Thursday, August 5, 2010

Same-gender unions and where we are this morning

By now you have probably heard about the ruling by a federal judge striking down Proposition 8 in California, the voter-approved ban on same-gender marriage. Depending on who is talking, the ruling was hailed as a victory for equal rights or vilified as an attack on the institution of marriage.

The judge in the case, Vaughn R. Walker, immediately stayed his decision pending appeals so it will have no immediate effect. Doubtless this issue will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision is certain to add further fuel the culture wars over marriage and the already acidic debate within our church over the meaning of marriage. I have traveled my own theological and scriptural path on this topic over many years and my own view has changed to embrace a more inclusive view. I believe the Gospel brings us there. I did not get there easily or quickly.

I have been blessed by being in a traditional marriage, blessed by the Church, for more than 20 years. Yet I have come to the conclusion that there is a side to the "traditional" view of marriage that is based primarily on a cultural bias pandering to an age-old prejudice against homosexuals. That cultural bias is supported by superficial interpretations of the Bible that collapse under closer scrutiny. Culture comes from people, not God. We create culture and we can change culture.

I cannot imagine how a marriage between two people of the same gender could possibly threaten my marriage. In fact, they might even inspire me to strengthen and renew my own marriage. By honoring their marriage, I honor my own.

Our Book of Common Prayer says that the marriage between husband and wife is "intended by God for their mutual joy." Why would we think God would limit that union for mutual joy only to straight couples? Why wouldn't God intend to honor the loving commitment of two people of the same gender? And note: the purpose of marriage is not procreation. Were it so, then I suppose you would have to argue that couples who have no children, like Lori and myself, don't have a valid marriage or a valid reason to be married.

Not everyone will agree with my reasoning, and that is their right. But I ask that disagreement come respectfully.

As readers of this space know, I am serving on a task force in the Diocese of Virginia that is writing a proposed set of guidelines for same-gender unions. We have met three times, and will meet again next week. The work has been fascinating as we have gathered a great deal of information from around the country on the topic and a variety of guidelines that differ on a number of points.

We have done our work in an atmosphere of mutual trust and candor. I will not prematurely publish anything here -- we are still working through a number of issues, and our work is only a recommendation. Meanwhile, Bishop Shannon Johnston will commence a series of open meetings around the diocese this fall, and we want to be able to hear the fruit of that discussion. We expect our recommended guidelines to be complete by November.

We have examined a great deal of theological and liturgical resources from many places. I would especially recommend for your reading a report from the Diocese of San Diego that covers the theological and scriptural issues. You can download the Report of the San Diego Task Force on Holiness in Relationships and the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships by clicking HERE.

The story of salvation, as told by the Bible, is the long march of God's people moving beyond human-created oppression by recognizing heaven right here on earth. When we stand for the equality of people, we join that march. The story of Jesus Christ is of the divine come to earth as human to show us the way out of oppression; Jesus goes into the very depths of Hell to bring us out, and Jesus includes all people in his saving grace. Jesus invites all into his loving embrace and with no limits to salvation. Neither should we.

No comments: