Evangelicals becoming better neighbors (ratchet, ratchet …)

Evangelicals becoming better neighbors (ratchet, ratchet …) September 4, 2014

Gay Married Californian shares an apology from Randy Thomas, a conservative white evangelical who was an outspoken advocate of California’s Proposition 8 and other efforts to ban same-sex marriage around the country.

“To be clear,” Thomas writes, “my view of marriage in a spiritual context has not changed”:

I believe the wedding union of husband and wife bears the image of God uniquely. Individually they bear His image equally and beautifully. Together they bear His image in a way that neither can do alone. I believe marriage between a husband and wife is transcendent; that Christ refers to the church as His Bride is stunning. One of my favorite meditations is to consider Christ and His Church in the symbolism of marriage.

That’s what Thomas believes. Like N.T. Wright, he regards marriage as a sacramental sign that carries theological meaning. But, unlike N.T. Wright at this point, Thomas has also learned two other things: 1) This sacramental understanding of male-female marriage does not compel him to belittle others and their relationships; and 2) Sacraments really shouldn’t be imposed on the entire population through civil law.

What I am also trying to learn is how I can state my beliefs without being a jerk about it. I don’t have to contextualize my personal belief by insulting gay couples who have married or gay people wanting to get married. The beliefs that guide and direct my life also compel me to seek to be a blessing and friend to gay couples; to see God’s presence in their lives as individuals and as a couple.

I have also come to believe that trying to make our secular government impose my spiritual beliefs in this matter is not helpful or appropriate. …

This is what Brian McLaren described as the shift from Step 2 to Step 3. Incremental, yes, but also kind of a big deal. That ratcheting closer to justice makes Randy Thomas a better neighbor.

JiminyThose two lessons Thomas describes are the two reasons that the culture warriors of the religious right cannot be good neighbors. (I’m speaking here about the true believers — not just the transparent grifters and money-chasers.)

Culture-war Christians are convinced that staying true to their beliefs requires them to “be a jerk about it,” lest they begin to waver in their commitment. And they are convinced that staying true to their beliefs requires them “to make our secular government impose” those beliefs on everyone else.

As long as they are convinced of those two things, they can never be good neighbors. As long as they are convinced of those two things, they will always end up standing in the way of love and justice. That’s a bad place to be standing if you’re trying to follow Jesus.

I think a lot of white evangelicals are starting to realize this, or to partly realize this. They’re uneasy, unsettled. Thomas describes this well:

The night that Prop 8 in California and Amendment 2 in Florida (both banning gay marriage) passed I was jubilant. I truly believed what we had done was right and good. In the following days, and for a while afterwards, I repeated the talking points I had willingly adopted. I truly believed what I was saying. What I didn’t make widely known was how heart-broken I was when I saw the gay community in California take to the streets. Their protests that night and in the days afterwards tugged at me. When I saw their grief-stricken faces my heart twisted in my chest. It was the first time in a long time I remember thinking, “did we do something wrong?” I quickly shoved that thought out of my mind as I joined my fellow religious activists celebrating the marriage “wins.”

Thomas couldn’t quite fully “shove that thought out of his mind.” It nagged at him, causing him to ask questions he hadn’t previously allowed himself to ask and to reach out to people he hadn’t previously allowed himself to encounter. And that changed him. It changed him into a better neighbor.

Incremental, but not insignificant.

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