I hated high school. Although I was blessed with a stellar education, I barely remember my time in the classroom. Instead, I remember the time in the cafeteria, the nexus of the school that housed the social food chain. I stood low on this chain because my looks weren’t considered beautiful, I didn’t put out or drink, and I didn’t come from money. The lines were so well drawn in my high school caste system, they were almost impossible to cross. This line defined people’s ability to ignore or besiege some, and to date or befriend others.
High school educated me on the fact that I’m a misfit. There’s no crowd that I belong to, no community that is wholly like me. I’ve learned to embrace this as an asset. After all, when I read Hebrews 12:1-3, I’m reminded that this life is not the finish line; it’s only the race. And I won’t run if I’m comfy.
And believe me, I am uncomfortable right now with the rhetoric in my community–the Evangelical community–regarding legalization of same-sex marriage.
Am I the only person who feels like a misfit?
A person who loves and admires and cares about people who are gay? Wondering what role, if any, I should have in a person’s right to marry another, and how and when and whether my vote should be an act of worship?
Feverishly desiring to know what Jesus would do (and knowing that while He was here, He drove people crazy by defying their expectations, interpreting Scripture in shocking ways, and constantly hanging out with sinners of all types)?
Remembering that God is holy. He is holy.
Knowing the verses that condemn the practice of homosexuality?
Scratching my head that our community roars in defense of marriage in the face of civil re-definition, but looks the other way, constantly, with every failed marriage (covenanted before a holy God) within our community?
Struggling to please God and not man? Failing?
I have questions about the peculiar privileges I have as a voting Christian living in a republic (a republic that was founded–in part–on Judaeo-Christian values), and the line between voting my values, or trying to bring about a theocracy. I worry because I believe that this line can be a border and a cage. A corral for like-minded Christians to socialize unmolested by compassion or the grey areas of grace. An electrified fence that keeps seekers of God from entering in. A border policy that implicitly states that one need not enter unless they are already clean.
I believe our rhetoric says less about same-sex marriage legalization and a lot more about how we define our salvation. The gospel is what’s at stake when we put ourselves on the side of holiness simply because we don’t have same-sex attraction, rather than because the blood of Jesus and the compassion of the Father and the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit had mercy on us sinners. Sinners, all.
Our rhetoric, while defending the Biblical definition of marriage, can, with posters on lawns and hate speech (no, not preaching the Word, but exhorting congregants to beat the gay out of their children), propagate a false gospel that repels some of the people whom Jesus came to save. This is the opposite of the Great Commission. Not to beat a dead horse of a cliche, but if we don’t want “sinners” in “our” church, then we’re running a country club. And we’re in deep, deep denial about who we are.
We have the right to vote our values in this country, same as anyone else. It’s so weird and good and solemn that we get to participate this way. We ought to vote our conscience. We should vote our values.
I’m still trying to figure out the line here, since:
- We won’t have a theocracy without the return of Christ, certainly not through anyone who’s running for president (now or ever).
- Until we see people as people instead a nameless, faceless “Gay Agenda,” we have not love and are but a clanging glass or tinkling cymbal (especially because there are–yes, there are–people with same-sex attraction in our churches whom we know and love who will feel safe enough to talk to us), and (I can’t believe I’m still scared to write this)…never
- One can still be a follower of Jesus and desire civil rights for all people.
I’m standing with my tray of questions, and I don’t know where to sit. And I’m asking…
Can we talk? Can we talk and presume that we both love the Lord and want to do His will, and still grapple over these issues?
Can we have an ongoing discussion about the institution of marriage as a whole? About what bearing, if any, the difference between a covenant made with God and a civil union has on legislation?
Can we talk about the sanctity or profanity of heterosexual marriages presided over by judges, or Elvis impersonators, and what that means for our nation? In that discussion, can we strategize about how to tackle our own community’s persistent failure to keep our own marriage covenants?
Can we avoid the temptation of idolizing marriage and family values above our (single, childless) Savior? How?
What standards do we as Christians expect/desire/demand/legislate non-Christians live by in a country that emphasizes the separation of church and state?
What does speaking the truth in love look like in this debate?
How do we advance the Gospel with our actions?
Can we talk? I don’t mean talking at me; I mean talking with me, because I am struggling with this, and I know I’m not alone. I struggle with whether I am a hypocrite for my spiritual-political dualism. I struggle with whether I should be cheering that North Carolina defined marriage the way Genesis 2 does. Because I love God and I believe the Bible.
But something just feels off.
Sharifa Stevens is a wife and mother, singer, and writer. She earned a B.A. from Columbia University and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She lives in Dallas.