That One Time I Attended a Same-Sex Wedding

I attended a same sex wedding for the first time last weekend.

I was honored that I was invited. Because I have had multiple conversations with one of the partners, who is my cousin, about the sin of homosexuality. I told him why I thought he and his partner should not adopt children. I told him I was glad when he was not in any relationship (at least, none that I knew of).

But I also have stayed close to him. When other family members stopped talking to him, I kept an open ear. When he entered into a new relationship (with the man he married on Saturday), I went to visit them. In fact, my wife, children, and I have stayed with them when we visited family on vacation.

My cousin chose love for me over our disagreement.

Over the past few years, I have been challenged in the assumptions I have held regarding same sex attraction. First of all, I had to accept the fact that the vast majority of scholarly research indicates a spectrum of sexuality and attraction that everyone is born with. Many people still want to deny this and research will continue happening, but biologically speaking it appears same sex attraction is indeed something you are born with. (I think environment and nurture play a role, as well, but biology plays a larger role.)

Second, it is clear that a lot of Christian theology has been lazy regarding same sex attraction. I grew up believing the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was about same sex behavior. In actuality, it is about domination, abuse, and lack of hospitality. The same sex behavior that takes place in the story has nothing to do with homosexuality, and everything to do with rape.

But Paul the Apostle does seem to say some pretty definite things about same sex behavior. So the bulk of my theological wandering has centered on Romans 1. But that particular struggle will need to be addressed in a different post. Suffice it to say that Paul had no concept of orientation, only behavior.

Third, I have really been wondering what it means to live in a democratically free nation. Although I think we get hung up on the separation of church and state argument in all sorts of distorted ways, it seems this country was founded on the ability for each person to choose his or her own religious experience. In other words, we were never a Christian nation, but we have always been a religiously free nation (dominated by Christians).

If that is the case, I cannot expect the entire nation to live according to my understanding of Judeo-Christian beliefs. Therefore, I cannot deny the right of marriage to a group of people because they have a sexual preference that I might disagree with.

So for me, these three challenges led me to the point where regardless of what I believed regarding same sex attraction or behavior, there is no legitimate, civic basis for denying the right of same sex couples to get married. Regardless of what God’s judgment will be, the government must recognize the right of its citizens to marry.

Throughout this wandering, I have talked with my cousin on several occasions. He has patiently answered my questions and been a willing conversation partner. We have been more than just cousins, we have remained friends.

We both have chosen our love for each other over our position.

And this is important to me because I still don’t entirely know where I stand. But I do know this: I stood on a porch and hugged my cousin and his husband last weekend. I know that my family and I will be back out to visit them again.

This is important to me because I interact with many people who are still mistreated and abused because of their sexuality, their orientation, or their gender. While we talk and research and discuss biology, environment, and theology, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about people. More than people, we are talking about sons and daughters of God.

This is important to me because when my cousin asked my son to be the ring-bearer, he did so with the intent of speaking a blessing to my son. As my son took the rings forward, my cousin and his husband looked at him and promised to be there for him as he continues to grow, mature, and experience life as a gay man.

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This is important to me because even though I cannot tell you my “Theology of Sexuality,” I can tell you my theology of God. It’s quite simple:

He always chooses people over positions.

Things Have Not Gotten Worse, We Just Started Paying Attention

Back in the mid-90s, I attended a conservative Christian college in west Texas. When I arrived as a freshman, I felt like I had a pretty solid grasp on just about everything. You know, the typical 18 year old. During my sophomore year, I started attending a predominantly African-American church.

It was a great experience. It was the first time I worshiped in a context different from the one in which I grew up. It was a time of learning and growth for me. I learned as much about preaching from the minister there as I did in all my classes at the college I was attending.

One lesson I struggled to learn, however, was that being a black person in west Texas was a totally different experience than being a white man in west Texas. (For that matter, the experience was different in most, or all, areas of the country.) I even went so far as to tell my friend, the preacher, that he was wrong. I told him he was imagining things. I told him racism no longer existed and he needed to get over it.

I was convinced that I was doing him a favor enlightening him on how much better his life would be if he would just get over it.

And then it happened.

I was shopping with him in the college bookstore one day. In addition to being a local preacher, he was also a full-time staff member at the university—Spiritual Activities Director. At a college that had daily chapel, he was in charge of coordinating that chapel. He was on stage and in front of the entire university a lot. And as we walked around the campus store, he was followed by an employee. (Poorly, I might add.)

A full-time staff member, a local preacher, a man dressed in slacks and button-down shirt, was followed. You know, just in case he was going to steal a pack of pencils.

That event bothered me. It opened my eyes in a way that was painful. But my education would not end there. Later that year, our college had the opportunity to host a national youth event on campus. The event was attended primarily by African-American high school students from across the country. There were going to be 1000 high school students on a college campus. Huge score for the recruiting department, right?

The Director of Admissions at that time wrote a letter to the Dean of Students. In that letter, he used the sentence, “I know we want to have large groups of students on our campus, but are these the kind of students we want?” The Dean had an appropriate response: he wrote several comments in pencil and sent it back to the admissions office.

Two events separated by only a few months. They both made something abundantly clear: as much as I wished it wasn’t true, racism and prejudice were still alive and well within my church and my country.

Now, those events did not make that true. But they opened my eyes. In other words, race relations did not get worse that year. I just started paying attention.*

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I remember a story when a black man was pulled out of his car by the police and severely beaten by four officers while others watched. Even though the event was videotaped, none of the four officers was convicted in criminal court. The event led to a number of riots across the country. It even led to a response condemning the police officers’ actions from the President.

Ferguson 2014? No. Los Angeles 1991. Almost 25 years ago.

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When I went to high school, our football team was good. We won the state championship my junior year. My senior year, we made it to the state championship game again. Things didn’t go so well. I believe the final score was 35-0. I remember the 0 that we scored. The other team may have had more. Our quarterback, a black classmate of mine, was all the rage in the town while we were winning. When he was pulled out of the game in the 4th quarter, the townsfolk sitting in the stands changed their tune from “hometown hero” to “worthless n—-r.”

2015? No. 1993.

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Racial tension is not higher now than it was before.

My college roommate, an African-American, didn’t become afraid to drive through Louisiana and Mississippi in the past year.

Parents of black children didn’t all of a sudden become nervous about how their children would be treated in the past 12 months.

The reason you think things are worse now is you are being forced to pay attention. Last year, Walter Scott would not have been a story. The police officer who shot him in the back and planted evidence on him in order to fabricate a story would have gotten away with it.

Last year, Sandra Bland likely would not have made the news cycle. She would have been portrayed as a belligerent black woman who ended up committing suicide. Most people would not have cared.

Still, it is true that many people do not care. But thanks to increased cell phone videotaping, livestreaming, social media storms, and just sheer tenacity, people are getting the message out more. People of color are no more oppressed now than they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago. But more people are finally listening.

And it is about time.

Because people of color are also no less oppressed now that they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

You might be uncomfortable. You might want to blame President Obama. You may want to throw around the term “race-baiter” and confirm that you don’t really know what that word means.

But we cannot deny this truth: race relations are not worse in 2015 than they were in 2005. Or 1995. Or 1985. We are just finally talking about it more. We are using social media more. We are utilizing the technology at our fingertips more. Those things we wanted to ignore before are now put in front of us on an almost daily basis.

And we need to stop ignoring it or simply wishing it away. We have to pay attention. Whether we want to or not.

And you have to choose how you will respond.

I respond by saying Black Lives Matter. I respond by working to fight against unjust societal structures. I respond by acknowledging my privilege and looking for ways to leverage it to help others. I respond by listening to people who have had a different experience than me. I respond by acknowledging that advances that have been made in civil rights and race relations, while commendable, have not yet gone far enough. I respond by seeking to have uncomfortable conversations with people I may disagree with in order to create stronger relationships and build better communities.

It’s uncomfortable. But it’s necessary. Problems exist. They don’t go away by ignoring them. We’ve got work to do.

 

*I believe it is important to note that since the time of this story, the college I attended has done a lot to address their past sins of racial discrimination. There is still a ways to go, but they are making honest attempts to move forward.