Love Wins?

Love wins! I’ve seen that posted a dozen times on Facebook since the recent supreme court decision.

Not yet.

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.

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  • archaeologist

    “es, the supreme court decision was a victory for the priority of human rights in a constitutional democracy.”

    how is it a victory when the decision helped to erase the standards of good and evil, right and wrong, morality and immorality?

    • Robert Hunt

      The standards of good and evil, right and wrong, morality and immorality are made by humans, sometimes as they interpret revelation, sometimes without reference to revelation. But it is naive to believe that so called “Biblical morality” is anything other than a human decision about what the Bible means. In this case the decision made by humans informed by constitutional law happens to run against the decisions made by other human beings who claim to speak on God’s behalf. And thus we have a conflict and confrontation. Based on past experience the supreme court will win. My concern is that whatever good impulses there are beneath the biblicists are preserved even as their decisions are rendered moot except in the privacy of their churches and homes.

      • archaeologist

        constitutional law is human authored so how do those laws differ in authority to biblical standards?

        in other words, you will reject biblical standards because they tell you what to do and do not allow you to be king.

        • Robert Hunt

          There are no “biblical standards.” There are only human standards that claim that the Bible authorizes them. And of course there are very different human standards that make that same claim. Who is to judge? And how? The Talmud tells a story of how four rabbis disagreed strongly on a point of Mosaic law. In the end they appealed to God, who quoted scripture: “It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into
          heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”
          13Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”
          14No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” And then God went on to tell them to leave him out of their arguments. He clearly gave them the law and it was now their responsibility to interpret it. We could learn something from the Talmud. Our responsibility is here, among ourselves, as are our disagreements. God’s Word is now our word, so lets leave him out of our arguments about its meaning.

          • archaeologist

            “here are no “biblical standards.” There are only human standards that claim that the Bible authorizes them.”

            so then you cannot state that the cannibals of paupau new guinea are wrong in their practice of eating humans. or that hitler was wrong when he killed the jews.

            if there are no biblical standards, then nothing is wrong

          • Robert Hunt

            You make the mistake of thinking that morality must always be authorized by a divine source. Obviously the cannibals didn’t think they were wrong. Neither did Hitler. But humanity has outvoted both, and thus they are condemned. The fact is that rational reflection on what it means to be a human in society will yield an ethic as stringent, indeed more stringent, that one derived from interpreting a sacred text. Anyway, I ask again, who will judge between your interpretation of the Bible and mine? Will you call on God to speak from the heavens? Will you call on the spirits of the dead? Will you dance around the flame-less pyre and cut yourself with knives? Or will you work a miracle and burn the water-soaked wood for me to see? I’m waiting, prayerfully lest I offend God’s Spirit and miss his signs.

          • archaeologist

            morality can only come from a divine moral source..

            you have already offended God’s Spirit, I do not need to do anything.

          • Robert Hunt

            I didn’t realize that “archaeologist” was actually God’s Discus login. Or are you and God just such good friends that you can speak for God?

          • Giauz Ragnarock

            Exactly points I have made.

          • archaeologist

            God uses people to send his message to the rest of the population. why do you have such a problem with that method?

    • Jeff

      In the most basic sense, it’s a victory for *somebody* because *somebody won*.

      The rest of what you wrote seems like exaggeration and hyperbole, so I won’t bother.

      • archaeologist

        In other words you do not want to contemplate the ramifications of this decision.

        • Jeff

          I don’t think there are any good/evil ramifications to contemplate in the first place. You’re exaggerating. You may as well say that getting an apple fritter and a cup of coffee is a matter of national security.

          • archaeologist

            there are, I am not and what a bad comparison.

          • Jeff

            I think it’s a fine comparison. If you disagree, feel free to explain why.