It’s been two weeks since the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. As the dust settles, I’d like to tell you two stories. I would also like to be bossy and insist that you read both of them. Of course, it’s your internet and you can do whatever you want with it but I do promise you that I’m not headed wherever you think I’m headed.
First up, story one:
Once upon a time, in about 1999 or 2000, two men stood up in church to ask for prayers. They were professionally dressed, in the careful church way that some middle-aged people still dress for church. When the microphone was brought to them, one of the men started speaking hesitantly. “We need prayers. We’ve been fostering a 12 year child and we’d like to adopt her. She’s in a wheelchair and has some severe physical needs. And now that she’s spent so much of her life in the foster care system, she has some severe emotional needs as well.” Here they began to tear up. “But the county won’t let us adopt her because we’re gay. And it hurts. It hurts us and it hurts her. No one else will take her—her whole life could be ruined by this decision. Our hearts are breaking.” It was evident that their hearts were indeed breaking as they hastily handed the microphone back and sat down with tears in their eyes.
Once upon a time, in about 2002 or 2003, a man broke down in a seminary classroom and asked for prayers. The class was Christian Ethics and it was drawing to a close. After several months of reading all the great Christian thinkers on a variety of social topics ranging from the apostle Paul’s ideas about how to treat non-Christians to the Niebuhr brothers ideas on war, the student were presenting on a modern ethical topic of their choosing. On this day, it was Mark’s turn to present. Mark launched into his topic, an exploration of gay marriage. It was a timely topic. Many Christian denominations were beginning serious discernment over several same-sex issues, including ordination and marriage. Barely through the introduction, his voice broke and his eyes welled with unshed tears. “I need prayers.” He said. “I want so badly to support gay marriage. I have friends who are gay and want to get married. I have members of my congregation who are gay. But I struggle with this. I can’t make sense of their experiences in terms of what the Bible says. It hurts.” And then, without finishing his presentation, he sat down with tears in his eyes.
Here is the point of these stories, the point that has been missed in all the banter about gay marriage: For years there has been pain on both sides of this issue. Now, no matter what side you’re on, it’s easy to paint the opposition as somehow less than human. They’re either non-thinking, hateful bigots or unfaithful, immoral sex-fiends but the truth is, people on both sides have wrestled with this. They have cried over it. They have worried and searched and prayed. And still there is hurt.
In the wake of the legalization of gay marriage across the United States, the statistics keep pouring in. While there has been a steady shift in the past 10 years toward support of same-sex marriage, people are still divided along the lines of religion (mainline Christians and non-religious folks are more likely to support gay marriage than evangelical Christian traditions) and race (Whites and Hispanics are more likely to support gay marriage than Blacks).
I could tell you where I stand on the topic. I have indeed, in other circumstances, done that. But what I think isn’t really the point. Coming to terms with gay marriage, whether that was a celebration or a heartbreak for you, isn’t really your most pressing issue—or mine. Our most pressing issue, as Christians, as humans, as children of God, is how we’re going to respond to the pain of others. This gets even harder when the solution to their pain is the cause of your pain.
There is no pretending that this is easy. Meeting someone else’s pain with love sounds great on paper but it’s hard to put into action. That’s probably why Jesus spent so very much time telling us to love. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love each other. The beauty and challenge of our diverse, technologically connected world is that your neighbor, your enemy and your fellow Christian may all be the same person. We get to practice loving the people we disagree with every single day. The downside of our diverse, technologically connected world is that it’s easy to hide behind the pithy sayings, passive-aggressive Facebook posts and Twitter wars. (I’m not pointing fingers. I’ve been known to resort to the passive aggressive Facebook post.) Whatever else we might disagree on, we can certainly agree that’s not love.
Now that the dust is settling a bit, maybe it’s time to take a step back and examine how we acted toward each other. In the heat of the battle, did we look at the other side and see children of God, also struggling to find a way forward? Did we meet their pain with love, even as we trusted them to meet us in the same way? Or did we quickly write them off, afraid to risk the hurt? Those are important questions because this isn’t the last hot topic we’ll face together and we better prepared to face them in a way befitting the name of Christ.
The challenge with this kind of love is that it requires the willingness to hurt more. It requires the willingness to make room for more pain, not less. It requires us to take seriously the pain of another, even when we don’t understand or agree with it. It requires the willingness to make room for the pain of realizing that there are no easy answers and sometimes, all we can do is cry together. It is by far the harder road to travel. We don’t honestly even know if it pays off—and it almost certainly doesn’t if the goal is winning elections or standing your ground in a theological debate. But then immediate, practical, political pay-off was never really the point. In the long-run, this opening of our hearts, love-each-other-even-when-it-hurts path is the road to the cross and the Kingdom.