Last Thursday morning, the bells of my Episcopal church pealed to celebrate the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act. In my house in the days since, we have been playing Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s song Same Love at top volume. The opening strains of the song, which indicts the notion that homosexuality is a choice and a sin, echo Curtis Mayfield’s gospel hit People Get Ready. That seems right in light of last week’s events, doesn’t it? People get ready, there’s a train coming. Or perhaps, the train got here long ago and was forced to sit idling in the station until finally, its arrival was announced and its doors flung wide. (Digression: I looked up the lyrics for “People Get Ready” before writing this post. It’s a lovely song….except for the part in verse 3 about there being no room on the train for “a hopeless sinner.” Really?? See Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32—For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.)
Anyway. The point being that music—joyful, beautiful, heart-busting music—seemed the best way to celebrate the Court’s historic decision to recognize access to same-sex marriage as a civil right. Music seems a far better response than more words. Of course, I can’t help but offer a few words too, though I’m going to keep this post uncharacteristically short.
I have long thought that marriage as a legal, civil institution should be entirely under the authority of government, not religious institutions. Or to put it another way, I think religious institutions should get out of the business of actually performing marriages (making them legal, signing marriage certificates, etc.), and stick to simply blessing marriages according to their theology and traditions. For the government to prevent same-sex couples the right to marriage and its many legal and less tangible benefits because of a theological notion of what God intends for marriage is an egregious assault on the separation of church and state. And religious institutions maintain their right to interpret their scriptures as they will when it comes to homosexuality and marriage. There will continue to be religious communities, including Christian communities, that condemn same-sex marriage on theological and scriptural grounds.
That fact doesn’t make me happy (and I don’t believe that Christian scriptures are at all clear about either homosexual relationships in general or one woman-one man as the sole legitimate model for marriage). But I accept that churches maintain a right to say which marriages they will or won’t bless within their sanctuary walls. And I choose to worship in a congregation where same-sex couples are embraced as a matter of course, because they are fellow Christians and human beings and because marriage is a hard and beautiful thing that can be nurtured within a faith community, not because we are called to “love the sinner, hate the sin” or because I know Jesus loves gay people too. If you have to single out a particular kind of person and declare piously that they, too, are loved by Jesus, I think you might be missing the point of a faith in which “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).
There’s a lot of work to do still, responding to centuries of misunderstanding and alienation and hatred and violence. The day’s news can frequently make me embarrassed to bear the label “Christian,” when I see it used as a manipulative tool for social and political agendas that bear little resemblance to the ministry of Jesus. But when my church bells rang out in celebration last Thursday, I was proud to be a Christian, one belonging to that bell-ringing church. I wanted to climb the tower and shout along with the bells, “People get ready!”
Change is coming. Change is here. And there are many, many of us who bear the name Christian who are celebrating that change. Let the music give expression to dreams realized, hopes met. Let the bells ring and the singers sing.