By now you probably have heard that Obama has endorsed the idea of marriage for same-sex partners. And it will probably not surprise you that Franklin Graham did not like hearing this, given that he was one of the biggest proponents of North Carolina’s anti-gay marriage amendment that passed on Tuesday. Fine. He’s entitled to his opinion, one shared by many, many evangelicals. What bothers me is the way he expressed that view. In a written statement, Graham said,
In changing his position from that of Senator/candidate Obama, President Obama has, in my view, shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage. It grieves me that our president would now affirm same-sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more.
Really? The president is shaking his fist at God? That implies Obama a) knows what God thinks about the matter, and b) has chosen to arrogantly, rebelliously give God the middle finger and support gay marriage anyway. Is that what Obama did? Here’s what the president said on Wednesday:
I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married … I hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient … I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word “marriage” evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs … [but] when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.
That is shaking your fist at God? Quoting Christ’s Golden Rule as your reason for endorsing gay marriage? Really? Does Mr. Graham really believe that the president is, not just misguided or deceived, but actually standng in the face of God, flying him the bird?
When I think of stiff-necked, willful rebellion against God, I think of Pharaoh refusing to let God’s people go in the book of Exodus. Pharaoh time and again resisted the clear will of God, and he did so angrily and full of spite for God and his people. Finally, Pharaoh said in Exodus, chapter 10,
Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.
Folks, THAT is shaking your fist at God, and it’s nowhere near what President Obama did on Wednesday. In fact, I found Obama’s statement rather tepid, almost anemic. He “um”ed and “uh”ed his way through it, looking at the floor half the time. It was certainly not an enthusiatic final step in his evolution on the subject. I saw no fists or fingers flying.
Franklin Graham owes the president an apology, and he owes the church an apology too, for it is rhetoric like Mr. Graham’s that soils the reputation and witness of Jesus in our culture today. It wasn’t enough for Franklin Graham to have his marriage amendment, reinforcing what was already law in the state of North Carolina and further fueling the animosity between fundamentalist Christians and members of the gay community. He had to go a step further and impugn the motives of anyone who sees the issue differently, for one assumes he sees all of us in support of gay marriage rights as shaking our collective fist at God.
I know very conservative Christians who voted AGAINST Tuesday’s amendment because they don’t think it’s a matter for the state, but rather for the church, to decide. They feel that, whether they like it or not, the US Constitution guarantees gays and lesbians the freedom to marry. Are they shaking a fist too? What about people like Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network, who wrote a brilliant piece on Wednesday arguing for calm, rational, Christ-like responses in the wake of North Carolina’s vote, even though he favors gay marriage? Is he shaking a fist at God? Am I? I spent two years reading thousands of pages of history and exegesis on the relevant passages of the Bible concerning homosexuality, and I came to a good-faith decision that homosexuality was not intrinsically disordered or evil. But even before that decision, I was on the side of same-sex marriages being legal because I simply believe that in America, unless I can demonstrate that you are hurting someone–and vague, fearful accusations about harming the institution of marriage are not a demonstration–then I don’t have the right to interfere with your pursuit of happiness. Does that mean I too am shaking a fist at the Creator?
Christians really do need to speak out against this kind of crazy talk. Sure, go about it in a healthy, Jesus-like manner, but say this is wrong! Say that Franklin Graham was out of line. We have to hold our own in the church accountable. How else will people know that this man speaks for himself alone, not for the church as a whole, unless we tell them? How else will we avoid complicity in this man’s behavior except to disavow it?
Franklin Graham ended his written statement this way: “This is a sad day for America. May God help us.”
With that, I totally agree.
So here we go. Tomorrow is finally the vote on North Carolina’s marriage amendment to the state constitution. What do I think will happen? My guess–and I hope I’m wrong–is that the amendment will pass, and probably by a comfortable margin. I’d like to think otherwise, but every single poll I’ve seen would have to be way off. Consistently, the polls have shown the same things: 1) roughly 55% favor the amendment, 2) a majority of people don’t know what the amendment says, and 3) once they know, about 60% oppose it. Problem is, there simply isn’t enough time before tomorrow’s vote to educate people. I saw one poll that said close to 10% of people thought the bill legalized gay marriage. And most don’t realize it prohibits even civil unions, meaning gay couples would not even have say in health decisions affecting their partners. It’s just wrong. It’s awful. But it’s probably going to happen.
Another reason I suspect the amendment will pass is that there are an awful lot of churches in North Carolina like Berean Baptist of Fayetteville that wield a strong influence over much of the state, particularly the eastern half. You might have seen Berean’s pastor, Sean Harris, on TV recently after his rant on homosexuality went viral. I’m going to quote him, but it’s much more powerful to watch him say the words, so take a moment to watch the video.
Pastor Harris says,
“So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, ‘Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,’ you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed.
“Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male. And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you reign [sic] her in. And you say, ‘Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.’”
I checked out Berean’s website. They are not, as you might expect, some rural, backwoods, backward church. They are a rather large church in the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina. A lot of people sit under that pastor’s teaching every Sunday. Just imagine yourself as a gay kid, maybe 12 or 13, hearing a sermon like that. And part of their mission statement, posted online, reads, “Create a Community of Believers Profoundly Impacted by God’s Love.” Not sure what all the capital letters are about, but whatever. What is a gay kid supposed to make of God’s love that involves punching kids and cracking wrists and applying unwanted makeup in an effort to cover up “butch” tendencies? (NOTE: The Bible that Harris is supposedly teaching expressly tells women NOT to do this. 1 Peter 3 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self …”)
If I’m not mistaken, Pastor Harris’ church strongly supports Amendment One, even though their website reads,
“From the beginning, Baptists have insisted upon the separation of the church and state. Baptists believe the authority of the State should never be used to force conversion, baptism, attendance, or compliance with church ordinances …”
So why the amendment to force compliance with a church’s particular view of marriage?
And so, I suspect the amendment will pass, due in no small part to the influence of leaders like Mr. Harris, and the result will be the further retreat of LGBT people from anything that smacks of Christianity. How sad. Yes, it’s unfair to lump all churches into the mold of Berean Baptist. Even in North Carolina, most churches are nothing like that. Nothing at all. Certainly the one I attend isn’t. But there are a signficant number of churches here that are, and after years of hearing such rants, many in the LGBT community have come to view all Christians as a collective “Church.” To many, the Church is a force, an entity, an agent of discrimination standing in the way of reason and liberty. No, this is not reality, and it isn’t fair, but it is perception, and a powerful one at that. And this is the perception many of us who follow Jesus will be contending with for generations as we try to persuade people that Jesus is better than what they may have heard. Amendment One will simply tack on an extra generation or two of work for us.
And for what? No one believes the amendment will survive the next 20 years, not even the Republican leaders who put forth the measure. Either the next generation will nullify it when they come of voting age, or the United States Supreme Court will decide all such amendments are unconstitutional. So this too shall pass, and probably fairly soon. And all that will remain is the animosity such measures breed.