Thursday, January 12, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage: A Sign of the Times

Living in Iowa gives one a particular perspective on life. Being a progressive state that reveres the institution of marriage and honors the dignity of the human heart - Iowa declares same-sex marriage to be legal. Of course, not all Iowans are in agreement with this decision, but for now same-sex couples have equal rights toward marriage as heterosexual couples in Iowa.

One hears on occasion that the legalization of same-sex marriage is a "sign of the times." I want to accept that proposition as true, but I'm fairly sure that what I mean by that and what others mean by it are radically different. Here is one way of thinking about same-sex marriage as a sign of the times.

Paul Tillich described a peculiar feature of Protestant Christianity with the phrase "the protestant principle." At other times he would call it "the prophetic principle." (Since this is a blog entry and not an academic paper, I'm not citing sources, so you are welcomed to explore Tillich's writings for yourself. You will find the exploration to be rewarding.) Tillich described the protestant principle in several ways, but the one that has stayed with me most powerfully is that Protestant Christianity has a kind of self-critical principle within its operating system, which compels us not just to legitimize our way of thinking vis-a-vis other ways of thinking; but also to listen closely to other ways of thinking with the openness that they can enable us to understand truth, justice, etc., better. As I hear it, then, the Protestant Principle is grounded in a belief that God is at work everywhere and not just among people who think and believe as I do; that all of humanity is finite, including me and the folks who think like me; and that I should be humble in the face of those whose beliefs are different from mine, because they might offer me a better way of seeing the depths of what I believe than folks who speak and think as I do. In theological terms, the Protestant Principle is grounded in a belief in God's sovereignty, human sinfulness, and redemption.

When it comes to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Iowa, I believe that the State has spoken prophetically to the Church. I know, I know, the dominant voices in our society that speak in the name of the church seem to imply the opposite. They argue that the State has violated God's clear and consistent law and that the Church has to speak prophetically to the State by condemning this action and working to reverse it.

I'm finding that argument to be tiresome. It is grounded in a view of sovereignty that looks too much like Empire thinking and not Cross thinking; it is grounded in a view of sin that always points outward and never seriously points inward; and it is grounded in a view of redemption that is essentially built on winning a game of tug-of-war, rather than discovering God's redemptive presence among others.

In my mind, the State (for the most part) is right and the Church (predominantly, certainly not unanimously) is wrong on this one. It's happened before, of course. Some churches were still banging on the 'slavery is permitted by the Bible - even in the New Testament!' drum long after the nation said 'no more.' Some churches were still intentionally racially divided long after the Civil Rights Act passed. And so on.

So, I'm raising my coffee mug to the State of Iowa on same-sex marriage. I'm valuing the enormous amount of courage that many same-sex couples have had to muster in order to persevere in loving one another among people who seek to destroy their relationship. I'm learning about the give-and-take of commitment from same-sex couples who have been in relationships for very long amounts of time. As a person in a marriage, who really does see many persons de-valuing the covenant of marriage, the courage and perseverance of many same-sex couples is a shining example of the power of love and grace. Your relationships are 'signs of the times' for me that love is not just a feeling or a fleeting emotion, but a life of commitment and work.

Well done.

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