Last Tuesday I stood outside in the approaching winter weather, talking with Maryland voters about supporting marriage equality that Election Day. As one of four "Yes on 6" volunteers at my local polling station, I would often find myself near the "No on 6" team, who in some cases stood directly across the sidewalk or next to me. Perhaps I just look approachable, or perhaps it was because I wore an old church-camp T-shirt reading "Jesus Said" and affixed a "Vote Yes for 6" sticker beneath it, but I seemed to draw a lot of discussions from the opposing camp. By the end of my five hours speaking with voters, the leader of the "No on 6" group had come to me three times, assumedly to try and convince me why I was wrong. Each time, however, she left our conversation having said, "well, that's a really good point -- I've never thought of it that way" and me saying, "Don't argue theology with a pastor's son."
As I looked around at my other Yes on 6 volunteers (three gay men from a Lutheran church and one non-professing) and compared them to the No on 6 workers (one Catholic mother and her daughter, and one woman who only spoke English well enough to say "my friend ask me to come"), I realized one of the biggest issues the gay marriage movement faces: We have to convince straight people who think they understand the gay existence, that perhaps they don't so well.
This wasn't the first time I had to deal with this issue. Having lived in Memphis, Tenn., for much of my adult life, I've come across many straight peers who say, "I love the sinner, I just hate the sin." I believe deciding whether homosexuality is a sin or not is the biggest factor when it comes to swinging conservative Christians, those often most against gay marriage, to becoming supporters.
I say "conservative Christians" not to indicate political preference, but as an indicator of biblical understanding. As a self-professing "biblical non-literalist" (someone who believes the Word of God should be interpreted within context and historical practices when appropriate), I have found it impossible to have theological discussions with "biblical literalists" (those who believe the Bible is the direct, unchanged Word of God). I won't go deeper into this argument other than to say that I have a soft spot in my heart for biblical literalists because 1) if you're reading an English version of the Bible you're already reading a translation made by man, and 2) you are literally reading a language nuanced 2,000 years ago. If the game of baseball does not exist 1,000 years from now, all historical documents referencing "being out in left field" are going to mean something completely different.
The statement I tell my biblical literalist friends is, "We can't use Scripture to prove our points, because we are reading the same book through completely different lenses." That's the problem with non-gays laying judgment on homosexuality: they are viewing it through completely different lenses -- heterosexual ones.
It is so frustrating to hear any straight person purport that they understand what the Bible says about being gay better than any actual gay person -- especially gay Christians who have often spent large chunks of their lives praying for God to make them straight. That would be like a white person saying they understand what it's like being black better than an African-American. In discussions about homosexuality with many of my conservative Christian friends, they often tell me that I chose to be gay. Yep, no matter how many times or in what ways I describe to them that I did not choose to be gay in the same way they did not choose to be black, left-handed or ADHD, they still insist that I chose to be gay.
Assuming you know what is going on in my head, heart and gut is a huge slap in the face to someone who has spent 26 years -- my entire life -- reconciling my sexuality and my faith. As someone who has been influenced by a number of faith traditions (growing up the pastor's son at America's largest Lutheran campus ministry, living among Baptists for four years in Memphis, and having worked for two Methodist, two Presbyterian, two Episcopal and one Catholic church) I believe that a faith in Christ is one discovered through study of the Scriptures, along with a prayerful, "personal relationship with Christ" (the quoted section being learned largely from the Baptist/Evangelical tradition). I also believe that one's life experience is crucial. As someone who has first-hand experience with being gay, I can attest that I did not choose it, and from that background, along with a scriptural and prayerful relationship with Christ, I have come to the understanding that being gay is not a sin. It is not a sin to be black, or left-handed, or schizophrenic (traits you don't choose), and being gay (something you don't choose) is no different.
While many of my Christian peers disagree with me, I am OK with that, because I would never try to tell them that their own lives of studying Scripture and a prayerful relationship with Christ are wrong. When someone tells me that I don't recognize rightfully that being gay is a sin, what they are essentially saying to me (and others who believe the same) is, "Your scriptural study and prayerful relationship with Christ are not valid." It is a very hurtful and offensive thing to have your entire faith life attacked and called false.
I have a number of friends who are ordained clergy and also do not view being gay as a sin; I see it as an even bigger slap in the face to them. They are basically being told, "I know you've decided to dedicate your life to serving God as a pastor in the church, and that you've spent years in seminary, continuing education, and in direct ministry with people -- but all that experience has led you to the wrong understanding."
I'm often told that if I, and those who believe being gay is not a sin, "just prayed a little harder, or believed a little more, we'd see the truth." I wonder, however, if maybe the truth has already been revealed to us.
I think that God reaches people in many different ways, and that God's love is bigger than anyone can comprehend. At the end of the day, I would much rather have two people who believe in Christ -- even if one of them believes being gay is not a sin, and the other believes it is -- than one who believes in Christ and the other who doesn't because they have been told their understanding of God is wrong. I wonder if this is why God has allowed us to have so many denominations. Maybe it's because it is easier to reach people through different interpretations of Scripture. If only the Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Mormons, etc., had it right, it makes sense that God would allow that faith to thrive and not the others. But we have tons of Christian denominations and even more unaffiliated belief sets being forged every day. Maybe it's because God wants them all to be able to reach such a diverse humanity. Maybe it's because God's love is greater than any of us can understand.