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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Marriage Equality and Faith in the News

You may have heard the news last week that a federal judge declared Indiana's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. Eventually a higher court issues a stay on the ruling until the decision could be appealed. I noticed two responses from clergy or groups of clergy in the media.

In one response a conservative Protestant mourned the decision, suggesting the purpose of the United States Constitution, and the judicial system meant to uphold, existed to defend Christian values. Because newspaper quotes can be misleading or inaccurate at times, I will leave the name and church of the pastor out of this post. Growing up in a secular part of the country I always managed to be shocked by this brand of God-and-country-ism. Don't they teach high school civics in Indiana? Furthermore, as a Mennonite pastor, the idea that the state should serve the bidding of a particular religion, or worse, tell churches how to practice their faith.

Another response came from the Catholic Bishops of  Indiana. The bishops are aware of the establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution, and, rather than assume the federal government existed to do its bidding, they appealed to the common good, arguing that it is good for society as a whole for marriage to be limited to one man and one woman for life. This, of course, raises the bar for the bishops, requiring them to make a case for just how such a limitation actually benefits society as a whole. That's leads to a worthwhile conversation, and one in which a Mennonite pastor might actually want to participate.

The other contrast between the bishops statement and the kinds of assertions made by Protestants of all stripes is that they make no appeal to scripture. They appeal to law and nature, expanding the conversation beyond those of Christian faith. But they also appeal to the authority of the church and to church teaching through the ages. This is not to say they do not value scripture, but that interpretation of scripture happens in and through an historic community which is authorized to discern its meaning.

Oddly, this latter position makes change both harder and easier. It's harder in that change is up against tradition, easier in the sense that the church has authority to change, and is not bound to do things the ways things have always been done. This model has strengths and weaknesses, but I find it helpful as I reflect on how we deal with controversial issues and the possibility of change as Mennonites.


Anonymous said...

No community is given authority anywhere in scripture, by scripture, to change Biblical truth for their culture. That is the implication of your article, and it is false.

Anonymous said...

The concept that the earth is flat, the belief that Kings hold divine power, the subjugation of women, and slavery were all Biblical truth at one time. I'm thankful that Christian communities sought better interpretations of those "truths."