Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I was reminded of that passage from Matthew’s Gospel when watching the video below (via Joe Jervis). It’s part of an interview with David Blankenhorn, who founded the National Fatherhood Initiative back in the 1990s, but may be most famous for his role as an expert witness in support of California’s Proposition 8, the law banning same-sex marriage (John C. Reilly played Blankenhorn in the all-star staged reading of 8, Dustin Lance Black’s play based on the court transcripts.)
Blankenhorn has since changed his mind and he now supports marriage equality. In this video he responds to a question about the “spiritual or religious dimension” of that change:
Here’s my rough transcript of what Blankenhorn says there:
You ask if there was any spiritual or religious dimension. I’m a Christian and I grew up in the church and I think of myself as trying to live, you know, a Christian life. For me, I’m not saying this would happen to everybody, but for me, when I was able to change on this issue, it felt like a burden had been lifted. … It just felt like I had been carrying around a weight, and it felt like the weight was just not there, you know? And I think it was because I had, I felt that at some level, I was, you know, pointing the finger of condemnation at other people, and I was saying … “Bad!” … these people, “Bad!” … “Oh, sin! Wrong!” Based on, you know, who they are. And when, from a spiritual point of view, just my own spiritual life, when I felt that I was no longer doing that? I felt better.
This struck me as remarkably similar to what Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said about her own sense of relief when she allowed herself to stop opposing marriage equality:
[Gregoire] came into office a supporter of gay rights, but not marriage. “And it’s probably the biggest occasion in which my religion, something that I hold very dear, stood in the way of me doing what I thought was right,” she says.
Gregoire is Catholic. In 2011 she changed her position on marriage. As a lawyer she kept coming back to the concept of separate but equal. But it didn’t sit well with her. It was at Thanksgiving with her husband and daughters that she told her family she would not only come out in favor of allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed, but she would lead the effort to pass the legislation.
“It resulted in all of us hugging each other and crying,” she says. “I look back on it, it was an emotional moment for me.”
What Blankenhorn describes as a great weight or great burden, Gregoire identifies more precisely as the experience of allowing religion to stand in the way of doing what you believe is right.
That burden, that discomfiting sense that religion and goodness are at odds, is something I’ve seen dozens of Christians wrestling with when it comes to the simple justice of marriage equality. Their instinct, their conscience, their sense of fairness and rightness all compel them to support equality, but religion stands in the way. Religion says there’s a rule, a text, a verse, a passage, some words on a page somewhere — and that those words trump your conscience, your sense of fairness, your desire to be kind, and just, and loving to your neighbors.
If you let that happen, it won’t sit well with you. You will feel like you’re carrying around a weight.
And unlike Blankenhorn, I am saying that this will happen for everybody: If you let it go, set it down, and stop allowing religiosity or rules to overrule what you know is right, you will feel the burden lift. You will feel that immense relief when suddenly that weight is just not there.
In a recent post, Rachel Held Evans discussed “The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart,” asking:
What makes the church any different from a cult if it demands we sacrifice our conscience in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to authority? What sort of God would call himself love and then ask that I betray everything I know in my bones to be love in order to worship him? Did following Jesus mean becoming some shadow of myself, drained of empathy and compassion and revulsion to injustice?
A while back I wrote about similar questions in a post called “Maybe God is a better person than you think.” That post included my second-hand garbling of Pascal’s idea that “Christianity is bound to be despised unless it seems like something that a good person would wish to be true.”
Or, to put it more directly, if Christianity is something that a good person would not wish to be true, then Christianity seems despicable.
That, I think, is the burden that Blankenhorn describes. It’s the fear that his faith might be something despicable. That it might even be despicable to him — something that he, at his best, could not in good conscience wish to be true. That’s the same fear that Gov. Gregoire and Rachel describe.
Another way of describing it would be to say it’s the fear that God is a jerk.
So listen carefully: God is not a jerk. God does not want you to be a jerk. So if you ever feel like God’s will, or God’s commands, or God’s rules are compelling you to act like a jerk — to betray your conscience, to be unloving, unjust, unkind, unfair — then that’s not God.
Get out from under that weight.