I have been trying to avoid writing this post for nearly two weeks, hoping that the urge would subside and that I could ignore the debate raging inside my head and tugging at my heart. My reluctance is fuelled by uncertainty and ambivalence, as I argue back and forth between my liberal conscience and my Christian faith. I was hoping that a searing bolt of truth would illuminate the dark recesses of my feeble brain and give me peace. Alas, it was not to be. So, here I am writing, as usual, without knowing how the post will end but trusting that the process will help to sort my thoughts out.
Since the United States Supreme Court ruling on 26th June 2015 that effectively gave same-sex couples the right to marry, I have been researching the reaction from all sides. Liberals and ‘lefties’ have been ecstatic at the news, exploding in a multicoloured expression of joy. Political conservatives and the right-wing media have been unanimous in their condemnation of this ‘erosion of traditional values’, not forgetting to blame President Obama for the court’s decision. Interestingly, the most diverse response has come from the church, ranging from empathy and inclusion to hate-filled rants about death and destruction. So far, mostly predictable.
However, the most revealing range of responses has shown up on social media. This is where the most hateful people reside, making plain their dislike for anyone who does not look, think or act like them. I believe that everyone has a right to disagree about morals and lifestyles but I’m sure that we can argue the point without resorting to name-calling, profanity and demonising others.
More to the point, we can analyse what the ruling really means for the rest of us and then decide what to do about it. First, the facts:
- The Supreme Court ruling is binding on states and affects the right of same-sex couples to be recognised and to be able to get a marriage certificate.
- 37 out of 50 states, one territory and D.C. had already legalised gay marriage.
- The rights of religious organisations are still protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
- The ruling does not affect other countries’ laws, rights and freedoms.
- Data from around the world suggests that 1% -5% of populations are homosexual, regardless of race, religion and traditional culture.
- The United States is not the world, with less than 5% of the world’s population, of which 3.5% is gay. Therefore this law directly affects 3.5% of 5% of the world or 0.175%.
- Canada passed a similar law on 20th July 2005 and the sky hasn’t fallen in after 10 years.
Now, we can argue about America’s disproportionate political and cultural influence on the world, and that’s always a concern, especially with young people. No doubt, we will begin to see scenes of same-sex marriage in movies, music videos, television series and online. I understand that. However, I crunched the numbers purely to counter the near mass-hysteria in some religious circles that ‘the end is nigh’, as if some Beast-like world ruler had declared the end of heterosexual marriage as we know it. Evangelical pastors, more than anyone, need to calm down and soothe the fears of their anxious congregations.
I think that popular pastor, T.D. Jakes, gave the perfect response to the thousands of people calling on him to respond to the ruling. He said, “I’m really not as concerned about it. I think that we should not lose our mind about the world being the world and the church being the church. The Supreme Court is there to make a decision based on constitutional rights and legalities that fit all Americans. They are not debating scripture.”
Like Bishop Jakes, I believe that Christians have to end their self-imposed segregation and “go into all the world”, reaching out to all kinds of people, and share their faith. When I see the church reacting in fear of what a court or government will say or do, I question their faith in a ‘higher authority’. This same church that began with a crucifixion, endured a time of persecution and evolved into a dominant world religion. A religion so powerful that it began to conquer kingdoms, colonise nations and enslave people in Christ’s name. Now with global TV audiences, popular music artistes, millionaire pastors and billions in tithes and offerings, the church seems less confident in its ability to withstand threats, real or imagined.
My initial shock at the announcement of the court ruling has been replaced by a genuine curiosity. I want to see how this all plays out. Now that gay couples in the US can marry, will they want to do so in significant numbers? Will they be any better at marriage than the rest of us? Will this revive the flagging statistics in heterosexual marriage, as Christians seek to defend the institution? And, will churches be forced to deal with all sexual sins equally amongst their congregations?
Perhaps, this will persuade churches to admit that, whether gay or straight, most of the single people praying in the pews on Sunday are having pre-marital sex during the rest of the week. And that, while remarried divorcees are fully accepted in most churches, it’s still as unacceptable as homo sex according to the scriptures. Will this ruling convince the church to acknowledge the towering contribution of gays to gospel music, one of the worst-kept secrets in the African-American community? Or will everyone continue to pretend that they don’t exist, and that the choir director is just a little ‘sweet’? Finally, will the First Amendment protect the church and religious objectors who refuse to provide services for gay weddings?
So, what happens next? Well, it’s really up to you. I don’t think your life will change considerably as a result of these events, even if you live in the U.S. However, if you are a concerned Christian, it’s time to put your faith into action; reach out to all kinds of people and stand up for whatever you believe in. Just make sure that you apply Biblical laws the way Jesus did when he saw one person being singled out for her sins. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone.”
For me, the struggle inside my head continues. On one hand, I believe passionately that all people should have equal treatment before the law and have the freedom to choose their own lifestyles and relationships, provided that they do not infringe on the rights of others. On the other, I do wonder if we’ve gone too far by effectively redefining the institution of marriage, given that by definition it is between a man and woman. I remember not being concerned in the slightest when the UK created civil partnerships to give homosexual couples the same legal rights as heterosexuals. But this is different.
Time will tell if this is a defining moment in our social structures beyond the shores of America, given their influence, or just a blip in a gradual move towards greater equality. If you live in Africa, Asia or the Caribbean, don’t expect a change anytime soon.