Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Same-Sex Marriage and Evangelical Fear

photo: nathanmac87, CC via Flickr

One thing we've all learned in the wake of the #SCOTUSmarriage decision last week is that many prominent evangelical voices trade in the currency of fear.

Of course, that's not what these voices would call it. They call it lamenting the "redefinition of marriage" and grieving over "institutionalizing suicidal commitments" (what).

But regardless, the method is fear-mongering: leaping from the reality (that same-sex couples can now legally marry in every state) to an apocalyptic fantasy. That fantasy plays out in a variety of ways, from the classic "slippery slope" argument that we are now a Supreme Court case away from marriage licenses for polyamory and bestiality, to the "religious freedom" argument that we will not be able to practice and preach the sexual codes of our faith, to the "moral decay" argument that this will result in the moral contamination of our children, to the "judgment of God" argument that our nation has surely crossed the line into damnable and destructible (Native American genocide and African-American slavery and oppression notwithstanding).

One could take these on point-by-point, but let me first simply say that this kind of fear, which is now at a fever pitch especially among the new religious right, is so tragic because it is so blinding. By accepting this alternate reality in which there is a Big Bad Wolf, a Voldemort on the loose, my own tribe is failing miserably at seeing the very real opportunities that a legal decision like this presents. And I'm not talking about the opportunity to hunker down and pretend to be persecuted, or the opportunity to lobby and legislate "moral values" back into power.

I'm talking about the opportunity to recenter the focus on Jesus, on gospel, on real spiritual transformation, on loving and serving our neighborhood and the world.

Specifically, I'm talking about the opportunity for more conservative evangelicals AND more progressive ones to acknowledge that regardless of your position on sexual ethics, the real mission of the church can only be helped by an environment in which the equal rights of all people are protected -- including the rights of monogamous, committed same-sex couples in our pluralistic society.

This has been my firsthand experience. I live in a region of the country where same-sex unions have been legal for more than a decade. Far from any negative impact, it has only created a more civil and safe community where people can have differences and still be protected legally and fairly. It has also opened up the possibility for those who were formerly "far off" from LGBT people to draw nearer in relationship, listen, and learn. With the threat of legal opposition removed, an atmosphere of mutual hospitality can be created, even among differences.

In the same way that the neighborhood mosque must be legally protected even though there are strong theological and cultural differences with the traditional church down the street, and stigmas and misconceptions that abound, so the protection of committed, monogamous gay couples to the same legal extent as anyone else is unequivocally the best option for a safe and civil society. And here in New England, the sky has not fallen. The hordes of hell are not marching. Far from it -- the apocalyptic tensions have been greatly alleviated.

But one reality is clear: in our society's increasing pluralism, a post-Christian era has begun. That is an apocalypse the church must lean into, and see not only as an end but a new beginning. In fact, this kind of end (the end of always being at the center of American power) is rightly seen as a good thing -- a win and not a loss.

So, legal same-sex marriage is a win. Period. It is a win because now more conservative evangelicals can make it clear that their sexual ethic is about a belief in a life of transformation in submission to Jesus, not a legal fight to preserve a hypocritical, unhistorical political vision. And it is a win because more progressive evangelicals can focus less on a legal cause and more on upholding and celebrating the central mission of the church, which is all about Jesus, all about gospel, all about the Holy Spirit changing everything and helping us to change the world.

You know, I was thinking about those first two fantasies I mentioned - the slippery slope and the religious freedom "threat." Isn't it interesting that the most traditional, historical institution of marriage is resoundingly different-sex -- and alarmingly polygamous? It's the principle of committed monogamy that has truly redefined marriage, historically speaking -- and it's that principle that so many same-sex couples, along with most couples in our society, have aspired to. And, isn't it interesting that religious freedom fights have revolved around for-profit wedding cake businesses and the like? Religious freedom is about the church -- and if there is going to be any fight, it should be to preserve the rights of churches, synagogues, mosques, faith-based colleges, and other faith-based nonprofits to keep on practicing their sexual codes with complete freedom.

All while being required to stop fighting their LGBT neighbors on matters of legal rights.

It's also interesting that during a week when so many evangelicals were busy opposing the rainbow flag, a Black Christian woman named Bree was opposing this one: