An Essay I Didn’t Want to Write

I’ve had a lot on my heart lately.  A lot of thoughts, issues, questions that are simmering deep inside me as I search for discernment and clarity.
Some of these you will probably read about in future essays.  Some may stay in my heart for a while yet.
Notebook and Book
This essay today, though, is one I did not want to write.  It makes me nervous and uncomfortable.  I was tempted to leave it alone.
I worry that people will think I am foolish.  I hate being foolish.
I worry that people will get angry with me. I hate having people mad at me.
I am trying, however, to value God’s opinion of me more than man’s, to desire God’s approval of my writing more than man’s.
I could come up with all sorts of worries and reasons why I shouldn’t write this, but one of the main reasons is that it is a topic about which most people don’t allow dissent. One can either agree with the speaker’s point of view or get lambasted over a fire of burning coals.  I think I just boiled together several metaphors.
Burning Coals
The topic?  Same-sex marriage.
Upset Baby
See?  You had an immediate visceral reaction one way or the other, didn’t you?  🙂
Could we agree to something within this space?
Could we agree to love each other, regardless of our opinions? Could we agree to listen to each other with open hearts and to trust that we are all trying to follow Christ the best that we can? Can we agree to value diversity of thought and to have a conversation in which we may find ourselves in disagreement?
Coffee and Conversation
I’m not sure why this topic causes so much emotion.
Even those who do not claim the name of Christ can see it:
Spiked logo
Brendan O’Neill, a self-proclaimed atheistic libertarian who is a columnist for spiked says:
But I have never encountered an issue like gay marriage, an issue in which the space for dissent has shrunk so rapidly, and in which the consensus is not only stifling but choking.  This is the only issue on which, for criticising it from a liberal, secular perspective, I’ve been booed during an after-dinner speech and received death threats.
I’m not sure why this is so, but that’s not really within the scope of this essay.  Suffice it to say, I feel nervous talking about this topic.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Yet it is at the forefront of our American culture right now as we wait for our Supreme Court to rule on the Defense of Marriage Act and on California’s Proposition 8 (probably sometime this month), and so I feel that I need to speak.
Several popular Christian bloggers lately have spoken about this issue, both for and against, and I feel that I, too, should speak.  I am quite sure that I don’t have all the answers and I know for certain that I am probably wrong on several fronts.  Still, I have this space, this platform, for speaking and for conversation, and if enough of us can host a civil conversation, perhaps we all might get somewhere helpful.
Those bloggers who championed the gay/lesbian cause challenged the Church to stop treating homosexuals harshly, to quit excluding gays and lesbians from their congregations, to instead love them unconditionally.
With that, I agree wholeheartedly.  Sin is sin, and to heap shame and disgrace and hatred on the heads of some while extending grace, or worse a blind eye, to those who commit adultery or have sex outside of marriage or gossip about all those who do is simply wrong.  We are called to love each other and to look in the mirror at our own plank before picking at the dust in another’s eye.
And so I, for one, say to any who have been made to feel shame or to feel unloved or worthless by anyone in the Church: I’m sorry.  We all struggle with sin and with judgement.  Please look at Christ rather than at us for perfection and holiness.
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Yet inside the Church is different than outside the Church; the atmosphere of the Church is different than the laws of the land, and I’m not convinced that legalizing same-sex marriage is wise.  When it comes to the laws of our country, I try not to consider things solely from a Biblical viewpoint, because I also am not convinced that we should impose Biblical principles on a country that espouses freedom to practice any or no religion.
American Flag
Standards of morality for believers are much different than for those who do not claim the name of Jesus.
Yet even when I look at things from a philosophical or a natural law point of view, legalizing same-sex marriage doesn’t seem to make sense.
Laws should be about advancing the public interests of society.  In every culture, children are the future, so it would make sense to incentivize  a marriage contract that can bear children, that contributes to the success of society’s future.  It may or may not be true that legalizing same-sex marriage would advance the private interests of our society, but private interests do not justify the force of a law.  No liberty is being denied to anyone who wants to live together and call it marriage.  The issue seems to be whether the state should grant incentives to anyone who wants to live together and call it marriage.  This sort of proposed law does not advance the public interests.
As long as one side is angry with me, may I now pique the other side?
Making You Mad
Same-sex marriage is not the greatest threat to the traditional definition of marriage.
Inside and outside the Church, when our highest goal is our own self-satisfaction, when we choose self over a spouse and children, God’s version of marriage is threatened more than when a free country decides to legalize same-sex marriage.  I believe that the loss of keeping a covenant before God is the greater threat to the tradition of marriage.
 Wedding Photo
Yet in the end, for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, it doesn’t much matter whether we would have voted for or against Proposition 8.  It doesn’t much matter whether we enjoy debating the matter thoroughly or we’d rather hide under a bed then speak about such things.
What matters is how we love people.  What matters is that we treat all people as men and women who are loved by God and are therefore full of worth.
We must love as Jesus loved Zaccheus and the Samaritan woman.  We must love as Jesus loved the woman caught in adultery and the men who crucified Him.
We must love as Jesus loves us.
So let’s have the conversation, and let’s love each other at the same time.  What do you say?

art credit: Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki

Law of the Land

There have been a lot of consequential decisions handed down by the Supreme Court lately.

Perhaps one could argue that all decisions made by the Supreme Court are consequential.

There was the decision on Arizona’s immigration law and there was the decision on Obama’s healthcare plan.  There was the decision about giving minors a life sentence without parole and there was the decision about how much power Unions have over non-union members.  There was also the decision about how strict the FCC can be over incidents of expletives and nudity on television.

In the midst of all of this recent uproar, I have been thinking about and looking back on past years of the Supreme Court.

One thing I have found interesting is that this Roberts Court has changed, or at least interrupted, the trend of the Supreme Court to become more and more broad and momentous in its decisions.

Until the 1940’s or 1950’s, the Supreme Court simply made decisions on the cases it was given. Around the mid-twentieth century though, especially during the Warren Court, the Court began making broader and more sweeping decisions that affected the policy of the entire United States rather than solely impacting the case or the law that was under judgement.

This trend has had the effect of giving the Supreme Court the sort of power that is held by Congress and the President. The sort of power that can change the law and policy of our country.

The Roberts Court seems to be deliberately scaling back this trend. The majority of the judgments handed down by this current Court are much more narrow, are applied only to the particular case in dispute rather to the entire country. I will let people who are smarter than I tell you why this is, but one thing I find of interest about this is that there have been many more unanimous decisions with this Court than in the past.

Another interesting effect of this narrowing of the role of the Supreme Court has been that, until fairly recently, the Court has faded a bit in the public eye. Chief Justice Roberts seems to be comfortable with not setting his aim for creating a public legacy, for making himself and his Court more important.

I wonder what you think. Should the role of the Supreme Court be more broad, affecting public policy in a large way, or should decisions be more narrow, confined to the case and the law in question? 

I think that many conservative Christians would instinctively lean toward the latter opinion. After all, wasn’t it the comprehensive judgement in Roe v. Wade that made abortion legal and set our hearts to aching for all of those unborn babies?

Yet in the interest of conversation and in the interest of using our hearts and minds rather than only our hearts, we should think about other changes the Court has made over the years. Good changes as well as poor changes.

The first and biggest example that leaps to my mind is the very broad judgement in Brown v Board of Education. If you need refreshing on your case names, this is the judgement that paved the way for the ending of racial segregation in our country. This is the decision that stated that separate is not equal.

Who of us would ever say that ending racial segregation was a bad thing? Yet when Congress wouldn’t do the job it should have done, it took the Supreme Court making an encompassing judgement to change the policy of our nation.

So. Narrow or broad? Case-deciding or policy-changing? Should the policy and laws of this country be decided only by an elected Congress and President or should the appointed Supreme Court be allowed to step in when others are not courageous enough to do the hard thing? And who gets to decide which hard thing is right: abortion, segregation, right to an attorney, gay marriage? 

I’m interested to hear what you think. 

I’m interested to continue watching the Roberts Court and to discover where they will lead our country.