*After a full week of wading through a plethora of online tirades by opponents of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on marriage equality, I am not only reminded of how challenging it is to change the laws of the land, I am also reminded of how difficult it is to change the hearts and minds of people.
As some cite the Constitution, and others cite the Bible, the plot to America’s story seems only to be thickening, leaving little doubt that marriage equality and LGBT rights will go down as one of the most controversial and polarizing social issues in this country’s history.
Here is what we do know and must accept: every citizen of the United States of America is now guaranteed equal protection under the law, as stated in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with liberty to exercise his or her rights regardless of moral or religious beliefs, or the lack thereof. However, it’s important to clarify that not all opponents of same-sex marriage are religious, and not all supporters of same-sex marriage are irreligious—albeit some people would argue that religious supporters have compromised their values, beliefs, and convictions and succumb to societal pressures of tolerance and political correctness. Nevertheless, what became profoundly evident — over the course of this past week — was that biblical illiteracy is rampant; the inability of certain minority groups to empathize and identify with other minority groups is apparent; and the likelihood of The Great Commission being fulfilled anytime soon by those who reject instead of reconcile is quite doubtful.
What we also know is that a religious marriage can still be considered as a marriage based on a religious covenant, and that a nonreligious marriage can be considered as a marriage based on a civil contract. Now as simple as that may seem for many of us, there is a growing fear, or perhaps paranoia, rising from within the religious community that same-sex couples will now flock to their churches in droves, demanding that ministers with an obvious aversion to the couple’s union immediately wed them. And that the LGBT community will now be eager to flood into businesses owned and operated by those who oppose their lifestyle, in an attempt to pay their hard-earned money to secure wedding services.
Now as beneficial as it would be for people to tattoo their sexual orientation on their foreheads, there is no sign that the law will require this—at least not right now. Therefore, gay customers might be able to occasionally go undetected inside of a tuxedo shop or bridal boutique owned by someone who opposes their union. Whereas the gay fireman who put out the house fire, or the gay paramedic who saved the infant’s life, or the gay doctor who diagnosed the illness, or the gay police officer who arrived on the scene of the fatal car crash will never have the option or right to withhold services from any citizen without it being considered discrimination.
Fortunately, amid all of the verbal attacks and insults that I combed through online, I was able to decipher that the majority of the religious community, predominantly Christian, believes that judgment and the downfall of America is now imminent, and the LGBT community, along with its allies, believes that America is finally honoring the words of the Declaration of Independence, which states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” And so, this is where the plot gets more interesting, especially for those who assert that America was founded upon Judeo-Christian values; yet I could track down countless Native Americans and African Americans (slave descendants) who know the unabridged history of this country, and would beg to differ. I’ll even venture to say that this country could finally be reaping the harvest of a history steeped in social injustice and racial inequality. Perhaps.
I discovered that most of the online ranting centered on the commonly cited Bible scriptures forbidding sexual acts between the same sex, and the idea of love being the ultimate virtue to practice and uphold by all. And that’s exactly where the holes in the plot begin to surface. People are expected to observe some scriptures while other scriptures no longer require observance. Then the whole idea of nonreligious people (or non-Christians) being held accountable for obeying biblical laws just makes all of the twists and turns remarkably confounding.
So, for the sake of argument, I’ll momentarily concede and subscribe to the idea that millions of people have simply decided that gay sex and intimacy is better than heterosexual sex and intimacy. Hence, the gay community is voluntarily opting to go against all moral values, social norms, and religious beliefs that often estrange them from family, friends, and loved ones, as well as places their careers and housing in jeopardy. I mean, after all, carnal lust and sexual gratification are apparently a higher priority than these other important aspects of life. And thus, same sex relationships would indeed be considered sinful according to the Bible. But wait. Interestingly, in the letters to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV). Then he writes, “…But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…”(Romans 5:20, NIV). He also writes to the churches in southern Galatia, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14, NIV). Finally, the Apostle Peter writes to the church in Asia Minor, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, NIV).
Undoubtedly, there are more scriptures that confirm God’s unconditional and never-ending love for all of mankind, regardless of behavior or personal choices. But wait. The Bible has a lot to say about marriage, divorce, and adultery. For instance, Jesus states, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9, NIV). Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. So, it’s safe to say that the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” is not a metaphor for something else. But what’s interesting is that the Book of Leviticus, which includes the heavily referenced scripture in opposition to same sex intercourse, is preceded by a widely ignored scripture that states, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10, NIV).
Of course, my first question is whether or not this is still applicable? If not, why? And if so, there’s a lot of people that we need to immediately put on high alert. God forbid if it’s death by either stoning or hanging, which is still practiced in some parts of the world.
The fact is, from pulpit-to-pew, churches are filled with congregants on their second and third marriages that we would not refer to as adulterers, although the Bible clearly states otherwise. So, in essence, divorcees who have remarried are committing the sin of adultery, but they have been permitted to marry multiple times and well beyond their reproductive years.
Part of me believes this is why the Apostle Paul expressed his opinion in favor of singleness. He writes, “For I would that all men were even as I myself…I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (I Corinthians 7:7-9, NIV).
What’s even more interesting is that Peter is the only disciple of the twelve who is even mentioned as having a wife in the Bible. So, on one hand, people are encouraged to marry with the understanding of it being the will of God. But on the other hand, marriage is discouraged and considered a distraction for those who want to devote themselves solely to the Lord.
I admit that I rarely come across individuals who are content with remaining single. Although it is a reality for many, it also paves the way for something else the Apostle Paul asserts as forbidden conduct: premarital sex. But there was no way that he could have predicted 2,000 years into the future that 72% of African American children would be born out of wedlock. Thus, with 78% of African Americans identifying as Protestant, obviously some of us didn’t get Paul’s memo forbidding premarital sex.
The reality is that all throughout the Bible there’s evidence of various practices being permitted and forbidden in ancient Jewish culture that are no longer applicable today. So, the question still remains—what exactly are those particular practices?
There is no doubt that we are in a cultural war in this country, primarily because we insist on imposing the private onto the public and the public onto private. It’s far too elementary to accuse opponents of marriage equality of being homophobic and bigoted. Just like it’s too easy to demonize the LGBT community as being perverts and pedophiles. It’s just a way to keep us attacking one another. We can always find people who think the exact same way that we do, and who validate and reinforce our beliefs, fears, and doubts. And with the poor track record of reconciliation between the LGBT community and the religious community, it’s obvious that America’s story needs some revision.
Most of us have simply resigned to agree to disagree. Whether some people are staying true to their religious beliefs and personal convictions, and other people are unabashedly living out their truth and seeking equality, the one thing that we must always remember is that we are all under the grace and mercy of a loving Creator. In our desire to be right and righteous, there are always a handful of scriptures and people who remind us of where we are falling short. But if we truly believe that God created all things then we must diligently work at seeing God in every human being, as opposed to looking for “sin.” If we simply make that our first step, then I believe we can genuinely begin to love others like we love ourselves.
Dana L. Stringer is author of In Between Faith. She is a writer, playwright, poet, screenwriter, and writing instructor based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @danalstringer. You may email her at: [email protected]