I was sad.
I was sad for the perfect cultural storm of the week. I was sad because of how money runs our country and manipulates the thinking of our leaders. I was sad because wisdom is so lacking. I was sad that people, in general, are robbed of true love. I was sad that honest, intelligent discourse was so elusive on topics of significance.
This week, President Barak Obama came out in support of marriage rights for homosexuals. He stated that it was a personal conviction that had changed and should not affect states' rights to set up their own legislation. It was unfortunate timing. He was essentially forced to verbalize his own position as a result of Vice President Joe Biden's comments about the issue earlier in the week. To top off the perfect cultural storm, North Carolina voters, by 61% approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The media, internet and coffee shops have been full of heated discussion since.
America seemingly is polarized. Extremes found something to celebrate. Gay rights activists lauded the reality that for the first time in history, a sitting US President voiced support for homosexual marriage. Others voiced their affirmation of North Carolina becoming the 31st state to prevent marriage from being redefined from its globally historical understood meaning. (Source for image below)
It just all made me sad.
The timing of President Obama's announcement was odd, given everything that preceded it. It became more odd when viewed in light that he has been silent on the issue for almost 87% of his term as president. It was downright disconcerting to learn that the day after his announcement, he was slated to attend a big bucks fundraising event in Hollywood hosted by those with distinct agendas on this topic. His reelection campaign netted $15 million from $40,000 a ticket event. (Source) One attender proclaimed, "Yesterday, he did the right thing." It just appears that his announcement was one of political motivation rather than personal conviction.
Given that both men who will be receiving the lion's share of attention in the 2012 election are millionaires and will raise millions makes me sad. I have this gut level discomfort with our current political process that seems to say that only those with money or the connections to raise it can shape the discourse and future of our country.
I know of so many people with deep wisdom, commitment to honesty and beautiful hearts that will never get a chance to shape our country's discourse. It's because they don't have the money to do so. So those with money get to influence our country in ways that the majority of citizens disapprove of. It makes me sad.
I was sad that people value feelings over wisdom. This issue is a deeply emotional one. Yet, if we see marriage as not being ours to redefine, it may help. If we understand the amount of people affected, it may help.
It's difficult to determine how many people identify themselves as homosexual. Yet, in an April 2011 article, Gary Gates stated that an accurate estimate based on studies, surveys and demographic data is difficult, but in the U.S., about 4 million people identify themselves as homosexual . Gates works for a think tank based at UCLA called the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy. The number represents 1.7% of the US population. Factor in bisexual and transgender statistics, and Gates' study finds another 5 million, for a total of 9 million,or only 4% of Americans. They are indeed a very vocal minority.
Who invented marriage?
My conviction is that God did. It's an ancient institution and the first human relationship, according to Genesis.
The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him... And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man... Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:20, 22, 24-25 ESV)
Some may object to the Genesis account, preferring a more naturalistic cause (and less romantic) for man and woman's origin. However, Jesus affirmed the account in the New Testament:
He answered, Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:4-6 ESV)
If God is the source of marriage, then He alone gets to define it.
In Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, I was impressed by Jobs' zealous protection of the first Macintosh's purity. He didn't want anyone able to alter its innards. While other computer companies were making computers that could be customized by consumers, Jobs adamantly refused.
Jobs' desire to control the user experience had been at the heat of his debate with Wozniak over whether the Apple II would have slots that allow a user to plug expansion cards into a computer's motherboard and thus add some functionality. Wozniak won that argument: The Apple II had eight slots. But this time around it would be Jobs' machine, not Wozniak's, and the Macintosh would have limited slots. You wouldn't even be able to open the case and get to the motherboard. For a hobbyist or hacker, that was uncool. But for Jobs, the Macintosh was for the masses. He wanted to give them a controlled experience... He went so far as to design special tools so that the Macintosh case could not be opened with a regular screwdriver. (p138)
Creators have a right to stipulate the design and content of what they make.
In the current debate, I see marriage as a God-given relationship to humanity. It is biblically defined as being between a man and a woman. That should not be up for debate.
If a culture wants to create civil unions or other forms of relationships that it recognizes, it should be cautious. Where a small percentage of people are adamant advocates for homosexual marriage today, who is to say that a smaller percentage might not advocate polygamy tomorrow? If three (or more) adults want to enter into a "marriage" together, what would prevent that from happening if marriage becomes a subject for cultural debate? What about a 12 year-old and a 40 year-old getting married? What about a man and his dog? There are small percentages of people everywhere that are passionate advocates for all kinds of marriage choices. (Take for example, marryyourpet.com and instances like this and this).
The real losers in the current contentious climate are people. I was sad about President Obama's needless public polarization of our culture because it adds heat rather than light to the human hearts involved. Real people are hurting over this debate. The intensity of the issue is caused by the deep emotions involved. Whatever a person's current sexual leaning, he/she is a person whose heart wants to be loved. They want to experience meaningful relationship. They want another person to affirm their personhood and worth. They deeply want another's touch, caress, embrace and kiss. Those acts of physical intimacy are gifts given that make a person feel loved.
If we're not extremely cautious, those of us who oppose redefining marriage will be seen as seeking to prevent the personal peace and enjoyment that comes from experiencing the love of another person. If someone stepped into my relationship with Carolyn (we'll be married 20 years this month!) and tried to forbid it, I'd come unglued too.
So let's not debate the issue callously. Let's recognize that love is at stake.
When we step back and wonder why in the world love matters so much to us, it should point us to more than our beating hearts. It should direct us as humans to matters of more significance. It should cause discomfort for the atheist. You see, the claim of the Bible, from cover to cover, is that God is love, and that He loves us. (I John 4.8) God made people because of love, and He offers them, freely, the kind of love that blows apart our earthly words for it. (For example, we say, "I love my wife" and "I love banana milkshakes," and we know that they are different meanings, but we cheapen the word.)
God offers humanity true love.
"This is the kind of love we are talking about not that we once upon a time loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God.." (1 John 4:10 The Message)
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him." (John 3:16-17 ESV)
The depth of love that God offers promises to satisfy the deepest longing of every human heart for worth, significance and intimacy. So let us not belittle people's honest search for true love. We must all be pointed beyond our current relationships to a Relationship with God that will both soothe and inflame our hearts at the same time.
When we have encountered True Love, we will then be able to love Truth and willingly accept the guidelines of our loving Creator. In the meantime, this debate is not only robbing people of eternal love, but it's even seeking to rip people away from temporal love.
Honest, Intelligent Discourse
Finally, I was sad because of the level of conversation our culture engages in. It's hard not to find an article on a news website about this week's announcements without finding expletive-laden responses. The name-calling and sheer banality of interaction is astonishing. Indeed, I would not be surprised to be bombarded with comments or opinions that are anything but civil as a result of this entry. I'm confident that there's a lot of people that vehemently disagree with me.
If the research by Lifeway is any indication, Americans are having a very hard time agreeing on the issue - whether homosexuality is even a sin. There is a high level of agreement by those identified as a "born again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian" - 82% say the practice of homosexuality is sinful. What's disturbing to me is that 18% would say otherwise.
I'm open to clarification on this as a Christian, but what the Bible teaches about homosexuality is clear. It's condemned. Not homosexual feelings, but homosexual practice. Feelings and desires can be submitted to one's will. Some desires are intense, but we are told repeatedly in the New Testament that it's possible to replace one set of desires with another. We are told to throw off the corruption of sinful desires and live in love with God and others rather than living just to satisfy ourselves.
"...you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV)
That's the biblical worldview. It's not just a ban on homosexual behavior. It's a guide toward true love. Before you as a heterosexual conservative rejoice in that injunction, remember that your sexual desires are also spoken strongly to in the scriptures. Don't cheat on your spouse; don't have sex before marriage; don't use members of the opposite sex as objects of lust (reject pornography); etc.
"Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:18-20 ESV)
In our discourse, let's identify our worldview, as I've done here. I don't think there's any doubt what lens I view this issue through. But let's be honest about our core convictions. Let's talk. Let's debate. Let's use our minds and reveal our hearts. But let's not stoop to demeaning one another in this debate. People are too precious. Love is possible.
There are simply too many activists - gay rights, political conservatives, and the religious right. Activists seem to scream a lot. They tweet in all caps. It saddens me that we can't journey together without tempers flaring. It feels at times like we're a bunch of kids on a playground arguing over whether someone was "out" in kickball. We long for a teacher to step in and make things right - from our point of view.
It looks like President Obama felt the need this week to call a pastor. Joel Hunter pastors Northland Church in Florida, and he spoke with the President shortly after he had made his announcement to the media. Hunter said he was "disappointed" and disagrees with the President on his interpretation of scripture. (Source)
Though this is an election year, and it will be disturbing to see both Democrats and Republicans use this issue for financial gain for their campaigns. Meanwhile, real people will be mobilized to support their point of view. There will be hurt feelings that may never recover. While the playground degenerates into name-calling and shoving, those of us not directly in the fray watch somewhat helplessly, hoping the Teacher arrives soon to settle the dispute, rebuke hate, and remind us that life and love are bigger than this current game.