A Pastoral Reflection on SCOTUS and DOMA

Before we turn to our morning’s Scripture lessons, I want to take a moment of pastoral privilege. I don’t often focus on current events during worship – not because I don’t care, but rather because I don’t want to be in the habit of chasing ambulances. Our response to the world around us ought to be one of compassion, concern, and engagement. For people of faith, this engagement runs much deeper than taking a particular side on a particular issue on a particular Sunday.

That said, I think we have passed a watershed moment in our society this week with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, and I want to take this moment to speak into this space from my own perspective. I know that we have different opinions in our pews on the issue of same sex marriage. I know that many of you are pleased or even elated because of Wednesday’s ruling. I know that some of you are disappointed, even angry. I also know that we are a stronger community because we encourage a healthy diversity of perspectives. And if you hear nothing else I say today, I want to be sure you hear this: no matter your opinion, I am your pastor. And our relationship in that regard is unrelated to whether or not we agree on a particular issue.

As I have read commentaries and responses to the ruling from various church leaders, the one thing that I have seen again and again is a near-universal consensus that we are moving toward a national consensus in favor of same sex marriage. Even the most ardent opponents acknowledge that this writing is on the wall. It is my own observation that the real game changer in public opinion happened not Wednesday, but three years ago when the military repealed “don’t ask don’t tell.” The biggest gulf in opinion on this issue is not even between conservative and liberal, but between generations. For example: 51% of white evangelicals under the age of 35 support same sex marriage. That number represents a majority of those raised in churches that have been the most outspoken opponents of same sex relationships. We have passed the tipping point. The question now is: what do we do?

And here, I want to say that I recognize the fact that our worship space and service does not lend itself to two-way conversation. So after worship today, after we greet one another, I move to the Parlor in case anyone wants to continue in conversation. This is our strength as a church, our ability to talk honestly with each other, because we know that grace abounds, bridging gaps that might be impassable otherwise.

Back to the question: what now?

It must be said that just because something is popular does not mean that we as a church must go along with it. I think we have a responsibility to speak into places where our society has gone off the rails. We advocate for the most vulnerable among us, witnessing to the compassion of Christ. We speak against cultural tendencies toward excess and greed and drive, giving voice to deeper, holier purposes for life. This is one of those moments when churches will see this as just such an opportunity, to oppose the prevailing winds of culture. Speaking personally, I think resistance is a mistake, one that history will judge as a poor choice.

I choose, instead, to see this moment as an opportunity to live out the love of Jesus Christ in an imperfect world. We are, all of us, imperfect; that’s why we begin our worship service in confession. Our sexual desires are imperfect; that’s no less true for heterosexuality than homosexuality. It is because of this that we Presbyterians call marriage a covenant, not a sacrament. Ben Affleck was right (and that’s probably the only time you’ll ever hear me make that statement): Marriage is work. And because it is work, because it is imperfect, the marriage covenant is a public promise. We ask those who witness to promise their support to the couple. We pray for God’s grace, mercy, and blessings on the covenant of marriage.

By virtue of being an ordained minister, I have the authority of both church and state to play an official role in this covenant. It will not be long before I have the opportunity to do the same with same-sex couples. And it’s an opportunity I will likely take, because it gives me the opportunity to share the gospel with its promises of hope, redemption, and perfect love in the midst of imperfect relationships.

I know that many of you are already there, favoring full inclusion. You can even point to our mission statement where we describe ourselves as “an inclusive community of faith.” And I know that for many of you this is not an abstract issue of pros and cons, but one that has a face and a name…one that has to do with family members whom you know and love and support, desiring nothing more than their happiness. And yet, I know that this does not describe all of us. So whatever we do today and beyond, I trust that we will do it with the utmost grace – grace toward one another, grace toward all.