The headline of today’s Washington Post was expected, though no less wonderful! It announces the approval of legislation in Maryland to recognize same-sex marriage (Gay marriage bill approved by Md. Senate). What’s not so wonderful is the accompanying story, For black clergy, issue is not a civil rights one.
As I read the article and its direct quotations from the story’s central character, Rev. Nathaniel Thomas, I couldn’t help but be reminded of something I had read just an hour earlier. In his daily mediation, Rev. Richard Rohr writes this:
I would like to say that the goal in general is to be serious about the word of God, serious about the scriptures. We have often substituted being literal with being serious and they are not the same! (Read that a second time, please.) I would like to make the point that in fact literalism is to not take the text seriously at all! Pure literalism in fact avoids the real impact, the real message. Literalism is the lowest and least level of meaning in a spiritual text.
The problem with Rev. Thomas’s position, and the position of so many other religious leaders — including Catholic bishops and other clergy — who oppose same-sex marriage and other civil (and religious!!!) rights for gay people on religious or biblical grounds is that they are reading the Scriptures at the lowest and least level of meaning. Notwithstanding the fact that even at this lowest level of literal meaning they misunderstand what the text is saying, they fail to see the issue of homosexuality within the context of the entire Christian message, instead of the very few scriptural passages which they repeatedly cite and take out of context.
According to the Post,
Not long ago, Thomas says, a young gay man came to him and said, “Look, I can’t help being how I am.” The minister embraced the man.
“We are all sinners,” Thomas says. “Christ never turned anyone away. People come to us all the time with issues, some with a stealing demon, some with urges and desires. But love doesn’t mean you go along to get along. I counsel them by showing them God’s word; some receive the word, and some reject it.”
Despite his attempts to “soften” his rhetoric and appear less condemning that many fellow preachers, Thomas’s words are no less offensive and off the mark. I suspect that back in 1865, many white preachers said this or something similar in response to the desires of enslaved people to be free: “But the Word of God (see Ephesians 6:5) clearly says that slaves should obey their earthy masters. So while I embrace you for who you are, I must reject your sin of wanting freedom in direct contradiction to God’s Word.” Even today’s biblical literalist would see that such a position is not only morally untenable, but that it is an abuse of Scripture to claim it supports maintaining an institution which subjugates one group of people to another and which denies them their fundamental human dignity.
I’m thankful that my own Church recognizes that one does not choose one’s sexuality. The Church teaches that homosexuality is not a choice, but is indeed part of the spectrum of human experience. (Yes, I know that recent decades have seen a shift to the righ’ on this, but declarations that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered” are on theologically shaky ground when seen from a more complete Christian anthropology). This teaching is supported by theology, the life sciences, social science, and most especially the lived experience of LGBT people.
Put simply, those whom God has created gay — or straight, or blue-eyed, or left-handed, or black, or [insert any immutable human quality or trait] — are such by the Grace of God. For societies and churches and religious bodies to deny this and its implications is to put themselves above God and the wonder of His creation — a creation revealed in the beauty and mystery of every human person, even gay ones.