A few years back, I noticed a curious phenomenon: the letters to the editor page in The Anglican Journal looked more and more like a prop from the comic film "Groundhog Day." No matter which issue of that paper I opened, I found what sure appeared to be the same half-dozen letters. All of these letters focused on the question of the how the church ought to minister to and with gays and lesbians. And many of them were accusatory, insisting that everyone who disagreed with the writer’s position was either (a) short on fidelity to Holy Scripture and, therefore, out of tune with God or (b) short on fidelity to Divine Compassion and, therefore, out of tune with God. My friend and colleague, Don, succinctly named the dynamic at work in those letters when he quipped that they recorded the debate between “the Truth People and the Love People.”
I was about to give up on reading the letters — you can only watch the same movie so many times before it becomes tedious. But then I noticed something fascinating: writers on both sides of the question were frequently making almost exactly the same argument. That argument went something like this: sexuality is something that Jesus all but never spoke of. Rather, when he told us and showed us what God’s Kingdom looked like and how we, his disciples, could best invite it further into a broken world, his focus was on things such as poverty, hunger, and healing.
The Truth People and the Love People differed only in the “therefore” which ended their respective arguments. The Truth People concluded their letters by saying, “This matter is unimportant in the Gospel: therefore, we should stop wasting energy and abandon the whole question of blessings and marriage for same-gender couples.” The Love People concluded by saying, “This matter is no big deal in the Gospel and, therefore, we should stop wasting energy and authorize blessings and marriages for same-gender couples right away.” The bizarre upshot was that, sometimes, I had to read to the end of a letter before I found out on which side of the question a given writer fell.
Now, I am a pathologically optimistic person. And, while someone else might take these letters as evidence of absurdity, I chose to take them as evidence of good news. First, they represented that hidden good news of which every a member of a family must periodically remind herself when tempers rise around a dinner table or at a nephew’s wedding: an argument is proof that we care about one another enough to fight. (It is silent and contemptuous indifference which is real cause for alarm). And, second, they represented proof that we agree about far more than we often allow.
Honesty demands that I admit that I am grateful that R74 passed. And I am equally grateful that there are now churches (including Episcopal churches) in which a same-gender couple may be wed. But I am also ready for us, as Jesus’ disciples, to start talking about something else. I think that Rob Bell got this one right when asked, “If gay marriage then when next?” His response was equal parts cheeky and prophetic: he said that he hoped what was next would be poverty. I hope for the same.
Let’s shine a light on the vast number of things on which we agree. Let’s live and love and work for God’s Kingdom accordingly. We may well be surprised by just how much we can do together.