break the law when you even look at a woman with sexual longing.” Jesus was willing to sully his hands and his reputation by associating with those who were considered outsiders. He consistently expanded the reach of narrowly defined behavior to include much broader matters of the heart. His ministry was about expanding the understanding of who was included in the big thing God was doing in the world.

So, why not expand the boundaries of who’s included in this construct we call marriage. After all, when you boil it all down, it’s not about gender, is it? It’s not about body parts and how they fit together, is it? It’s about a committed, covenantal love that publicly pledges the exclusivity of love and faithfulness. And when we look around us and see examples of that, we are all strengthened, regardless of whether those promises take place between a man and a woman, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman.

So, I hope you won’t consider disagreement and putting forth a different view intolerance. I cherish the opportunity for dialogue. And I’m sure you’re eager to extend the same tolerance that you long for to traditional Christians who may hold a different view with the same sense of conviction with which you hold your view.

Pr. Jim Honig
Senior Pastor
Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church
Glen Ellyn, Illinois

22 thoughts on “An Open Letter to John Kass

  1. Hobbes Nanson

    Wonderful reply. We have had same sex marriages in Canada for 10+ years, and sun still rises every morning. Some churches offer same sex marriage, others don’t. In my denomination, the United Church of Canada, each congregation had to make its own decision about whether or not not to offer same sex marriage. When our congregation chose to offer same sex marriage, after several months of study sessions and prayer, there was a tiny group opposed. One staff person, who was not UCC, was told my her pastor to resign. Shortly afterwards we had a vacancy in the ministerial staff and the search committee chose a woman married to another woman. They are both now much loved by the congregation, and the tiny opposition has faded to nothing. There is nothing like exposure to reduce fear.

  2. Valparaiso, IN

    Thanks for replying in this manner, Jim. I must admit that I quit reading Kass a few years ago. I finally decided I didn’t care what he thought even if he did have Royko’s old place in the Chicago Tribune.

    1. Jim Honig Post author

      I’m not a fan of Kass, but he’s got a following and represents a certain segment of the folks I serve out here in the ‘burbs. He’s often too acerbic for my taste. But I think he probably gets paid to be provocative.

  3. Fritz Eifrig

    He’s a bigoted, right-wing thug who definitely speaks for plenty of the Tribune’s readership. A waste of time to engage with any measure of respect or courtesy. IMO, anyway.

    1. Jim Honig Post author

      Thanks, Fritz, for reading and for your reply. However, I’m committed to modeling civil and respectful dialogue, especially with those with whom I disagree. I see precious little of that, and I’m of the opinion that our democracy depends on it. Again, thanks for reading and sharing your perspective.

  4. Chip Martin, MD

    Absolutely the most erudite, well-reasoned and wonderful dissertation I have read on this issue. I read this out loud to my partner Bill as we laid here in bed, NCAA basketball game on and my husband working on the computer. When I was done we had both stopped our other activities and were riveted to your letter. We have been together for 8 years and have 2 adopted children now (ages 4 years and 2 years). We ARE a family, and my children deserve to have married parents. When DOMA is struck down and Minnesota (where we live) passes same sex marriage (and it will) we will invite you to our wedding. Please come-I want to give you a hug. Thank you for helping me see the risen Christ this Holy Week…

  5. roy

    Being a parent of a gay daughter, I can’t thank the pastor enough for putting into words what I an assuming the parents of gay sons and daughters feel and hope for their children.

  6. Sarah

    Thank you for taking the time to talk with us after church. I’ve shared this piece with my friends who have been part of our ongoing discussion about this. Thank you for your input and guidance in this matter. These are all the things I have felt, but struggled to put into words. You say it all so well! I feel ready for more interesting dialogue!

  7. Donna Hayes

    Pastor Honig, thank you so much for taking the time this morning to share your view with us on this important matter, and to express it so beautifully in the public forum. I could not agree more.
    With gratitude, Donna

    1. Jim Honig Post author

      I loved the opportunity for conversation, Donna, about important things. So thank you! And thanks for reading the post and for your kind feedback.


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