I Don’t Need Your Civil War

The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear a case challenging the Washington D.C. gay marriage law.

It seems that a group of residents wanted to put the revocation of the law on the ballot, as was done previously in California. Their petition was denied, and the law kept on the books without the imprimatur of the voters of the District.

In response, a Washington pastor, Anthony Evans, has declared the existence of a “civil war between the church and the gay community.” Of course, Evans hastens to add that this is an unwanted civil war, and “we love our gay brothers and sisters,” but apparently war is at hand because “we have a right as religious people to have a say-so in the framework of religious ethics for our culture and society.”

I was recently given an extended history lesson by my friend David Sehat. His book, The Myth of American Religious Freedom chronicles important episodes in the history of dissent from the traditional Protestant Christian mores in America (review here and here).

Here’s the punchline: when in the history of America Christians have sought to uphold, and impose, a “religious ethic” for society, we have time and again been the perpetrators and preservers of inequality, prejudice, and injustice.

When blacks were fighting for freedom from slavery, we white, empowered Christians developed biblical arguments for sustaining dominance over the black race.

When women were fighting for equal access to voting, to work, to the protections of the legal system, we Christians invoked biblical patriarchy to sustain their subjugation and prevent them from being recognized as persons protected by the law with equal access to its protections and freedoms.

When workers were fighting for just working conditions, we Christians invoked convoluted theological and biblical arguments about why they needed to simply obey their masters as the Master and get off the picket line.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was leading peaceful demonstrations of civil disobedience, our great hero Billy Graham warned that we have to obey the laws of a government even if the law is unjust.

Will we not learn from our history?

To my fellow Christians: when we try to make society after the image of the Bible as we read it, we become perpetrators of the injustice, impression, and baptizing of cultural status-quo that Jesus came to root out, free us from, and transform. The fight over legalized gay partnerships is but the latest in a long string of episodes where we have failed to bring to the “other” the freedom and justice we believe God wants for all people.

Or, if that language sounds too loosy goosy to you, try this. We have refused, in our fights for “religious ethics in society,” to love our neighbor as ourselves, we have not yet learned to “do unto the other what we would have done to us.”

Our attempts to perpetuate our ethics through the legal system has repeatedly moved us from the blessed co-confessors with Peter that “You are the Christ,” to those who stand in need of the rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan.”

For Peter, this came when he would not see that to be Christ is to be a suffering servant. Peter wanted a war. For us this rebuke comes when we will not see that our call to love is a call to be suffering servants, even to those whom we might see as our enemies. Will we really fight a war? Can we imagine that when we stand with Peter rebuking Jesus for setting aside the way of glory that this time we will be recipients of a commendatory “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

Repeatedly when I read the Gospels with my New Testament Introduction courses, we are made aware that the disciples and other first century Jews were looking for a war to free them from Rome. That’s what the Davidic Messiah was supposed to do. But Jesus goes to the cross instead.

If, in our purported following of Jesus we find ourselves promising civil war, we can rest assured that our expectations of what discipleship means stand in as much need of correction as those of Jesus’ first followers.

So, Rev. Evans, I don’t need your civil war. Because I love my gay brothers and sisters, even as you claim for yourself, and because Jesus shows me that Christian love is taking up the cross rather than taking up the sword, I part company with you here and stand by them.

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