By Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Since the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2013 that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, the media have been featuring spokespersons who oppose the decision while claiming to voice “the Christian response.” They use words like “saddened,” “devastated,” “worrisome,” “moral breakdown,” and “God’s judgment is coming.”
Mike Huckabee sent his two-word message via Twitter by simply tweeting, “Jesus wept.”
I believe Jesus did indeed weep—but not because of the same-sex marriage decisions made by the Court but because of the lack of love, compassion, and justice that people like Huckabee are displaying as they wrap themselves in robes of self-righteousness and judgment and claim to be speaking in Jesus’ name.
As I’ve been thinking about this, I was reminded of a speech I gave at an interfaith conference in 2005 when the state where I live was considering a mean-spirited amendment against same-sex marriage (or anything resembling it). Because this speech relates to and addresses some of the religion-based reactions to this week’s Supreme Court’s decisions, I’m going to share some pertinent excerpts from my speech below.
A Religious Approach to Homosexuality
By Letha Dawson Scanzoni
(A condensed version, reposted from Letha’s Calling, where the full article can be read.)
The Bible and religious teachings can be used to support different—even totally opposite—viewpoints on ethical, moral, and social policy issues. Religion can be drafted into the service of putting people down or lifting people up.
Psychologist Gordon Alport wrote in his classic work, The Nature of Prejudice, “The role of religion is paradoxical. It makes prejudice and it unmakes prejudice”[italics supplied]. Allport’s book was published in 1954, the same year as the Supreme Court decided the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka. KS, making racial segregation in public schools illegal. Some religious people were for integration and racial equality; but other religious people were just as strongly against integration and full racial equality. And both sides quoted the Bible to support their claims.
Only one view?
But when it comes to homosexuality, many people have the impression that there is only one religious or biblical view – only one way to consider the question of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. That view, in the minds of many, is that any and every same-sex sexual expression is sinful in the sight of God. It’s the view presented most frequently in the media because of the zealous efforts of those who promote that view. When a person of faith says she or he believes otherwise and thus embraces the rights of sexual minorities, that person is frequently judged by other religious people as being totally misguided and maybe not a true follower of God.
For example, in a review of Dave Myers’ and my coauthored book, What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville wrote:
“Their book offers positive proof that what drives proponents of same-sex marriage is a psychological worldview that is directly at odds with the worldview of the Bible.”
The implication in such statements is that only one truly biblical perspective exists when it comes to discussions of homosexuality. The existence of another view among people of faith can be extremely threatening to those religious people who believe they alone have the truth. . . .
We’ve been here before.
Over the ages, religious faiths have experienced such arguments again and again when it comes to questions of social change. One example is how the Bible was used to justify slavery. It’s an example analogous to what is happening today when some people are using the Bible to discriminate against gay and lesbian people, who are asking nothing more than to be treated with the dignity due all human beings. . . .
During the 19th century, clergy, professors, and others who supported slavery argued that they alone, the supporters of slavery, were speaking God’s truth and that those who taught otherwise could be categorized as infidels. . . .
The Bible and Today’s Issue—Homosexuality
There were many verses quoted by those who used the Bible to justify slavery in the U.S. in the 19th century, and they found far greater numbers of verses about slavery than the handful of biblical passages that are used to deny equal rights to gay and lesbian people today—the verses that have come to be known as the “clobber verses.” So the question becomes, How do we as people of faith use our faith to promote inclusiveness and the rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation? How can we be supportive of LGBT efforts to gain marriage rights, assurance of nondiscrimination in housing and jobs, legislation to have sexual orientation included among categories listed in hate crime legislation, and so on— and to show the world that we are taking these stands from the perspective of our religious faith?
If we don’t do that, we are caving in to those who think that the case is closed— and that one cannot be religious and support homosexual persons as sisters and brothers created in the image of God.
It is said that the abolitionists found that their religious arguments against slavery tended to be less convincing to most people than the religious arguments of those who justified slavery, simply because of the way most people read their Bibles, taking only a proof-text approach. I think we face a similar situation today in taking a religious position on the question of homosexuality. Many people read the Bible in a mechanical way as though it’s a list of rules, like a traffic manual, with every single verse having the same importance and without consideration of the times, cultures, and conditions in which various passages were written. We need to help people understand more about biblical interpretation, translations, and so on. [And we need to examine the principles of Scripture rather than pulling out individual verses without regard to context.]
A Challenge: “Just give me one verse”
Nevertheless, people for the most part appear to subscribe to a proof-text approach. Thus, after a favorable review of the book I wrote with Dave Myers appeared on an Internet blog, one reader entered this comment in response to that review:
“Please, if you could, give me a verse or passage in the Bible that plainly casts homosexuality in a positive light. Just give me one. Because, when Leviticus calls homosexuality an “abomination” I have a hard time seeing the pro-homosexuality Biblical argument. If one wants to make a secular argument, fine, go right ahead. But when you try to establish a “Christian” case for being in favor of homosexuality you’ve left the realm of Christianity entirely.
“However, if you can, please cite me a passage that displays Yahweh’s affection for homosexuality. It should be fairly simple if it’s there.”
Referring to the subtitle of our book, he went on to say “there is no ‘Christian case’” and had some harsh words to say about those of us who think otherwise. Nevertheless, today I am going to take him up on his challenge. I am going to suggest that “one verse” that I think we people of faith can use in applying our faith to this topic.
A Key Verse for People of Faith
It is a familiar verse. The words of the prophet Micah, verse 8 pf the 6th chapter.
“[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? “(Micah 6:8)
I suggest that, as people of faith, we approach the question of gay rights and same-sex marriage from the vantage point of these three principles: justice, loving kindness, and humility.
Justice is an important religious principle that must be taken very seriously in discussions of marriage equality for LGBT people. Yet, sadly, some people who profess to love and serve God fail to see that justice is a religious value and a family value.
An owner of a business was invited to lead a workshop on Christian business ethics recently. One of the examples he gave of how he applied Christian ethics to his company was this: A lesbian employee had come to him to asked for medical leave because her partner was seriously ill and needed her. The business owner told his audience in the workshop that he thought about it but decided to deny her request because it was against his Christian beliefs to support a homosexual relationship in any way. A heterosexual husband or wife would have been granted such leave in his company without a moment’s hesitation, but this executive boasted that he felt he must take a stand for what is right and not endorse what he considered “the homosexual lifestyle.”
He did not feel his decision was unfair, even though the lesbian had been with her partner for many years, loved her every bit as much as any devoted spouse in a heterosexual marriage, would like to have been married to her partner but was prevented by law from sealing her commitment with marriage. As far as the businessman was concerned, this woman’s partner was not her next of kin and therefore she did not deserve a family medical leave.
Not only did this successful business executive fail to show simple human kindness, but he had no sense of the injustice of his denial of this woman’s request. She had given her time, energy, and dedication in service to that company to the same extent or more as did her hypothetical heterosexual counterpart who would have been granted medical leave for an ill spouse. This business man needs to read his Bible more closely, for example Zechariah 7:9 (NIV): “This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.” Or Jeremiah 9:23-24 (CEV), which says, “Don’t brag about your wisdom or strength or wealth. If you feel you must brag, then have enough sense to brag about worshiping me, the Lord. What I like best is showing kindness, justice, and mercy to everyone on earth.”
Marriage equality is a justice issue, and thus it is a religious issue and should be of concern to people of faith. It has to do with freedom to choose one’s own life partner, a freedom that most of us would consider quite basic. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way even among heterosexual persons in our own country, one of the most relatively recent examples being the prohibitions of interracial marriage that existed in the laws of many states, not only in the South. . . .
The reason that the right to marry across race lines was so important was that it symbolized social equality as opposed to considering persons of color to be somehow inferior and kept subordinate. As historian Nancy Cott writes:
“Lesbians and gay men seek legal marriage for some of the same reasons ex-slaves did so after the Civil War, to show that they have access to basic civil rights. The exclusion of same-sex partners from free choice in marriage stigmatizes their relationship, and reinforces a caste supremacy of heterosexuality over homosexuality just as laws banning marriages across the color line exhibited and reinforced white supremacy.”
This is why it is a justice issue. But it’s far more than symbolism of equality. It has to do with the practical matters of everyday life, the more than a thousand federal statutory provisions that confer protections, privileges, rights, and benefits which are determined by marital status. As Dave Myers and I wrote in our book What God Has Joined Together:
“What do you think: Should life partners Jim and Tim or Meg and Peg, like their married next door neighbors Bill and Jill, be able to
- file joint tax returns?
- leave an inheritance to one another tax free?
- make life-and-death decisions if the other is incapacitated?
- be included on one or the other’s health insurance plan?
- be granted family leave or bereavement leave in the case of the other’s illness or death?
- Have co-parental rights so that both partners are considered parents of their children in all situations?
- have hospital visitation rights?
- receive spousal discounts from auto clubs or other organizations offering family rates?
- have a legal system for equitably dissolving their relationship should it end?”
“. . . Note that this is not an issue of “special rights,” but of equal rights conveyed by marriage. Unlike cohabitation, domestic partnerships, and even civil unions (each of which are separate from and unequal to marriage) same-sex marriage entails the same rights for all married couples” [regardless of sexual orientation]. (pp. 118-119 paperback edition)
It’s a matter of basic fairness.
What then does God require of us? To do justice. And to love mercy, lovingkindness, compassion.
Justice and mercy—compassion— go hand in hand. These are religious issues, and people of faith must face them today. Some people of faith resent such calls for justice and compassion. They’d like to feel comfortable and not bothered by having injustices pointed out to them.
Speaking out for justice and compassion.
I’m reminded of a story my son Steve told me years ago when his first son (and my first grandson) was a toddler. Baby Bryan was just learning to talk, but mostly in single words. He hadn’t begun putting many words together into sentences. Steve, my son, sometimes dressed Bryan in a hurry, including shoving his little feet into his shoes with a push and tug. One day, as Steve was speedily shoving Bryan’s shoes on, he was startled to hear a tiny voice pipe up: “Stop it! It hurts!” Steve told me he smiled as he told his wife, Karen, about the incident. He said to her, “You know, it was easier before he learned to talk.”
Maybe it was also easier for many people before gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and other minority groups found their voices and began speaking out, challenging the dominant culture. In an article condemning social acceptance of same-sex marriage, Charles Colson wrote: “Homosexuality was once called ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’ Nowadays, it won’t keep quiet” (Breakpoint, July 29, 2003).
But the message of all groups who have experienced discrimination is the same as Baby Bryan’s: STOP IT. IT HURTS! It hurts to be joked about. It hurts to be considered a stereotype. It hurts to be ignored. It hurts to be told you’re unacceptable. It hurts to be lied about. It hurts to be denied access to economic rewards and power. It hurts to be denied basic rights. It hurts to be told God condemns you and doesn’t want you to serve in ordained ministry no matter how devoted to God you are. It hurts to be mocked and ridiculed and laughed about. It hurts not to be taken seriously. It hurts to have to live in fear of losing a job or losing a friend or being rejected by your family or even losing your life. It hurts to know you might be beaten up or even killed because of who you are and whom you love. STOP IT! IT HURTS.
It is hearing that message with our hearts as well as our heads that can stir up compassion among us as people of faith.
True compassion is synonymous with true empathy, which comes from the Greek words for “feeling with” – in other words, imagining ourselves and our own feelings if we were in the situation of someone else, so that we can truly love our neighbor as ourselves and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. There is a sense of solidarity — that what is happening to that other person is also happening to me.
In his book, A Spirituality Named Compassion (ch. 1), Matthew Fox has written, “Compassion is not altruism, but self-love and other-love at one.” He also emphasizes that pity and compassion are not the same. “Pity connotes condescension, and this condescension, in turn, implies separateness—[the idea that]‘I feel sorry for you because you are so different from me.’” There is also the implied sense of regarding the other as inferior. He quotes the late Gestalt therapist Frederick Perls as warning that “most of what passes muster as pity is actual disguised gloating.”
Fox quotes another author’s observation that sometimes there is an underlying element of “sadistic glee in the afflictions of others.” An example of that was the shameful reaction of numerous religious people at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic that first showed up among gay men in the 1980s. Some religious people seemed to take pride in claiming that this was proof positive of God’s disapproval of homosexuality and God’s punishment of homosexual people.
Fox says the “surest way of discerning whether one has pity towards or compassion with another is to answer this question: Do you celebrate with this same person or these same people?” (p.3).
Clearly, many religious people, who claim to operate on a “hate the sin but love the sinner” philosophy and insist they love homosexual persons, nevertheless would never dream of celebrating the joy of these two persons as they speak their wedding vows to each other. . . .
Demonizing as a way of blocking empathy
Demonizing a group is an intentional way of impeding feelings of empathy. Demonizing means spreading the idea that a group is either morally corrupt or is profoundly different and lacking the same human feelings that other people have. When people are demonized as members of a group, others can justify treating them in less than humane ways or empathizing with their pain. Thus, under the slavery system, slave owners and others who condoned slavery could convince themselves that the enslaved people didn’t have the same sort of family love as their white masters—that seeing their spouses or children sold off to other masters never to be seen again was somehow experienced differently by black people in slavery. If they did show grief, they could be whipped.
I saw a PBS program about the history of Broadway recently. They referred to one taboo that no one dared to challenge until 1921 when the musical Shuffle Along was produced.. That taboo insisted that “romantic love between black characters was never shown on stage.” The African American poet James Weldon Johnson had described the taboo many years before when he wrote, “If anything approaching a love duet was introduced in a musical comedy, it had to be broadly burlesqued. The reason behind this. ….lay in the belief that a love scene between two Negroes could not strike a white audience except as ridiculous” (from jass.com, “Early History of Jazz).
When the African American composers of Shuffle Along included a love duet between a man and a woman, both of whom were African Americans, many members of the production team stood ready to run away from the theater if violence erupted. But when that song, “Love Will Find a Way” was sung, all that erupted was enthusiastic applause. It not only tapped into the empathy that comes from recognizing a universal experience of any two persons in love, but went on to became a hit love song sung throughout America during the 1920s. A barrier had been broken down. . . .
I am persuaded that in time “love will find a way, ” too, for those men and women who want to seal their commitment in marriage to their same sex partner. But in the meantime, many people will use religion to ridicule the idea and imply that it is absurd to think of such love between two women or two men. Or that it is a religious duty to deny the pastoral gifts that LGBT people could bring to religious institutions. Empathy can help us as people of faith to hear the pain –and yes, anger –at the injustice of it all. . . .
Humility and Wisdom
Besides justice and compassion, there is a third requirement that the prophet Micah says that God asks of us: “to walk humbly with your God.” To walk humbly, according to the Jewish Study Bible, can also be translated “to walk wisely with your God.”
Humility is crucial in discussing God’s will for us as human beings, whatever our orientation – the realization that we do not fully understand everything about God or about what God wants. . . .
Many people are quick to say that God detests homosexuality, and they are fond of smugly using the word “abomination” to be uniquely applied to homosexual acts and God’s opinion of all same-sex relationships, based on an interpretation of two verses in Leviticus. But not only does the Bible never mention the word homosexuality – or even the concept of sexual orientation as scientists understand it today —but Proverbs 16:5 reminds us that “All those who are arrogant are an abomination to the Lord.” The same Hebrew word is used and translated as “abomination.” But have you ever heard anyone speak of pride and arrogance as being an abomination detestable to God? No, the word is almost always applied to gay and lesbian people as a category supposedly uniquely condemned by God.
God calls us to humility. And we are called to walk humbly with God. Not stand still. It is an ongoing process, as walking is, step by step. We are called to walk wisely and seek understanding, aware that all the answers are not already in, and that we all have much to learn as people of faith.
[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) Amen
Copyright © 2005, 2013 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni