Just when I thought politics could not get any more heated, federal judge Vaughn Walker overturned Prop 8 in California. The decision claims that laws barring same-sex marriage infringed on rights guaranteed in the fourteenth amendment.
Certainly, we have not heard the last of this legal battle in which the marriages (or lack thereof) of same-sex couples will be affirmed or denied in courts across America. Not to mention that this hot-potato will likely bounce its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Since the case “Perry v. Schwarzenegger” is somewhat localized to the western-most part of our continent, we here in the southeast have the luxury of watching this issue unfold from afar. But being so detached from something so controversial causes us to lack the perspective needed to trudge through the murky and complex waters that surround not just the politics involved, but the people as well–people who work, live, love, laugh, and cry with the rest of us.
Politics, people, and emotions–that’s what this whole case involves. When I was researching my Master of Divinity capstone paper (a master’s thesis of sorts) on homosexuality and the Bible, I came across every perspective that got at the heart of Prop 8, same-sex marriage, and sexual orientation. I tackled uncertain data in both the theology and science concerning these issues; what was certain was the fact that people on both sides of the debate (and people in the center of the debate as well) have strong opinions.
It is easy to fight about issues when we feel passionately about them. It is in the fighting, however, that we fail to recognize that people are affected by legislation surrounding all controversial topics, be it abortion, energy reform, or equal rights. It is easy to bark out an opinion when one is standing on a lofty perch far removed from the mess of daily life.
In my own work as a pastor, I realized that policies can change over time, but the needs of people never change. People need God’s salvation, compassionate embraces, enriching friendships, tear-absorbent shoulders, attentive ears, and like-minded partners. People need to feel safe and welcome. People need to have the opportunity to hear the Gospel, experience God’s love, and confront God in the midst of humanity’s limits and failures.
My concern here is not for the politics of the day but for the people involved–many of whom I don’t know; others with whom I share meals, birthdays, and holidays on a regular basis. Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, strangers no longer strange.
We don’t realize that when we debate same-sex marriage people’s relationships are at stake–people’s lives. No matter what you think or what your opinion is, we are dealing with real human beings who have real human needs, not animals that we can contain in legislative cages. These are not automatons on display in a wax museum, but are like us–earthen vessels who contain God’s creative fingerprints.
Debating aside, the real question is whether our churches–God’s sacred communities that embody the message of God’s redemption–are able to reach out to people who get kicked around like political footballs.
This question will become more acute as time unfolds, because many people will continue to get hurt on both sides. Many people will need to hear our message of hope when their worlds collapse under the pressure of litigation and legal banter.
Our churches need to be safe havens, not cold institutions detached and aloof. We must get off our comfortable perches and jump into the mud–the very mud our God chose to enter when He became incarnate in the lowly peasant of a man, Jesus. In fact, God is already there working; we only need the courage to join Him.