Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thoughts on Gay Marriage

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11-12

Yesterday I went to the State House to testify in favor of a bill to legalize same sex marriage. I was there from 3:30 until about 11:30, but it seemed a lot longer than that.

The people against same sex marriage, representing the National Organization for Marriage, were mostly polite, although a few shouted loudly and incoherently. But they made it clear that they were certain that homosexuals were going to hell for their “chosen lifestyle,” and those who supported them would go to hell with them. And they made it clear that they were the real “victims” in all of this. They were the ones who were being marginalized and oppressed.

I will never cease to be amazed at the capacity of those who have privilege to feel like victims when even the smallest part of that privilege is questioned.

As the evening wore on, I changed my testimony in order to answer some of the issues raised by opponents, but this is the statement I originally intended to make:

My name is Bill Trench and I am pastor of the East Greenwich United Methodist Church. In our United Methodist tradition the pastor does not speak for the church. My calling is to speak to the church and to the world on behalf of the Gospel.

As a matter of civil rights, I believe that Gay and Lesbian persons are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals, and that includes the right to marry the person with whom he or she is in love.

As a Christian, my support for Gay Marriage is rooted and grounded in the theology of marriage itself. Marriage is a covenant between two people; a promise made before God and the community to love one another forever. We make this commitment in spite of the fact that we know that forever is not ours to give; it belongs to God. And the fulfillment of the commitment is never just a human effort; it is always a gift of grace.

The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when we see people making the commitment of marriage, knowing it is a leap of faith, it should make us proud to be human beings. He also wisely observed that it is not love that keeps us married; it is marriage that keeps us in love. For years we have criticized what we have seen as the promiscuity of the Gay community, without offering a real alternative for faithful commitment.

As a pastor, I have been celebrating the covenant of marriage with couples for the better part of four decades. When we meet to talk about marriage, we spend a session talking in depth about their relationship, and I ask them a series of questions. We talk about their plans and expectations. Somewhere in that process, I ask them, “What is your greatest fear for your marriage?” We talk about all sorts of things; money, children, illness, death, infidelity, addiction, and boredom. But in all those years, no one has ever said, “Pastor Bill, my greatest fear is that if gay people are allowed to marry, I won’t feel the same way about our relationship.”

As a pastor, I know that the greatest threat to marriage is a lack of commitment. Marriage can also be threatened by a lack of communication or trust. But neither my marriage nor yours can be threatened by the longing of others to enter into that same commitment. At a time when heterosexual commitment seems to be in short supply, I find it incredibly moving to see Gay and Lesbian couples lined up at city halls to promise their love to one another.

As a student of the Bible, I am well aware of the verses and passages that are used to condemn homosexuality (curiously, they only condemn male homosexuality). But I also know that when the devil came to tempt Jesus, he quoted Scripture. And I know that the overwhelming thrust of the biblical Word, from Creation to Revelation, from the Exodus to Resurrection, from the Prophets to Paul’s Letters, from Torah to the Gospel, is a story of grace and liberation.

When the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, condemned slavery over two hundred years ago, he did so knowing that the Bible offered more than ample verses and passages indicating that slavery was permissible. Wesley knew, as other Abolitionists knew, that the Spirit of the Bible was leading them beyond the letter. That was true again in issues of women’s rights. And it is true now as we address the issues surrounding the rights of Gay and Lesbian persons.

We stand now on the brink of an historic opportunity to extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage to our Gay and Lesbian sisters and brothers. I believe it is truly a gift of grace.

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