Posted on January 30, 2014 by sacredtensionstephen
This post and many more excellent post can be found at http://sacredtension.com/
As a gay man, one question more than any other has kept me up at night – the question that draws all other questions into its gravitational pull: what if I’m wrong?
If I believe God blesses gay marriage, and I condone gay marriages among my friends, and I eventually get married to a man myself, what if I’m wrong?
Does that mean I am in grave error, condoning a sin that has very serious consequences on souls, hearts, communities and families? Does that mean I will be held accountable before God as a teacher of sin? Does that mean I am leading people into sin, death, and decay instead of redemption, goodness, and love?
If I’m traditional regarding homosexuality and marriage, what if I’m wrong?
If I’m wrong, I am guilty of condemning an entire people group to never experiencing something central to human life and stability: marriage. I am guilty of standing in defiance to 2000 years of Christian tradition that affirms that marriage is good and that celibacy must never, ever be forced upon anyone, because celibacy is a gift.
I might be guilty of encouraging the culture of promiscuity within the gay community by not believing marriage is a viable route for them. I might be bringing greater instability to the gay community because of my conviction. I am guilty of saying that self-sacrificing, long-suffering, mutually giving, monogamous love is wrong, while serving a God of love, thereby damaging the witness of my faith.
If I am traditional and wrong, I am guilty of perpetuating a ferocious and evil injustice against a vulnerable people group that deserve equality and love.
If I am wrong (or right), if I am misguided (or totally on track), if my convictions fail me, (or if they prove to be true) there is one – and only one – thing I have left, and that is the Gospel.
There is only one thing that will not fail, one thing that stands no matter what else may fall, one thing that never changes, no matter how subject to change we are, and that is Christ himself.
In the face of such terrible consequences of being wrong, and in the face of my own intellectual shortcomings that are so prone to error, the only thing I have is Christ’s grace: his Cross and His resurrection, the conviction that He is the way, the truth, and the life. All I have is the assurance that He is good, and that His grace is sufficient, even when our own minds fail. All I have, when all words are written and all questions answered, is the cross.
My mind – frail and human and prone to delusion – cannot carry me to salvation, or even total rightness. It will shift and grow with time, and will never be fully correct at any given moment, no matter how close I may get. As I’ve prayed and meditated, I’ve realized the depth of the truth that only something beyond myself and my own mind could ever truly save me.
And this is why, over time, I am becoming less concerned with “sides” and more concerned with the Gospel. Because, regardless of which Side of the gay debate is right, and regardless of how grave the other side’s wrongness might be, its rightness or wrongness cannot save us or condemn us. Only Christ can.
By Ryan Struyk
Calvin College Chimes Editor 2013-14
I’ve spent most of the last 18 months here at Chimes trying to get the full story: asking the tough questions, sending writers back for another interview and doing whatever it takes to get the “full story.”
And regrettably, I don’t think I’ve succeeded once.
There is so much behind every story that it’s impossible to capture the full behind-the-scenes angle that personifies and allows us to completely understand.
Because behind every decision, every action and every change, there’s a person making that decision, performing the action and leading through the change.
Chaplain Mary Hulst spent the first half of Saturday’s rivalry basketball game comforting the wife of a man who collapsed during the national anthem and later died, only to enthusiastically run the Calvin flag around the court less than an hour later.
Student body president David Kuenzi explained to me the hardship of sacrificing many hours of his finals week to represent the student body on the committee that was making difficult, last-minute decisions about budget cuts last semester.
Provost Claudia Beversluis teared up when she told faculty senate that she has read every word of letter after letter from alumni, pleading with her not to cut certain departments — but she still needs to make tough decisions.
And just like in journalism, life is full of conversations and situations where we don’t know the full story.
While I was struggling to come out to close friends last fall, a wise friend told me: “Everyone’s got their stuff.” (He didn’t actually say stuff, but I’m not going to print an expletive, even if it is my last editorial.)
Many of us are wrestling with depression, especially now during the winter. Some of us regularly get crippling migraine headaches. Some of us struggle with eating disorders. Others of us come from broken families. And as this paper pointed out this fall, some of us are enveloped in fear over our sexual identity.
And you can’t tell any of this when you shake someone’s hand.
So I offer the same simple thought that one of my role models, former U.S. senator Olympia Snowe, told us at lunch after the January Series last Thursday: “Be kinder.”
Theologian Ian Maclaren expanded that thought a bit more: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
My own experience being closeted on Calvin’s campus has taught me this: you never know what’s going on in a person’s life behind-the-scenes.
So give hugs a little more often, smile a little more and give the benefit of the doubt more than you probably should.
Why? It’s this kind of grace – lavished on other people without condition or reservation – that God gives us.
But while we don’t know the “stuff” in the lives of other people, we know that God sees all the “stuff” in us — the brokenness, the pain, the shame and the insecurities.
And we don’t have to worry about the judgment or betrayal or gossip we might expect from other people, because the Father sees Christ in our place.
Pastor Mary said it beautifully in LOFT on Sunday night: in the world, our very acceptance depends on covering our blemishes. But as Christians, our acceptance depends on us having blemishes — and bringing them to the cross.
So be kinder. Love freely. And remember that accepting God’s grace and sharing it with others is what God’s “full story” for us is all about.
Posted online in Chimes, January 16, 2014
We have a saying in Christianity that “you will know them by their fruit.” Drawn from Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 7, the expression means that the true test of faithfulness to Christ is not in simply believing or saying the right things, but in displaying the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,” said Jesus, “and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
I spent this past weekend with Christians bearing very good fruit.
I went to the Gay Christian Network’s “Live It Out” conference in Chicago a little unsure of what to expect, a little perplexed that someone like me would be invited, and a little freaked out about what to say as a straight woman to a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians—many of whom have been severely wounded by the Church.
But within a few hours of arriving, it became apparent to me that I had little to teach these brothers and sisters and everything to learn from them.
I speak at dozens of Christian conferences in a given year, and I can say without hesitation that I’ve never attended a Christian conference so energized by the Spirit, so devoid of empty showmanship or preoccupation with image, so grounded in love and abounding in grace.
As one attendee put it, “This is an unapologetically Christian conference.”
Indeed. There was communion, confession, powerful worship, and fellowship. There was deep concern for the Word. (The breakout sessions about the Bible and same sex relationships were by far the most popular, with Matthew Vines’ session so packed there wasn’t even standing room!) There was lots of hugging and praying and tears…and argyle.
I spoke with attendees from a multitude of denominational backgrounds—Catholic, Southern Baptist, Nazarene, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal, Mennonite, you name it. I met gay Christians who felt compelled by Scripture and tradition to commit their lives to celibacy (Side B) and gay Christians who felt fee in Christ to pursue same-sex relationships (Side A). And I heard story after story of getting kicked out of church, of being disowned by parents, of losing friends, of moving from despair to hope.
“I think we connect with your work because you write so much about Jesus,” a man who came all the way from Australia said. “For a lot of us, everything about religion has been taken away. All we have left is Jesus. So we love to talk about Jesus.”
The event wasn’t perfect, of course. As with any conference, there were tensions and disagreements, a few awkward moments and misunderstandings. But these were handled with such profound patience and grace I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Many of these folks have every right to walk around with permanent chips on their shoulders, but over and over again I encountered nothing but grace….big, wide, unstoppable, unexplainable grace.
I suppose this is what happens when a bunch of Christians get together an actually tell one another the truth.
About our pain.
About our sin.
About our fear.
About our questions.
About our sexuality.
Telling the truth has a liberating effect on everyone else in the room, and this was evident in the final night of the conference when we listened to one another’s stories:
From the young woman who had been called vicious names since grade school and who told us that this was the first time in her life she felt safe among other Christians.
From the brave mom who, choking down tears, told us that before this weekend she had been ashamed of her son, afraid to tell her Christian friends and family that he was gay. Now she had the courage to tell the truth and love him better.
From the man who, after twenty years of trying desperately to force himself to speak differently, dress differently, move his hands differently, and love differently decided to finally tell himself the truth.
From the conservative pastor who used to be an apologist against homosexuality, but whose friendship with a lesbian woman slowly, over many years, changed his mind. “Her life was her greatest apologetic,” he said, before openly weeping. “I was wrong. And when I hear about the pain many of you have experienced, I know that I was the cause of some of that pain. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”
From the man in the wheelchair who, with words he struggled to form, declared, “I’m black. I’m disabled. I’m gay. And I live in Mississippi. What was God thinking?!”
From the lesbian couple whose conservative church chose to break with its denomination rather than deny them membership.
From the young man who said that when he finally worked up the courage to come out to his parents “it didn’t go as well as I hoped,” and in the painful silence that followed, far too many understood.
From the denominational leader whose peers wanted him to “see what these people are so angry about" and who choked up as he said, “I’m going to go back and tell them you’re not angry. You weren’t anything like I expected you to be. I’m going to go back and tell them you’ve been hurt and it’s our denomination that needs to change, not you.”
From the parents who said they learned, too late, to love their gay son “just because he breathes.”
It was church if I’ve ever experienced it. And as I wiped tears from my eyes, I became as convinced as ever that if the Church continues to marginalize and stigmatize LGBT Christians, then the Church as a whole will suffer. It will miss out on all this energy, all this wisdom, all this truth, all this fruit. It will miss out on these beautiful people, these beautiful families, these beautiful relationships.
I was in a conversation with someone the other day who said he wondered if perhaps LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church how to engage thoughtfully around issues about sexuality.
I think he’s wrong. After this conference, I’m convinced LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church what it means to be Christian.
After all, movements of the spirit have never started with the “right” people. The gospel has never made as much sense among the powerful and religious as it makes among the marginalized. As I said in my keynote, what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.
…And who it calls to lead.
I realize that standing with and affirming LGBT Christians—both those who identify as Side A and those who identify as Side B (though, for reasons I can explain later, I'm personally inclined toward A)— puts some of my work in jeopardy. I realize that this post will be used to discredit me and that I may lose readers and opportunities as a result. But here I stand—not to lead, but to follow; not as a mere “ally,” but as a sister; not because I have it all figured out or have all my questions answered, but because I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do.
I’m so grateful to GCN for welcoming me into your family last weekend. You told the truth. You extended grace. You let me ask dumb questions. You loved me well.
And as long as you are part of the Church, I think her future is bright.
Dear family & friends,
Especially friends from my childhood and high school years who have found me for whatever reasons on Facebook, and family with whom I’m not particularly close, and coworkers from previous jobs who I have perhaps never had this chat with:
THE “GENDERQUEER COMING OUT” PART
I have something to tell you: I’m genderqueer. That means I live my day-to-day life somewhere between “man” and “woman,” often facing all sorts of daily interactions where the general public doesn’t “get” my gender, from kids in the grocery store asking, “are you a boy or a girl?” and their mom hushing them and turning away, to little old ladies in the women’s room staring wide-eyed and backing out of the restroom slowly, only to then return with a confused and self-protective look on their face, to service industry folks saying, “Can I help you, sir? Uh, ma’am? Uh … ?”
That confusion, that in-between state, is precisely it. That’s who I am. I’m neither, and both. I’m in-between.
You may already know this about me, just from following me on Facebook and doing whatever sleuthing you’ve done about my projects. You probably know I’m queer. But, if you want to know, I’m going to explain a few more things about my gender for a minute.
If you want to delve a little deeper into my particular gender, I consider myself butch, I identify as masculine, and I consider genderqueer part of the “trans*” communities, using trans-asterisk as the umbrella term to encompass, well, anybody who feels in-between. I’ve been identifying as “butch” for a long time—perhaps you’ve heard me use this word, an identity I consider to mean a masculine-identified person who was assigned female at birth. I consider myself masculine, but as I delve further into gender politics and theory and communities, the boxes of “woman” and “man” feel too constricting and limiting for me to occupy them comfortably.
I have for years thought that it was extremely important for people like me—masculine people with a fluid sense of gender and personality traits, who don’t feel limited by gender roles or restricted by gender policing--should continue to identify as women as a political act, as a way to increase the possibilities of what “woman” can be. That’s really important. And I still believe that is true, and heavily support that category.
Problem is, “woman” has never fit me. I had bottomless depression as a teenager (perhaps some of you remember I was sent to the principal’s office once for “wearing too much black”), plagued often by the idea of “woman” and adult womanhood. I could not understand who I would be in that context. And honestly, I still can’t.
But—even though it is in some ways harder, living outside of the gender norms—this in-between makes so much sense to me.
ON PRONOUNS (This part is important.)
For a few years now, I’ve been stating, when asked, that I prefer the third-person pronouns they and them when referring to me. That means, if you’re speaking of me in a sentence, you’d say, “They are about to walk the entire Pacific Crest Trail, it’s true,” or “Did you hear they just published another book?” or, “I really like spending time with them.”
Lately, when people ask what my preferred pronoun is, I have been saying, “I prefer they and them, but all of them are fine and I don’t correct anybody.” I don’t mind the other pronouns. They don’t irk me. But when someone “gets” it, and honors the they/them request, it makes me feel seen and understood.
There are other options for third-person pronouns which are gender neutral—or rather, not he or she. “They” is the one that I think, as a writer, is the easiest for me to integrate into sentences. I completely believe in calling people what they want to be called (that has always been one of my mom’s great mom-isms), so I always do my best to respect pronouns, but I still struggle with the conjugations and the way those words fit in a sentence.
Some people—particularly those (ahem like me) who were English majors and for whom grammar rules are exciting—think the “singular they,” as it’s called, is grammatically incorrect. But it’s not. It’s actually been used in literature for hundreds of years. Here’s one particular article on the Singular They and the Many Reasons Why It Is Correct. Read up, if that intrigues you.
WHY THE BIG DEAL?
I haven’t sat any of my family—immediate or extended—down and said, Hi, I’d like you to use they/them pronouns for me. I don’t generally tell people that unless they ask. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whyI haven’t told you, what I’m afraid of, and what is keeping me from this conversation.
I’m not particularly afraid that you won’t “get it” or that you won’t honor it. If you don’t, that’s actually okay. I am part of some amazing trans* and genderqueer and gender-forward communities full of activism, respect, advocacy, and understanding, and I’m very lucky to feel whole and respected in that work.
And really, I believe that the very vast majority of you actually really wants to know, wants to honor my choices. I think you are probably curious about this. But for whatever reason, my (and probably your) west coast sensibilities are keeping us from having a direct conversation.
So, here ya go. It’s not particularly personal, but it’s the beginnings of something, and it’s my offering to you to talk about this, if you want to.
See the thing is, by not having this conversation with you, by not giving you the opportunity to respect my gender and pronouns (even if you think it’s weird-ass and strange and don’t get it), I’m limiting our intimacy. I’m not giving you all the chance to really know me. And maybe … you want to. Maybe this will open up something new between us.
Or maybe you’ll just go, “Huh. Okay. Whatever.” That’s fine too.
If you have questions, or want to talk about all this gender stuff, I am open to that. Ask away. (You don’t always get a free pass to ask weird questions, so you might want to utilize this opportunity.) But before you do, you might want to check out The Gender Book for some basic terminology, concepts, and ideas.
Sorry I haven’t told you yet. I’ve been telling myself that it “isn’t that important,” but actually it’s been a barrier between us, in some minor big ways.
That kid who was in English class with you in high school,
Your former coworker,
Your nibling (did you know that’s the gender neutral term for neice or nephew??),
The older sibling of your childhood friend,
Your best friend from 6th grade,
That queer who was crushed on you before they knew they were queer,
PS: Feel free to steal this idea for your own Facebook pages.
Reprinted from the Believe Out Loud Blog page
Debates over California's AB 1266, which is scheduled to go into effect in California in January 2014, are bringing out troubling arguments against transgender students in California.
AB 1266 restates existing state and federal laws that ensure transgender students can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity.
Katherine Svenson, a Delta County, Colorado, school board member, recently made her stand against transgender students at a school board meeting:
I would like to pass out something that shows people what is going on in the rest of the country. Massachusetts and California have passed laws relating to calling a student, irrespective of his biological gender, letting him perform as the gender he thinks he is, or she is, and I want to emphasize, and they're actually talking about joining girls sports teams going in the girls locker rooms and bathrooms, and I just want to emphasize not in this district. Not until the plumbing's changed. There would have to be castration in order to pass something like that around here.
Sadly, this sort of statement is not uncommon lately. Such arguments stem from the efforts of Privacy For All Students, a political organization working to overturn the new California law.
Arguments from opponents like Svenson are troubling for a number of reasons. First, they demonstrate and work to instill an ugly anger at and fear of transgender people. "They're coming to get us," this argument says: "They're going to try to let some transsexual urinate near you beloved children." Feel the horror.
These arguments tap into every toxic narrative about trans people, especially trans women.
They say that we're either confused or deceptive, and they claim there is something inherently threatening about trans people. Just look at what Svenson's comment about castration—that's a violent word right there.
When asked about her comment, Svenson said, "I don't have a problem if some boys think they are girls, I'm just saying as long as they can impregnate a woman, they're not going to go in girls locker-room.”
Her arguments imply trans girls should be treated as rapists and sterilized as children. These arguments keep making appearances in discussions of trans people's rights: “How do we know that trans people are really what they say they are?” “How do we know that trans people aren't just predators pretending to be someone they are not?”
As a trans woman, I often don't know quite what to say in these situations.
How exactly can I prove I'm not a dangerous pervert? I can try to be charming, I can tell my story about always knowing I was a girl while I was growing up, or I can talk about being an Iraq War veteran or Christian or a small business person to tout my “nice, normal person” credentials.
Still, at the end of the day, I'm trans, and how does the world know if being trans is ok or not? I do not have some sort of certificate signed by God saying, “I do avow that S. Vivian Taylor is, in fact, a woman—so stop going on about it.”
As Christians we are called to love all people as ourselves. Part of loving people is to give them a chance, to value their personal experience even when it's something you have trouble fully grasping. If someone has an experience, and lives into that experience fully, who are any of us to tell them they are false?
Bills like AB 1266 do incredible work to protect young trans people, to stop bullying and other violence against young trans people. There is no evidence to support that transgender inclusion puts anyone else at risk, when in fact, not protecting trans students leaves them in harm's way. As followers of Christ, we must protect and support all people.
We must seek the truth and reject dishonest horror stories about people that are so often misunderstood.
If you are a Christian, I am asking you as your sister in Christ to listen to trans people instead of the people who fear us as you consider our rights and our place in the world.
- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/loving-trans-people-ourselves#sthash.qpLw6NMq.dpuf
A Time to Stay and a Time to Leave: An Open Letter to The UMC
- by Autumn Dennis -
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
With all due respect to Ecclesiastes 3, I feel there is one line missing that I would like to add: “There is a time to stay, and a time to leave.” I was not raised in The United Methodist Church, or in any church for that matter. My interest in the Divine emerged at the same time I was realizing I was gay, at the ripe age of twelve. My first experience with church was at a Baptist megachurch in Tennessee, where I have vivid memories of crying in the pews as I was told I was going to hell. The next few years were marked with me trying to pretend I wasn’t interested in God, because clearly this God hated people like me! These feelings drove me into an intense depression with strong suicidal thoughts. I admit that when I came to the United Methodist Church at sixteen, it was only because the girl I had a crush on invited me. However, the reason I stayed was because this particular church contained the first Christians I had ever met who didn’t immediately tell me I was going to hell. Instead, I found a safe space in their youth group where I was free to be who I was and to ask questions about God. Through my involvement in this church, I got a full scholarship to a great Methodist college.
As I was welcomed into the Methodist church, my campus ministry and local Tennessee Conference connection fostered my gifts and my budding call to homeless and prison ministry. However, I wouldn’t allow myself to consider a call to ordination, even though I felt one—I knew what the church said about people like me, so why even try? Whenever I had pastor friends affirming my gifts, graces, and fruits for ministry, I heard the institutional church say, “You are incompatible with Christian teaching” (Paragraph 161F). When my campus minister suggested I consider ordination as a deacon, I heard the institutional church say, “You will not be accepted as minister” (Paragraph 304.3). However, God’s calling soon overwhelmed the dirge of condemnation from the institutional church: “Yes, I am already ordaining you, you are not incompatible with me, and I will accept you as a minister.” When the Church reduced me to a faceless “homosexual,” I knew God saw me as more.
I decided to enroll in the candidacy process anyway. I began skating through the requirements set by my Tennessee Conference, believing that being ordained through The United Methodist Church could give me a greater voice for change in the church. I was proud to be a representative of The UMC. I felt that I was giving my church an opportunity to recognize what God was already doing in my life, ordaining me as a minister to the margins. However, over time, the pressure I felt from The UMC to hide who I was grew and grew. I began to be paranoid about who was a “safe” Methodist and who was an “unsafe” Methodist. I watched many of the Methodists that had first welcomed me into the church fight to uphold the same discriminatory passages of theBook of Discipline that were ruining my life. I watched cases like Amy DeLong’s, Mary Ann Barclay’s, and Frank Schaefer’s, wondering, “Who will rat me out?” Living a half life, I was stressed over whether or not the conference physicians and psychologists would ask me about my sexuality, worried about if I was dressing feminine enough for when I visited the Conference offices, and wondered if my voice was high-pitched enough for when I visited the head of the Board of Ordained Ministry. Pretty soon, I couldn’t focus on my call from God at all anymore; instead, I felt like I was in a perpetual den of Methodist lions.
The stress of this paranoia compared with the indescribable pain of recent events in the life of the Church became too much for me to handle: seeing the inflammatory language against me from the Book of Discipline in my candidacy guidebooks, witnessing General Conference refuse to even “agree to disagree,” observing the Council of Bishops condemn Bishop Melvin Talbert’s presiding over the marriage of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince, having my classmates and professors speaking insensitively about “the gay issue in The UMC” as if I weren’t in the room, and others. One of the most harmful things to me was seeing the open letter from my own Bishop Bill McAlilly condemning Bishop Talbert, upholding an idolatrous clergy covenant over God’s truth of inclusion. I began to think about leaving the ordination process.
I decided to postpone my decision until I attended Exploration, the biannual event for United Methodist young adults considering ordination. During this event, the Council of Bishops sent us a video with President Bishop Rosemarie Wenner saying, “The Church needs you!” In my head I finished her sentence: “…unless you’re gay.” More than ever, I felt like the church was repeating over and over a hollow lie. I felt like the church needed me to support its broken bureaucracy, but when I needed the Church, it wasn’t there for me. It threw me the bone of “Sacred Worth” and threw me away. As soon as I returned home, I saw the Internet explode with new stories of how Rev. Frank Schaefer was given a guilty verdict for presiding over his son’s wedding to his partner of the same sex. I felt like I could no longer go on rationalizing the state of The United Methodist Church; this was the last straw.
When I began the ordination process, I figured I would “see how far I got before the church kicked me out.” Never did I expect that the church would push me out before my District Committee even had the chance to expel me from the process. It is with immense pain in my heart that I confess to you, my beloved United Methodist Church, that I have to leave the ordination process in order to follow God. I cannot represent an institution whose idol is the Book of Discipline. I cannot pledge to uphold that abusive Book which has long since stopped being a source of illumination in how we connect with each other and God, but now is a glorified bludgeoning tool. I cannot join an order of ministry that is complicit in injustice. I cannot lie my way into an abusive clergy covenant or lie my way through the Historic Questions. I cannot pretend that my church has “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” when it does not. I cannot lie about who I am or what the Church is any longer.
However, there are “Reasons I Stay.” For all the ways that The United Methodist Church is incredibly broken, you are my dysfunctional family that I cannot leave. I still believe in the Church that welcomed me when no one else did, and I believe much more in thatChurch than I do in the same Church that is pushing me away. I still believe that our Methodist connection is something mystical and holy—something I wouldn’t exchange for the world. If I left this church totally, I would just be a Methodist sitting in another denomination. I need to be here to see this Church change. I need to be one of the people joining hands with all the other Reconcilers as we proclaim, “Love Prevails! Draw the circle wider still!” My liberation is bound up with yours, UMC.
(Oh, and one last thing—I’m still being ordained by God and I will find another church to recognize it. If you’re serious about getting more young clergy, make this is a church where we don’t have to lie about who we are in order to serve God. You’re better than that.)
The Lord be with you, and I’ll see you at the open table.
Autumn Dennis is a native of Nashville, Tennessee and is a senior at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee. She studies religion, is passionate about social justice, and is engaged in ministry with the children of Go on streets and in prisons. She is a freelance writer.
A few years ago when I was new to working as an advocate for inclusion and equality for all in faith communities, Ross Murray from GLAAD taught me that people generally move from active opposition to silence to tolerance to acceptance and then to advocacy. I've seen this happen over and over now in my work with my film, Seventh-Gay Adventists, a character-driven documentary about three gay and lesbian people of faith in a conservative religious denomination.
As we move into the holiday season, when families gather around living rooms and tables, often with very different perspectives, I thought it would be helpful to remember how changes and paradigm shifts happen.
My favorite story of change is about my own mother, who is nicest, most loving conservative you'll ever meet.
When we started filming Seventh-Gay Adventists, my mother was deeply worried. As it became a project that was clearly going to be a major focus of our lives for years, she got even more worried, and we had some tough conversations. Though she knew we had good intentions, she worried we would lead people astray making “sin seem okay” and jeopardize people's personal salvation.
I’m sure many readers here have been on the receiving end of family members feeling that the most “loving” thing to do is alert someone of their “sin.” But the important thing is that we kept talking, sometimes a bit heatedly, but we talked.
And to let you know what sort of person my mother is—she still housed us often in between filming trips, made numerous airport runs, fed us, watched our dog while we were on the road, and more, even though our work discomforted her.
Once when she was babysitting our then 18-month-old daughter while we filmed, I teased her: "You know Mom, this is sort of an in-kind contribution to the film."
She quickly responded. "Oh no it's not. I love you and support you, but I won't give a dime to that movie."
When she saw the film for the first time almost two years ago, she was deeply moved. And the next week there was a check in the mail supporting the film. She told us, "I want my name in the credits."
Now, I can assure you, having landed at my parent's home rather a lot in-between screening trips last year—and going through an election cycle together—that she is still very conservative religiously and politically.
But she has shifted into a positive space where it's her job to love and God's to judge. Now she sends me Biblical exegesis and other moments of inspiration from sermons she hears about how Jesus had such a heart for those marginalized by the religious authorities of his day.
She's the one who first pointed out to me that in the story about the woman caught in the act of adultery, Christians have really missed the whole point.
She was praying with me on the phone before a screening I was particularly nervous about, and she shared with me an insight she’d had during her morning devotionals:
You know, Daneen. I tell people often about your film and how I’ve been convicted that it’s my job to love and everything else is God’s job. And they often say to me, "Yes, we are to love, but even Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery to 'Go and sin no more.' So we have to draw the line somewhere."
My mother continued: “But I re-read that story, and it struck me that it’s Jesus, that is, God, who says that to the woman. There weren’t any humans left to witness that. So again, it’s my job to love.”
My mother is still shifting, but she has become quite the advocate in our family and in her circle of friends for the cause of listening and loving unconditionally—without caveats or clauses.
I am pretty sure she still wrestles with those famous six verses. But I’m also sure she is not a bigot.
My mother is still engaged, and she's still listening. Just a few weeks ago she wrote asking me for my suggested resources to help her understand why I believe that committed LGBT relationships can be blessed and celebrated.
I don’t know where she’ll land theologically, but I know that we have a much stronger relationship because of our openness to dialogue and our acceptance of each other.
And the larger cause of equality and inclusion is better off for each of these personal conversation spaces as well.
That’s how change happens—ongoing conversations over time, through the lens of real people and real stories.
To help facilitate conversations over the Thanksgiving holiday when many families are gathered together, we have decided to offer free screenings of Seventh-Gay Adventists online. Anyone can either stream or download the film (DRM-free to easily transfer between devices) entirely for free on our website starting tomorrow night—from Wednesday, November 27, to Sunday, December 1. Just use the coupon code “watchfree” to redeem a free copy.
This is our gratitude to our grassroots community who more than doubled a recent Kickstarter goal to make the film widely available, and it’s also the very best alignment we can imagine with our goals to help start more authentic and meaningful conversations in families and churches about what is often a hard topic to navigate.
To learn more about the film, see “The Making of Seventh-Gay Adventists." To learn more about how this film has been changing paradigms, see “When a Redneck Loved a Queer." And to read a review of the film, check out links here and here.
May you and your families be blessed this Thanksgiving with authentic conversation, even when those conversations are difficult.
No matter where you or your loved ones are between active opposition and advocacy, may just a little more love, grace, and understanding grow.
- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/family-conversations-my-mom%E2%80%99s-journey-advocacy#sthash.0WFVFbx3.rJzyWm8o.dpuf
I spent most of the last few days at the Making Room for All national conference, 2013. If you are not familiar, the mission of Room for All is to support, educate and advocate for the welcome and full affirmation of people of all sexual identities and gender expressions in the Reformed Church in America.
For me this was a time of seeing many friends I do not often see. Some of these friends I went to seminary with; and they are spread out across the country, serving at various churches. Many of them, I met two years ago at the last annual RfA conference. I also made many new friends this weekend. This includes friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or otherwise queer as well as many straight allies. It was a wonderful time of worship, fellowship, learning, wrestling, praying and playing. It all culminated in worshiping God and celebrating Communion together Saturday morning.
I am still processing much of this weekend. I will probably be better able to tell you what I learned a week, a month or a year from now. But right now I can tell you that two reoccurring themes for me this weekend were this: The desperate need for me to be more graceful in my conversations with Christians who disagree with me about the inclusion of LGBT folks in the church or marriage equality or really any other subject. And secondly, I felt God speaking directly to my heart that for me this will require a lot of integration. I somehow need to better incorporate the language of my evangelical and charismatic youth with the more progressive faith I have grown into in adulthood. In order for this integration to happen I also need to reconcile myself with both the pain and the joy of the past. The joy will be the harder part.
See when someone dies we often immediately make them a saint in our minds and don’t give ourselves time to integrate our memories, our inevitable experiences of affection and enmity with the loved one we are mourning. Similarly, when a part of us dies, we all to often demonize those who have hurt us, sometimes along with anyone else who might remind us of the persons who have hurt us. We cannot heal, we cannot build bridges and allow people who are quite different than us to bring any positive or meaningful presence into our life if we have convinced ourselves that “those kind of people” have only brought me sorrow. We must remember – if at all possible – the joy. Often those who have hurt us most (sometimes knowingly sometimes unknowingly) have also brought some measure of love or joy into our life, contributed at least something good and positive to our personal formation. How could they hurt us so if such was not the case? The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference.
I know that queer folk can be faithful and loving Christians. I know that women can make fantastic preachers. I know that Atheists and Muslims and Jews can be good and moral people (some who put me to shame). I know this because I have been witness to the Spirit of God moving in tremendous ways in the lives of my gay friends; and I’ve seen the way in which their relationships can be full of mutuality and nurturing and sustaining love. I have been moved to both praise and repentance by women preachers. I have had deep and meaningful conversations with people of other faiths and people of no faith – people with whom I have significant disagreements about the meaning of life, the person of Jesus or ultimate reality – but who have nonetheless invited me to better love God and my neighbor.
What I need to do to make Room for All is invite back into my life people who might dismiss me out of hand for saying any one of these things. I need to make room, for those who would self identify as conservative evangelicals or perhaps even fundamentalist. I need to remember the joy that similar people (in some cases the exact same people) once brought into my life.
All weekend we were singing the song “There is Room for All” by Cheryl & Bruce Harding. Every time we would sing it, the refrain, “there is room for all in the shadow of God’s wing” would take me back: First to my days in a “Christian rock” band, sitting around with friends and listening to “Gold and Silver” by Stavesacre. Then I journeyed deeper still, into memories of my very Charismatic youth singing “Underneath your Wing” by Ron Luce. I still think a lot of music churned out by the Christian industrial complex is problematic for a number of reasons. But wow, Stavesacre were always such an amazing band with such creative, vulnerable and at times explosively emotional and moving songs. And I still think Ron Luce’s use of militant language in his Teen Mania conferences and song writing can be highly problematic. I am offended and have friends who were wounded by his “Fine Line” youth rally (attended by many people too young to even vote) held in support of California Proposition 8 a few years back. But he has written some songs that still – if I am honest – deeply move me. He still is my brother as much as I think he is wrong and as much as he would probably tell me I am wrong if we could sit down and have a chat.
So I thought of these two songs that I missed. But more than that, I miss the people I sang them with. I am sick of being angry at “them” that we cannot see eye to eye on issues that affect real live people: my people, my friends. I am sick of being angry at people who might remind me of “them” before I even get a chance to really know them, based off of what church they go to or what news sites or articles they “like” on Facebook.
I can only speak for myself: But when I was a young fundamentalist, I had no place in my heart for liberals, gays, non-Christians or even Episcopalians. It was too filled up with fear of the “other.” But unfortunately at times I have let fear be replaced by hurt and I’ve allowed hurt to turn into anger. If I am not careful, I could let anger turn into hate.
I am asking God to truly make Room for All in my heart. Make room in me again. Make room in me, maybe even for the first time.
The Reformed tradition is much broader and more diverse than many of us realize, and since we’ve already featured the more conservative Justin Taylor for “Ask a Calvinist…” I thought it was time to interview someone from the progressive end of the Reformed spectrum for our “Ask a…” series. And I think we found the perfect interviewee.
The Reverend Jes Kast-Keat is a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America. She currently serves as the Associate Pastor at West End Collegiate Church in Manhattan. Jes is one of the twelve voices that writes for "The Twelve. Reformed. Done Daily" which is a collaborative project of diverse theologically Reformed voices. Her theological inspirations include John Calvin, Serene Jones, Oscar Romero, Teresa of Avila, and the countless everyday theologians who ask questions and "ponder anew what the Almighty can do". Preaching the grace of God and administering the sacraments is what gives life to Jes. You can follow her on Twitter here.
You asked some fantastic questions, and Jes has responded with great thought and care. Enjoy!
From Jes: The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours!
Let’s rewind a few hundred years before we get to today’s questions, shall we? Imagine that it’s the year 1563 and we are living in a region of Germany called the Palatinate. The ruler of our land, Elector Frederick II, thanks to his wife, Princess Marie of Brandenburg-Kulmbach, is a new convert to the ideas of Calvin. He decides to gather a large group of ministers and commission them to write a Reformed confession in the form of 129 questions and answers that would serve the people as a devotional tool for preaching and teaching of Scripture. Little do we realize that some hundred years later this tool, called the Heidelberg Catechism, would be one of the most influential catechisms in the Reformed tradition.
Fast-forward to the year 2013 and let’s allow the Heidelberg Catechism to open up and frame our conversation for today:
Q 1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Wandering pilgrim, resistant doubter, joy-filled believer – by the grace of Jesus, we belong to God. It is in that spirit that I offer my words.
From Ouisi: “When you're doing pastoral care, you encounter suffering and sin in an upfront, here-and-now, personal and communal way. How does your Reformed faith impact your approach to human brokenness?”
Anytime I am in pastoral care with someone, I begin with the realization that I am sitting next to someone who is beloved of Christ. I am sitting next to someone who has the divine spark of God in them. Whatever suffering is brought into a pastoral care situations, I am reminded of Colossians 1:17, “In [Christ] all things hold together.” God is present; I am not God, but my role is to be keenly watching for where God is on the move, even (or especially) if that means God is crying with us in the immense pain that is present in our stories.
I am also not shocked by the ways things are not right. Systematically and personally, goodness has been thwarted. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of goodness and holiness; it just means that things are much more vulnerable than we like to realize. My job is to communicate the presence of God’s grace in the midst of things gone array. I’m constantly looking for the presence of God in unexpected moments and people.
RHE asks “So I guess my question is this: How do you understand election? Is it about individual salvation from hell or something else? And how is this compatible with the otherwise inclusive posture of so many progressive Reformed churches.”
Election is about mission. Election is about the type of people we are called to be in this world and not so much about the world after this. To be potentially cliché, election isn’t so much about what I’m saved from but what I’m saved for. Election is about being called to be lovers of the world. For God so loved the world, we are now to go and do likewise.
Or to directly link the two words from your question that everyone’s eyes immediately darted to (“election” and “hell”), election is about saving people from hell. But it’s not a furnace-in-the-future type of dystopia. The elect – that is, the people of God – are called to join God in working for the redemption of all things. This means quenching the thirst of those who spend every day on this earth in a hell without access to clean water and the myriad of other hell-on-earth realities that so many people are born into.
Election isn’t just Reformed fire-insurance. It’s a free gift of God’s grace for all the people of God. We don’t do anything to earn it or deserve it. But we receive it with gratitude. And it is from this gratitude, fueled by the grace of God, that we live lives as the called and chosen (but not frozen-chosen) and elect people of God in this world.
This is why a progressive Reformed church will be so inclusive: our radical welcome is a reflection of God’s radical welcome. A God who lovingly welcomes all calls us to do the very same.
Here is the original link to the bloghttp://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-a-reformed-pastor
“It’s Time” – Amy Plantinga Pauw
An Address to the 2013 Covenant Conference
November 1, 2013
A friend of mine was asked a while back to give a talk on personal sexual ethics. When she reported this to her husband, he said, “Couldn’t they find anyone else?” Now you know how I felt when the Covenant Network board asked me to speak on the issue of marriage equality. My day job is teaching doctrinal theology. I don’t teach about marriage, I don’t write about marriage. Unlike many of you in this room, I have no expertise in marital counseling. Couldn’t they find anyone else? Well, obviously the board could have found someone else, but here I am. Why?
Because it’s time. It’s time that I give public support to my gay and lesbian sisters and brothers who believe in marriage enough that they are willing to enter into it without anything like the social approval, familial support, and financial incentives that I have mostly taken for granted in my own marriage. It’s time that I think theologically about an issue that has become a centerpiece of cultural conversation and political legislation around the world. It’s time that I acknowledge my scholarly gratitude to my queer colleagues in history, theology, and biblical studies who have already done some great work around the issues of same-sex marriage. And it’s time that I help my church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), think about marriage in a way that aligns with our ordination standards. We’re all here this weekend because it’s time that Christians gather and think this thing through.
We have a lot of company in thinking marriage through, because Christians have been doing this repeatedly from the beginning. Both theologically and practically, marriage has always been a work in progress for Christians. Marriage sits at the intersection of lots of human concerns—religious, political, economic, legal, familial. As those concerns shift, so do Christian reflections on marriage.
Likewise, there is no single, unchanging biblical view of marriage. This is clear as soon as we start reading the Bible. Biological procreation was of supreme importance for ancient Israel because their very survival as a people depended on it—which is why you get biblical teachings about marriage and human sexuality that seem very odd to both contemporary Christians and contemporary Jews—the acceptance of polygamy, the insistence that a man marry his brother’s widow, an extreme worry about “wasting” male seed. Those are biblical ways of thinking about marriage and sexual activity that Jews and Christians don’t regard as normative anymore.
But things don’t get a whole lot clearer in the New Testament. Who are the New Testament role models for happily married couples? At the center of the gospels is Jesus, an unmarried man creating around himself an alternative to the traditional household: an itinerant group of men and women mostly unrelated to each other by blood or marriage, called away from their own households to follow him. “What would Jesus do?,” scholar Mark Jordan asks. “Not marry.” Sure, Jesus helps out at a wedding in John 2, but he can also say some surprisingly casual and dismissive things about marriage. According to Luke, Jesus says those who follow him have to be prepared to hate their own parents and spouses and children (Luke 14:26). When Jesus tells a parable about being invited to a great dinner, and one of the guests says, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come” (Luke 14:20), Jesus considers that a lousy excuse. That’s because in Jesus’ teachings marriage is not a sign of the Kingdom—it’s a sign of belonging to this age, to the old order of things. In all three synoptic gospels, the New Testament equivalent of the Presbytery asks Jesus a ridiculous question about a woman who was successively married to seven brothers, wondering whose wife she would be in the resurrection. It’s the kind of question that my students who go up before church judicatories have nightmares about. Jesus replies that marriage is only for this age (Luke 20:34). It’s an earthly thing. It’s not where we’re headed. It’s not a feature of resurrection life, though reunion with loved ones is part of the hope of eternal life for many of us. Marriage, according to Jesus, belongs to this age, not to the age to come. So much for those Christian dating sites that promise help in finding “your eternal partner.”
So should Christians who are living in anticipation of the age to come get married at all? For centuries, the church thought marriage was at best a second choice for faithful Christians. This was in keeping with the advice of the apostle Paul, who urged, “Don’t get married unless you absolutely can’t help it” (see 1 Cor. 7:9). As Paul tells his followers at Corinth, “those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this” (1 Cor. 7:28 NIV). Hardly a ringing endorsement. Given what Jesus and Paul say, it’s puzzling that contemporary Protestants often seem to view married life as the paradigm for Christians, making divorced and never-married people feel left out or “less than” others.
All this to say that our conference this weekend is continuing a Christian conversation that has been going on for a long time. Marriage has meant different things over centuries of biblical and Christian tradition, but marriage matters. It is a source of comfort, strength, and stability for individuals and families. For Christians, it is a school for learning how to love our neighbor, one way of living out our baptismal vocations to be Christ’s disciples.
We all know that traditional heterosexual marriage is in trouble. Fewer young people are eager to sign up for it, and that’s especially true for those with less money and less education. About 40% of U.S. children are being raised without their fathers. Rates of marital domestic violence are horrifying and rates of divorce are discouraging. We can’t pretend that all is in order in the House of Straight. So the movement for marriage equality is not a matter of the straight majority inviting LGBT people into a healthy and well-functioning institution. Instead, it’s an opportunity for all of us to think through marriage again together. How does marriage matter? What does a healthy marriage look like? It’s time we think this thing through.
It’s especially important that LGBT Christians be at the table for this discussion. Because when it comes to marriage equality, the church has a big image problem. In the popular imagination, David Gushee notes, Christians have “become identified with actively pursuing the denial of rights and benefits to others that they themselves enjoy.” To what extent this popular perception of the church is true is a matter of debate. But anyone who follows the news knows that there is some truth to it, especially around the issue of marriage. It sends a terrible message to those outside the church, and it sends even a worse message to all the LGBT people within the church—it is a wounding statement about how the church views them and what they are worthy of. Why should Christians support marriage equality? It’s time.
I’m going to talk about marriage equality as a Reformed Christian theologian, paying special attention to the doctrine of creation. It is certainly possible to make an argument for marriage equality from within other confessional traditions, and other theologians have done so very well. But I’m interested in making a Reformed case. Reformed Christians have not seen marriage as a sacrament. It is not an alternative to priestly ordination. It’s not an anticipation of our eschatological union with God. Reformed Christians have often described marriage instead as a covenant. Now, covenant is a utility-infielder word in Reformed theology, a word used to describe all sorts of relationships. The primary referent of covenant is God’s relation to us as individuals and as a people; in a derivative way, the word covenant has also been used to describe human relationships–among other things, the bond among people who form a church community and the relation between political leaders and citizens. So it is a word used in many human social contexts, and it usually has nothing to do with gender or sexuality. The emphasis instead is on faithfulness. In God’s dealings with us, God plays for keeps, and we follow at a distance in our own earthly relationships—as church members, as parents, as trustees, and as marriage partners. John Calvin uses an even less exalted term: marriage is an earthly ordinance, and he puts it alongside other human traditions like farming, building, cobbling, and barbering. Marriage, like barbering, is a cooperative human activity that aims at creaturely flourishing. Marriage is part of creaturely life.
Some might object that treating marriage as an earthly ordinance makes it sub-Christian. It reduces marriage to something “merely” physical or creaturely. Shouldn’t Christian marriage be something more exalted, more “spiritual”? But nothing is “merely” physical, if that means being outside of God’s purview. Earthly life matters to God, and it should matter also to us. That is why Reformed Christians have invested so much effort in things like education, social reform, and alleviating human suffering. God relates to us not only as sinners in need of redemption, not only as those heading for eternal life in God’s realm. God relates to us also as creatures seeking faithful ways of living in God’s presence. God is our creator as well as our redeemer and consummator.
God’s ever-present creative blessing is the pedal point of our communal life and vocation as Christians. There is a “gifted worthiness” that all human creatures share in, even in the midst of sin. We are called as a community of human creatures, to respond to God’s wise agency as Creator with trust and praise, and to pursue creaturely wisdom in our own lives, including, for some of us, our lives as married people. If you think the world is going to end tomorrow, there is no point in getting married. Marriage only makes sense in the “long and meaningful middle”  of God’s providence. Earthly life won’t last forever, but in the meantime, Christians are called to seek their own creaturely flourishing and that of their fellow creatures. For some people, this vocation on behalf of creaturely flourishing includes marriage. Marriage is an earthly ordinance that aims at the flourishing of creaturely life.
The problem with taking this Reformed “earthly ordinance” approach to marriage is that appealing to the doctrine of creation so predictably gets theologians in trouble. Christian theologians over the centuries have made all kinds of claims about the created order, about what God has ordained for creaturely life. The sorry fact of the matter is that Christian appeals to creation have often been used to argue that some people are inferior to others. The church has some bad history here. Christian theologians have appealed to the created order to legitimize the subordination of women, to support the institution of slavery, to defend the purity of the Aryan race, to establish apartheid between black people and white people. So a Reformed view of marriage as part of creaturely life has its work cut out for it.
I want to linger for a little while on appeals to creation that have resulted in damaging views of marriage, because they have been so pervasive and influential in Christian tradition. I want to make clear at the outset that these views of marriage have been destructive for all people, not just LGBT folks. The movement for marriage equality is an opportunity for Christians to go back and articulate a better theology of marriage for everyone. Why should Christians support marriage equality? It’s time.
Appeals to creation in traditional marriage theologies typically yield two principles: complementarity and fruitfulness, and these two principles reinforce each other. Marriage is founded on the sexual complementarity of a man and a woman, and has as its highest purpose biological procreation. We’ll look at these principles one at a time.
The principle of complementarity sees a man and a woman as two halves of a whole. Some theologians have even read Gen. 1:27 that way. When Genesis says that God created all humankind in God’s image, and created them male and female, some theologians have concluded that only male and female together are in the image of God. Man without woman or woman without man are incomplete images of God. It is a short step to concluding that the bond of heterosexual marriage is the clearest image of what it looks like to be created in God’s image. Does this mean that people who for whatever reason are not part of a heterosexual couple–Jesus for example–are somehow less in God’s image?
Complementarian understandings of marriage insist that God has given men and women not only complementary reproductive organs, but also strictly-defined complementary roles in family and society: God has ordained the fixity of these roles based on essential created differences between men and women. When women and men deviate from these, they are going against God’s intentions for human life. Now I have to tell you that whenever theologians make the difference between men and women the most radical and most significant of all human differences, women know they’re in trouble. When differences of race, class, culture, personal gifts, and so on are all considered negligible compared to the foundational, irrevocable distinction between male and female, women know they’re going to get the short end of the stick. So it’s no surprise that according to complementarian understandings of marriage, God gives men the authority to lead and make decisions both at home and in the church. God’s created design for women is to submit to this male leadership and to please God by accepting their subordinate role. This general understanding of male-female complementarity is most clearly and permanently instantiated in heterosexual marriage. Marriage is a hierarchical relationship in which gender roles are non-negotiable.
You can find versions of this view of marriage in many classic Catholic and Protestant theologies. Listen to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached in a wedding sermon for his niece:
God establishes an order, within which you are able to live together in marriage. “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives” (Col.3:18-19). Thus God gives to husband and wife the honor that belongs to each of them. It is the wife’s honor to serve the husband, to be his helpmate, as the creation story puts it. Likewise, it is the husband’s honor to sincerely love his wife. A wife who seeks to rule over her husband dishonors herself and her husband, just as a husband who lacks in love for his wife dishonors himself and his wife. Both despise the honor of God that is to rest on marriage. The place to which God has assigned the wife is the home of the husband… In the midst of the world, the home is a realm of its own, a fortress amid the storms of time, a refuge, indeed, a sanctuary…. It is established by God in the world—despite what may happen there—as a place of peace, quietness, joy, love, purity, discipline, reverence, obedience, tradition, and, in all of these, happiness. It is the wife’s vocation and happiness to build this world within the world for the husband and to be active there. Blessed is she if she recognizes the greatness and richness of this her vocation and task.
This is from Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer! One of the stars in my theological firmament!
It’s probably clear to you that the more complementarian your view of marriage is, the harder it will be to support same-sex marriage. Same-gender marriage poses a quandary to creation-order complementarians: if both members of the couple are of the same sex, who will lead? Who will submit? Who will work on creating a home? Who will support the household? You may have seen advertisements paid for by supporters of traditional marriage in which a young girl asks, “Don’t I need both a mother and a father? Which one don’t I need?” If mothers and fathers play strictly-defined, mutually exclusive roles, those questions make some sense.
But what if they don’t? What if marriage is about a covenanted partnership in which roles are improvised over time, according to personal gifts and the circumstances of the household? What if a Christian marriage is defined not by one spouse ruling over another, but by the peace of Christ ruling in both their hearts, as Paul says in Col. 3:15? What if there are many faithful ways for spouses to complement each other? As one of my friends puts it, it’s obvious that complementarians have not spent much time with gay couples. There all kinds of ways in which couples complement each other, push and pull each other into being more well-rounded people. One of the joys of a good marriage is the discovery that the partners are better together, each able to realize more of what God has created him or her to be. The more mutual, the more egalitarian, the more flexible one’s view of what it means for marriage partners to be complementary, the more room one has to embrace same sex marriage. Even today, heterosexual couples who marry inherit a boatload of traditional expectations about gender roles in marriage. But there is no static blueprint for marriage, especially one that is dictated by gender. There’s reason to hope that same-gender marriage partners can model for the straight majority some of the freedom of what being faithful to God’s creative intentions for earthly life looks like. Why should Christians support marriage equality? It’s time.
As I’ve said, appeals to creation in traditional marriage theologies typically yield two principles. We’ve considered complementarity, and now we will take a look at fruitfulness. Fruitfulness in heterosexual marriage has traditionally been understood in terms of biological procreation. Isn’t that God’s commandment to Adam and Eve: “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28)? I want to affirm that it’s a wonderful thing when married people who love each other and are committed to each other bring a baby into the world by their sexual union and together undertake to nurture and protect that new human life. But is that the only way marriage can be fruitful? Is the capacity for biological procreation the defining attribute of marriage?
Three Christian scholars, Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson, have recently renewed this line of thinking in explicit opposition to same-sex marriage, arguing that true marriage requires a sexual union that is inherently ordered to procreation and thus “the wide sharing of family life.” “What is Marriage?,” they ask. Their answer is “Man and Woman,” and it all boils down to procreation. Marriage by definition for them requires the sexual complementarity and generativity of a heterosexual union. Same-sex couples need not apply.
However, in trying to define marriage in a way that excludes same-sex couples, Girgis and company have produced a view of marriage that is too narrow and confining for all couples. For straight couples, their view places a stigma on infertility and childlessness, and calls into question the legitimacy of artificial contraception. Are marriages that do not produce biological children truly marriages in the full sense? Should middle-aged and elderly people get married? Is the meaning and purpose of the lifelong union of two people reducible to procreation? For all couples, both same-sex and other-sex, the view of Girgis and company ignores that fact that what they call “the wide sharing of family life” is something that happens in many different ways in marriage. Raising biological, adopted, and foster children, caring for one’s spouse and for other family members, reaching out to other troubled and vulnerable people—all this is part of “the wide sharing of family life” that marriage creates space for. It is certainly not the exclusive domain of fertile heterosexual couples. In fact there are many same-gender couples who are already doing this very well.
Mercy Amba Oduyoye, a theologian who has no biological children, has provided a broader Christian understanding of fruitfulness, echoing the language of Gen. 1:
Increase in humanity. Multiply the likeness to God for which you have the potential. Multiply the fullness of humanity that is found in Christ. Fill the earth with the glory of God. Increase in creativity. Bring into being that which God can look upon and pronounce ‘good,’ even ‘very good.’ 
Here is a vision of fruitfulness that all marriages can aspire to. Indeed, it is a vision of fruitfulness that all Christians can aim for, regardless of their marital status.
We have looked at the two creaturely principles of complementarity and fruitfulness, and have seen that understanding them in a more expansive way provides a vision of marriage that is better for everyone. The strange arithmetic of marriage, that 1 + 1 > 2, holds true for all good marriages, both same-sex and other-sex. The complementarity of gifts and temperaments and interests of the partners in a healthy marriage continues to yield fruit for the duration of their lives together. Marriage provides a sounding board, a staging area, an anchor, that allows both people in it to venture out, to take risks, to reach out, to nurture the lives of others. Their love creates space for more love to flourish. As Oduyoye says, a fruitful relationship is a way of multiplying the fullness of humanity that is found in Christ. How silly to think that this multiplying is somehow the preserve of straight Christians. Why should Christians support marriage equality? It’s time.
But what about Adam and Eve? Doesn’t the story of creation in Genesis 1 put forward as central to the human story the enduring companionship of man and woman and the procreative results of their sexual union? Certainly this woman-man companionship has been a central part of the human story, and it will go on being that way. But it is what Paul Lehmann, in his book The Decalogue and the Human Future, calls a “foundational instance,” rather than a “limiting instance.” A foundational instance provides a center, whereas a limiting instance draws a boundary. Following Patrick Miller’s use of Lehmann’s distinction, Genesis describes a created order in which a generative, enduring sexual relationship between a man and a woman plays a central role. But the centrality of one kind of relationship does not require the exclusion of every other kind of relationship. The woman-man relationship does not have to be read as a limiting instance that prevents other kinds of relationships from making a contribution to creaturely flourishing.
The sense of threat in some contemporary Christian opposition to same-sex marriage is puzzling to me. Looking just at the U.S. context for a minute, some day same-sex marriage is going to be legal in all fifty states—it’s going to happen. And at the rate it’s already happening, I hope to live to see it. It will be a day of jubilation for many people. But even when that happens, you know what? The vast majority of marriages in this country are still going to be heterosexual. And lots of those heterosexual couples are going to have biological children. A generative, enduring sexual relationship between a man and a woman will still play a central role in society. But this relationship has never been the only one that contributes to human flourishing and it won’t be in the future either. Why is that a threatening thing? Here is the gay journalist Andrew Sullivan reflecting on this paradox of conservative resistance to same-sex marriage:
It has been such a tragedy that conservatives decided this was a battle they were determined to fight against, an advance they were dedicated to reversing. It made no sense to me. Here was a minority asking for responsibility and commitment and integration. And conservatives were determined to keep them in isolation, stigmatized and kept on an embarrassing, unmentionable margin, where gays could be used to buttress the primacy of heterosexuality. We were for them merely a drop shadow for heterosexuality. What they could not see was that the conservative tradition of reform and inclusion, of social change through existing institutions, of the family and personal responsibility, all led inexorably toward civil marriage for gays.
The push for same-gender marriage, as Sullivan points out, represents a desire within the LGBT community for responsibility and commitment and integration into existing institutions of society. All those who care about the flourishing of earthly human life in all its dimensions, and about the reform of the institution of marriage, should be eager to get on board. Why should Christians support marriage equality? It’s time.
There is a phrase that sums up the Reformed understanding of marriage that I’ve been developing. And it may surprise you that it comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It comes in a letter to his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer. As many of you know, Maria and Dietrich were never married, because Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis at the very end of WWII. But in this letter he is thinking about what their marriage will be like. He writes, “Our marriage shall be a yes to God’s earth; it shall strengthen our courage to act and accomplish something on the earth.” Marriage is “a yes to God’s earth.” It is an affirmation of the richness and potential of creaturely life. It is an embrace of the joy of human sexuality, and the struggle of enduring intimate human relationships. Marriage is a bond that strengthens both partners to act and accomplish things that make for creaturely flourishing. The comfort and courage a marriage generates radiate far beyond itself. Marriage can give people courage to do what they couldn’t afford to do, wouldn’t dare to do, couldn’t imagine doing, on their own. Marriage is a joyful “yes” to God’s gift of creaturely life.
Marriage is a matter of our life here, on God’s earth. Marriage matters now, not in the hereafter. That’s why it’s time for us to think it through. For Christians, marriage, like other earthly ordinances, can be a school of discipleship, a space where we practice loving our closest neighbor, through thick and thin, in sickness and in health. It’s the same way with raising children. It’s not that raising children is essential to Christian life in general or marriage in particular. But it can be true, as many same-sex couples have already found out, that parenting children through the seemingly endless stretch of runny noses and soccer games and school science projects can provide fertile ground for cultivating fruits of the spirit. I’m thinking especially here of patience, kindness, and self-control. Raising children, tending the earth, attending to the marginalized and vulnerable–there are all kinds of earthly activities that God can turn towards our spiritual growth, and marriage provides an ideal staging ground for many of them. A good marriage serves as a kind of intensive curriculum in the love of neighbor. It is a yes to God’s earth, a yes to our lives as creatures. Why should Christians support marriage equality? It’s time.
I want to close, though, by reminding us of the rest of the Christian story. I’ve been arguing that marriage is a pillar of the earthly city. It’s a pillar, in the sense that it supports and creates space for other good things on earth to flourish. But it’s a pillar of the earthly city. It’s not where we’re headed. Marriage is for some of us an important way station in our earthly pilgrimage. But it is not what ultimately defines us. We are all still on the way to fullness of life with God. Our hearts are restless, Augustine says, until they rest in God. No spouse, no fellow creature can be my all in all. We are all on a journey of love that ends, not in marriage, but in perfect communion with God, and with everything else in God.
We are made for relationship, but we will all eventually leave marriage behind. As Craig Barnes has noted, 50% of marriages end in divorce and the other 50% end in death. Marriage is a provisional state. Life in Christ lasts forever. We remind ourselves of this every time we celebrate communion. They will come from east and west and north and south, gay, straight and transgender, young and old, those with children and those without, the miserably married and the happily single and everyone else, and they will all sit at table together. Sexual identity, marital status–all that is irrelevant at Christ’s table. Everyone is there as Christ’s guest. Marriage matters for Christians, but fellowship with Christ matters more. Let all our lives, in whatever form our discipleship takes, be “a yes to God’s earth.”
 Mark Jordan, Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 101.
 David P. Gushee, “Christians vs Gays: the Damage Done,” Religion Dispatches, June 26, 2013.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.34.
 John E. Thiel, “Methodological Choices in Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence,” Modern Theology 27:1 (January 2011), 6.
 Joe R. Jones, A Grammar of Christian Faith: Systematic Explorations in Christian Life and Doctrine, 2 vols. (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002) vol. 1, 259.
 “Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell,” for the wedding of Renate and Eberhard Bethge on May 15, 1943, inDietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 8 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 84-85.
 Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George,What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense(Encounter Books, 2012), 1.
 Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “A Coming Home to Myself,” in Margaret Farley and Serene Jones, ed., Liberating Eschatology: Essays in Honor of Letty M. Russell (Louisville: WJK, 1999), 118.
 See Patrick Miller, “What does Genesis 1-3 teach about sexuality, and how should we live in response?,” in Ted Smith, ed., Sexuality, the Bible, and the Church (Covenant Network, 2006).
 Andrew Sullivan, “Why Gay Marriage is Good for Straight America,” http://mag.newsweek.com/2011/07/17/andrew-sullivan-why-gay-marriage-is-good-for-america.html.
Letter to Maria von Wedemeyer of August 12, 1943, in Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, eds., A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1990), 488.
 M. Craig Barnes, “Dangerous Vows,” Christian Century, Sept. 14, 2012.