Love wins! I’ve seen that posted a dozen times on Facebook since the recent supreme court decision.
More than half a century ago an Iban man, a leader of one of Sarawak’s indigenous peoples, carried a box into the office of Archdeacon Howell, an Anglican missionary. It was full of the various ritual objects the Iban man used in leading people in their religious rituals. When the priest asked him why he was bringing these objects the Iban leader made it clear that he was, in a sense, converting. “Our gods are in the agricultural extension office now,” he said.
The Iban religion was a roadmap and guide through the Iban world. And that world, which encompassed the living and the dead, was one of seamless relationships to everything from the stars in the sky, to the birds flying overhead, to the animals and trees and earth itself. And those stars, and birds, were the signs of the gods, indeed they were the gods, telling the Iban how to live.
What the missionaries brought, with their capital “G” God and their schools, was the end of that world and the death of those gods. Today, almost without a doubt, it is an Iban who sits in the agricultural extension office and explains the times to plant, and weed, and harvest to diminishing number of Iban planting rice at all. Before going to church, or the nearest bar or shopping mall.
For many people in the United States there has been, over these centuries, a belief that the United States was a seamless part of God’s Reign, and Americans its most obedient servants to divine law. They were nurtured in this belief by countless hymns and songs and sermons and they attended to rituals, from rodeos to Fourth of July picnics, that reinforced this worldview. Their congress opened with prayer and their presidents preached. Their language, their religious language, was (as it remains) pervasive in popular culture; without its images Americans would scarcely know how to speak, particularly of their deepest fears and highest ideals.
It is easy to make fun of those who hold these naive beliefs. Or in a kinder mood to feel sorry for them when the impotence of their inadequate national god is revealed once again in death or disease, or defeat in war. It is easy to fear them when as an organized force they are capable of actually realizing their naive worldview in law. And all of these modes of disdain have been in full view across my Facebook pages this last week; the unhappy byproducts of celebrating the supreme court decision affirming same-sex marriage as a civil right under the constitution.
Equally in view are, of course, all the angry, ugly defensive reactions of those who discovered this week that they will need to change their religion. Because their god now resides in Washington D.C., or in a kinder mode, is diffuse across a few hundred million voters.
And that is why love hasn’t won.
As a nation, and as Christian churches, we have not yet discovered how to value and preserve the good that is woven into the vanishing worlds around us. When we are celebrating with joy our pilgrim steps toward God’s Reign we can see the mountaintop so clearly that we are often blind to the wreckage of cultures that we have left behind. We bulldoze our way to Zion leaving the detritus of tradition in a heap on the side of the Lord’s highway.
So loud are our celebrations that we cannot hear the ripping sound of worlds torn apart, and people left alienated from their own nation, clinging in desperation to their guns and their religion.
Yes, the supreme court decision was a victory for the priority of human rights in a constitutional democracy. And for the vision of the human person enshrined in the constitution (and indeed the Gospel). But not for love. Not yet.
That will only come as those newly released and newly empowered decide how they will engage those whose understanding of being human in the world no longer holds sway in US law. And visa versa. That could take some time.
And it will take the recognition that there was among the losers in the battle for same-sex marriage a vision of civil society imbued with a divine purpose, manifest in a seamless natural and human order, and revealed in scripture. And that vision was not a bad thing. There is something good in it for which the supreme court and a growing portion of American culture has no use, but which Christians, even progressive Christians, should value.
And when we manage that then and only then will there be a victory for love.