I’m on the bridge – Support for Same-Sex Marriage from within the Church

Turnaround Tuesday as portrayed in the movie Selma
“Turnaround Tuesday” as portrayed in the movie Selma

The post I wrote last week about marriage equality was partly brought about by the movie Selma.  The movie documents the three marches (or part marches) from Montgomery to Selma in 1965. It’s an incredible movie to watch – it brings the civil rights movement to life – and it also impacted me as an example of how intense and dangerous the fight for any civil right can be. As I covered in my previous post, one of the key leaders of the Selma march, John Lewis, has publicly stated that he thinks the resistance to marriage equality for the gay community comes from the same “fear, hatred and intolerance” he himself witnessed in “racism and bigotry” during the civil rights battle in the sixties.

The movie depicts the first march, often referred to as “Bloody Sunday“, which had 525 black protesters who began the 80 kilometre march without Dr. King at the helm. At the outskirts of Selma, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were stopped by Alabama State Troopers who were ordered there by Governor George Wallace. The Troopers turned back the protesters with brutal violence – you can read about it here from a reporter on the scene – it makes for horrific reading.

In complete contrast, the third march was safe and legal with a federal Judge ruling in favour of the protesters saying it was a Constitutional right for them to march and that right could not be quashed by the State of Alabama.  On the third march there were no police roadblocks, no legislative restrictions, no legal way for the march to be stopped. 25,000 people marched to Selma. It was an incredible moment.

But it is the second march, known as “Turnaround Tuesday”, that I think is the pertinent march for the church at this time.

After Bloody Sunday Martin Luther King decided immediately that they would go back to that bridge and finish what they started. He made a public call to Americans to get involved in the fight, “I am appealing to men and women of God and good will everywhere, white, black and otherwise,” he said, “If you believe all are created equal, come to Selma and join us, join our march against injustice and inhumanity. We need you.” This appeal caused thousands of people from all over the country, many white and many ministers, to travel to Montgomery for the second march.

On Turnaround Tuesday again the marchers got to the Pettus Bridge and this time the number of marchers was 2,500 individuals. They made it half way across the bridge and stopped. Dr. King prayed briefly, then turned the marchers around and walked them back to Montgomery. That night three white preachers were attacked by members of the KKK for supporting civil rights. The injuries sustained by Rev. James Reeb led to his death two days later.

The first march was dangerous, but the danger was unknown. The marchers didn’t realise what was going to happen to them on the Pettus Bridge. They were acting in good faith, having no idea what lay ahead. The second march was dangerous, but this time the danger was known. The 2,000 new marchers knew that they may face the tear gas and night sticks again, but they went anyway to support the cause. The second march gave clear evidence of the widespread growing support for black rights amongst white people. And amongst those people, ministers were a significant number.

It’s apparent, as evidenced in the weekend’s US Supreme Court decision, that the world outside the Church is well on its way to the third march. It is now ‘safe’, in most Western nations, to support Marriage Equality. However there is no denying that LGBTI issues and causes within the church are still on the second march. Turnaround Tuesday is not a safe place to be and there may be consequences ahead for the LGBTI community and their allies within the church. But if history teaches us anything it’s that now is the moment to get on the bridge and show our support for the LGBTI community. It’s not completely safe yet, but it is the right thing to do and I believe the Christ-like thing to do.

My willingness to stand on the bridge stems from these firm beliefs:

  • That marriage is a government institution
  • That marriage provides many legal and social benefits, and that it is discriminatory to withhold those benefits from same-sex couples
  • That recent scientific and psychological developments, as well as the personal experience of thousands of gay Christians, show that gay people don’t “choose” to be gay, and that efforts by the church to “cure” gay Christians have failed (see the closure of Exodus International)
  • That as a Christian, Jesus’ call for us to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40) carries more weight than the passages that have been traditionally viewed as anti-homosexuality in the bible (and there are alternative readings for those passages of which Gushee’s Changing our Mind, and Vines’ God and the Gay Christian are two of many)
  • That the LGBTI community are a minority that are often discriminated against, and in many places persecuted, and that to stand with them in support rather than protest, imitates Christ
  • That Christians should support the LBGTI community even if they believe that gay Christians should be celibate (see Marin’s Love is an Orientation, and the explanation of the “side A and side B” debate on the gay christian network)

If you choose to publicly state you are on the bridge, what you are doing is standing side by side with the LGBTI community and saying ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality and the full inclusion, as Tony Campolo recently stated, and “full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.” You are positioning yourself as an ally and as a friend to those who have been denied full welcome in the church, who have been rejected and who have borne the brunt of the church’s spite and violence. It’s time for that to change.

onthebridge

I’m on the bridge and my prayer for you today is to join me on that bridge. Stand with me on that bridge, as an ally, side by side with the LGBTI community.

I echo the words of David Gushee who recently wrote in the Washington Post

“I am pro-LGBT in just the same way I hope I would have been pro-Jew in 1943 and pro-African American in 1963. I stand in solidarity with those treated with contempt and discrimination. And I do so because I promised in 1978 to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Even here.”

If you are already on the bridge, or you want to use this as a chance to join us, then please use the hashtag #imonthebridge to let people know where you stand and spread the word.

It’s Time

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona – a cathedral under construction for more than 130 years

A guest post by Idoya Munn

Change. The church has been doing it since she was born. We are a responsive creature. We move, adjust, transition, re-configure, re-imagine, re-group, adapt, alter, and transform. It’s a sign of life.

Here’s a potted history:  Pentecost, Constantine, Polycarp, Clement, Iraneaus, the Council of Nicaea, Arianism, the Council of Ephesus, The Nestorian Schism, the Iconclasts, monastic reform, the Inquisition, the East-West Schism, the Crusades, John Wycliffe, the Protestant Reformation. Each name or event a marker for a moment of tumult.

Some versions of church history will have you believe that it was all plain sailing after the Reformation. But let’s not forget the Catholic Reformation, the conflicts between Lutherans and Calvinists, the Council of Trent, the Puritans of the New World, Wesley, the Great Awakening, Pentecostalism, Mormanism, William Wilberforce, the Missionary movement, Vatican II, and the development of Ecumenism. All moments or inceptions of change.

Now cast your minds back over the vast range of issues that have caused the church to divide and re-make itself in the last two centuries alone; slavery, segregation, mixed-race marriage, the sexual revolution and changing attitudes towards divorce and re-marriage, the role of women, the division (or not) of church and state, the growth of Pentecostalism and the mega-church, the young people leaving the church in droves, and now what seems to be the greatest controversy of all; the emergence of a brand new sexual ethic. That is, we have come to the conclusion that there is a thing, and this thing is called sexual orientation.

Let us not underestimate how new this thing is. We didn’t have the concept sexual orientation until very recently.  Moses didn’t have it when he wrote Leviticus, the Romans didn’t have it while their military leaders enjoyed their male concubines. Paul didn’t have it when he wrote Romans. Even when the word homosexuality came into common useage in the English language in the early 1900’s, we barely had this thing. The words sexual orientation had not even been formed. The Greek poet Sappho, the tragic Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing – the subject of the film The Imitation Game, and even the vociferous Gertrude Stein, all lived before the concept of sexual orientation as we understand it now was put into words.

So how do we read theology then, in the light of this? How do we read the Bible? How do we make up our minds about LGBTI Christians? How do we decide what we think about same-sex marriage? How do churches and denominations make the daunting decisions that face them about the inclusion of gay couples in parish life, and about the legal changes that are transforming society’s understanding and practice of marriage? And most importantly, how will the church respond to the growing appetite from within its ranks for a new understanding of sexuality? One that is inclusive rather than divisive; one that loves rather than judges; one that sees similarities before it sees differences.

When we talk about same-sex marriage and the brand new civil right of marriage equality, a right so brand new that we are not all convinced it is a civil right, we are not speaking in a vacuum. This issue is not a neat and tidy package that can be responded to with simple logic, or brushed under the carpet with a heavily-wielded stack of bible verses.  This is new territory. We haven’t been here before. History and tradition inform us, but they cannot guide us where they have not been. We bring them with us, tucked into our conversations, allowing them to ground us and challenge us and warn us of the dire consequences of getting this wrong. Let’s be clear: there are lives at stake.  And not lives that would be measured by how well they affirm some universally agreed upon definition of what it means to be a Christian, but individual, uniquely created people. People who get up in the morning and go to bed at night, people who laugh and cry and breathe, who have children, jobs, homes, dreams, passions and loves. People who love.

In Africa, in this century, thirty six nations prescribe jail sentences for homosexuality. In three of those sodomy is punishable by death. Other nations convict with flogging, hard labour, or life-time jail sentences. Even in the few African nations where being gay is not illegal, homophobia and transphobia and related hate violence are rife.  In Russia, despite the fact that homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, Putin’s powerful anti-LGBTI propaganda bill means that anyone convicted of LGBTI “propaganda” to minors can be fined or imprisoned. Activists have been detained for acts as simple as carrying “Gay is Normal” banners. And even in seemingly open and tolerant countries such as New Zealand, suicide rates for LGBTI youth are tragically high.

This is not a theological problem, although theology is a vital part of the conversation. This is not an entirely political problem, although politics are changing and clearly need to change. This is not about the denigration of society, or the destruction of the family, or the manipulation of society’s mores by some vast lobby group with a “gay agenda.” This is a human problem. It is about people. And specifically, as it is becoming more and more apparent, it is about people within our churches, people we sit next to in pews and bake cakes for and pray for. People who from the outside may not look any different. Except for one small difference. We understand that difference better now than we did before. It’s those words; sexual orientation.  It’s time to smarten up and allow those words to inform our conversation about sexuality and marriage. And it’s time to listen to the people to whom the conversation matters most.

Christian voices from within the LGBTI community:

 Justin Lee

Vicky Beeching

Jeff Chu

Matthew Vines

Jennifer Knapp

Christian leaders, authors and academics who have come out in support of marriage equality and LGBTI rights… a few names out of many:

David P Gushee

Rachel Held Evans

Tony Campolo

Steve Chalke

Rob Bell

Brian D McLaren

Organisations committed to the conversation:

A Different Conversation

The Reformation Project

Accepting Evangelicals

The Gay Christian Network

The Marin Foundation

Canyonwalker Connections