My Church Bells Rang in Celebration of DOMA’s Defeat

Photo courtesy of the Rev. Curtis Farr, St. James’s Episcopal Church, West Hartford, CT

Last Thursday morning, the bells of my Episcopal church pealed to celebrate the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act. In my house in the days since, we have been playing Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s song Same Love at top volume. The opening strains of the song, which indicts the notion that homosexuality is a choice and a sin, echo Curtis Mayfield’s gospel hit People Get Ready. That seems right in light of last week’s events, doesn’t it? People get ready, there’s a train coming. Or perhaps, the train got here long ago and was forced to sit idling in the station until finally, its arrival was announced and its doors flung wide. (Digression: I looked up the lyrics for “People Get Ready” before writing this post. It’s a lovely song….except for the part in verse 3 about there being no room on the train for “a hopeless sinner.” Really?? See Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32—For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.)

Anyway. The point being that music—joyful, beautiful, heart-busting music—seemed the best way to celebrate the Court’s historic decision to recognize access to same-sex marriage as a civil right. Music seems a far better response than more words. Of course, I can’t help but offer a few words too, though I’m going to keep this post uncharacteristically short.

I have long thought that marriage as a legal, civil institution should be entirely under the authority of government, not religious institutions. Or to put it another way, I think religious institutions should get out of the business of actually performing marriages (making them legal, signing marriage certificates, etc.), and stick to simply blessing marriages according to their theology and traditions. For the government to prevent same-sex couples the right to marriage and its many legal and less tangible benefits because of a theological notion of what God intends for marriage is an egregious assault on the separation of church and state. And religious institutions maintain their right to interpret their scriptures as they will when it comes to homosexuality and marriage. There will continue to be religious communities, including Christian communities, that condemn same-sex marriage on theological and scriptural grounds.

That fact doesn’t make me happy (and I don’t believe that Christian scriptures are at all clear about either homosexual relationships in general or one woman-one man as the sole legitimate model for marriage). But I accept that churches maintain a right to say which marriages they will or won’t bless within their sanctuary walls. And  I choose to worship in a congregation where same-sex couples are embraced as a matter of course, because they are fellow Christians and human beings and because marriage is a hard and beautiful thing that can be nurtured within a faith community, not because we are called to “love the sinner, hate the sin” or because I know Jesus loves gay people too. If you have to single out a particular kind of person and declare piously that they, too, are loved by Jesus, I think you might be missing the point of a faith in which “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

There’s a lot of work to do still, responding to centuries of misunderstanding and alienation and hatred and violence. The day’s news can frequently make me embarrassed to bear the label “Christian,” when I see it used as a manipulative tool for social and political agendas that bear little resemblance to the ministry of Jesus. But when my church bells rang out in celebration last Thursday, I was proud to be a Christian, one belonging to that bell-ringing church. I wanted to climb the tower and shout along with the bells, “People get ready!”

Change is coming. Change is here. And there are many, many of us who bear the name Christian who are celebrating that change. Let the music give expression to dreams realized, hopes met. Let the bells ring and the singers sing.

 

 

 

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Dave Parker

    > Last Thursday morning, the bells of my Episcopal church pealed to celebrate the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act.

    Remember Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: “Intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage.”

    Gays and the Episcopal Church (down 25% in membership in the past decade) are both at a reproductive disadvantage. Birds of a feather flock together.

    > …. celebrate the Court’s historic decision to recognize access to same-sex marriage as a civil right.

    Over 100 years ago, the Episcopal Church also supported the Court’s historic decision that owning slaves was a civil right. Episcopals finally apologized a few years ago.

    > For the government to prevent same-sex couples the right to marriage and its many legal and less tangible benefits because of a theological notion of what God intends for marriage is an egregious assault on the separation of church and state.

    The main reason that governments (including atheistic and non-Christian governments) provide government benefits to heterosexual couples is to encourage couples to do the hard work of raising children in order to provide future generations for that society. If a society doesn’t, it will die out to be replaced by one that does. For example, in Europe, Muslims (who execute gays) are replacing the current populations.

    > And I choose to worship in a congregation where same-sex couples are embraced as a matter of course …

    A church that embraces gay marriage, but that has failed to encourage heterosexual marriage and reproduction among its members, is on the same evolutionary path as the Shakers and the dodo bird.

    • Jeannie

      I’m not sure I understand all you’ve said here:
      - Do you mean that because the Episcopal church supported something 100+ years ago that we now consider wrong, anything it now supports must be assumed to be wrong as well? Why would that be so?
      - Could you provide some evidence (i.e. documentation) for the claim that governments’ MAIN reason for giving benefits to heterosexual couples is to encourage them to procreate and raise children?
      - When you say “If society doesn’t,” do you mean “If society doesn’t give
      benefits to heterosexual couples in order to encourage them to procreate”? If that’s what you mean, is there any sign that the American government is planning to stop granting heterosexual couples these benefits? Will extending these benefits to gay couples deprive heterosexual couples of THEIR benefits and rights?
      - Or, when you say “If society doesn’t,” do you mean “If society doesn’t replace itself”? If that’s what you mean, do you think the rejection of DOMA will be a significant factor in that potential non-replacement?
      - Are you saying the Episcopal church itself “has failed to encourage heterosexual marriage and reproduction among its members”?

      I’m not being rhetorical here: there’s a lot implied in your comment that I’d want clarified before accepting your conclusions.

      • http://ellenpainterdollar.com/ Ellen Painter Dollar

        I have all the same questions.

        I will also say that, while the head of the Episcopal church in the U.S. has made some statements about reproduction in the past that I find….odd and a little disturbing (if you’ve read my book you know what I’m talking about)….I don’t see any evidence that the Episcopal church as a whole is “failing to encourage heterosexual marriage and reproduction.” On an anecdotal note, my church is bursting at the seams with children. Four baptisms last week…and that’s not all that unusual.

        For a while, I’ve had this sense that the Episcopal church is poised to grow as more and more young evangelicals get fed up with their church’s conservative politics and obsession with sex and babies, but still want to be part of a community of vibrant faith rooted in traditional doctrine. I thought that was just a nutty idea of mine, but have had some blog commenters over the years suggest the same thing. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I think people are going to become fed up both with the somewhat empty “spiritual but not religious” fad and with the conservative nuttiness of so many highly vocal evangelical leaders, and look for something in the middle. Which is where we are.

        • Dave Parker

          Jeannie and Ellen, I’m not ignoring your questions, but work has piled up on me. I think I may have some time to reply this evening.

        • Dave Parker

          > I don’t see any evidence that the Episcopal church as a whole is “failing to encourage heterosexual marriage and reproduction.”

          The natural replacement birthrate is about 2.1 to 2.5 children per couple (depending on location, country, etc, etc.).

          Episcopalians are significantly below that at about 1.5 children per couple. http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/evangelism/diagnosing_mainline_decline.php

          > For a while, I’ve had this sense that the Episcopal church is poised to grow …

          Could be. For example, if the Episcopals became known as the “gay church” they might attract a lot of new members.

          But that’s like collecting a basket of chaff and calling it a good harvest. There are no seeds to replenish the crop.

          The Shakers tried that strategy and died out. Almost! I was surprised to read that there are still 3 Shakers left: June, Frances, and Arnold. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakers

          > … look for something in the middle. Which is where we are.

          Episcopalians can’t be in the middle. About 60% of US protestants are in conservative churches, and about 40% are in “mainline” churches. That puts the middle (50%) somewhere in the conservative spectrum. Maybe one of the Baptist denominations? http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/evangelism/be_fruitful_and_teach_your_chi.php

      • http://ellenpainterdollar.com/ Ellen Painter Dollar

        Jeannie – I deleted Dave’s response to your questions because it included bizarre and unsupported conclusions (e.g., “It’s safest to assume that the Episcopal church is wrong until proven otherwise, especially because of the links between Episcopal support for slavery and Episcopal support for gay marriage”) and ended with a statement implying that gay Episcopal clergy are likely to be pedophiles.

  • Kate

    All of this, so well said. Thanks, Ellen. Kate

    http://writingtheweirdwideworld.wordpress.com/

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    I completely agree about churches getting out of the business of being able to act as the government’s agent in performing weddings. When I perform a wedding and say that I am doing so by the power vested in me by the state, it makes sense because I’m a state official. But when a minister of the gospel does it (or any other clerical person), I wonder why they have aligned themselves to the power of the state.
    Cheers,
    Tim


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