Joy, justice and marriage equality

June 26th, 2015

The landmark decision handed down by the Supreme Court today on the issue of marriage equality presents the Christian community, and our wider world, with a historic, though complicated, opportunity. The legal right for same-sex couples to pursue marriage is the fact of the case, a fact critical to the lives of so many committed couples previously denied equal opportunity under the law. How we will approach this new reality is less clear. 

Responses throughout the religious, political, and social worlds will be as varied as they always are on issues that touch the core of our shared life together, a core defined by our lives as individuals, with individual needs, thoughts, and opinions, who seek to maintain a social community. Plainly put, any response you can imagine to the issue of marriage equality is out there. 

So how do we respond? And who is ‘we’? The 5-4 vote mirrors, as closely as anything could, the divide Christian communities feel when it comes to marriage rights extending to same-sex couples. The church catholic will not have a unified response, much as I wish it would. That’s not a realistic request of the church or of any human-oriented group. People disagree. Church splits, dying churches, denominations themselves … all speak to our tendency to divide. 

Yet the ruling isn’t about division. It’s about inclusion. As I watch the reports post in real time, the decision stands firmly on equal protection under the law. That’s the language of justice, of binding together. And while I rejoice, I know that many Christians (among others from a range of faiths or no-faith) see this momentous occasion as one of lament and despair. Where I see children of God affirmed in their creativeness through changes in our social fabric, they see sin and the tearing of that same fabric. It breaks my heart to remember this, but this is where we are. This is where the Church is. 

The decision as handed down affects the laws across every state in our nation. And, as marriage is dually woven into the legal and religious identities we hold in this country, it affects every member of a faith community. There will be opposition. There will be rage. There will be hate. 

There will also be joy, relief and comfort. And there will be a righteous and just wave of affirmation for God-given identity. This is as it should be, for in Christ we flourish. We become the most full and joyous versions of our created selves. I see this ruling as a matching of our legal precedent to the standard of inclusion set for us by a loving and embracing God, a God with more love and grace than we know what to do with. For that reason, I freely rejoice with my LGBTQ friends and loved ones today. 

Still, I balk at the massive amount of work the Church has yet to do. This is a momentous historical event, a culmination long coming. Yet it is also a beginning, a starting line where our faith must, if it does not already, speak clearly to our lived realities and to those of our neighbors. Make no mistake, we will be talking about this for a while. For now, the question I wrestle with is this: where does this shift in our cultural and religious lives leave those who cannot join me in elation? They are no less a part of the Kingdom, no less a part of the body of Christ. Yet we stand divided from one another, split as starkly as a 5-4 bench. 

It’s a question that will not go lightly. Nor should it. In the mean time, my hope is that Christian communities who cannot yet accept the inclusion to which I believe we are called will at least find an openness to dialogue, if for no other reason than they see it as a necessity for dealing with the difficult nature of the new things. Maybe that’s a naive hope. But I can’t be cynical today. Not when the messages of hope, love and joy continue to roll through my newsfeed like water, like an ever-flowing stream.

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