Comments on Civil Union and Marriage
Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
I don't often link any other societal challenges to the efforts for a more just and inclusive church for our sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT). I find that any reference to human and spiritual struggles of other groups immediately shifts the discussion to the supporting argument. Given the choice, most people will choose to discuss almost anything other than the marginalization or second-class status of people who identify as LGBT. I speak not about gay people but as a gay person involved in our church's struggle.
However, I will break with my practice in this way: consider the Bible's prohibition of women from serving in the early church and the Bible’s acceptance of slavery.
1 Corinthians 11:5:
"Let the women keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a disgrace for a woman to speak in church."
"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!"
There are other references, in fact many - a simple search will produce the ones that don't immediately come to mind.
We all know that over time these teachings of Paul and statements in Matthew attributed to Jesus (along with other verses of Scripture) have been explained away in a variety of ways. Simply, these early teachings and practices were wrong and abhorrent. They still are where practiced today. My question, though, is, "Was God wrong?" I mean if these were accepted practices of the early church, as terrible as they were, now that we reject them - how did we come to know that God changed God's mind about them or that God was wrong. Or did we just figure out that God didn't mean it in the first place? Or were the Scriptures wrong, mistranslated, or worse - did Jesus actually agree with slavery? Really...
Who drew the line? How did we know when and where it was drawn? How many centuries did women and slaves suffer until we all agreed that the Bible was wrong long before the practices changed. And what about the people who were rebuked, punished, stoned, jailed, returned to their "masters" (like Jesus and the Centurion's slave). What about all the violence, harms, and damages that were done in the name of faithfulness to the Scriptures and teachings of Jesus? How complicit are we in the tragedy that became institutionalized while we waited to step up...? How quickly would we undo these things if we could go back, way back?
Something was as wrong back then about women and slavery as it is wrong now about folk who are LGBT. Regardless of how the Bible was used then...these practices were always wrong. Regardless of the how the Bible is used today against LGBT folk...these practices are always wrong. Further, just as the solution to women's rights and slavery was not to have slaves free half the time or women free half the time - neither is the solution for embracing same gender covenantal relationships in the half-step of civil unions. In fact, such a decision to many of us is as insulting and hate-filled as the Three-fifths Compromise of our country’s early history. We need to get this right.
After all, can we really hinge our love and justice on the same rationalizations that kept women and slaves quarantined from God as full and free creations of God? Who is wrong here? The Bible or God? Is God going to change God's mind again? Should we just wait some more? How will we know when it is time? Will we continue to make this church less representative of a welcoming God and more representative of a comfortable few?
Honestly, as you can probably tell, I am unwilling to be considered as anything less than a full creation of God and baptized member of this church. It continues to be difficult for me, knowing myself and other sisters and brothers who are LGBT, to comprehend how our welcoming into this church should even be a cause for discussion.
Still, I am as grateful for your work as I am certain that we need to stand up for full marriage for all our sisters and brothers in this church and the society into which we bring the Good News of the Church of Jesus Christ.
For the record: I don't believe God had it wrong. I believe we did, and I believe we have it wrong now. May you agree.