To some, yesterday might have just seemed like a normal Sunday afternoon. I was in Indianapolis visiting my fiancé, Anna, and we had just spent the weekend exploring the city. It was incredibly hot, and even more humid, which I tend to expect in the Midwest in the month of June. But yesterday was anything but normal. The exact date of yesterday was June 26, 2016: one year to the day of the Supreme Court’s decision ruling that gay marriage was legal in ALL 50 states.
Yesterday was a day for celebration! A celebration of the basic human right to get married to the person that you love. The LGBT Pride Parades in Chicago and New York City both took place on this one year anniversary of tremendous progress for our nation. Today, as I sit and reflect on the fact that only one year and two days ago, a mere 367 days, it was actually legal for a city or county clerk to deny the marriage license of two men or two women trying to get married is an incredibly sobering thought. It is even more sobering within the context of the massacre at the Orlando Pulse gay nightclub. To see a day that is supposed to be filled with so much joy and celebration have a dark cloud of fear and anger cast over it is truly tragic.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have witnessed a myriad of responses to the Orlando shooting, ranging from disgusting and hateful, to beautiful and unifying. And if these opposing words don’t do justice to just how polarized our nation is, then listening to the responses by politicians on the left and right certainly will. Most of the arguments have gone something like this:
“The reason for the Orlando massacre was all about radical Islamic terrorism.” –Basically any conservative pundit, politician, or talk-show host. ”
“The reason for the Orlando massacre was all about the lack of gun control in our nation.” –Basically any liberal pundit, politician, or talk-show host.”
Now before you undoubtedly make up your mind about which camp is “right” based on your strongly held political convictions, please take a moment and consider the fact that both of these arguments have completely skipped over the victims of this terrible, terrible tragedy. This wasn’t just any nightclub that was attacked by a maniac armed with an assault rifle and a handgun. Pulse nightclub is a gay nightclub. A safe-haven for so many members of the LGBT community, who often don’t have any other spaces to feel completely free to be exactly who they are. Pulse nightclub was supposed to be a refuge from the hateful rhetoric often faced at the hands of bigots, Churches, and a staggering amount of “everyday Americans.” The worst part of this tragedy is that it ripped that safety away.
As Anna and I were doing some devotions and reading the Bible together last night in her apartment, we started talking about Christianity and homosexuality. You know, one of those easy, cut and dry topics in the Bible. *See that my sarcasm flag is raised here just to clear up any potential confusion. As we talked about our experiences, thoughts, and beliefs, I thought back to a conversation I had with my parents about another controversial topic discussed thoroughly in the Church: women in leadership roles. I was asking them about how our church, Mars Hill, had addressed that issue when it arose so many years ago when I was too young to understand.
My parents told me that Rob Bell, our pastor at the time, did a series of sermons on this topic, and it was definitely controversial for plenty in our congregation. Apparently there were a substantial number of members who just couldn’t get down with his idea that women in the Church can have leadership roles. My parents explained to me that Rob Bell taught that the story of the Bible was a story about movement. That Jesus was someone who came to Earth to die for the sins of the world and start a movement. That’s why so many disciples took up the call and followed him. He was an extremely radical leader for that time period, and the pharisees took note of that, and hated him for what they perceived as “false teaching,” “too radical,” or even “un-lawful.”
The movement of Jesus was revolutionary. It was meant to be a movement, not an official religion. Jesus invited his followers to join him on his mission to heal the sick, comfort the downtrodden, provide justice for the marginalized, turn the other cheek when faced with violence, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus’ movement was subversive to the culture. It still is subversive.
Anna and I started talking about other movements throughout history. What about the movement to end slavery in America? That movement had many prominent members of the Church leading it, like Frederick Douglass, who was both abolitionist and preacher. Might we say that the movement of abolishing slavery was part of Jesus’ movement? The movement to end slavery brought freedom to slaves who were literally owned and treated horrendously at the hands of our White ancestors. I strongly believe that Jesus’ movement progressed forward as it should have in this moment. Another step forward in the grand story of God’s love setting people free from oppression.
How about the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s? Wasn’t one of the most famous leaders of that movement a pastor born in the state of Georgia whose name, Martin Luther King Jr., is now written in our nation’s history books forever? Martin Luther King Jr. fully understood that the fight for Civil Rights was a part of the movement of Jesus. Martin Luther King Jr.’s calling was to work on bringing further justice, human rights, civil rights, dignity, and freedom to the most historically marginalized group of people in our country’s existence. Again, I would argue that this was the progress of Jesus’ movement, continuing on the path to radically changing the world through the love and grace of God.
And here we are in 2016. One year removed from the ruling that allowed gay marriage equality in our nation. I believe as Christians, it is time to ask ourselves, Is this progress part of Jesus’ movement?
So many of the Evangelical leaders of the far Christian right have bemoaned this movement as the sinful, secular culture trying to take a hold of our Godly country. Pastors are preaching that Christians must not get sucked down with the evils of secular culture telling us that gay marriage is okay, when it is clearly a sin. Often these beliefs are thrown around while using the classic, In the world, but not of it phrase. It’s usually at times like these when I desperately want Merry from Lord of the Rings to pop up and ask, “But you’re part of this world, aren’t you??” like he so eloquently questions in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
We as Christians are a part of this world. We always have been. And part of Jesus’ movement was to encourage us to work every day to bring Heaven to Earth in any way we can. To take care of the marginalized, heal the sick, and bring justice to the oppressed, like he did over 2,000 years ago.
What if this secular movement of accepting and celebrating gay marriage and love isn’t as secular as we thought? What if it is precisely part of Jesus’ and God’s greater movement of progress that has been unfolding for centuries? What if we stopped worrying about being in this world, and not of it, but instead started listening to the movement of Jesus that very well could be whispering this is the next step to take?
Maybe we as Christians can step up alongside “secular culture” and help to bring grace, love, and peace to those who are constantly marginalized in the LGBT community. What kind of world would that be? I believe that would be a world where we advanced the very idea of reconciling all things that Jesus proclaimed his movement is about.