27
Jun
15

Marriage Equality and Sacred Covenant

Today – because of last Friday’s

The front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Completed in 1935, the US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, is the first to have been built specifically for the purpose, inspiring Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes to remark, “The Republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith.” The Court was established in 1789 and initially met in New York City. When the national capital moved to Philadelphia, the Court moved with it, before moving to the permanent capital of Washington, DC, in 1800. Congress lent the Court space in the new Capitol building, and it was to change its meeting place several more times over the next century, even convening for a short period in a private house after the British set fire to the Capitol during the War of 1812. The classical Corinthian architectural style was chosen to harmonize with nearby congressional buildings, and the scale of the massive marble building reflects the significance and dignity of the judiciary as a co-equal, independent branch of government. The main entrance is on the west side, facing the Capitol. On either side of the main steps are figures sculpted by James Earle Fraser. On the left is the female Contemplation of Justice. On the right is the male Guardian or Authority of Law. On the architrave above the pediment is the motto “Equal Justice under Law.” Capping the entrance is a group representing Liberty Enthroned, guarded by Order and Authority, sculpted by Robert Aitken. At the east entrance are marble figures sculpted by Hermon A. MacNeil. They represent great law givers Moses, Confucius, and Solon, flanked by Means of Enforcing the Law, Tempering Justice with Mercy, Settlement of Disputes between States, and Maritime and other functions of the Supreme Court. The architrave carries the motto “Justice the Guardian of Liberty.” The interior of the building is equally filled with symbolic ornamentation. The main corridor is known as the Great Hall and contains double rows of marble columns and busts of all former chief justices. At its east end, oak doors open into the Court Chamber, where the justices preside. Most of the second floor is devoted to office space. The library occupies the third floor and has a collection of more than 450,000 volumes.  The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. The term of the Court begins on the first Monday in October and lasts for the full year. Approximately 8,000 petitions are filed with the Court each term. A further 1,200 applications of various kinds are filed that can be acted upon by a single justice.  The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction except “in all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party” (Constitution, art. III, §2), for which it has original jurisdiction. Congress has also from time to time conferred on the Supreme Court the power to prescribe rules of procedure to be followed by the lower courts.

The front of the US Supreme Court in Washington,

Supreme Court decision – marriage equality is the law of the land in the U.S. From sea to sea. From north to south. In every corner of every state.

And although the church and its commandments are necessarily not identical to the commandments that legally bind our country, it is my firm conviction that this ruling deserves to be celebrated by people of faith everywhere.

I also know that there are many faithfully believing people who disagree with this ruling. In support of their disagreement they point to Bible passages such as Genesis 1:28, 2:18, 2:24, 9:1, Deuteronomy 7:3, Matthew 19:4-6, and many others as validation of God’s explicit direction that marriage is meant ONLY to sanctify the relationship of one man and one woman. They will zero in particularly on Genesis 1:28 with its injunction to “… be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” and – quite rightly – point out that couples of the same gender cannot possibly fulfill this requirement.

They also point to several other passages of scripture that condemn the practice of homosexuality in general.

I take the Bible seriously and submit to it as ultimately authoritative in my life. But I also believe that the content of these arguments misses a larger, more basic, and ultimately more important point, which is: access to the power of sacred covenant.

Here is what I mean: Love between members of the same gender (filios, eros, and agape love) has existed since people have existed. It will exist forever. I am persuaded in this direction both by the science that posits a hard-wired, genetic source for this love and also by virtue of having come to know many LGBT people on a personal basis.

Legal and clerical opposition to same sex relationships will not make those relationships go away. It will only succeed in demonizing those persons, painting targets of hatred on their backs, and galvanizing their resolve to find acceptance.

I believe that what we are really saying when we tell a gay couple that they may not marry is, “We don’t like the way you define love, and so the way we are going to respond to your definition is by denying you access to the ability to institute a sacred covenant with the person you say you love.”

We are – in essence – saying, “Go ahead and love each other if you must. Share a house or an apartment if that’s what you choose. Open a joint checking account and share every part of your lives you wish to, but don’t you DARE expect to cement that relationship by means of a sacred covenant! We don’t like it and we won’t allow it!”

So yes… when the church speaks out in opposition to same sex marriage, it is really speaking out in opposition to allowing access to the power of sacred covenant for a particular class of people.

When I officiate at the wedding of a man and woman – and because I am a United Methodist pastor, those are the ONLY weddings at which I am permitted to officiate – I make a big deal of the power of sacred covenant. I commend the couple – many of whom have already been living together for a time – for recognizing the importance of exchanging timeless vows in the presence of God as a way of deepening and strengthening their commitment… to one another AND to God. And I mean every word of what I say.

The story of God throughout scripture is the story of covenant-making. God made a covenant with Abraham and his ancestors. God’s covenant with Moses and the children of Israel went before them through 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus, on the last night of his earthly life, extended and widened access to the binding power of covenant between God and humanity… regardless of who they are.

In the Old Testament section of the Bible, the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy make very clear statements condemning the practice of homosexuality. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul is equally clear and unequivocal on the subject. But as I look to the words of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for insight and a way forward, I find only this: his statement summarizing the essence of ALL of the laws and the prophets found in Mark 12:31 which says, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And so yes, I celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision. I celebrate it as an affirmation of love, equality, and of the enduring value of sacred covenant. But as I celebrate I also pray for the denomination I love and its ability to resolve our historic impasse on this issue.

AMEN.


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