The Church and Prop 8: Losing by Winning

In spite of this week’s setback in the California courts, legal approval for same-sex marriage is building steam. The domino theory many right wingers and religious conservatives worried about when Massachusetts turned in favor of same sex marriage five years ago is becoming reality.

Besides the Bay State, same-sex marriage is now law in Vermont, Iowa, Maine, and Connecticut. New Hampshire and New York are likely the next tiles to fall, and supporters have promised to continue the fight both in California and federal court. No doubt the momentum will build and more states will tilt in the direction of the prevailing political wind.


That’s not to belittle anyone for whom legal recognition of a unified relationship is an important matter. I yawn because I fail to see why this is even an issue anymore.

A year ago, while gay marriage made its way before the people of California, I addressed the church’s political stand on gay marriage, writing about the evangelical community’s failure to conduct themselves in a biblical manner. That failure was – and is – symptomatic of how the church has lost its way. We cheer a legal victory upholding a state ban on same-sex marriage but, blinded by that win, we lose sight of the eternal picture, pushing away tens of thousands of people we have been called to love.

As an evangelical, I understand the reason behind all the hand-wringing and brow-furrowing. For me, the Bible is clear on the issue – homosexuality is sin. But here’s a memo to my fellow believers: so are many other behaviors that we’ve winked at over the years without the same level of consternation. Divorce, for example. Current statistics suggest that marriages within the evangelical church fail just as often as they do among non-believers. Sex outside the institution of marriage seems rampant as well, not to mention all the other apparently minor (based on the church’s reaction) transgressions enumerated among the Ten Commandments.

I’m not suggesting that bad behavior excuses bad behavior, nor am I suggesting we evangelicals change our standards. To the contrary, I think the responsibility is squarely upon the shoulders of the evangelical church to rise above the debate over same-sex marriage, or any other behavior we see as sinful, and set a unilateral example by adhering to a standard of moral behavior as defined by the Bible. So here’s another memo to my fellow believers: We cannot force others to live by our standards, nor should we expect our government to impose those standards by legislative fiat. We are individually responsible to live the lives we are called by God to live, no matter how those around us choose to live their own lives. It’s a speck in your brother’s eye kind of thing.

Evangelicals like to point out that the Apostle Paul took a hard line against sexual immorality, including homosexuality. They point to his letters to the churches in Rome and Corinth and take those writings as a mandate to social activism, conveniently forgetting that those letters were not written to address the behavior of those outside the church. They were intended to correct immoral behavior within the church.

Paul’s concern was that Christian communities were acting in a manner inconsistent with their beliefs. He wanted his fellow-Christians to examine and correct their behavior in order to develop a closer relationship with God and demonstrate God’s love to the world by their example. Whenever we find the Apostles, Peter and Paul especially, addressing non-believers in the Book of Acts, they are never condemning. Instead, they preach God’s love and grace through Jesus Christ. Far from being aggressive, they willingly submit themselves to abuse and even imprisonment (and eventually death) for the sake of delivering their message – by the examples of their behavior.

When the message is delivered to Christians, it’s a different story. When Paul writes in I Corinthians 5, “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges,” he makes it clear that the church should not worry about the world’s behavior. That’s God’s job. We need to spend our own time and energy keeping ourselves on the narrow path. We’d do well to heed Paul’s advice today.

Believers are called to be salt and light, a living witness of the love of God at work in the world. Ours is not a political battle, but a spiritual one. Even if our hearts break at what we see happening in our country, we are called to demonstrate a better way by living to a standard that has not changed since Christ walked the earth. No law can change that mandate. No court can set it aside.

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All In Favor Say, “Oy”

I will join your club, support your cause, volunteer to man your booth; but please, for the love of all you hold sacred, don’t make me come to a meeting.

Theoretically, having a meeting seems like a good idea: gather together all the players into one room so everyone knows what their role is and how it contributes to the goal of the project. It appears to be a great way to save time and aggravation, not to mention make a bazillion dollars for Stephen Covey (of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Who Carry Day Planners fame).

The reality is quite different. At best a meeting makes official what has already been determined via e-mail and phones calls. At worst it’s a two-hour unfocused idea free-for-all. I’m 51 years old and I’ve yet to attend a meeting that accomplished anything that could have been accomplished without annoying 95 percent of the attendees by requiring their presence.

Admittedly the absolute best meetings I ever attended were in high school. At the beginning of the school year, we’d pick what clubs we wanted to join. Then we’d attend a meeting, elect “officers,” and then chat a bit, some of it even on topic (thanks to whatever poor sap of a teacher got suckered into being the club’s faculty sponsor). Then we’d adjourn. The next meeting was in the spring when an announcement came over the loudspeaker about yearbook pictures of club members. If a club time fell during gym period, we’d show up whether we were members or not. That’s how my picture ended up in my yearbook under Secretarial Club.

Once I entered the workforce I had to endure real meetings called by real bosses and requiring me to carry a pen and pad to create the illusion that I was going to write down important points. I would exit the meeting with a fairly realistic sketch of my left hand and not much else. They did have donuts, though.

I had hopes that when I entered the field of journalism, the loftily-termed “Editorial Meetings” would be fruitful. I figured, if you’re churning out a multi-paged publication on a regular basis, you’ve got to know what’s coming if you are going to meet your deadline.

I did enjoy editorial meetings – if I wasn’t busy. We’d all gather with the editors and talk about local politics and gossip, banter around a few running jokes about local celebrities and discuss what dish we were bringing to either the Christmas party or the summer picnic, whichever was seasonally appropriate. And, of course, donuts. Then someone would look at their watch, announce the time with alarm, everyone would call out some pressing task they had to do and we’d all disperse. Then we’d go back to our desks and type out our list of stories and estimated length, which we then hand delivered (back in the day before e-mail) to our respective editors.

These days I’m out of the organized work force and into more dangerous meeting territory: social club meetings. Publicly, these common-interest organizations look like it would be a lot of fun to join: a group of people who all like to do the same thing. Oh, but there are meetings lurking behind that brief moment of frivolity: general membership meetings, committee meetings, board meetings.

A meeting in the hands of such novices is a dangerous thing, especially when someone utters the words, “Roberts Rules of Order,” and the only one who doesn’t know what that means is the person running the meeting. The result is either chaos or the proceedings being hijacked by the one person in the room who has a lengthy, boring story to go with every issue being discussed, usually involving grandchildren and whatever disease they have.

So I weigh my affiliation with any organization against the amount of meetings they hold and the president’s knowledge of parliamentary procedure. If there are any lawyers among the membership, I give it a pass. Lawyers can bring a meeting to a screeching halt over a technicality that occurred five years ago.

The weird thing about meetings is that everyone – everyone – now admits they hate them. It used to be merely dislike, but now it has become outright hate.

I think it’s that donuts have stopped being a feature at every meeting. Now there are things like vegetable platters, fruit baskets and bottled water. No one should have to endure healthy eating and a meeting at the same time.