Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How Gay Marriage and Abortion Require a Different Response

One might think that it's predictable how I (the pastor) would counsel Christians to vote or advocate on the issues of gay marriage and abortion. Both are in the public conversation: in our state, the legislators are, as we speak, voting to send a bill allowing gay marriage to the (exiting) governor. In the Congress, methods to restrict federal funds from paying for abortions as part of health care reform are being discussed.
But to my mind, these are very different issues.
It is true that there is no scriptural support for gay marriage (at least, not if you're going to avoid torturing the scriptures). From the Bible's perspective, the only reason for people to "burn" for another of the same gender have to do with idolatry. The Bible does not seem to imagine two same-gender people who wish to live in loving fidelity with each other like a married couple; when it is mentioned, it sounds much more like one-night stands than marriage. So it seems to me we have to be careful about using those passages against people who clearly want something more than just sexual satisfaction out of their union - if we'd stop yelling for a minute we could see how very insulting that is.
It is difficult for those of us who like things neat to consider that we don't have all the answers on this issue, and we perhaps should pray more and talk less for a while.
But what does seem clear to me is that legislating against gay marriage neither keeps people from pursuing homosexual unions nor brings them any closer to God (which IS my goal). Why would someone listen to how much Jesus loves them (and he does!) from me, if I've put a great deal of effort into insulting them and trying to keep them from someone they love?
I feel like I have no obligation to protect the heritage of marriage as a civil institution: what I'm interested in is advancing the purposes of the kingdom of God. Those who support gay marriage have a point: we heterosexuals (in the civil sphere) haven't done such a good job of showing that our heterosexuality has made us so very faithful to one another or able to keep our marriage vows. I have no doubt gay couples can do at least as well.
I once had a very honest conversation with a gay friend - he wanted to know why conservative evangelicals wouldn't even listen to his point of view. And I had to tell him that they "knew" he was wrong and therefore there was no point in listening. And then he asked me what I thought. In the end, I said, I believe that this is not God's first choice for you or any of us, but at the same time the world is broken and has been for so long, that perhaps first choices are unavailable on many levels. That's how I read Romans 1: things got so bad that...this is what it looked like on a macro level. I think those of us who are not "oriented" that way ought to have more humility, and on a civil level ought to let the conversation go on -- nothing about the way Christians are currently behaving on this issue is producing any light.

BUT I sure do think the issue of abortion is different!!
I believe that God creates life, and as smart as we are, we have not yet figured out how to do that on our own (and I doubt we ever will). Life is God's province, and thus we ought to have not just humility but awe when we approach it.
Abortion has been freighted with too much other stuff. I am for women to be strong, educated and having as many options as their brothers. I am certainly aware that in our history women's bodies have been considered to belong to everyone else but them, and I am in favor of overcoming that idea all over the world.
But when abortion is presented as primarily a tool for women to have control over their own bodies, I must dissent loudly!
There is another whose body is present, who cannot speak or be heard but is alive! Once that new person is alive and present, it is immoral not to protect that life. It is immoral not to speak for that life.
One often hears, on this issue, that if you are opposed to abortion, then don't have one -- but leave other people alone to make their own choice. It is considered judgmental and narrow-minded to say otherwise.
But, we would not say that about how someone else should take care of their dog or cat. We would say that even a hamster has certain rights and would take steps to protect that hamster if it were being neglected or threatened with harm! Michael Vick is not welcome in polite company because of how he treated his dogs -- but those who say that a baby, however unseen or unheard, deserves the same protection are considered rude.
I get it, that to insist that abortion is immoral, is to condemn a woman to suffer a pregnancy she does not want, and will mean she'll have to make tough choices when the child is born. I don't minimize that - but with all due respect, the better choices have to be made before pregnancy occurs.
The suffering of the woman, which I truly do lament, does not give her license to take the life of another, just because the suffering of the child can't be seen or heard. Sometimes we must do the right thing even if it's hard - but we shouldn't have to do the right thing without help or support. This is certainly the job of the church, and I lament that we have far too often failed.
And the inability of that child to protect him- or herself requires that others protect him/her. God, who consistently charged his people to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow and the alien, is not going to turn his face from the little one who is in danger of being eliminated because what's going on happens out of sight!
I agree that those who oppose abortion need to step up and help women trying to raise children by themselves (we can't oppose abortion, oppose birth control, and oppose supports like welfare and food stamps all at the same time!). I agree that those who oppose abortion because in the end there is a life that must be protected, must ALSO protect life in many other venues - because I protect life, I oppose the death penalty. Because life is precious and given by God, it is my obligation to be pro-life when it comes to health care reform, tax policy and war.
I don't mean to be glib. These are terrible decisions that people have to make, and I accept that often we are left with an array of bad options to choose from. I do not vilify people who have chosen abortion - I don't know what it was like for them, and I am "pro" their lives right now.

But when it comes to exercising my voice in the public square, it seems to me that the abortion issue requires my participation, as one who speaks for the voiceless ones. I don't think it has to be hateful, or shrill, or condemning: I just think we have to stand up for those we can't see but are nonetheless part of our families and community. I don't see how as a follower of Jesus I can do any less!

The difference between this issue and the gay-rights issue is, that gay folks can speak for themselves, and I am willing to listen to them and perhaps they will help me understand what those of us who believe the Bible ought to think. There is time yet for that discussion to be held. If gay people gain the civil right to marry, it doesn't change anything for me - while, if conservative Christians are successful in keeping them from marrying, it is a foregone conclusion that much of American society will feel a little more alienated from the gospel of Jesus Christ. That matters to me, and it's a strong reason for me to stay out of the debate.

But when it comes to abortion, I can't stay out of the debate, because there are living people involved whose voices can't be heard. Whether or not you're turned off to my testimony about Jesus because of my testimony on behalf of the unborn, I still must speak.

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