Stunned... and encouraged
I didn't think the President would do it: over the past three years he has been more tactical than bold, but today his support for gay marriage leaves me stunned and encouraged. I have like Obama from the get go. He is clearly the brightest guy in almost any room and often the one with the deepest understanding of compassion and reality. Rarely does he pander to the lowest common denominator. As a student of Niebuhr he knows that there is a difference between personal and political ethics.
Nevertheless, for most of his time in office I have been saddened and disappointed. It began with his political decision to support a "surge" in Afghanistan. He could have explored more of a "three cups of tea" agenda alongside necessary military actions. I am not an ideological or theological pacifist. But he chose a traditional rather than creative solution and my worries deepened. Same was true for his exploration and implementation of health care reform and the economic stimulus. Both were necessary - they have made a difference in the lives of Americans - but both acts were too small and too timid. Where was the "change we could believe in?" How about some results from the campaign built on hope?
Don't get me wrong: I never questioned the President's integrity, I was just frustrated that more often than not he plays things too safely. And with so many lives at stake, being cautious didn't ring true to this moment in time.
Now it would seem that he is ready to live more profoundly into his deepest convictions. As he pursues a second term, I trust that he understands that his too little/too late approach won't cut it any more. (read the story and see a clip here @ http://www. huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/obama-gay-marriage_n_1503245.html)
As a Christian pastor I am grateful to God that President Obama has embraced the courage of his convictions, too. Not only does this act of compassion carry with it the promise of protection for millions of Americans as the dream is expanded, it also exposes what is at the heart of the new culture wars: a cynical attempt to regain political power by the Right.
Rachel Evans - a wise, young Evangelical blogger - puts it well when she writes about how the culture wars are forcing millions of young people out of their spiritual homes:
When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images? : “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”) In the book that documents these findings, titled unChristian, David Kinnaman writes: “The gay issue has become the ‘big one, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimensions that most clearly demonstrates the unchristian faith to young people today, surfacing in a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say [Christian] hostility toward gays...has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.”
Later research, documented in Kinnaman’s You Lost Me, reveals that one of the top reasons 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background have left the church is because they perceive the church to be too exclusive, particularly regarding their LGBT friends. Eight million twenty-somethings have left the church, and this is one reason why. In my experience, all the anecdotal evidence backs up the research.
“When evangelicals turn their anti-gay sentiments into a political campaign,” one college senior on her way to graduate school told me, “all it does is confirm to my gay friends that they will never be welcome in the church. It makes them bitter, and it makes me mad too. This is why I never refer to myself as an evangelical. Ugh. I’m embarrassed to be part of that group.”
I can relate. When Tennessee added an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage (even though it was already illegal in the state), members of my church at the time put signs in the yard declaring support for the initiative. From my perspective, the message this sent to the entire community was simple: EVERYONE BUT GAYS WELCOME. Dan and I left the church soon afterwards.
I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again...(though I’m starting to think that no one is listening): My generation is tired of the culture wars.
We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for. And when it comes to homosexuality, we no longer think in the black-at-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Amendment One hurts like hell.
So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it?
+ Is a political “victory” really worth losing millions more young people to cynicism regarding the Church?
+ Is a political “victory” worth further alienating people who identify as LGBT?
+ Is a political “victory” worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with gays and lesbians?
Too many Christian leaders seem to think the answer to that question is “yes,” and it's costing them. Because young Christians are ready for peace.
We are ready to lay down our arms.
We are ready to start washing feet instead of waging war.
And if we cannot find that sort of peace within the Church, I fear we will look for it elsewhere.
Thanks be to God for Rachel - and President Obama - grace abounds!