Tag Archives: marriage equality

Now Is the Time!

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This afternoon I got a bad case of  leaky eyes. Tears rolling down my face for most of the afternoon.

Sometimes they were tears because I was just overwhelmed with the emotion of it all. Sometimes they were tears of heartache because I was overwhelmed with the injustice of it all.

Today, I spent 3 hours just outside the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield with 5000 others braving the cold and rain to rally in support of Marriage Equality in Illinois.

For two hours, a steady parade of speakers came to the podium. Some of them were politicians speaking in support of marriage equality. I’m grateful for their courage. Some of them were gay and lesbian people who were angry that this has taken so long. It’s hard to be judgmental about their anger. Some had worked for decades for equality and were deeply touched at sense of growing momentum and this tremendous outpouring of support. I was honored to be part of that support.

Their stories often broke my heart and confirmed that it really is high time to get rid of the second class status of same gender couples. A woman and her partner have three children. One of the children became deathly ill. The hospital would not allow both parents into the room because protocol allowed only one “mother” id band. So, they had to take turns going in and out of the room, both of them horrified that one of them might not be there when their son died. A man stood at the podium with his partner of 50 years. Yes, 50 years. His partner is an American combat veteran and wants to be buried at a military cemetery, a right which he as earned with the risk of his very life. If they were married, they could be buried together. As it stands, that’s not possible. The entire crowd could hear the anguish in his voice. A couple in their 70s who have been committed to one another for 50 years cannot be buried in a military cemetery of the United States of America. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  For these two men, the issue takes on a particular urgency.

Here’s a confession: I came to this party late. Well into the early years of my pastoral ministry, I was still viewing homosexuality as an an aberration. Gradually, as I have come both to theological maturity and a more informed understanding of human sexuality, I have come not just to acceptance, but to the belief that to deny same gender couples the same benefits and protections of the law is a gross injustice. Let me tell you about a turning point for me.

Several years ago, a clergy friend invited me to his union ceremony which was to take place right here in my home town. I had known Phil in the early years of my ministry; he was a pastor in a neighboring congregation. Phil moved away and I lost track of him. When we reconnected, I discovered that he had left the ministry for a time, primarily because of struggles over his sexual identity. He was in a denomination that did not allow openly gay men to serve as pastors. He reemerged as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and was serving a congregation in New York City. While there, he fell in love with Brett, who just happened to be from Glen Ellyn, where I live. Their union ceremony was at the UCC church just blocks from my home. Sheryl and I attended. It was my first one. It was beautiful.

What is forever etched in my memory is a scene from the reception. It was a smallish affair at the boathouse at the little lake at the little park in the center of our little suburban town. There was a pause in the festive eating and drinking for folks to make their remarks and offer some toasts. It was Brett’s brother, I think, who came to the mic and told of how thrilled they were to see their brother so happy. He mused about the joy of the occasion and the joy evident in the room. And then he said this, “If this isn’t family values, then I don’t know what is.”

Family values: love, acceptance, commitment, joy, and a sense of service to the community and the world. Those were the values exuded by Phil and Brett, and by their family and friends gathered that day to celebrate their love.

This is what I just don’t understand. Marriage of same gender couples is no threat to the institution of marriage. In fact, the very values of their love and commitment to each other is exactly the values that I’d love to see grow and flourish in our society.

After my experience today, I am more convinced than ever that marriage equality is a simple matter of justice. And I am committed to being more vocal and more active in making sure that it happens in the state where I live. Now is the time.

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
630.469.2361