Memo To The Religious Right: When It Comes To Marriage, You Don’t Speak For All People Of Faith

Americans of all stripes and ideological perspectives are seeing that same-sex marriage should no longer be wielded as a battering ram to divide our local communities.

Nothing stokes the ire of my soul more than political blowhards and mouthpieces of the Religious Right who blatantly misrepresent millions of people of faith when they piously proclaim the evils of marriage equality in America.

Let me be perfectly clear: I am a Christian and have been since officially proclaiming so at age 10 in the oldest Baptist church in Charleston, S.C. Baptist DNA runs through my veins as the names of Roger Williams, John Leland and Walter Rauschenbusch are permanently etched into my personal and theological psyche.

Thus, it is disheartening to see the claims of many religious and political leaders portending America’s doom if the U.S. Supreme Court rules, as some have predicted, that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Clothed in their sanctimonious rhetoric of “Christian and moral values,” they erroneously claim to speak monolithically for all Christians, and further, all people of faith in proscribing the evils of such unions.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I know that there are ministers, rabbis, imams and other clerics who believe same-sex marriages are contrary to their religious tenets, and as we have repeatedly stated on this blog, they have a constitutional right to their religious expression in refusing to sanction these marriages. Nothing the Supreme Court decides will change that. Nothing. Even a leading Southern Baptist official, Albert Mohler, had to acknowledge this fact last week during the denomination’s annual meeting.

Painfully for me and thousands of other LGBT-affirming clergy, it is our religious freedom that has long been denied because we do value, cherish and solemnize these same-sex unions. The list of houses of worship now marrying same-sex couples is long; it includes mainline and conservative Christian, Jewish and non-creedal traditions.

In our sacred places of worship, these unions are celebrated with prayer, songs, thanksgiving, rituals and blessings from sacred texts. We do not see gloom and doom; rather we see the joy and celebration in two lives coming together to bear witness to God’s unconditional welcome. Yet states across this country have denied granting legal recognition to these marriages despite having the blessing of our religious congregations. (An argument could be made that when clergy act as agents of the state, they really do conflate church-state separation, but that is for another day.)

As more and more people in our pews, in our pulpits and in our families continue to come out and share their truths and lived realities with people near and dear to them, Americans of all stripes and ideological perspectives are seeing that same-sex marriage should no longer be wielded as a battering ram to divide our local communities; they realize that these unions represent honest lives and commitments deserving of our government’s legal recognition. That is the “gospel” truth we celebrate at National City Christian Church, where I serve as the congregation’s moderator. It is a truth that people of myriad faiths celebrate across the country, from serene, rural farmlands to bustling, coastal inner-cities.

On the Sunday night before oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, more than 400 people of faith held hands in solidarity inside National City Christian Church’s sanctuary hoping and praying that once and for all this discriminatory practice of withholding legal marriage to our LGBT sisters and brothers would come to its rightful end. Unlike the fear-mongering images of child molesters and hedonistic debauchery that Glenn Beck, Pat Robertson, Rick Scarborough and their ilk like to paint of the LGBT community, I saw a rich and colorful tapestry of our shared humanity – couples of all ages and orientations with families of all sizes and configurations loving one another and celebrating unity amidst our diversity.

And in that sacred moment, my Baptist DNA reminded me of Roger Williams fleeing to Rhode Island in hopes of a land where genuine religious freedom would flourish. As long as a distorted version of “religious freedom” continues to be used for political purposes and to cause harm to others, my colleagues at Americans United and I will continue to protect our communities and preserve the wall of separation between church and state.