Can you adequately express your feelings on a complex issue with one single symbol? When it came to the issue of marriage equality, I couldn’t.
As the Supreme Court began debating the topic of marriage equality weeks ago,Facebook users started seeing red, literally. Marriage equality supporters quickly replaced their profile photos with an image depicting an equal sign over a red background. Eventually, I began seeing some Christian opponents of marriage equality posting an image of a white cross over a red background.
And so the battle lines began. As they always do where same-sex marriage is concerned.
I resisted the temptation to display either image; I considered posting an image that combined the two symbols side by side, but the problem with any of these options is that the issue is so complex, reducing a statement to a single character (or two characters side by side) can’t begin to address the many arguments involved no matter which side you’re on.
Since I have Christian friends and gay friends, I didn’t want to run the risk of offending anyone or starting some sort of flame war on my Facebook profile. (Social media experts would likely suggest that a flame war would have been perfect for upping my Klout score. But this issue is a little more important than one’s Klout score.) Some Christians, I realize, are already prepared to self-righteously accuse me of not having the guts to stand up for my faith; if you’re one of them, may I kindly suggest that you take a deep breath and get over yourself.
My hesitation has nothing to do with a lack of courage in talking about my faith. More importantly, it’s about wanting to have a more detailed expression of it than a silly little symbol would be able to provide. If that’s a problem for you, then there’s a great deal on which we’re not likely to agree.
For me, there are actually three symbols — and in all honesty, probably more like a dozen or so if I thought long enough about it — that would have to be at play for me to fully express my thoughts on the subject.
Let me explain why:
The Equal Sign
On marriage equality, I think it’s time that same-sex couples had the right to marry in America. Our country is a republic, not a church. Our government is based directly on a document called the Constitution, not the Bible. The priority of America isn’t honoring God (though it might be nice), but in granting and exercising the freedom of the people. People continue to insist that America is a “Christian nation”. It isn’t. It is a nation with a great deal of Christians in it. The distinction is important: some of our founding fathers, among them some of the most well-known signers of the Declaration of Independence, didn’t give much of a hoot for church or the notion of God. They wanted everyone to have the ability to worship God through whatever denomination each individual chose — or to not worship Him at all. They specifically wanted to avoid the country running on one single religious view.
Some argue that it should be up to states or that it should be up to voters; the problem is our government was designed to make sure that even voters can’t create laws that violate the Constitution. If laws banning same-sex marriage are indeed unconstitutional, it doesn’t matter how many voters approve the ban. The ban can’t be allowed to exist.
Our Constitution tells us that all men are created equal. We assume from this that our Founding Fathers also included women and those of other races in their intent. It’s only fair to assume, since they didn’t specifically rule out sexual orientation as a qualification for being the kind of “men” they felt were created equal, that gays and lesbians are likewise part of the equation.
The Bible specifically says, on more than one occasion, that homosexuality is a sin. One can’t get away from that fact very easily. If I accept the Bible as God’s Word, then I have to accept homosexuality as being a sin. Most Christians seem to have little difficulty doing so.
But my faith also makes me question why we Christians seem to put so much more attention on fighting this particular sin when, statistically, there are other sins getting far more “play.” If homosexuality offends God, doesn’t dishonesty offend Him as well? I’d think so, but I never see churches marching anywhere to encourage people to tell the truth.
As clearly as the Bible says that I should regard homosexuality as a sin, it says that I should love God with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself. Loving God is pretty easy for me. Loving my neighbor? Well, I am working on that. Some neighbors seem to make it inherently difficult to love them a great deal, but maybe that’s just me. Nowhere that I can find in the Bible does it say that I’m only required to love my heterosexual neighbors, however.
So my fellow Christians will just have to forgive me if I’m not willing to throw stones at gay people. The greatest example we have in the Bible on how to deal with sinners happens in John 8:1-11, when an angry, self-righteous crowd brings Jesus a woman who’d been caught in the act of adultery. We are told she was caught in the act to make it clear that there could be no doubt about her guilt. The crowd was ready for a stoning.
Christ had other ideas.
I’ve mentioned this before, but this one scene — and particularly some people’s interpretations of a particular moment in it — speaks volumes about God’s love to me. So I will share it again, and I’ll continue to do so as long as I feel some of us need the occasional reminder of it.
As the fired-up crowd challenges Christ about this woman’s fate, He quietly kneels and begins writing in the sand with his finger. The Bible doesn’t tell us what he was writing in the sand. But several I’ve heard over the years offer this bit of speculation: Christ was writing, for all of the crowd to see, the list of their sins. Let’s think about that for a moment, and then let’s think about how perfectly that would coincide with what Christ says next:
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Christ didn’t discount the fact that the woman had sinned. After the crowd departed, its collective bubble burst, Jesus instructed her to “sin no more.” But before He told her to not sin in the future, He told her that He did not condemn her.
That’s the love of God in action. How fitting it is that the greatest example of God’s love in action happens to have come from Jesus Christ Himself.
When I deal with people around me, if I can’t demonstrate that kind of love, I have to wonder how much of a Christian I can truly claim that I am.
The Question Mark
I do not have the answers to this debate. I’m happy, even eager, to point that out.
I wish I could offer some sort of clever phrase that would bring everyone to the table, allow dialog to happen, and let people actually get to know each other and set aside their hostilities. I genuinely believe that until that happens, we’re always going to be at each other’s throat, and I can’t help but think this is not pleasing to God.
I’ve seen people try to debate what kind of homosexuality was being discussed based on the language choices of the original texts: some claim that it’s referring to something more along the lines of rape, not the kind of genuine love that same-sex couples feel toward each other. That, in some ways, makes sense to me: there’s a big difference between meaningless sex — the kind of act that would be described as a “one night stand” — and the kind of act that might be described as “making love.” That difference exists in the heterosexual community as well.
I wonder how people believe homosexuality is a “choice.” The only choice is whether one who has homosexual feelings chooses to act on those feelings. But even if he doesn’t, that doesn’t mean the feelings go away. This is true of any kind of desire we have. (I’m thinking of a certain piece of carrot cake I resisted the temptation to have last night; my diet prospered because I didn’t partake in the cake, but my desire for it remains as strong as ever.)
What is a gay person supposed to do if he or she has zero attraction to someone of the opposite sex? Are they supposed to just commit to a life of loneliness? In Genesis, God told us he made Eve because He saw it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. Is it good for certain people to be alone? There are, incidentally, people in the LGBTQ community who believe that it is; they commit to their own form of celibacy, choosing to have no romantic relationships at all until and unless there comes a day in which they find someone of the opposite sex to whom they are attracted.
There are a lot of questions that go beyond the “Homosexuality is a sin” mantra that too many Christians seem to want to toss around to quickly win an argument but settle next to nothing; one such simple mantra, Biblical fact though it may be, doesn’t answer a multitude of questions that follow it.
In Proverbs 3:5, we have this bit of advice:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
I may read this a bit differently than some of my Christian colleagues. I don’t see it as, “Just blindly believe what’s in the Bible and don’t ask questions.” I know Christians who’d likely interpret it just that way.
I believe as we deepen our walk with God, we come to better understand who we are and who we are called to be. I believe we also learn how we are called to treat others. And we come to understand certain other aspects of humanity, God’s design for our lives and how we interpret what we see around us.
There are no clear answers without God. I will always believe that. But you can’t know for sure what God wants for your life until you begin building a relationship with Him and listening to what He has to say.
That’s the message Christians should be presenting first and foremost.
Everything else of value happens after that walk begins.
@patricksplace Really enjoyed your blog. The last three paragraphs are beautifully written.
As an atheist who, frankly, gets spooked on a daily basis by extremely right-wing Christians, I really appreciate reading such a reasonable, tolerant post on this subject. I think you and I could be friends.
I wish more Christians felt this way. I think it would make them more approachable as a whole. My sister is a Christian who tends to think along your wave length, but my parents are those blind followers you described, and it drives me nuts. There is no conversation there. And, if we can't even start to talk about serious topics, how can we ever find common ground? I get really frustrated because my like-minded friends (we're those evil liberals who want equality for all) encourage me to cut off anyone who acts ugly, particularly on Facebook (shouts to un-friend perpetrators get louder with each infraction), but I don't really want to do that. I want to get along with my parents. How do we come together when I want equality and they... well... DON'T? blah.
“Can you adequately express your feelings on a complex issue with one single symbol?”
I don’t think you can, symbols can mean many thing to different people. For me when I see the equal sign I think marriage equality but I also think of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) the organization that uses the gold equal sign on a blue background and the HRC is no friend of mine. When I see the equal sign I think of “Gay Inc.”
But other symbols have different meanings to people. Take the Maltese cross people see different meanings in that. Also symbols can be hijacked, look at Gadsden flag (the yellow flag with the snake on it with the slogan “Don’t Tread On Me”) it was originally used by the Continental Marines and now the Tea Party has hijacked it.
Look at how many businesses have copyrighted their symbols, where I used to work they had a whole manual on where we could use the corporate symbol.
I'm not sure why people think that one has to choose one or the other symbol, in this case. One can be a Christian and still believe in marriage equality. Using the equal sign means that one supports marriage equality. It doesn't say anything about your religious views one way or another.
On a side note - and this has nothing to do with your post topic at all - the verse you mention with the woman who committed adultery always bothered me a little. I always wondered why the man she committed adultery with wasn't being treated the same way that she was by the angry mob. Why weren't they both being subjected to the stoning punishment? Do you chalk that up to the fact that women were not treated as equal to men back then or what do you think?
@ldiannerichards You must not be on Facebook. Those equal signs have been all over the place.
@TammySoong I appreciate that, Tammy. I tend to avoid the all-too-common thought that atheists are enemies. You and I may never agree on God, but that doesn't mean that I can't treat you with respect and value you as a fellow human being in this journey.
@Andi Roo Thanks, Andi. Unfortunately, I've seen the debate get ugly from both sides. One assumes, if they see the "other" symbol, that you must be their enemy. That kind of thinking doesn't get anyone on the same page, it only further pushes people away from each other, and that's not what we should be doing.
@DianaCT A good point: and in cases like this, one symbol expresses, in some cases, too much. Any one symbol displays, to some people, an unwillingness to see the other side and even hatred of the other. That's not what I'm about.
@Cathryn (aka Strange) Women back then were property, plain and simple.
@Cathryn (aka Strange) For me, it's that I just don't think choosing one adequately expresses the complexity of the issue. I'm a Christian: it's an important part of who I am, but if I display a cross alone, I'm sending an unintentional message of intolerance to some people who assume I must be their enemy. If I put the equal sign up, there are, unfortunately, some Christians who'll assume I'm THEIR enemy.
It's a shame that we have reached a point in this country where everyone wants a simplistic "yes" or "no" answer on everything; for me, sometimes, a little discussion is the better choice.