Editor's Note: Hello everyone, most of you know churchlady already. I invited her to write on TPV on the issues of the progressive religious community. Here's her debut post! Please join me in welcoming her! - Spandan
Yesterday’s two SCOTUS rulings overturning theDefense of
Marriage Act (DOMA) and dismissing California
Proposition 8 both struck a blow for human equality. What is less obvious is how they affirmed
religious freedom as well.
In the Proposition 8 case, an amicus was submitted by the California Council of Churches and
several other faith groups. Eradicating DOMA also had strong faith support.
Unlike what media would have you believe, numerous large and thoughtful
religious organizations support marriage equality. They argued in both cases
that refusing to permit their congregations and denominations to perform legal
weddings was a bar to both civil rights for people and denominations’ First
Amendment rights to religious freedom.
What?? Same sex marriage is a positive religious
freedom issue? Can’t be! The religious right keeps telling us what a
threat it is to the sanctity of Christian principles! The secular zealots claim all Christians are,
well, Christian zealots who hate
everyone! This cannot be true!!!
None of that slavering prejudice is accurate. A large and growing number of Protestants and many others support marriage
equality.. Over several decades thoughtful people of faith have done major
discernment and theological reflection on what equality and justice really mean. While there remains a diversity of practice,
most mainline and progressive people of faith in the Protestant denominations
have embraced full inclusion of all people. Several denominations have simply been waiting
for DOMA to fall before taking further steps on marriage per se.
The first denomination to accept full LGBT equality
including the right to marry was the United Church of Christ or the Congregationalists. This shocks the untutored since UCC is the
institutional direct descendant of the Congregational Church founded by
Puritans and Pilgrims. While Puritans and “religious freedom” seem hardly
synonymous, their descendants have become leaders of almost every significant
socially progressive movement in America. From abolition to labor rights, from the
Civil Rights movement to anti-war to women’s reproductive equality, UCC has
been in the forefront of advocacy for full inclusion of LGBT people.
UCC has been joined by virtually every other mainline
Protestant denomination. The Episcopal
church was the first to ordain an openly gay bishop. Today Episcopalians
think it’s noteworthy when an official is not
gay. Other denominations
are placing openly gay LGBT people into pulpits and even the Evangelical Lutherans just chose and openly gay bishop in conservative southern California. All but the United Methodist
, have embraced
full equality for all people.
UMC, hobbled by its Southern Methodist branch, has as yet no
formal policy of LGBT equality, but in California
and other states, it has affirmed the right of individual congregations to be
‘open and welcoming’ fully-inclusive churches.
When marriage was briefly legal in California, hundreds of retired UMC
ministers declared their willingness to perform weddings of same sex couples
thereby leaving practicing ministers free from any possible repercussions. Congregations also affirmed that if a
complaint were to be lodged against a practicing minister, every other
congregation would do the same to its minister simply to overload the system
and render disciplinary actions virtually impossible. The presiding bishops all knew this and
uttered no word of caution or opposition.
Religious conservatives sneer that religious progressives
are merely being trendy, hopping on any old bandwagon that comes along. Nothing could be further from the truth. Decades of soul searching, study, and
philosophical discernment have underpinned these transformations. Even after their work in anti-slavery and Civil Rights movements, mainline Protestants had enormous spiritual
and political reflection to do in light of the unsavory legacy of missions. Abuses in the 19th century had done significant damage to
people whose beliefs and ways of life had been obliterated in the zeal to give non-Christians “The Good News”.
Missionaries discovered that it was they who had to
learn from the people they served.
Slowly accepting the magnificence of indigenous beliefs, of cultural difference,
of human equality became a part of the respectful work churches and individuals
had to do. Service – medical,
educational, etc. – had to be given without conversion and missionaries today accept
and embrace cultural diversity. To do
otherwise is to do violence to the very teachings that Jesus emphasized.
Equality therefore has become an absolute. If churches insisted we were “all God’s
children” – then what part of “All” could be left out and still make any
sense? Once you open your hearts and
minds, there is no longer any rationale to barring a single human being from
Progressive and mainline denominations obviously are on a
collision course with fundamentalists. Protestants coming from the centuries-old
strand of Christianity oriented to the promotion of justice and equality run headlong into fundamentalism that is preoccupied
with personal salvation. This strand of
Christianity creates a bilateral division of “us vs. them” of the “saved and
the unsaved”. To be saved, church
leaders embraced rules drawn from tribal mandates of the Old Testament rather
than the teachings of Jesus. To be saved, you have to embrace the rules - and "pray away the gay". There is no middle ground. There is no other path.
The post-1980 rise of the Religious Right as a wealthy and
powerful part of our country has overshadowed the history of progressive faith
people in America
. After the death of Rev. King, Jr. and the end
of the war in Vietnam
, activism shifted to the Religious Right. The
antics of conservative extremists were just good media fodder. Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless,
advocating for ending poverty? Just not
as sexy or compelling as the reactionary harangues of televangelists, the fire and brimstone denunciations of anyone outside their limits on salvation. That hot tempered stuff sells
! Angry people make great sound bites!
Given the perception then that all Christians hate gay people or
are racial bigots or believe women have no rights, given the voices that say
God makes rape victims pregnant, or that God is sending us heat waves and
massive storms, the fact there are huge numbers of Christians speaking in opposite
way would seem, ummmm, newsworthy? Well,
It is past time that Americans understand once again that much of the Christian
faith community is still working for justice in all areas, and is present to
stand with and for anyone whose rights and dignity are being challenged. That we respect the separation of church and state but come from our faith to speak to and about democracy not impose those beliefs on others. That is what prevailed in the SCOTUS decision - democracy won. We affirmed it.
Since the overturning of DOMA and Prop.8 are now reality, we
can build on what we believe - that morality
lies in the power of YES, not the power of
NO. By standing with our 'beloved community' of LGBT people, we proclaim we continue to stand for an America that honors equality and justice.
God bless the world. No exceptions.