Perfect love casts out all fear

So back on September 4th, during the whirlwind of stories coming out of the Conventions, I posted a brief rant decrying the platforming of people.  If  Y’all have heard me say it once you’ve heard me say it a gazillion times – I am not an issue.  Well from that little post came a few wonderful comments and one evolved into a fuller conversation that I would like to share with you here.

This comes from my new friend Hilary who, because of our blog here, I have the good fortune to be getting to know better.  Here’s what I know about her so far – she lives in Minnesota. She has a degree in biology and chemisty, two cats, and likes Harry  Potter, LOTR, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Beatles. Her hobbies include cooking, crocheting, reading, daydreaming, and lurking around theology websites. She has lived with her wife Penny for nine years. And she is a deeply thinking, compassionate person with a clear drive for justice

Please welcome Hilary to the blog and share your thoughts and questions regarding her reflection below.



What struck me most reading the different party platforms on marriage was not just the difference of opinion, but the stark contrast in the language used to describe their respective positions. The Republican position was from a place of fear, and the Democratic position was from a place of confidence. The Republican language was of being under terrible attack, describing a horrible threat to the very fabric of civilization. The fear that if the ‘Other’ becomes your equal, then you are somehow less equal. There was no room for a straight, married person to look at a gay person who wants to be legally married and say. “Your equality does not threaten mine – I don’t have to be afraid of you.”

The Democratic position was one that embraced equality between different types of families without fear. A straight married man could look a gay married man in the eye and say, “Before the law we can both protect our families, and your equality does not threaten mine. I am no less a man and husband for you being a man and husband.” There is even room to respect disagreement without fear, where the platform clearly states that no religious institution would be forced to officiate any type of marriage ceremony against their beliefs. This is the confidence and strength that does not need fear.

Sometimes I wish I could sit down with [the fearful kind of people] someplace safe for both of us and ask, “What are you so afraid of?” Do they really think that if our families are legally equal to theirs, it will somehow cause their spouses to leave, their kids to become meth heads, water to turn into blood? Are they afraid that they will be tied down to the chairs and be forced to participate in a same sex wedding? No rabbi has ever been forced to marry a mixed-faith couple, no catholic priest to remarry a person who’s been through a divorce, no baptist minister legally bound to marry an atheist couple. Do they think that there is a limited amount of marriage rights in the world, and if they have to share then there will be less for them?

I’ve read in some opinion pieces that conservative straight people are afraid that their marriage will be less valuable, somehow mean less to them if they have to ‘share’ marriage with gays. I’m sorry, but your feelings of being ‘less-then’ if you have to share legal marriage rights are not the moral equivalent to me not being able to legally protect my family when life gets hard. Don’t tell me that I can get the same legal protection through other means, unless you know how to put not-legally family onto social security, or convince your company to provide health insurance to ‘just a room mate.’ Besides, if I can maintain my marital relationship without legal help, what does that say about you being worried your marriage is threatened just by having to do share the legal rights, privileges and responsibilities?

I’ve wondered if what they are really afraid of is being proven wrong. With so much money, blood, sweat and tears invested in drawing a line in the sand around straight marriage, what will happen if/when gay marriage becomes the legal law of the land and the sky doesn’t fall, or straight families don’t fall apart any more then they do already? If they get proven wrong about this then what else could they be wrong about? This is already becoming evident in the general culture when people outside the Conservative Christian subculture* hear what that they have to say about gay people, then look at their gay friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family, scratch their heads and go ‘what are you talking about? I know people like that and they are nothing like what you describe, why are you maligning them?’ It makes it that much harder to believe or respect the rest of that subculture’s message.
*Please note I said people outside the American Conservative Evangelical Christian subculture. They =/= all of Christianity and I have a lot of respect for liberal/progressive side of the faith, UCC especially.

Are they afraid that if their children grow up next to a legally married gay couple who are just as loving and normal as their own family, then the message of “God hates it when people live together like that” will cause such cognitive dissonance that it will undermine their kids belief in Christianity all together?

I’m not sure where it is in the New Testament, but I have come across it on various Christian blogs and posts: “Perfect love casts out all fear.” I think that’s the best thing we got going for ourselves.


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185 responses to “Perfect love casts out all fear”

  1. “Fundamentalism in any religion exists to bolster extremely insecure and fearful people.” ~ The Reverend John Shelby Spong, Bishop Emeritus of the Episcopal Church of Newark NJ

    Bishop Spong goes on to explain that the need supplied by Fundamentalism is a desperate need for absolutes. In everything. Such people can only see things in black and white; shades of grey terrify them, so they label them as “evil” in order not to have to deal with them.

    If we accept the idea that “perfect love casts out all fear” (and I do), then the converse may well be equally true: fear makes perfect love impossible. This would go far in accounting for the appalling lack of anything remotely resembling love that often springs from religious Fundamentalists.

    At the end of the day, as with most things in life, it comes down to a choice: you can choose love, or you can choose fear. Those who choose love know a freedom that is nearly impossible to describe. Those who choose fear will sit in their churches with their “thou shalt nots” and spend the other six days of the week telling others they are going to hell. As infuriating as I find them, in the end I can only feel pity for them.

  2. This week I had an opportunity to speak to a man from my (conservative) church about homosexuality. He said that from his experience with a gay person in college, he knew that being gay wasn’t a choice. Then he said that his main concern was that studies he had seen indicated that children do better being raised by a mother and father. I wasn’t able to refute this concern since I am not familiar with studies about how best children are raised. I would be grateful if anyone could help me with these concerns.

    • Bill,
      There is only one study that gay marriage opponents rely on to make this argument, and it’s the study by Mark Regnerus. This video does a great job of explaining why the study didn’t actually measure what it claims to have measured (i.e., children raised by opposite-sex parents vs. children raised by same-sex parents). There have been many other studies that actually did look at children raised by two same-sex parents in a committed relationship and concluded that their children were no worse off than children raised by two opposite-sex parents. Here’s a book by the APA that provides an overview of the research. I hope this helps.

    • Bill,

      Thank you for your honest and open question. Here is what I can share from my experience and perspective.

      Children may often fare better in two parent households but not so much due to the gender of the parents but perhaps to the sharing of parental duties and the difference in parenting styles. What children need most are safe, loving homes with clear boundaries and expectations regarding how each family member contributes to the overall health of the family.

      In our home we each bring different gifts and challenges I the way our family fits together. Much like a mixed gender parent couple we parent in different styles. My partner is more firm and direct. She is the sports and martial arts leader while I am a tender and emotionally centered parent. The genders do not matter. What matters is a loving life and a puzzle like fit of our gifts and shortcomings.

    • Bill –
      The short of it is that the man from your church is wrong. The studies that have actually looked at parenting by same-sex couples have nearly universally suggested that kids do just as well as kids raised by heterosexual parents.

      Folks from groups like the National Organization for Marriage (which opposes extending marriage rights to same-sex couples) will hold up studies which say that kids do better with a mom and a dad (versus a single-parent) and extrapolate from there and say that therefore, kids must be raised by a heterosexual couple who are their biological mother and father. That’s actually a misreading of the data and making it say what it doesn’t actually say; instead, the benefit of being raised by a mom and a dad has more to do with the dual income and stability of home life that comes from having two parents in the house, rather than the fact that their parents are straight.

      Thus, it’s not whether it’s two women, two men, or a man and a woman who do the parenting that affects child outcome. When researchers control for variables such as income, family size, parental education, etc, kids turn out just as well in either family configuration.

      So, you could make a case that if you’re basing public policy on a comparison of childhood outcome in same-sex vs heterosexual families, kids might actually benefit from having same sex marriage recognized by the state – it would create more two-parent, double-earning, legally and socially recognized families where kids are more likely to thrive. (Of course, while this is a compelling piece of data in support of extending marriage rights, I don’t believe that such a cost-benefit way of thinking is necessarily the only, or even the most compelling reason for why to do so. As the very least, it’s an answer to the misplaced concern of the man from your church.)

      For more reading, this is a pretty good article that summarizes some of the recent-ish research on same-sex parenting (By William Meezan and Jonathan Rauch):

      They cover some of the difficulties of doing these sorts of studies, note some trends in findings, point out and summarize a handful of studies that have done an especially good job given the methodological challenges, and put it all in the context of the public policy of marriage.

      And, if you can get your hands on it and are game for wading through a more in-depth paper, I’d recommend reading the following article. The author does a similar thing to Meezan and Rauch, but with a much more in-depth summary and discussion of the literature.

      Tasker, F. (2005). Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children: A Review. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Vol. 26, Number 3. pp 224-240.

      The study by Mark Regnerus that Jessica referred to is interesting in all the attention its received across the spectrum. But it doesn’t say what a lot of folks on the right side of the social spectrum seem to want it to say/think it says. Misty Irons (a “Straight, married with three kids, homeschooling, evangelical Christian of the Reformed variety” who blogs about matters of “Christianity, Homosexuality, and the Bible”) has a good blog post discussing its shortcomings:

      Hope this helps!