Two weeks ago the Massachusetts legislature convened a state constitutional convention on the issue of same-sex marriage and whether the Commonwealth’s tentative decision to recognize such unions should be put before the people.
Massachusetts’ elected representatives this year turned back the attempt to amend its constitution and allow same-sex marriage through a 2008 ballot initiative, even though the legislature gave the measure sufficient support in 2006, even though the citizens of Massachusetts have consistently supported the effort by a two-to-one margin, and even though, in 2005, more signatures were gathered to put the question on the ballot than any other such initiative in the state’s history. More than 68,000 signatures were required; the secretary of state certified more than 170,000.
I was among those who carefully collected the autographs of those who wanted to affirm the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. But after turning in my signature sheets to the movement’s organizers, VoteOnMarriage.org, I began to consider my role in the marriage debate and the role of Evangelical Christians in such issues in general.
In fact, my involvement in the marriage debate became the catalyst for my current spiritual journey. Yes, I was disappointed in the way the legislature conducted their business on the issue. There seemed to be a desire to avoid any decision-making by many of the members and, especially among legislative leadership. This reluctance forced the issue into the courts. Yes, I was then disappointed in the way the state’s Supreme Court handled the issue. The 4-3 decision allowing gay marriage was marked by a sense of impropriety on the part of Chief Justice Margaret Marshall and an overstepping judicial authority by the court, demanding that new law be written rather than interpreting written law.
But mostly, I was disappointed in myself.
Living life as a Christian, I should reflect the life of Christ and demonstrate, by example, the power of faith in God. If I was willing to get involved politically by being part of a signature collection drive, shouldn’t I also be at least as enthusiastic about living my life in such a way as to obviously associate myself with the name of Christ? To me, being part of a political effort felt more like religious zealotry of the very kind that Christ railed against when he called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs filled with dead men’s bones. I still believe that the traditional definition of marriage is worth defending, but why did I, as a Christian, and others like me, find myself at a point where such a defense was even necessary?
To outsiders looking in at the Evangelical Church, there’s no obvious, compelling reason to believe that our experience is any different than the rest of the world. We share the same ebbs and flows of modern life as our neighbors. As Evangelicals, we have the Gospel message of love and faith, and we hold fast to our belief in the story of Christ – of the death and resurrection – but there’s scandal from pew to pulpit: evangelists more interested in marketing and money than the message of salvation, high profile ministers engaged in marital infidelity, murder, molestation, and everything from divorce to rampant alcoholism and substance abuse plague congregations. It’s not that true Christianity is marked by the utter absence of sin and temptation, but a genuine Christian walk responds differently to these realities of life. Christianity should be obvious, but not in-your-face, demonstrating empathy for those who struggle with the problems life presents without the strength derived from daily communion with the Holy Spirit. Christianity should draw seekers through its appeal, not chase them down like a lion on the savannah.
And so, when Christians march in support of political efforts for the sake of imposing morality upon society, it rings hollow and often builds resentment among those we are told to love. This is not how things started out. When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, he knew she was involved in an adulterous relationship, but he didn’t condemn her. His example revealed her mistakes, and she changed on her own. When the Pharisees dragged out the woman caught in adultery, Jesus again showed compassion, sending the woman on her way with the simple phrase, “Go and sin no more.”
What’s the lesson in those stories? In both instances Jesus demonstrated in both word and deed the truth of his message. He changed two lives by getting involved and showing compassion. He ignored cultural taboo to show His sincerity. He didn’t hold a sign or petition the local authorities. Instead, He had faith that by expressing genuine love, He could make a difference. And He did.
I’m convinced that, in spite of good intentions, by taking the same-sex issue to the ballot box, the church is doing the opposite of what Christ did. In effect we are also telling God that we don’t need Him; that we’ve got things under control down here, thank-you-very-much. Decades of neglect of the Gospel message, of explaining away or even ignoring the plank in the Church’s own eye brought us to this point, and if the Church thinks it can make things better on its own, it is mistaken.