A recent Washington Post poll revealed an intriguing, and, to me, distressing dynamic regarding the role of religion in the debate about same-sex marriage in the state of Maryland.
Forty-four percent of Marylanders oppose same-sex marriage, and three quarters of them say they do so for religious reasons.
Fifty percent of the state’s voters support same-sex marriage, but only 5 percent of them say that religion informs that stance.
Had I been surveyed, I would have fallen among that 5 percent. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of those who oppose marriage equality are Christians, and I’d like to suggest to them, with deep respect for the depth of their convictions, that the Bible we share may not say what they think it says in regards to same-sex marriage.
The Scriptural argument against same-sex marriage is based on seven references in the Old and New Testaments that condemn homosexual activity. Each one of those passages, however, condemns exploitative sexual activity that is the antithesis of loving, committed relationships. The Bible is silent on the subject of same-gender monogamous relationships.
In contrast, the Bible has strong teachings against divorce. Jesus himself is quite clear on the subject. Yet over the ages, most Christian churches have come to recognize that God forgives the human sin and frailty that precipitate divorce. We now take a more compassionate approach to this issue than our biblical forebears would have condoned. If the teaching on divorce can change in the light of further theological reflection, I believe that the teaching on same-sex relationships can change as well.
However you interpret the seven texts used to argue against marriage equality, they pale in comparison to the over-arching biblical imperatives to love one another, work for justice, and recognize that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus, for Christians, is God incarnate. He not only shows us how to live, but reveals to us that God loves us unconditionally. Indeed, gay and lesbian Christians often speak of the overwhelming experience of being assured that they are loved by God as they are
No matter how devoted to the scriptures of our faith we may be, few of us shape our moral opinion based on holy texts alone. If God is at work in the world, then our experience is a kind of scripture, and we must pay careful attention to what it is teaching us.
Jesus said, “you will know people by their fruits.” St. Paul wrote: “The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Many of us in the Episcopal Church, which I serve as a bishop, know same-sex couples whose relationships can only be described as holy, and thus we have come to support the blessing of such unions. They stand in stark contrast with many exploitative and casual patterns of sexuality that both heterosexual and homosexual Christians are right to reject.
The struggle to determine what sorts of people God approves of is an ancient one. Jewish Christians, the original followers of Jesus, struggled over whether to include non-Jews into their fellowship. Gentiles, according to Jewish law, were unclean. But in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was led by a vision to the home of a Gentile family who were eager to learn of Jesus’s teaching. After sharing a meal with them, he makes one of the most memorable declarations in all of scripture: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”
Every generation, it seems, has struggled to include someone previously thought to be outside the realm of God’s grace and full humanity. In our time, we in the Episcopal Church have come to understand that God shows no partiality between straight and gay people. Not every same-sex couple is a paragon of holiness, but neither is every heterosexual couple. Life long relationships are hard, which is why the support of religious and societal institutions is so important.
From the convictions of my Christian faith, and in support of my gay and lesbian friends whose relationships inspire me in my marriage, I urge Marylanders to join me in supporting the marriage equality legislation currently under consideration in their state.
The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which includes Montgomery, Prince George’s , Charles , and St. Mary’s Counties. She wrote this article for On Faith