California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative making same-sex marriages illegal, just nicked by in November. I’m pretty sure that outcome, and everything that flows from it – starting with this week’s filing in federal court – is going to lead a lot of Christians to regret what they engaged in during the campaign.
Last fall I was of the mind that Christians in California needed to be politically engaged, but abstain from the Proposition 8 vote. I read (and heard) plenty of arguments on either side, and looking at the situation I saw that no good could come of it. Either we look like closed-minded bigots, who just want to exclude people who aren’t like us, or we endorse something most of us recognize as sin.
The church had no place in this fight, and it has no place in the fights to come in California and other states. That’s not because I think the we shouldn’t be involved in the discussion, it’s because of the way the question is framed.
As it stands now there are two options: give a right to marriage, or deny a right to marriage. As long as there are only those two ways, Christians have no good choice. Luckily there’s a third way. There are three facets to marriage: legal, social, and religious. The legal facet deals with governmental recognition. The social facet deals with the recognition of society. And religious is pretty well self-explanatory. There’s really no way the church can win through the legal facet.
The social recognition of marriage exists on a number of levels from family and friends to society-at-large. This is the place where, for most people, the recognition of their relationship is really important. And in the social arena recognition is all but guaranteed. Two people can have a ceremony that includes vows to each other and their families and friends, which – as far as they are concerned – renders them married.
Legal recognition is a complicated issue, which also exists on many levels from hospital visitation and survivor benefits to licenses and joint tax returns. I’ll be getting into that soon at A New Kind of Politics.
It is, of course, religious recognition that is of true importance to the Church. Unfortunately – from my perspective, anyway – there will always be churches that support same-sex marriages and perform the ceremonies. And while we can open dialogue with them, it is unlikely either will convince the other. So the tension will remain. But whatever happens legally and socially, churches can maintain their positions.
The real benefit in abstaining is that staying away from emotional, hostile campaigns – especially those based on soundbites and picket signs – allows us to demonstrate what it means to love a person regardless of his sin, without condoning it. There was a great opportunity to demonstrate opposition to sin without condemnation, and we threw it away, instead opting for the much easier path of passing a law. In the process we sacrificed any opportunity for respectful disagreement.
Some wear the accusations of homophobia as a badge of honor. “If they ain’t shootin’ at ya, you must not be doing it right.” That may be the case for a prophet, but there’s nothing prophetic about “Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve.” There’s nothing Christian about it, either.
We need to approach these questions like we’re talking about real people. In fact, we need to approach all questions of sin that way. So next time there’s a vote about something like this, do what I do: vote “present”.