What Love Has to Do With It

It’s not really about who you can love, and it never has been. For despite the sloganeering going on around the issue, it doesn’t take a court decision for “love to win.” There are countless examples indeed of individuals of the same gender who have deeply loved and cared for each other–some of whom I personally count as friends, and some who we can find even within the witness of the scriptures, including David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Paul and Timothy.

Nor is it exactly about human rights, though for far too long–particularly before the advent of civil unions–our society made it difficult indeed for individuals who are genuinely committed to each other to be legally and socially recognized as such. Long-time partners of the same gender were routinely denied standing at the hospital bedside of their loved one, or handling their affairs after they passed. But simple contract law should have been enough to take care of that, had it not been for the bigotry and opposition of others.

Similarly, at least insofar as people of faith might be involved, it’s not about treating others fairly, for it has never been right to discriminate or ostracize others, no matter how differently they may be from ourselves. We are called to not only care for all of God’s children, but to preserve their dignity, and when we’ve not done such, we’ve not been faithful disciples at all.

And it’s not even just about sexual behavior per se, for we’ve long since passed the period of prudence in our country, with a clear majority of even heterosexual couples cohabitating and sharing a bed before they ever share in an actual wedding ceremony.

What it is about, however, is capturing a social construct and institution that has stood for millennia as a major ground target in a campaign to change the culture when it comes to our understanding of God’s preferred will for all of His children and our prideful rejection of it in favor of our own understanding.

All of which is what makes the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage deeply disappointing (though not surprising) to those whose faith has led us to a different conclusion about the God-designed mandate concerning marriage.   For in one of the only verses I know of that is repeated four times in the Bible–in Genesis 2.24, Matthew 19.5, Mark 10.7, and Ephesians 5.31–as well as in the complementarian argument that runs throughout the Bible–it is clear that the “cleaving” conceived of by our Creator is meant to be between one man and one woman.

In a hubristic 5-4 vote, however–embodying what C.S. Lewis once called the “chronological snobbery” or “presentism” of our time–nine individuals in Washington  have now declared that this understanding is no longer the correct one, thus redefining an institution that up until just fifteen years ago, in fact, nearly every society, nation, and religion on earth had for thousands of years prescribed along similar lines.

So while we may understand why those within the gay and lesbian community are celebrating that opinion, some of us can no more congratulate the Court on that decision than we could on the judgments of earlier courts which declared that no slaves or descendants of slaves could be a U.S. citizen, or that “separate but equal” was not inherently discriminatory, or that abortion should be considered the unfettered right of every woman, never mind the fate of the unborn child involved, or even that the death penalty is completely constitutional. For sadly enough sometimes, particularly when it has involved moral issues, the Supreme Court has been supremely wrong.

We will, of course, respect the decision as the new “law of the land,” and we will likewise respect those individuals who may be legally wed under the expanded rubric. We will continue to view all of God’s children, both gay and straight, as those of sacred worth, and urge others to do the same. Everyone of any orientation, as well as those of any race or background, is and will always be welcome within our church, and we will do our best to be both in ministry to and with all persons, irrespective of their beliefs or behavior.

But as also noted in the Supreme Court ruling, our congregation will not in the practice of its faith be compelled to disavow the historic understanding of marriage outlined in the scriptures. As per the Discipline of The United Methodist Church, thus, we will continue to operate as before the ruling: none of our clergy will conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, nor will such ceremonies take place within our sanctuary.

I recognize that we are not all of one mind on this issue, and that others have come to their position out of good hearts too.   What love has to do with it, however, is loving people enough to tell them the whole truth which the scriptures reveal to us. And if we find ourselves now running counter to the culture, well, it certainly is not the first time that Christians have had to stand against the counsel of the caesars.

Ultimately it’s not what is said in the Courtroom that matters nearly so much as what has already been spoken in the Throne Room of God.

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28 Responses to What Love Has to Do With It

  1. Edward Monto says:

    Amen to that, brother.

  2. Chappell, you and I so often end up on opposite sides of social issues, it’s a wonder we have been able to get along all these years. And I suspect you will not agree with what I have to say now, but I feel the need to make sure the voice of the other side is heard on these “pages.”

    I sense in your words a tendency to offer the familiar, obligatory olive branch, but you either do so disingenuously or you snatch it right back again with your next comment. In effect, you seem to be saying, “You are entitled to your views too, even though they are wrong.” Let me show you a few instances where I get this feeling.

    Right off the bat, you state that the issue “has never been” about “who you can love,” offering biblical examples to bolster your point. You even take a cheap shot at a popular and deeply meaningful slogan of the Marriage Equality Movement by claiming “it doesn’t take a court decision for ‘love to win.'” You know quite well that the kind of “love” being talked about by those in favor of marriage equality is not the same as the love you are suggesting existed between Paul and Timothy. We’re speaking of a love that involves the full range of feeling, action, and commitment that exists between a married couple who are not legally debarred from it and don’t have to defend or explain it to others. The kind of love so beautifully described in the final paragraph of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. That’s the kind of “Love” that won the day. And this kind of love that has NOT been an option for same-sex couples until now. That’s what the battle has been about–maybe not to you, but certainly to them–and that’s the victory that is being celebrated. By trying to pass off a different, lesser, socially and morally acceptable kind of love as the equivalent of the Love now made legal across the land, you begin your argument on a disingenuous note.

    Next, you state, “Nor is it exactly about human rights.” And though, to your credit, you recognize some of the rights the LGBTQ community has been deprived of, you go on to state, somewhat callously, that “simple contract law should have been enough to take care of that, had it not been for the bigotry and opposition of others,” and then end your paragraph and move on to another talking point. But contract law hasn’t taken care of it. That’s the point. Bigotry has continued and still continues to deny rights available to others to those who love someone of the same sex. Not just at the individual level, but at the government level, and by elected officials, and by many of those aspiring to the highest office in our land. The only way to stop this patently discriminatory, unAmerican practice was for the Supreme Court to act. So how is this NOT about human rights?

    You dismiss the sexual aspect of the issue by using heterosexual couples who are sexually active before marriage as an example of how the death of prudery has made this a non-issue, but can you honestly say that homosexual couples share the same degree of social acceptance for their sexual activity as do heterosexual couples?

    When you move from telling us what the real issue was not to what it “really” is, you not only somewhat inaccurately suggest that the traditional understanding of marriage is as old as civilization itself (“a social construct and institution that has stood for millennia”), but you also link that understanding to “God’s preferred will for all of His children” and you dismissively label efforts to change it as “prideful rejection of” God’s will. True, you admit later that others of us have reached different conclusions, but since you have already declared them proud rejecters of God’s preferred will, that’s not really much of an olive branch, is it?

    What exactly makes the SCOTUS vote “hubristic”? That they would dare to vote for social change? This is certainly not the first time that has happened. Or that they dare to go against what some (you being among that number) believe is the will of God? Since America are a secular republic, why would they allow any religious considerations (especially those tied to a particular religion) to enter into their deliberations? Indeed, aren’t they prohibited by the Constitution from doing so? What has Washington to do with Jerusalem?

    And while we’re at it, C. S. Lewis notwithstanding, what makes slavish devotion to the past any better than “presentism”? And doesn’t it lay some kind of claim on our serious attention and openness to change that we are far from the first nation to “redefine” this institution that you suggest “up until just fifteen years ago . . . nearly every society, nation, and religion on earth had for thousands of years prescribed along similar lines”? Every major social revolution has had its naysaying hangers-on afterwards, lamenting that “back in my day, we didn’t do things this newfangled way.”

    It is toward the end, though, that I hear this disturbing note most clearly. You have every right not to celebrate the SCOTUS ruling and to disagree with it. But when you liken it to “the judgments of earlier courts which declared that no slaves or descendants of slaves could be a U.S. citizen, or that ‘separate but equal’ was not inherently discriminatory, or that abortion should be considered the unfettered right of every woman, never mind the fate of the unborn child involved, or even that the death penalty is completely constitutional,” you give the lie to your claims that persons of all orientations are welcome in your congregation. It’s like saying, “Of course you are welcome in our church, even though your marriage was made possible only by one of the worst, most “supremely wrong” decisions the Supreme Court has ever made. Oh, and by the way, it also rejects God’s preferred will.”

    Please understand what I’m saying, Chappell. I affirm your right to believe everything you have said about same-sex marriage in this essay. What I am challenging is your thinking that you can have it both ways. You cannot present yourself as reasonable and irenic but at the same time suggest that those who don’t share your convictions (though they have good hearts) need to be told “the whole truth which the scriptures reveal to us.” That dog won’t hunt.

    • In paragraph 7, it should say “Since America is” instead of “are.” Edited the sentence before posting but failed to update the verb.

    • veritasvincit says:

      Hubris? Five white men and women from the 1% of the 1% (think of the power wielded by the fifth vote) fashioned the broken image of a sick parody of conjugal love from their wicked imaginations and told the voters of the vast majority of States who were afforded an opportunity to vote on the issue, as Cool Hand Luke’s tormentor told him, ” . . . you just got to get your mind right.” Hubris, at a minimum.

      Jim Lung

  3. Jennifer Johnson says:

    Amen!

  4. Dear Chap,
    You have been so much a part of the forming of my faith and those of my children that I know you have written what you did out of a gut reaction without considering the ramifications or pain you might be causing. I tend to agree with Mr. Jenkins above. However, I take offense especially with your phrase: “God’s preferred will for all of His children.” I call your attention to the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:12: “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (NRSV). Clearly, his statement recognizes that some people were made differently and that not everyone is called by God into a male-female marriage OR into the ministry. At the time the eunuch was not permitted into the temple by the Levitical laws. However, the statement by Jesus comes within a discussion about reasons for divorce as the rabbis were then arguing about the acceptable criteria for divorce. In quoting the purpose of marriage from creation texts earlier in the chapter, Jesus surely was proclaiming that marriage was not meant to be polygamy, because the Creation texts were an attempt to wipe out that practice. If Jesus truly changed the world as we believe that he did, then he saw this injustice against both eunuchs and women and wanted to correct it. Philip followed up with this by baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch court official in Acts 8 who then went on to proclaim the Gospel. Throughout the Hebrew Bible there are examples of both good and bad eunuchs who were part of God’s plan. Those of you who read the Bible from the standpoint of white heterosexual males might miss some of these.

    • Dear Paula, I appreciate your words and I trust you know that I would never intentionally wish to cause pain to any of God’s children. I actually try to be careful on this subject to put into my mind’s eye the faces of dear friends who are a part of the LGBT community and to accordingly choose words that can represent what I believe to be God’s truth without targeting anyone personally. The bottom line is that I think we are all called to live in response to both the grace of God and to the Word of God. I recognize that some will read the scriptures differently than do I, but I try to do so as faithfully and generously as I can.

  5. Jim Kenney says:

    Marriage is intended by natural laws to be between a man and woman, period. The root cause of immorality and destruction of our traditional Western culture, especially in America, is the attack on long standing, conservative, Christian values with respect to the family that have withstood the test of time as evidenced by Pastor Temple’s views. Just because a wayward court decision helps impose civil and social rights on a very small class of the population does not change the divine, natural law that God intended.

    • Jack Adair says:

      Sir, you hit the nail right on the head with that post. It started when they took prayer out of the schools in 1964 and this latest outrage is the logical continuation of the “liberal” assault on Christian values.

      • Respectfully, no one took prayer out of the schools.

        I teach at the U Level, where, I can assure you that many a student will close their eyes for 10 to 30 seconds upon receiving an exam. The same occurs in public K – 12.

        There is no law against praying in schools. Students pray every day. However, there is law against a teacher leading prayer; this is b/c, we have FREEDOM of religion. If a teacher or instructor were to “lead” prayer, then, that teacher’s or instructor’s religion would be forced upon the students; that would violate the separation of church and state and, would infringe upon the religious freedom of the students.

        And, quite frankly, I would not want someone who is not properly trained to lead Riki in any organized prayer in school, even if they were Christian with good intentions.

        Our children pray in school every day.

        As for the S Ct, then, you would wish to place your religious beliefs on others. With freedom of religion and ability of all to seek “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, as stated in the US Constitution, you would re-write the US Constitution to a specific religious belief. In order to do that, we would have to amend the US Constitution. Therefore, the S Ct Justices ruled within the boundaries of the US Constitution.

        As for Conservative vs. Liberal, IMO, we need to find a way to judge/divide less and love more. Just about all of the liberals I know are rather accepting of others, as long as others treat them well. In strong contrast and as emphasized over the past few years, Conservatives have shown a minimum of disdain for: Muslims, African Americans, women, low income peoples, gays, etc.

        IMO, all of that hate and divisiveness is ripping America apart. IMO, all of that hate and divisiveness will lead to harm and eventually to war. The recent African American Church Burnings are example.

        IMO, Jesus taught love and understanding, not hate and divisiveness. IMO, we need much more love and compassion, much more understanding of others.

        As a heterosexual father, so I understand homosexuals, no. But, they do not harm me or may family; and, they are God’s Children that cannot be ordained or married in the church. For me to tell someone who to love, IMO would be evil. Love is better than hate any day, IMO.

        Thank you for putting up with me.

  6. JoLynn Daugherty says:

    Amen Brother.

  7. Bill Penczak says:

    i appreciate your candor and willingness to address this issue. That’s the mark of a true leader, spiritual or otherwise.

    Bill Penczak

  8. Priscilla Thomas says:

    Thank you Pastor Chappell for fulfilling your role as a UM Pastor. Many laity have been perplexed about the silence of our clergy and Bishops during these historic times. As laity, we covet your guidance and assurance that our theology is sound. Thank you for being bold and articulating your steadfast devotion to the Truth. In Christ, Priscilla Thomas

  9. jwworsham says:

    Amen! Very insightful commentary, and a view with which I personally agree. Thanks, Chap. I have forwarded your post to family members and friends with my approval.

    John Worsham

  10. Dawn Shull says:

    Amen

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  11. Dr. Temple,

    I very much complement and agree with your position. As a heterosexual male, do I understand, homosexuality, no. But, how can I in good conscience, as a Christian, deny happiness to another, when, their happiness is based upon love, and especially when that love does not harm me or my family. The US Constitution states “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. If I take a position that another cannot seek happiness, then, by definition, I will have become evil. Therefore, even if I do not understand that other persons personal love for happiness, I must accept in order to be a good Christian. And yes, if asked my Christian belief, I should properly share, as politely as is possible.

    In my opinion, there is way too much hate, bigotry and division in our country today. We need more love, compassion and understanding. We need less hate, bigotry and division.

  12. Mary Kay Moire says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your comments and stance on this ruling. I appreciate your candor and your honesty in expressing your opinion, and standing by the truth as revealed in the Holy Bible. It’s a sad situation in our world today. And lots of people carry burdens all of their lives. Who knows what the torn was in Paul’s side. We need to be brave and stand up for what we believe in. Thank you, Pastor Temple, for standing up, and passing on your knowledge and feelings to us.
    In Christ,
    Mary Kay Moore

  13. Joan McGee says:

    I think we need to remember that our country is based on the division between church and state and regardless of what one thinks about the biblical interpretation of marriage, the decision was based on law. That being said I agreed with K.Jenkins and A.Hamilton on their more liberal interpretation of biblical scripture, and I hope over time Christian views might become more accepting. After all God created all of us, he just wired some of us differently. You can no more ask a gay person to change themselves than ask Dr. Temple to deny that side of him that makes him the husband, father, and grandfather. Our country is based on the right to the pursuit of happiness, gay people in our country should be guaranteed that as well.

    • Dear Joan– please see my reply to the response below shared by David Knox. So appreciate your thoughtful comments.

      • Exactly, the US Constitution provides for “life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. It does not state that these must be per Christianity or any other religion.

        Also, if I may (sorry Dr. Temple if this offends), history has proven a Theocracy in govt. to fail. And, even if in the US, all laws were based on Christianity, the differences between Methodist, Baptist and Catholic alone would lead to significant questions of law. IMPO, law needs to be based on the Constitution and generally accepted ethical principals (which, the US still does not abide, by the way). Otherwise, we will not have freedom of religion.

  14. David Knox says:

    Thank you for your blog and today’s sermon though I tend to agree more with your sermon of not judging others and not putting obstacles in others’ way than I do the conclusion of your blog.

    That said, I understand your view is the view of a Methodist preacher and it is well thought out and in keeping with Methodist doctrine.

    The point that is missing in your assessment of the Supreme Court decision is, as you said in the sermon, who are we to judge. The Supreme Court’s decision was not whether marriage equality is correct under Biblical scripture. With separation of church and state, the question is “Do homosexuals deserve the same right to happiness of marriage as heterosexuals do?”

    I think the answer is obvious that they do and, in my opinion, to say otherwise is to judge and put obstacles in their way. Who are we to place Christian or any other religious beliefs on others who may or may not share those beliefs?

    This is a very difficult decision and the need to not judge from either side is critical. Those who disagree with marriage equality need to not judge those that do and those who do believe in marriage equality need to understand the feelings of those who do not and not judge them either.

    Thank you again for your counsel on this and all issues facing our church, our community and our world.

    • Dear David and Joan, Thank you both for your posts and for the kind words about the sermon today. I pray every week that whenever I speak it will always be “laced with grace,” and I hope my words on Romans 14 this morning reflected that as well. Both of you mention the separation of church and state in your replies, which certainly perked up my ears as I spent several years researching that very topic, writing on the theological and biblical pedigree of the First Amendment for my graduate work. It is often forgotten that the idea of a “wall of separation” is not in the Constitution at all, nor was it invented by Thomas Jefferson in order to protect the state from the church’s meddling. Rather, the phrase was coined a hundred years before Jefferson by the Puritan Roger Williams who wished to safeguard the church from the state’s interference. Likewise, the specific meaning of the First Amendment (which guarantees that “Congress shall make no establishment of religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof”) has to do not with whether or not there should be any religious influences in society, but rather whether or not the national government would sponsor an official state religion, as several of the colonies and emerging states had already done. Both religious and constitutional scholars will generally speak about the two planks of the amendment, thus– the establishment clause, and the free exercise clause–and it is worth noting that, again, the prohibition was meant to keep the state from stifling religious expression, in whatever form it might appear.

      If one were to substitute the term “civil union” for the word “marriage” in your posts, I think I would probably agree with everything you both have suggested. It is when the word “marriage” itself is utilized, however, that a problem appears. For clearly, marriage at least in our culture has its essential roots in a religious understanding, more specifically, a Judea-Christian one. While the Court should rightfully uphold the civil rights of all Americans, whether straight or LGBT, when it appropriates the word “marriage” and redefines it in a manner not consistent with its origins or historic meaning, I think the case can be made that the line has indeed been stepped over, but that it is the state which has done so. Some will say, of course, that this is mere semantics, but clearly, words have meaning, or those who advocated for this change would not have cared nearly so much.

      I could not agree more but that everyone should have the right to pursue not just life and liberty but happiness as well. And I rejoice whenever God’s children, whoever they may be, find love and fulfillment in any relationship that may be founded on mutual respect, caring, and service to others. The question that was before the Supreme Court was not, however, whether or not the church has the right to try and change gay or lesbian individuals to conform to any particular interpretation of scripture. It was whether the state had the right to change what for millennia was defined by a religious understanding, and to make a civil right out of it. It is in that sense that I believe that the Court’s ruling was in error. That is not in anyway to say, however, that any of God’s children are themselves a mistake, or that one segment of society is any more inherently sinful than another. That is where St. Paul’s caution about judging comes in, at least in my reading of the scriptures. Thanks again for your thoughts and for your helpful contributions to the conversation.

      • Don mcKenty says:

        Right on!!!! The state has no business redefining marriage. I have no problem with individuals pursuing a different lifestyle than I. In fact, the definition of marriage is now not clear? More chaos to come….related to this.

      • Quotidian says:

        Sorry, Chapell, but I’ve got to disagree with you here, on several separate grounds.

        The first is that, at least in the US, religion has nothing to do with civil marriage. A jewish, christian, hindu, bhuddist, pagan, or atheist couple all have an equal right to get a marriage license from the state.

        Secondly, marriage has ALREADY been redefined throughout our history. Marriage is no longer a man taking ownership of his wife (have you noticed how dowries aren’t a thing in the US?), but a contract between equals. Marriage is no longer a lifetime proposition. (For better or worse. I’m no fan of divorce, but sometimes it’s the least terrible of several bad options.) Marriage is no longer one man marrying a dozen women. (Some of whom were gifts, or spoils of war, or so young that they could not possibly meaningfully consent to a marriage.) Marriage HAS changed, and in my opinion for the better. This is just one more step in a long line of changes that have made the institution fairer and more just.

        Lastly, on the topic of civil unions vs marriage, well, the US has a history of “separate but equal” legal schemes, and I’m pretty sure they aren’t exactly remembered fondly. You are of course right to say that this is more than an issue of semantics. It’s about equal dignity and equal respect. You don’t get down on one knee, offer up a ring to the person you love, and ask them to “civil union” you. You ask them for their hand in marriage. Asking gay couples to do things any differently isnt just insulting, it’s unjust.

  15. dhumme says:

    Dr. Chappell,
    Thank you for your blog. I agree with you.
    Douglas Humme

  16. Mike Matteson says:

    Chap,
    I’m almost unspeakably disappointed in you.

  17. Jack Adair says:

    Pastor Temple,

    I appreciate your willingness to speak up on this issue. I agree with your comments and consider the ruling of the Supreme Court on this issue to be an abomination against God. I fear that some terrible, terrible retribution is forthcoming for our country. The USA started forgetting about God back in 1964 when they took prayer out of our schools and this represents the latest outrage. Quite frankly, we are probably one more liberal Supreme Court justice away from a decision that would force the UMC to allow same-sex marriages in our churches and force our clergy to perform such, unless such action is taken first by a future General Conference, perhaps as soon as 2016. If there is an issue that will force a complete schism in the UMC, this is it.

    Thank you for your comments on this blog and your sermon yesterday.

  18. Becky Monto says:

    Thank you, Pastor Chap, for your views. I think we are on a very slippery slope. When just a few people can decide these kinds of things for an entire nation I wonder what comes next. Thank you for your honesty and steadfastness. May God continue to keep you strong. Blessings, Becky

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