I have been nominally paying attention to all the various reactions of the passage of Proposition 8 in California regarding the issue of gay marriage.  This controversy has recently become even more heated when it was announced that President-Elect Obama has invited Rev. Rick Warren, a staunch anti-gay marriage proponent of the Proposition, to give the inaugural invocation. From all that I have heard and read, I have a few thoughts I would like to share:

  1. I am under the impression that in a democracy (or a so-called democracy), one is allowed to have, express and advocate for ones opinion. .. within certain boundaries of-course. One of the ways that one can express their opinion is at the ballot box and if a democratic society creates a process by which the majority opinion will be the premise of a law, then so be it. However, if you hold strongly that it is an unjust law, then you have the opportunity and I would also add the moral obligation, to work to overturn that law through various strategies, with the assistance of those who hold the same view. The efforts of William Wilberforce, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and even the Quebec separatists here in Canada come to mind. 
  2. I have never, never understood why in a democratic society, if I don’t hold the same opinion as you, why… at best I should be ridiculed or at worst demonized for expressing my beliefs!? Wasn’t it for the right to express my opinion that my ancestors… in North America, in the Caribbean and in the motherland of Africa… struggled and sacrificed so much, including their lives!? What therefore makes you feel entitled or gives you permission to devalue me as a human being because I don’t think as you do!?  
  3. Then I’m hearing this notion that because the majority of Black people in California voted for Proposition 8, they are collectively to blame for the ban on gay marriage… and are therefore hate-mongers. I urge you to read these articles in The Black Agenda Report and The Black Sentinel on this allegation. They address it much better than I ever could.  

Maybe it’s because I live in Canada, where the issue of gay marriage is no longer a controversial issue, that I don’t understand all the name-calling and demonizing from both sides of this issue south of the border.  Canadians as a whole, rightly or wrongly, for better or worse, don’t get twisted and go way over the top on issues anyway. The Supreme Court of Canada found that it was unconstitutional for governments not to recognize gay marriages, so laws were changed and that was that. I remember at the time that some Christian leaders asked their members to write letters and submit petitions to their Members of Parliament to voice their disagreement, but I don’t remember any bitterness and/or nastiness from either sides of this issue. Don’t get me wrong, Canada is far from perfect and we have our own issues around racism, sexism and homophobia… but you would find more passion around the issue of which hockey team you support than around gay rights.

I also read that Rev. Joseph Lowery, an outspoken advocate for gay rights and marriage, has been invited by the President-Elect to do the inaugural benediction.  So it appears that Obama is indeed a “uniter”.

From all that I have read, the most enlightening comment came from Marc responding to this post at The Kitchen Table

 36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus* to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ 41‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,* and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus* said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ 44Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ 48Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ 50And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Luke 7:36-50

I’ve felt welcome at this table. I’ve come here for great celebration, good comfort in hard times and good words of caution, wisdom and insight. But I have to say that the rhetoric of late has left me feeling cold.

Now, I can tell you that I personally think that Rick Warren’s book is bunk and I don’t like his style of church leadership either. Nevertheless, I have been greatly worried by the tone and content of several of the recent posts put up on this blog.

I cannot tell either of you what to do. I am younger than both of you, most likely much, much less wise, and I know that I am from a different background, a different place in life and a different life experience from both of you. Before I continue, I want to let you know who I am.

I’m a chinese/dutch male who has two nephews who are chinese, dutch, african american and dominican. I grew up in Salt Lake City, UT, surrounded by people of a different faith from me, living as a religious minority in the United States, where Christians are, in many places, the majority. I’m an odd duck. I’m a seminary student and a writer. I’m a presbyterian who was educated in a lutheran elementary school and an evangelical free middle school and was baptized in the reformed church. I vote based on conscience, the way my parents taught me, not based on party line. I’ve voted Republican before, and independent, and this year I proudly cast my vote for Barack Obama.

Now you now a little bit about me, about the issues of politics, race and religion that have influenced my life. I was also once very, very conservative. I once held beliefs very similar to Mr. Warren. Among other things, I once thought that homosexual people were vile and wanted to deny them the right to marriage. After meeting many homosexual people and strongly reconsidering what type of God I believed in, I have changed my mind. I have learned to be open in both heart and mind.

At the same time, many people in my immediate family have not. Including my grandmother. Along with a dislike for homosexual people, she also still believes that women should not be ordained (though I have tried many times to talk with her and to disabuse her of this notion). My wife’s mother was still afraid right up until the election that Barack Obama was secretly a muslim and wanted to do horrible things to this country. Again, my wife and I have tried to change her mind on this.

What am I to do with them? Should I not allow them to pray for me? My grandmother who has prayed for me since before I was born? Who still prays for me? Does God not accept her prayers? And if God does not accept her prayers on my behalf, would God accept my prayers? I am a sinner. I have been worse than a sinner. I have hated people with all my worth and advocated against them. I have manipulated situations to my own advantage. I still struggle with horrible feelings against other people. Should I not be allowed to pray for others? Can I not be a representative of God?

I find those to whom Jesus reaches out interesting. I know, I know, I’m using the Jesus trump argument. For those who visit this blog who are not Christian, this post will have no meaning. Yet I do believe that both of the conveners of this wonderful table are Christians, hold a faith in a God who, as we remember this Christmas, sent love down, sent down a prince who would bring peace to the earth. This Jesus welcomed an invitation from a Pharisee, a member of a group who would later be instrumental in his death (among many other culprits, Jew and Roman alike). At the same time, a woman who everyone knew as a sinner came and brought her adoration before Jesus, she poured out her best for him. Of course, the Pharisee, a staunchly religious person, with high moral values, rejected her offering and was aghast that Jesus would associate with her. And yes, it is true that the Pharisees were the religious elite of their day. And I do not mean that in a condescending way. From what I’ve studied here in seminary, they were honestly trying to follow God, trying to find a deeper, truer way of serving. It’s just that in their searching they became closed-hearted and closed-minded to the radical type of message that Jesus portrayed. This Jesus would sit at table with those who disagreed with him, and would receive an offering of greatest price from a woman everyone despised.

Perhaps we are not called to be Jesus. Perhaps we cannot live up to that standard of loving. But God has forgiven me for a lot. Should I not love a lot? This does not mean that I condone what Rick Warren says. Not at all. But the moment that I say that Rick Warren cannot pray for me is the moment that I say that I cannot pray for Rick Warren, or for anyone else for that matter. The moment that I insinuate that God will not hear Rick Warren’s prayer is the moment that I must believe that God will not hear mine.

I do understand the nuance of your argument, Dr. Harris-Lacewell (or at least I think I do). I can understand that you see the inauguration as something for all Americans, and I do agree with that. And I can understand that, since Rick Warren has been actively trying to deny rights to a certain people group, he should not be allowed to pray in front of all Americans, with or for all Americans. You state that “as a person of faith and as a citizen in a representative democracy” you are “utterly disgusted by Obama’s choice.” I think that I’d like to disagree with what this implies. I think that, as a citizen in a representative democracy I agree with you whole-heartedly. This is horribly awkward and possibly inappropriate. As a person of faith, however, I couldn’t disagree with you more, specifically because of the many reasons that I’ve outlined above.

I believe, then, that we must decide which is more important in this instance: our faith or our democracy. As a person who believes in Jesus I must accept, forgive, and (simultaneously) actively try to pray for Rick Warren and for his decisions and his mindset. As a person of faith I believe I must look on him with a certain type of love that can appreciate his prayer and his honest concern for this nation’s morality, even if I disagree with him. As a person of faith I believe I must be able to sit comfortably with Barack Obama’s decision and to understand that, as you put it, “The inauguration belongs to all Americans. It is a moment of national unity. It is a symbolic rendering of our peaceful, democratic transitions of leadership. It is an assertion of our collective identity rising above our partisan disagreements. It is not a time for division.” It is not a time for division. All Americans can and should be welcomed, including those upon whom my political ire is directed. But I believe this as a person of faith, not as a person of democratic principles. I believe it because my Lord welcomed sinners and tax collectors, people who betrayed their own people for a buck, to his table. So, as a person of faith, I believe that I must look upon this inauguration as an opportunity to bring together all of these people, even while, in my daily life, in my every day existence, I actively work against the principles that they put forward that might divide us.

I apologize for the long post.

May we all live with a little more grace, and me most of all.