One of the challenges on the issue of homosexuality and the church, however, is that I care about this issue because I care about the people who are affected by it, LGBT friends and family who I think have endured considerable hardship and suffering because of traditional views and the actions which follow from them.A recent New York Times piece underscores the point I was trying to make in that post. The essay, "For Some, Same-Sex Marriage is not Politics, It's Personal," traces out how close personal relationships with gays and lesbians tends to be decisive in shaping one's views on gay rights issues. If you are close to someone who's gay, it's hard to persist in denying them and their intimate partnerships equality under the law.
And this means this isn't just an issue. There are some topics where "agreeing to disagree" is a way of showing mutual respect in the face of uncertainty. But given my understanding of what is at stake when it comes to such matters as the moral condemnation of homosexuality and opposition to same-sex marriage, to agree to disagree is to agree to let real people continue to be harmed.
For me, one of the most interesting parts of the New York Times piece discusses Maureen Walsh, a Republican state representative whose views on same-sex marriage were changed when her daughter came out:
Take Maureen Walsh. By night, Ms. Walsh runs Onion World, a sausage restaurant in Walla Walla, Wash., with her family. But by day, she is the Republican state representative for a district in the state’s conservative southeastern corner. She said she had no problem with domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. But when it came to marriage, she drew the line. Then she started thinking about her 26-year-old daughter, who recently came out of the closet.I find it intiguing that she describes her motive as "selfish," while in the same breath describing her motivation as love. I suspect that, in fact, Walsh was confusing the "selfish" with the "personal." When her daughter came out, same-sex marriage could no longer be a merely abstract political issue. She suddenly found herself reflecting on this policy issue in light of an actual human being, a person Walsh loved with a mother's love. That is, she loved her daughter for the daughter's own sake. That's not selfishness, even if such love means your own welfare becomes bound up with the good of others. When you expand yourself through love, so that others' joys and sorrows affect your own welfare, you are taking a risk, making yourself vulnerable in new ways.
“In some selfish way I did think what an affront to my beautiful daughter, who deserves something everybody else has in this country,” Ms. Walsh said in an interview, recalling how her decision to vote yes on the same-sex marriage bill that passed in Washington in February sprang more from a motherly impulse than from any political or ideological reasoning.
“It’s selfishness, but it’s motivated by love,” she said. “And I’d rather err on the side of love, wouldn’t you?”
Selfish people don't do that. Selfish people try to keep things impersonal, so that they won't have to worry about being hurt by the sorrows and injustices that afflict others.
The Christian call to love, by contrast, is a call to make things personal. It is a call to try, as far as we are able, to love those who are affected by what we do and the policies we endorse, and to let our decisions in such matters be shaped by that love. We must try to love them as a mother loves--so that when they suffer, we suffer. So that when they feel like they are cut off from the bedrock institution of social life, we feel cut off. So that when they weep to hear their president announce a message of inclusion--as Andrew Sullivan recently did--we can understand and empathetically grasp their joy.
To be committed to an ethic of love is to be committed to making such matters as same-sex marriage personal. If it's just an abstract issue for us, just some political policy decision to be assessed on the basis of some impersonal "principles" and "values," we aren't being guided by an ethic of love. When Jesus said, "The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath," he was making a profound statement about the priorities that flow from an ethic of love. Principles and rules exist for the sake of people, not the other way around. If a rule no longer serves the people we're supposed to love, then it's the rule that has to give way.
This isn't to say that there aren't any hard-and-fast rules. Rather, it's is to say that we have to make those decisions--about which rules are inviolate, and which need to admit of exceptions--from a standpoint of love, a standpoint in which we care, personally, about those who are affected by the rules.
When you love your gay and lesbian neighbors in a personal way, you understand how unequal access to marriage affects them--because you care about them enough to pay attention. And you don't just assume that their same-sex attraction is a harmful or dysfunctional desire akin to the alcoholic's craving for alcohol; because you base your views about such matters on how the same-sex attraction is integrated into their lives as a whole. Whose lives are richer, fuller, more personally and spiritually whole? Those who repress and deny their same-sex attraction? Or is it those who accept those desires as part of who they are and then looks for ways to live out those desires responsibly--perhaps by following the same model that serves as the heterosexual standard for responsible sexuality, namely marriage?
It is not possible to make pronouncements about gays and lesbians that are utter hogwash--as Paul Cameron is wont to do--if you pay the kind of attention to gays and lesbians that love demands. If what you are saying is personal, because what you are saying materially affects people you love, then you are less likely to perpetuate deeply harmful misinformation. You'll make sure, before you say something, that it isn't slander. (I'd advise clicking over to the Cameron recording only if you have a stomach for listening to extremely abusive and slanderous falsehoods spoken as if they were gospel truth; if you can't stomach that sort of thing, then don't listen.)
The New York Times essay observes that, when the same-sex marriage issue is personal, political divisions and ideologies tend to fall away. Support for same-sex marriage tends to increase. This seems correct, but my point is not this merely descriptive one. My point is that we ought to make it personal.
For those committed to an ethic of love, this cannot and must not be merely an issue about which we have a political opinion. It must be personal. And if it isn't personal already, then go out and make it personal. Find your gay and lesbian neighbors, and ask them about their lives. And listen in love.