For the past few weeks, many of the eyes of the nation have been focused on New York as our elected officials have danced around the issue of same sex marriage. While I have been an advocate for this endeavor for the past eight or nine years, it seems like much of my time has been consumed arguing for this change as well as lobbying our state senators to affirm Governor Cuomo’s bill. With other volunteers in the Human Rights Campaign, we have gathered tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of signatures which have been presented in Albany. I have been accused of being unfamiliar with the Scriptures, of following a different God, and consigned to the depths of hell when I die. I am fairly certain that the first two claims are in error. As for the third, I will depend on the mercy of God. I know that when I stand before the Judgment Throne, I will prefer to be judged for having been too generous with God’s mercy than too stingy. I would like to think that I have been a faithful servant.
Throughout the centuries, the Church has often had to atone for her past mistakes. Throughout those same centuries, much of the Church has held to the position that homosexuality is contrary to God’s will. This position is based upon a narrow reading of eight passages in Scripture. A narrow, superficial, and erroneous reading of passages that have nothing to do with people who are, by their nature, by their very Godly creation, homosexual. The Church has also depended upon the interpretations of these passages by its previous theologians-the early Church fathers and continuing through the ages. The Church has erred and many of us have come to the conclusion that it is time to atone for this misinterpretation and the way that it has been used against our homosexual brothers and sisters. It should be noted that I say this in all humility.
As fervently as we believe this, there are those who hold, most vociferously, to the opposite, historical, traditional understanding. I believe that what grieves me the most about this is that many in the GLBT community will hear their words and conclude that there is no place for the Church in their lives. I know that participation in a faith community is not for everybody but if someone chooses to absent him or herself from these communities, I hope that it is not because they feel unwanted, unloved by those who claim to follow an all loving, all merciful, all welcoming God. As much as I am telling my senators to pass this legislation, I am also telling my fellow gay and lesbian citizens, do not give up on us. More and more Christian denominations in this country are speaking up. More and more denominations are intentionally welcoming the gay community into their midst, even to the point of recognizing and accepting their gay clergy, some who are partnered, some who are single. Yet, many of our politicians only hear one voice, believe that the Church is united in the historic, traditional understanding that homosexuals are condemned by God and same sex marriage will bring about the ultimate destruction of that sacred institution. None of this is true.
Many claim that there is an historic, Biblical model of marriage. There is not such a model. Marriage is something that has changed over the centuries, perhaps from the very beginning of time. If there is a threat to this sacred institution, it is primarily evident in the fact that we heterosexuals haven’t taken it as seriously as we should have. That does not give us the right to deny it to those who might do better.
Throughout the years, homosexuals have been forced by the Church to deny or repress their sexuality. There is no doubt that many who are outspoken against homosexuality and same sex marriage are some of these same people who continue to deny or repress their own sexuality. On the other hand, some of us do not fear homosexuality. We are comfortable and confident in our own sexuality. We have adjusted as gays and lesbians have become more public. We have recognized that it has not meant the end of our society.
I presently live in the same conservative suburban Long Island community in which I grew up. As a high school student, I was no different from many of my peers. A classmate who was more of an art student than he was a jock was just a faggot to the rest of us. Whether he was gay or not, we never knew. We were just confident that he was. So, I am also atoning for my own sins. Even though I knew gays and lesbians most of my life, Billy was just a fag, someone less than me, someone different from me, someone I definitely didn’t want to be. In college, three men tried to make advances towards me. One was a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor, one was a classmate, and the other picked me up when I was hitchhiking in Chicago. I had matured enough by then to merely say, “no thank you.” In the subsequent years, I stood up for gay classmates in seminary, I was one of the early signatories for Equality Maryland, even to the point of officiating at one same sex marriage. At that time, I told the two women that while the ceremony was not recognized by the state, I was confident that it was blessed by God. Over the years, I have been blessed to have worked with gay pastors, some partnered, some single. I am tremendously proud that my church now recognizes them as their peers had for several years.
It was frustrating to lose the battle in Maryland and equally frustrating to watch them lose again this past year. I write this with mixed emotions because we could just as easily lose this year in New York as we could win. We might not even see it voted upon this week. If marriage equality does not become a reality in New York this year, we will be back. We will be back with a vengeance. We owe it to those who we have betrayed all these years, all who the Church has despised and rejected. I will be back because I owe it to Billy for calling him a faggot. I will be back because I owe it to Richard who died a broken, alcoholic pastor consigned to living his life in the closet, for Jeffrey, my classmate, who just wanted to know love, and even for that unnamed motorist who thought I’d trick him out. I owe it to the college students with whom I minister these days at C. W. Post. But, most of all, I owe it to my children and (future) grandchildren who deserve to be left with a better, more loving society.
I will be back because it is the right and Godly thing for me to do. But, honestly, I really believe that God will do what I have not been able to do-soften the heart of one more state senator and if I come back, it will be to right some other wrong.