American Slavery, Marriage Equality, and the Wrath of God

Reflecting back on the movies I saw in 2013, the most powerful movie was hands down 12 Years A Slave. If you haven’t seen this movie, I hope you will as soon as it is out on DVD– this is one of those movies that will seriously disturb you, but for all the right reasons. I’m a firm believer that those of us in the first world need to be disturbed periodically to shake us out of our self-centered Western worldview, even if the effects only last a short while. This is one of those movies that will do that, and will begin to lift the veil on the misconceptions we have about our country being somehow founded on “Christian” principles.

Clearly, it was not– and the movie 12 Years A Slave ought be all the proof you’ll need.

However, this movie brought up an issue for me that I didn’t expect it to bring up– marriage equality. Until a few years ago, my opinion sided with that of the old majority as being firmly against the secular government allowing marriage equality. My reasons against it were all of the go-to, pre-fabricated arguments that my tribe has planted into our collective minds, and I had no reason to question any of those opinions. Perhaps the most compelling reason I opposed the government allowing any degree of marriage equality was that I was afraid we’d invite the wrath of God to fall upon us.

When your brain still functions with fundamentalist programming, you’re always worried about God getting angry. Trust me– even after you begin rejecting fundamentalism, it can take years for us to de-program ourselves from living in constant fear of God (something I wrote about, here). It’s not a process that happens quickly or easily.

This message that certain behaviors, either individually or collectively will invite the wrath of God, is a message that is constantly conveyed to us by both fundamentalist and evangelical leaders. While I agree, that certainly there are things that make God angry, and the Bible clearly tells stories about “wrath” (such as when he destroyed Sodom for neglecting the poor), it seems that religious leaders have somehow singled out marriage equality as being God’s weak spot when it comes to wrath pouring.

Heavy hurricane season? Must be God’s wrath for all of those gay marriages.

Some gun nut shoots up a school? A gay person must have ordered a wedding cake in that town.

Economy slumping? Clearly, the only explanation is that it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, and God’s mad that there’s a gay wedding scheduled for 5:30.

Even in my small state of Maine, we were recently warned with this message. The American Family Association (a certified hate group with a deceptive name) said that the Pine Tree state was now experiencing “God’s judgement and destruction” because we have passed marriage equality. The AFA writes:

“…The Christian Civic League of Maine proved to be the only institution with the will to fight.  Overwhelmed, wearied and confused by years of  attacks of all kinds a slim majority of Mainers grudgingly handed the sodomy movement the keys to Maine’s home… Fourteen states have fallen to the radical homosexual agenda.  New Jersey is the latest state to pledge obeisance to this evil.  And make no mistake, a society’s decision to turn it’s back on God’s definition of marriage can end only one way.

Judgment and destruction.”

Silly when you get down to it, really. But, we believe it wholeheartedly because we are constantly being told that marriage equality is inviting the wrath of God, and being told this message enough times that eventually it seeps down deeper than we realize. The bizarre, over time, becomes what feels like common sense.

I’ve long argued that even for the Christian who believes this issue to be a sin issue, it is completely possible to support and vote for marriage equality. The secular government ought be able to make its citizens equal under the law, and individual religions ought have the freedom to maintain their own traditions. Since we don’t live in a theocracy, it is completely possible for you, even if you belong to a tradition that doesn’t support marriage equality, to support equality as a private citizen.

And, you should be able to do so without the fear that somehow supporting marriage equality will lead to our national judgement and destruction– because it clearly won’t.

Don’t believe me? Just go out and watch 12 Years A Slave. In this movie you’ll see the historic reality of the foundations of our country– not a Christian nation, but a nation founded upon the buying and selling of human beings. You’ll see a nation that had no problem separating children from families in the name of commerce. You’ll see a nation where Christians said “whipping them to death isn’t a sin, they are my property”. You’ll see a nation built upon the scarred backs of Africans who were stolen, raped, beaten, and murdered.

What you’ll see in this movie is beyond disturbing. It’s outright disgusting.

This, was the foundation of our country… and yet, for some strange reason, God didn’t destroy us. You might even argue, that historically speaking, our nation has been ridiculously blessed. Why he didn’t smite us off the face of the earth, I have no idea– because if anything was worthy of judgement and destruction, it was the sin of slavery.

So the question becomes: why on earth would we believe that God is going to judge and destroy us for allowing the secular government to pass laws making her citizens equal under the law?

Because if God didn’t destroy our country when we allowed this:

I can’t imagine that allowing this would push him over the edge:

If slavery didn’t earn us the wrath of God, the reality must be that God has a TON of patience and that he’s actually very gracious and tolerant. Certainly, not the type of God who’d send hurricanes and earthquakes because of equality laws.

If God tolerated slavery but blows a gasket over marriage equality, he’d certainly have some skewed judgement on when to pour out wrath on a nation.

And, I don’t believe he does.

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  • Jeffrey Taylor

    http://www.civilwarhome.com/casualties.htm -You think this might have been some judgement ?

  • Charles B. Jordan Jr.

    That was Thomas Jefferson’s opinion: “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.”

  • Jeffrey Taylor

    Do really think 620.00 dead sons,husbands,brothers and husbands wasn’t some horrendous kind of judgement??! Seriously,have you ever been through Gettysburg?

  • Michael Brian Woywood

    God didn’t do that. We did that.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    10 points to Michael for the correct response.

  • kimmcc

    Sure, “we did that” but you still reap what you sow. I think Jeffrey Taylor makes somewhat of a point. God’s wrath was absorbed by Christ’s blood, but there is still discipline and correction at work. God answered the desperate cries of the enslaved by allowing the country to turn on and nearly destroy itself. God still actively responds to the oppressed. So while “we did it,” and judgment has not yet come, God ultimately moved. And since 620,000 doesn’t skim the surface of the husbands, brothers, sons, mothers and daughters and infants who died on slave ships and in the Middle Passage en route to America nor untold murdered, lynched, maimed, tortured and otherwise brutalized I’d say God’s mercy was still at work in the opportunity to survive as a nation and repent of social injustice and racial hatred (and thank God for His ongoing patience in this).

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    I completely agree. One could argue we experienced God’s judgement in that he removed his hand of protection from us and allowed us to slaughter each other in the Civil War.

  • Michael Brian Woywood

    Ben, I appreciate the respect that you give to differing viewpoints on this page. I must respectfully disagree with any ideas about God “removing His hand of protection” from America during the period of 1860-1866. Or any other period. The biggest problem that I run into here is that, if God had to remove His hand to judge us through a war that we were all too ready to fight… then, does that mean that every war, everywhere is a result of God’s passive judgement? I know this is not what you’re saying, Ben, but I want to point out that this might be where that kind of theology leads.

    I’m not an expert on war, but I have participated a couple of times. And I’m utterly convinced that God has no place in starting wars. The only thing I ever felt of God in a war zone was His sorrow and compassion for the victims.

    Sorry for the tangent. I really like your article, and I absolutely agree with your point. I just can’t get on board with the direction the comments are taking.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    I don’t think I disagree with you. Like I said to the commenter below, I’m still sorting this stuff out myself. I have appreciated the teachings of Greg Boyd on the issue of judgement. He once described judgement (loose paraphrase) as God saying “fine, do it your way”. This understanding would make us responsible for war and violence, instead of him (including violence in the OT). Clearly, I don’t think God causes war and violence but that we do. The point I was trying to make, was that if this is a form of judgement, we only experience it because we voluntarily place ourselves in it by refusal to live by God’s call to nonviolence. Hope that makes a little more sense.

  • Heather McCuen Dearmon

    Hmmm. Could “he removed his hand of protection” be an old fundie teaching that needs purging? I know I’ve had to remove that belief.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    It could be– that’s a good point. Issues of war invite a lot of tension and I’m still trying to sort it all out. Clearly, I don’t think God has anything to do with war but for some reason allows us to do it.

  • Micky ScottBey Jones

    @benjaminlcorey:disqus – I thought you were saying “one could argue” not that it IS your argument. War may have been part of the consequences of a society that continued to enslave others at all costs – violence produces more violence but in my humble opinion, even the bloodiness of the Civil War didn’t/couldn’t pay for the damage/evil/sins of slavery, not to mention peonage, Jim Crow and continued discrimination, murder, and near-slavery in the decades following the Civil War. So, if it was a punishment God doesn’t know how to punish, especially if punishment is supposed to produce change (which it doesn’t).

    The point of your article is that the argument that God will punish America for “turning it’s back on God” doesn’t make any sense if you’ve done any inductive study of the Old Testament. Not to mention, it’s NEVER been a Christian country. If being a Christian country means systematic killing of Indigenous people, stealing land, slavery etc I guess it was a Christian country but America has always been a land of plurality and it always will be. The key is figuring out how to live together.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    Well looking at much of the Bible, one could argue very strongly that the United States was founded on Christian principles.

  • Sven2547

    Is there any place in the Bible that says people are capable of self-governance? Anywhere at all?

    I am the Lord Your God… Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.
    ~The 1st Commandment (reformed numbering)

    Congress shall pass no law respecting the respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
    ~The 1st Amendment to the US Constitution

    These two ideas are completely exclusive to each other. And then there was the unanimous Senate passage of this, in 1797:

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    I was pretty much being facetious. I am under no illusions that America was founded as a Christian nation or that Christian principles are established in the Constitution. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe that the Enlightenment ideals found in many American documents of law often keep the more violent tendencies of Christianity in check.

    However, the point was made that America was founded on the genocide of one race and the extermination of the other. Looking at the actions of the Christian deity throughout much of the Bible, one could (somewhat sarcastically) argue that these were the only Christian ideals that influenced the founding of America.

  • Sven2547

    Ah, I misunderstood. Sarcasm doesn’t work very well over the internet. It’s like flipping someone off over the phone; the medium is just not built for it.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    My sarcasm is so advanced that I come off as a complete arsehole in the real world as well.

  • kimmcc

    @ Mickey – I agree this was never a Christian country. I would also say that no country can be “a Christian country” because it is based on individual relationships with God Himself. Collectively we are the Body of Christ, a world-wide entity. The Bible does not recognize the collective organization of the Christian faith outside of the Body of Christ. Punishment and discipline are two different things, True, neither always produce change but there is grace in the opportunity to change (repent), Even when He knows change will not occur, that does not change who He is (gracious, kind, slow to anger) but at the same time He will not be mocked. Punishment has no regard for potential change it is restitution/vengeance/pride based and lacking grace. It could be argued that reaping what you have sown is neither punishment nor discipline but the order God set in place that man’s freewill initiates and absorbs,

  • gimpi1

    “Since we don’t live in a theocracy, it is completely possible for you, even if you belong to a tradition that doesn’t support marriage equality, to support equality as a private citizen.”

    This is very profound. It’s also why I get a bit confused by Christians who don’t grasp this simple idea. Many denominations regard drinking as a sin. Alcohol is legal. Many denominations regard gambling or card-playing as sin. Las Vegas and my mother-in-law’s bridge club are legal. Most denominations regard worshipping other gods as a sin. Hinduism, Buddhism and Paganism are legal. Some denominations regard dancing as a sin. Dancing with the Stars is legal. (OK, that last one may be a bad example.) The religious definition of sin and legality aren’t and shouldn’t be the same.

    Also, your point about the profound evil of race-based slavery in the States is well made. If we didn’t earn Divine Wrath for that mess, I don’t expect to see it any time soon because Adam and Steve got hitched.

  • Kay

    I used to think like conservatives but as a straight Christian mom of a non-hetero child I came to realize error in that line of thinking after real life & real people experience. And I used to read the Bible as plain literal text, but now I ‘ve learned there is historical, cultural & linguistic contexts on the term homosexual to be different from what exists as a sexual orientation. I read same gender marriages used to be performed in history & Jack Rogers’ book on the topic & Matthew Vines’ video were 2 of my considerations. And I became more concerned that 40% of homeless youth are disowned by religious parents & that the church has guilted many into suicide (Mary Wallner’s story on that at Teach-Ministries.org & Trevor Project) &maybe judgment is due for our part in that.
    But it is the biological aspects that I invite others to review in Dr Cynthia Chappell’s teaching on sexual orientation. I see it is like handedness & not a choice.
    http://houstonsvoice.com/video/thescienceofsexualorientationpartiii/

    Also here is her earlier 9-part series on the biological aspects. Dr Chappell has gone through over 200 studies & compiled it for lay people to understand.
    http://www.pflaghouston.org/vidindex.html
    Also I left church due to it sucking the life out of me with their anti-& unkind comments.

  • Queen Alice

    Kay, I too have a homosexual son and as a mom of 3 sons, only one of which is homosexual, I started asking a lot of questions and trying to understand more about it. What God reminds me of when I come to Him with these things is that He is the judge, we are to love one another as His children. ANYTHING we put ahead of our love of God becomes an idol and must be dealt with as such: sex, alcohol, drugs, money, possessions – you name it. I’ve struggled with more than one of these idols myself and am sure we all have and do. So we need, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to
    love and lift each other up, using SOUND theology as our law to get us to grace. Not our personal opinions and prejudices. God bless you and your son!

  • Heather McCuen Dearmon

    Love love love, and as usual, sharing on FB!

  • Queen Alice

    Jesus said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. So right on! If our country is making its citizens equal under the law, then more power to it. Heterosexual people (and here is where I have to stand up and be counted) have certainly not, in many instances followed God’s “one man, one woman” with our multiple marriages and divorces and sex outside of marriage. And the people who froth at the mouth over gay marriage are oddly silent on the issue of the above. As long as it’s a man and a woman it’s not a sin. LOL. Right. “All have sinned and come short of the glory”. We need to stop looking around for those who sins we can point at and somehow feel better about ourselves and realize that Jesus died for THE WORLD. He did not issue a disclaimer. When we fall on our faces before God and claim our salvation, our next job, IMO is to love as we are loved and give the reason for our hope. Not to start hating on God’s children. TY for this post! Sharing!

  • Jacqui Norman

    AMEN. We think the same thoughts.
    http://jacquinorman.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Marcabru

    Overall, I agree with this article, but I feel obliged to play Devil’s advocate.

    You imply that the United States got a free pass, even perhaps got blessed, by God despite its history of slavery and racism. And no, our country has not, so far, been wiped off the map. But please consider the possibility that you’re thinking of the ‘wrath of God’ in too Biblical terms. The wrath of God isn’t necessarily fire from heaven and catastrophic floods. Remember reading about the Civil War, the war that did, in fact, nearly destroy the U.S.? Sure, the war wasn’t all about slavery, but slavery and Southern slave economics were certainly huge factors. Consider the Reconstruction-era South; consider how, in some ways, the slaving states never did fully recover once the basis of their economy was destroyed. And consider U.S. race relations from the very beginning–too often dysfunctional and destructive. Consider the distrust and, sometimes, outright antipathy that Whites, Blacks, hispanics, Amerindians, etc., harbor toward each other even today. You know very well that there are neighborhoods neither pale skins nor dark skins can safely go. Is it possible that these unfortunate aspects of American life may be the workings of God’s justice? Sure, we may consider race dysfunction the natural consequences of our past–but is God not the God of nature and natural consequences?

    I do not write thus to imply that marriage equality might invite a different, more “natural” kind of wrath upon the U.S. I am merely asking that you reconsider your argument: “God blessed the U.S. despite slavery/racism, ergo, He probably won’t smite the U.S. for gay marriage either.” The U.S. clearly *was* struck almost to pieces by slavery and racism, and is still being struck. Your argument, therefore, doesn’t entirely inspire confidence.

  • Donalbain

    WHat puzzles me is why a universal god would care SO MUCH about one country letting gays get married, but not smite the other countries that have already done so..

  • Freedom

    Paul told us that we are not to judge outsiders meaning that God is interested in getting our churches right with him versus always trying to change the world around us. The reality is that both issues are important to God within the context of the church. A person radically in love with Christ will put others before themselves and also not live or condone desires that against the holiness of God.

    Concerning judgement. I find it interesting that Abe Lincoln believed as recorded in his speech that slavery led to the civil war as judgement from upon the USA and he was right about it. What about society today as we shift more towards to anti-God attitude? Is God judging us a nation? Have we forgotten what Paul told us about judgement which was a complete release of ourselves to our natural fallen state and its desires.

    The reality is that all of us including me live with bodies that have the natural inclinations of the sinful nature inherited from Adam and Eve. God’s love was demonstrated by giving his Son on a Cross and by his resurrection so we could be both forgiven and given a new life. This is message of the gospel which brings to hope to both individuals and a society.

  • Giauz Ragnarock

    “If God tolerated slavery but blows a gasket over marriage equality, he’d certainly have some skewed judgement on when to pour out wrath on a nation.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MFmC6BD1B4

  • Mandi

    First, you operate off of the faulty assumption that homosexuals are not being treated equally, because they don’t get to broaden a definition that is grounded in history, philosophy, and our American legal traditions. Any one person (of sound mind and legal age, and unwed) may marry any other person of the opposite sex. Ever heard of Josh Weed. Self-proclaimed homosexual weds a woman. Gasp! He’s a homosexual and he got married in a state where marriage is what it’s always been, the union of one man and one woman. For Utah to join the union, the state had to disavow polygamy. One man, one woman. That’s the standard.

    Next, are you really, really, really analogizing the plight of African Americans, who as you state were slaves, whom our government refused to recognize as persons (save the prolife implications here), who were undereducated and employed because of systematic discrimination to a group of largely (based on statistics) affluent persons with vast political connections? Are you really comparing persons with immutable, unchangeable characteristics, like race and ethnicity, to a group of people who want special rights based on their sexual preferences? You realize sexuality is fluid, right? Are you really comparing a morally-neutral, immutable characteristic, like race and ethnicity, to a morally heavy issue like sexuality?

    Should our laws recognize polygamy? Should people be able to marry animals and inanimate objects? Should we recognize the types of unions other countries recognize between adults and, for example, child brides? Where do you draw the line, sir? Do you have objective standards for that line? This is terribly irrational.