Same-Gender Marriage: Illinois, the Gospel, the Church and the 221st General Assembly

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Illinois

Yesterday, Illinois paved the way to become the 15th state to legalize same-gender marriage. I believe those who voted for marriage equality made the right decision, and I’m excited that we are moving in this direction in Illinois. I know that there are many good people who would disagree with me on this, but I’m grateful for what was decided yesterday.

The Gospel

I’ve been thinking about marriage recently. Last week I was able to attend the Covenant Network National Conference at Fourth Presbyterian Church. I saw a lot of good friends, and heard some wonderful lectures and participated in some discussions. I particularly appreciated Stacy Johnson’s talk on marriage. I took some sketchnotes during the conversation, which you can see below.

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Johnson talked about how he had recently come out with a 2nd edition of his book, A Time to Embrace, and how the language in it was very different from the 1st edition. When the 1st edition came out, there was only one state that had legalized gay marriage, and now we are up to 15. Things are changing, and they are changing quickly.

And it sounded to me like Johnson had changed his tune about what was at stake for the church in this conversation. I think Johnson, and many others, in the past, have wanted to move toward full acceptance of same-gender marriage, but had hoped that it would not cause a schism in the church. And my interpretation of Johnson’s talk last week was that he now believes the church needs to work toward justice for all, regardless of what happens to the church.

“Unity without justice is not Christian.”

And for Johnson, it’s really the gospel that is at stake here. He said that in South Africa, it was said that to not preach against apartheid, was to not preach the gospel. And he believes that to be the situation that the church is in today. If we don’t preach justice and equality for all, if we don’t preach that all are created in God’s image, and all deserve the right to love whom they love, then we are not preaching the gospel.

The Church

Johnson also talked about young adults and the church, citing the work of Princeton University’s Robert Wuthnow (I emailed him for the exact link to the book/article/study but haven’t heard back yet). Wuthnow has always been doing work with young adults and the church, and for the longest time, we believed that young people stepped away from the church, only to return later when they got married or had kids. But that isn’t happening as much anymore.

One of the reasons, is same-gender marriage. And I’ve heard this before. Young adults continue to view the church as irrelevant when it cannot see that the world is changing, that full-acceptance of same-gender marriage is coming and it’s only a matter of time, and that when Christians speak out against it, and when churches plod along on their own discernment on the issue, it makes the church seem like a place that just doesn’t get it.

For most young adults, same-gender marriage is a no-brainer, it’s a non-issue. And when they see churches and denominations spending so much of our time discussing, studying, debating, fighting for and fighting against same-gender marriage…it is obviously a turn-off, and one reason that people are turning away from the church (or simply becoming ambivalent and not returning to the church).

The nuance of this argument (which I agree with) is that churches shouldn’t fight for marriage equality just to get young adults into church. That’s not the reason. And that’s not a guaranteed result. Just because your church is a More Light church or a Covenant Network church, and just because you’ve got a rainbow flag flying on the front of your building, that doesn’t mean that all of a sudden LGBT and straight young adults are going to come flocking to your churches.

But I think it certainly would make some young people think again about getting involved in a church that more closely aligns with their own beliefs and values. And at least as of last February, 81% of young adults (ages 18-29) support marriage equality.

The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

Things are going to be interesting for Presbyterians in Detroit in 2014. That’s when we’ll hold the next General Assembly, and I can only imagine there are going to be a ton of overtures trying, again, to change the definition of marriage. I know that at least two of them are coming from the Presbytery of Chicago, one from Fourth Presbyterian Church.

I am assuming that with all of what has happened this past year, with a lot of churches leaving the PC(USA) for the ECO and EPC and with how close the vote was last year, that we will see the change happen this summer. Of course, that will cause even more churches to leave and pull out, but I’m with Johnson on this one. I don’t know that so many will pull out of the denomination that it will be worth calling it a “schism” but many more will certainly pull out, and we just need to be okay with that. They will go on to places that they feel more comfortable with, and we can go on doing ministry, marrying whoever wants to be married.

I know that there is a lot of work to be done between now and next June, and I don’t want to be naïve and just think that it’s a given. But I think we have a great opportunity next summer for the denomination to take a stand for justice, for equality and for the message of grace and inclusion that we find in the gospel, and vote to change the definition of marriage.

Thoughts on the Not All Like That (NALT) Christians Project

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A few years ago, Dan Savage kickstarted the “It Gets Better” campaign, and it seemed to really take off. Celebrities, regular folks and everyone in between were posting “It Gets Better” videos on YouTube and it got a lot of exposure I think…according to their website, 571,388 people have taken the It Gets Better Pledge. I thought it was a good campaign when it first launched, I figured that was good news to some who needed to hear it. And it’s quite possible that it was a big help to some kids, and others, out there who might have been struggling.

But the fact remains: kids still get bullied, young kids still commit suicide over cyber-bullying because of their sexual orientation, and it has not gotten better for everyone.

Now, that’s a pretty cynical read of a viral video campaign, and like I said, I do think that it probably did do a lot of good; but it does cause me to hold back a bit from getting super jazzed about the NALT Christians Project. And there are others who are encouraging folks to at least think a bit more about the nuances of such a campaign.

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Engaging with Youth on Social Media

Last night, I had an interesting exchange about the Bible and homosexuality with a group of high schoolers that I’ve never met, and probably won’t meet. I embedded the post above, but you can see the whole conversation that took place below:

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First of all, as a youth pastor active on social media, this is interesting stuff to me. New Trier High School is the public school that most of the kids in our youth ministry attend. This public Facebook page, New Trier Confessions, is obviously an unofficial page and is said to be a place where people can post “confessions” and the admins of the page say the post everything (as long as it isn’t offensive, though, one could argue that the admin’s definitions of offensive might be different than mine). On the Google form where you can submit your confession, they say: “Confessions are 100% anonymous. If you need help or just want to pour heart out here’s your place to be. It could be about anything or it could be about nothing. Just make sure your post isn’t offensive!”

So, I liked the page a week ago or so, and have just been skimming things as they show up in my News Feed. I saw this one tonight, and felt that perhaps it was an opportunity for whoever wrote this confession to see that there was at least one person who had a different view on the Bible and homosexuality than they had heard.

There are a number of things that I think are interesting about this interaction I had last night:

  • This was a quick and easy way to interact with a group of students I wouldn’t have been able to interact with otherwise.
  • The question from the admin of “Pastor, how did you find out about this page?” is hilarious to me. How did I find your public Facebook page? There is still a sense, by some young people, that stuff they post online isn’t public, or at least, people won’t be able to find it. But they can. And they will.
  • There are a lot of youth who don’t trust the Bible, think it’s outdated, irrelevant and not something to be taken seriously (as seen by some of the comments).
  • I didn’t have the comments with the most number of “likes” but my comments were seen and liked by some youth who now know that there are some pastors who think it’s okay to be gay, and who don’t think that being gay means you’re going to hell.

I’ll admit, I did feel a bit like I was “creeping” on their territory or page, and it’s not a page that I’ll interact with a lot, but I still think it was a pretty easy way for me to have a voice in that conversation, and who knows what effect a few small comments might have on some students who know they’re gay but are hearing very negative things from the religious communities in their life.