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Soon after the state legislature legalized same-sex marriage the effort to repeal that law began, and it now appears we will be voting in November on whether or not the State of Washington will recognize such marriages. Though the signatures on the initiative petition repealing that law have not yet been fully certified, supporters of repeal are confident they have garnered far more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. Marriage equality is not strictly a religious issue; it is more about how we understand human rights and equal protection of the law in an open society, and whether or not same-sex marriage falls within those fundamental protections.
Nevertheless, the lion’s share of the repeal effort will be led by people whose Christian religious convictions lead them to believe that God disapproves of gayness, if I may use that term, and that the bible proves it. On the other hand, lots of religious people, myself among them, disagree both with this conclusion and with the analysis of the Bible that justifies it, and are going to vote against repeal. We are not persuaded simply or only on legal grounds, we are also persuaded on moral and religious grounds that marriage equality is right. A substantial number of Christian organizations will also oppose the measure.
In a state such as ours, where fewer than 40 percent of the people attend church regularly, I hope the public notices this. I hope collectively that Christians in Washington can demonstrate that we are as diverse as we truly are, and that there are a great variety of ways to understand both what the Gospel means and how it is lived out in real life. Ever since Paul went to Antioch and “opposed Cephas (Peter) to his face” Christianity has been a diverse and varied religion, and in spite of repeated attempts to enforce uniformity not only of thought, but also of action, it has remained that way. And yet, as Christianity becomes less central to the culture, there seems to be an increasing tendency among those outside Christianity to homogenize us — stereotype would perhaps be the more common term — and this ballot measure could well provide a wonderful opportunity for those inclined that way. Given that both the Roman Catholic Church, and a lot of evangelical Protestants are going to be quite public in their support of repeal, such stereotyping will come naturally to large numbers of people with no other meaningful contact with Christianity.
It is therefore incumbent upon those Christians who are for marriage equality, and whose convictions on this matter emerge from their faith, not in spite of it, to make clear that Christianity does not speak with a single voice on this issue; people of genuine faith, and deep commitment to God can disagree. This disagreement might well be impassioned, but it should not, and need not be vitriolic. If that debate happens with some grace and civility it will help to destroy the stereotyping that identifies people of faith with one particular part of the political and social spectrum. That would be good for Christianity as well as the body politic.
Did you sign the petition? Why or why not?
Rev. Bill Ellis is dean of St. John’s Cathedral. He has a bachelor’s degree in history, a Master of Divinity and holds an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
This is why there are so many schisms in the Christian churches – no one can agree, and currently they all seem to surround the issue of homosexuality. Once upon a time it was slavery, then it was women, now this. I wonder what we, Christians like myself, will disagree over next?
Why do you think it is that Christians cannot agree?
I think it’s just because of the sheer number of Christians there are in the world, they can’t possibly all agree.
People naturally disagree on things, and in many venues it creates a climate in which creative and healthy solutions arise. There is nothing unusual about people disagreeing on matters they consider important. In Christianity there is a tendency to imagine that my particular point of view is God’s point of view, and therefore disagreement is not just wrong, it is unfaithful, even dangerous. This is unfortunate, in my view. Were we able to as Christians to declare that in fact the mind of God on any subject is not fully knowable, at least not by one person, and not immediately, but emerges only over time and in conversation among the whole body of the faithful, we would not be concerned about disagreement, and it would result in a lot less schism. Disagreement, in other words, is not the problem. Intolerance that grows from the certainty that I know what God thinks and you don’t is. As Abraham Lincoln pointed out once, many people are saying that God is on our side. What I wonder is if we are on God’s side.
I believe that Christians disagree on fundamental principles laid out clearly in the Bible because apostasy has crept further and further in the church, and by church I mean the invisble called out assembly of every believer. The apostles warned that in these last days false doctrine and teaching would creep in even denying the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. I’ll stake my life and eternity on the gospel spelled out in clear language in the Bible. The disagreement usually comes around the few major principles that the fleshly man can’t stand, substitutionary blood atonement, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the deity of Jesus Christ, and the inerrancy of the Scriptures. As you were wondering in your last sentence, there is a way to know.
Thank you for the very thoughtful article above and your comment of June 13 above. To quote:
In Christianity there is a tendency to imagine that my particular point of view is God’s point of view, and therefore disagreement is not just wrong, it is unfaithful, even dangerous.
This is the key to our division and it comes down to idolatry. When Christians allow themselves to be cut to pieces by divergent ideas the idea becomes more important than the God formed community, the church. We divert our devotion from God and each other to ideology thus forming our own golden calf. This is not to say that ideas are not important, they are. God created us with amazing mental capacity and creativity that should be exercised and magnified, however we must always recognize that it is within the community that the revelation of God and God’s vision of the future emerges, as long as we are looking to God and not some ideology.
Division by issues causes a de-evolution of values. Take the pro life movement, in its extreme it actually wages violence and takes life as expressed by small groups and individuals from the movement. When we are anti-anything we eventually become what we are against in some form or another. Pro life has proven not to be pro life, but rather anti abortion. John the Gospel author says that the Word was light shining in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. The light was light, the darkness was darkness, light is not anti darkness, it is light. We are, as people of faith, challenged to be light shining in the midst of darkness so that others may become alighted and shine as well. As we shine the light of ideas with each other we all become brighter and more able to shine light into a world in need of light for seeing. Thanks Rev Ellis, this was a good read and I appreciate that my light is brighter because of your ideas.
i am always interested in your comments, they are always informative to me.
I think that your interpretation of scripture actually makes Rev Ellis’s point about division. If you believe strongly in apostasy, how do you know that your ideas are not those that are not heretical? Your reading of the Bible?
To me, the answer seems rather more straightforward. The cause of disagreement is largely because the Bible is nowhere near as clear as Christians like to claim. It is vague, ambiguous and, in my opinion, inconsistent, even contradictory.