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
Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church
Glen Ellyn, Illinois