President Obama Courageously Stands for LGBT Civil and Marriage Rights.Posted in Democracy, Equality, Sermons, Social Justice
I recently got into a debate with a man about views on the LGBT ( Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community and whether they should be allowed to marry or have civil unions. His position was that homosexuality was a sin and that people in the LGBT community should never be allowed to marry because the Bible condemns them. Marriage is only for men and women,” he said.
My response to this man was careful and measured. He became very animated in a talk punctuated by volcanic eruptions of emotion while spewing out profanities that wildly demeaned and degraded all LGBT people.
After he calmed down, he asked, ” You are a Reverend. What do you think about marriage rights and equality for those people?”
I said to him essentially what President Obama recently stated and that is “LGBT people should be granted the same rights and freedoms that heterosexual married couples are given in this society. They should be permitted those rights not solely on what the Bible or any other religious document says but on what the Constitution of the United States says about their rights as American citizens.
In a Christian Theocracy the Bible is our “Constitution.” In American Democracy the Constitution is our “Bible.”
The Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence become the “Holy” Triumurate, the “Holy” Grail of American representative democracy. And while “the Bible should teach the flag how to wave” in the words of Michael Eric Dyson, these tracts provide a vision; a template and road map on how people should be ultimately treated as citizens in this society.”
Furthermore, I asked “Should religious beliefs ultimately determine who should be granted civil rights as citizens of this Republic? Why should any philosophy, religion or creed be used as a deterrent to prevent people from receiving and enjoying equal rights in this society? This is why we have the Constitution as the final arbiter and determinant of our rights as American citizens and this includes members of the LGBT community.
In many respects, the Consititution is more open and tolerant of equality for it trancends the particularities and complexities of various religious belief systems and that is why we have it as a primary guide on how to treat other human beings in this”American experiment in democracy.”
So I asked him,”Should LGBT people not have the same rights as other Americans because of the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality?
“No they shouldn’t!” Why should they be married at all?” he said passionately.
I then asked,”Why should gay or lesbian couples who live monogamously or otherwise as partners in relationships for many years suddenly face a complete loss of everything because they decide to separate or one partner dies or because their right to marital equality is refused? Is this right? Why should such persons be denied their true humanity to be as they are and live in love like all other persons who are truly and fully human?
Moreover marriage is both a civil and religious matter. In the Catholic Church marriage is a sacrament. In the Protestant Church it is not a sacament but still holds sacred value in eyes of the faith community. Ultimately while it is a contract-covenant between two people, it also signifies the union of values, resources and everything that the couple has worked for and bring to that relationship in building a life together.
Why should homosexual couples who live as citizens, fall in love, pay their taxes, fight our wars, dig our ditches, build our bridges, forge our steel, write our poems, build our buildings, write prescriptions for their sick patients and argue their clients cases in court, serve as fire fighters, policemen and policewomen, preachers, evangelists, bishops, teachers and athletes be denied the same civil opportunities, inheritances and privileges that heterosexual couples receive?
A sad story that I recently heard was the gay man whose partner of thirty five years died and as the surviving person he could claim no property or belongings left him by his partner because their union was not recognized by the state. The result? He lost everything they had worked for and ended up homeless and later died on the streets. Is that justice?
I also said to him that similar arguments have been used historically to deny black people their full civil and human rights primarily due to the color of their skin. History reveals that the Bible was used to deny black rights because they were considered less than human, and the often quoted scripture, “Slaves obey your masters,”was repeatedly proclaimed by Christian slavemasters to biblically justify slavery.
Conversely, the entire Book of Exodus and its emancipation narratives and traditions were completely ignored except the words, “Let My People Go,”which was repeatedly heard by slaves, inspired their quest for justice and made them more determined than ever to be free.
If it is wrong to refuse black people their full rights as American citizens on the basis of race, it is wrong to deny LGBT people their full rights as American citizens on the basis of sexual or gender orientation.
Some of my clergy colleagues believe that the two issues have nothing to do with each other, but I strongly disagree. The same principles apply in different ways; one on the basis of race and the other on the premise of sexual orientation. Either way we look at it, the larger issue is how we exclude people from equal citizenship rights because of their persons and who they are. The negation is argumentum ad hominem; a dispute against the man or woman because of their race, sexual orientation, lifestyles, beliefs or other reasons. We deny them full citizenship and equality because we disagree with who they are and how they choose or were born or chosen to live their lives. It essentially means denying people their basic rights and equalities for personal, religious, political or other reasons, which inverts the basic precepts, pretexts and principles of the American Constitution.
Again, many Christians have difficulty understanding that while the Bible may provide a moral, religious or theological assessment of the issue of homosexuality and cite prohibitions against it, the ultimate litmus or criteria of how people should be treated as citizens in American society should be the Constitution. And although the Constitution has been used in the past to deny persons their full rights for personal reasons, it still remains the one primary document upon which we base our uniqueness and sovereignty as a nation and govern our civic behavior. Even non citizens are guaranteed certain constitutional rights when they arrive at these shores notwithstanding, race, religion, ethnicity or country of origin.
Furthermore, I find it highly ironic that LGBT people who want to be married in monogamous relationships with their partners whom they love dearly and choose to take the “moral high ground” in this regard are denied the opportunity on civic and religious grounds. No constitutional proscriptions will force them into hetereo-sexual relationships. Many are not made or cut that way,if you will, despite what others believe and many of the arguments and rationale offered to justify their continued oppression just don’t stand up to truth or pass the test of time. Many of the discussions about whether LGBT people should have their basic rights are rooted in fear, ignorance and homophobia.
I would even venture to say further that Jesus himself never spoke directly on this issue but we might take some of his civil and religious actions as a guide for our behavior in such matters. Jesus the Pre-Easter Jew was aware of the Torah’s views on homosexuality, and as Christians we have Paul’s views and the Post-Easter Jesus community’s interpretations on the subject which largely condemns it.
But Jesus himself appeared much more inclusive and tolerant of those people who were outsiders, outcasts, stigmatized by society and marginalized than some would have us believe. If we were to take the liberty of making a comparison, members of the LGBT community have been demonized and cast to the fringes of society almost as lepers. When Jesus touched the lepers who were basically “untouchable” and healed them, they were bold acts of caring and cleansing for people who were largely deemed unworthy of such treatment and concern. Jesus demonstrated the belief that lepers were also worthy of God’s love and that persons of similarly infirm conditions need not be permanently displaced or thrown away or excluded from the love of God because of society’s jaundiced views of them.
Many people today have ostracized members of the LGBT community and denounced them unclean. According to scholar Marcus Borg, Jesus sitting with sinners and outsiders; those considered unclean in society was a recurring problem that got him into difficulty with religious scholars, and at that time demonstrated his willingness to risk something of personal value to make a statement about the importance of including in the family of God even those marginalized, undervalued persons who had been dismissed as impure and summarily cast aside.
Social status or station was not an inhibitor to God’s desire to be in “covenant” even with those persons. Permanent exile from God’s love in Jesus mind was not an option especially for those considered “unclean or put out from society due to those physical, social and religious ills that were believed to be inherited familially or emanating outright from”depraved moral conditions.” My point is that even from a religious point of view, members of the LGBT community would certainly have a place at Jesus table and would have a special place at it.
Numerous Christians may feel that LGBT persons should not be accorded their full rights because they are not viewed as completely human or normal persons or because they are defined primarily in terms of their sexuality and the Bible condemns homosexuality as sin.
But even if we take this view as a rationale and pretext for denying LGBT people their basic rights does this now mean that fornicators, adulterers and other people who engage in so called sexual sins and are lumped into the same category as homosexuals should now be denied their basic rights as American citizens or have their current rights revoked? Huh? What? Notwithstanding the Christian tendency to label them as sinners does not the love of God help to overcome this? Does not God’s love for them as caring and loving persons set the stage for them to complete and fulfill themselves as more caring and loving persons in society?
Jesus understood that the social mishandling and mislabeling of persons by the larger society were feeble attempts to describe their condition, ultimately define their true worth as persons and justify society’s mistreatment of them. The fact that a person is of a particular race or sexual orientation only partially describes and defines who they are both in the eyes of God and society. The love of God first understands and affirms them as they are and loves them into who and what they will ultimately become as loving persons. No matter what demeaning labels and stigmas the larger society places upon them, the love of God eclipses all social attempts to categorically define them as less than human or unclean or deem them completely unworthy of the wholeness, wellness and love they deserve as children of God.
Furthemore, I happen to be African American which is a partial description of who I am in the eyes of society. However this racial category is a depiction of my ethnicity but not a complete definition of who I am as a person of worth and potential, as a child of God whose value and power exceeds any social categories to which I am relegated or labeled or forced into by the larger society or I claim as an important part of my personal identity.
Likewise, members of the LGBT community, while primarily described and viewed in terms of their sexuality, are infinitely more than this description. While sexuality is an important part of who they are, it is not only who they are. Their value as persons of worth go way beyond those social labels and categories in which we have defined, described and unjustly delegitimized them.
Thus the demeaning social labels that we place on people never obviate their status as persons that God truly loves. Such love is partially transmitted through the realization of basic civil and human rights in society and the love of God personally so that full and complete personhood and citizenship are realized.
Complete personhood is a kingdom concept that cannot be fully actualized without God’s love. Complete citizenship is an “American” social concept that cannot be fully realized without God’s justice.
There is so much more to people than what other people see of them and so much more to what they will ultimately become both in the eyes of God and in the eyes of society once full rights and equalities are realized. To become untrammeled recipients of divine and human love are hallmarks indispensable for all living persons to ultimately become complete loving persons.
The problem is that for many years this has been an explosive issue crossing many religious, cultural and gender lines. People feel very strongly about what they believe and are very adamant in holding on to their various religious beliefs.
I am not certain if what I said to this gentleman changed his position on LGBT civil rights because he walked furiously away during our discussion. I did not judge or condemn his views nor do I repudiate other Christians who believe what they believe on this subject.
My viewpoints are more in line with mercy than majesty. My feeling is that I don’t have to imperially impose my views on the world and then condemn others who do not accept my views. My confidence in Christ allows me to accept others as they and love them for who they are and keep loving them as they become what they will yet be. My God is big, loving and caring enough to have folks at his table who are both accepted and repudiated by the world. This is the ultimate message and if we don’t get this then we miss the lesson entirely.
I simply attempted to get this man to see the larger picture and what was truly at stake. In fact, I am almost sure that by the things that he said in parting and the way that he responded to me propelled him to cast me out from the Kingdom as a heretic and heathen. I am also certain that some members of my congregation of the Christian right or my other clergy colleagues who read this article may call into question my judgment on this subject and may as a result decide to condemn me or leave our community because of these views. I would regret this if they did.
On the other hand, I also firmly believe that these positions are not a misreading of the Synoptic Gospel texts and the ministry of the Pre- Easter or Post Easter Jesus, for that matter. They are beliefs deeply rooted in how people should be ultimately treated as citizens in our democracy. As American citizens, LGBT persons are entitled to the same rights, privileges, blessings and opportunities as all other Americans, so nail me to the cross, or cast me out with those others, but here I stand and this is what I believe.
This is all that I will say on this subject right now and kudos to President Barack Obama for stepping out on faith and having the moral courage to help LGBT people realize their equal rights as human persons who are in need of God’s grace and love and who are ever in need of social justice and equality as the beloved of God and citizens of this great nation.
We will never be completely free until each and all of us are free to embody the quintessential qualities of love; a love that allows us and others to live fully and grow humanly as children of God; a love that allows us to complete ourselves in relationship with God and in loving relationships with others; a love that allows us to extend love, justice, compassion and inclusion to those who have been shut out from that love for personal, religious or political reasons.
God loves us all and let there be no exceptions to that love as we continue to build God’s kingdom and seek to create a more equal, just and loving society here on earth.
Amen. Amen. Amen!