While it’s true that many religiously conservative people are shaking their heads in dismay these days that President Obama has made a statement of support for marriage equality, others of us, who are equally committed to a life of faith, are celebrating his groundbreaking statement.
The overdrawn caricature seems to be this: church-going, Bible-reading, sincere people of faith resist gay marriage because it is not explicitly endorsed in their sacred writings, and more to the point, these writings (at least on the surface) seem to condemn same-sex relationships. (How many times can the book of Leviticus be quoted in the 21st century?) There is, however, another way of framing this issue from a religious perspective.
As senior minister of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the oldest Protestant church in the city, I’m happy to report that there are many people around the country who affirm faith in God, read their Bibles, and attend worship services each week, while at the same time believing that gay and lesbian persons are God’s children, and that they should enjoy all the rights and protections that go along with the sacrament of marriage.
In ways that are progressive, open, and deeply compassionate, such churches welcome women and men into their communities of faith, regardless of their sexual orientation, and believe that everyone should have a right to build a life with his or her partner. Gay people are not merely tolerated in these churches; they serve on boards, volunteer on committees and sing in choirs. In short, they are celebrated. When it comes to human rights, tolerance is never enough. What is called for is nothing less than genuine welcome and acceptance. Additionally, these are communities of faith that bring theological sophistication to their faith experience, recognizing that not all parts of the Bible should be understood literally, and that we should incorporate the best of our cultural progress (science, psychology, medicine, etc.) into our contemporary understanding of faith.
As a clergy person, it has never made sense to me that gays and lesbians are criticized from the Religious Right because of their desire to marry, when in fact, the desire to marry reflects one of the highest moral commitments traditionally admired in the church. I’ve had the privilege of performing marriage ceremonies for hundreds of couples throughout my ministry, and in each case, these couples sought marriage because they desired to take their relationship to a new level of fidelity. Surely this is a good thing. And if I understand anything about the theology of marriage, it is also a God thing.
I gladly stand, therefore, with clergy around the country who are celebrating the fact that President Obama has stated what many of us have believed for a long time, namely, that all God’s children should be allowed to enter into marriage. The fact that our president was willing to evolve his thinking around this issue sets a good example for the country. Life progresses and ideas change, even in the realm of religion. Furthermore, many of us, gay and straight, are going to be paying attention to the campaign rhetoric around this issue.
The day will surely come for our country (and faith communities) when this issue will seem as senseless as old debates about interracial marriage, children of mixed racial heritage, or worse, if people of color actually have a soul. (Yes, this was a real theological debate during the days of American slavery.) I predict that state legislatures will eventually see the light of this human rights issue, and when that day arrives, there will be open-hearted, open-minded clergy ready to perform marriage ceremonies for all God’s children. And in my opinion, that will be a good day for America and a good day for churches all around this country.
R. SCOTT COLGLAZIER is senior minister of the historical First Congregational Church of Los Angeles and author of the recent book, A Dictionary of Faith: For Open-Hearted, Open-Minded People.