By Alan Bean
We have a Supreme Court because every game needs a referee. Nonetheless, screaming at the ref is a long-honored tradition among us. When the Supreme Court justices fail to side with my convictions (as they frequently do) I am outraged, just as I was when a fool in pinstripes ruled that Dez Bryant didn’t make a catch in last years playoff game against the Packers. Everyone in the DFW region agreed with me, of course, but the game still went to the wrong team.
I haven’t taken a poll in Wisconsin, but I bet 98.9% of Packer fans thought the ref made the right call.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage has produced a flood-tide of emotionally-charged rhetoric on the right and wild jubilation on the left. Then the two sides began reacting to the reaction of the other side: liberals calling conservatives bigots and conservatives lamenting that American society has declared war on religious liberty.
As Amy Butler points out, there was a third response. Silence. Pastors of churches and denominations located in what I call “the messy middle” said nothing; or they appeared to be voicing opinions which, upon careful examination, said precisely nothing.
Butler argues that the silence of the messy middle is rooted in fear, and she is right. But fear drives the game on the right and left as well.
Not a single Republican candidate welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling; the growing crowd of candidates either wished the states had been left to decide the issue on their own or, as previously noted, they broke into rants about an assault on religious liberty.
A much smaller field of Democratic presidential aspirants sang the court’s praises in unison.
Given the culture-war divide in America, how likely is it that a leading Democrat would concerns about gay marriage or a dominant Republican praise the court’s decision. It could happen, just like the world could be eviscerated by a stray asteroid; but it won’t happen because partisan preachers and politicians are just as fear-ridden as the tremulous compromised souls in the messy middle.
I can announce without reservation that, for practical, emotional, moral and theological reasons, I am thrilled that gay marriage is now the law of the land. But I’m not a pastor, a politician, or a denominational official.
Were I a Southern Baptist pastor, supporting gay marriage would end of my career and most of my prized relationships. I might even be disowned by my children and going public with such a heterodox opinion might place my marriage in jeopardy. That’s how tribal the cultural cleavage has become.
We are so immersed in cultural context that the opposing viewpoint sounds like jiggery-pockery and applesauce (to borrow from the honorable Mr. Scalia). Our theological and political opinions are served to us in a silver slipper. We don’t even feel the fear because, from where we stand, the politically necessary perspective feels like common sense.
If I were a mainstream Episcopalian, Methodist or United Church of Christ pastor living in San Francisco, Boston or New York City, my outspoken opposition to the court’s decision might bring down cries of “bigot” or even “fundamentalist” from those whose support I value most. People would find my callous desecration of the principle of equality and my indifference to the connubial bliss of millions of gay men and women mean-spirited, heretical and disgusting.
Captivity to cultural context works in both directions.
Only when our social world can’t make up its mind do we feel the fear. If I know that half my congregation will be outraged no matter what I say; I will say nothing. Every time.
Even the shape of our moral arguments is determined by context.
If I reject same-sex marriage I begin with historical precedent (we’ve never defined marriage that way before) and flat-Bible hermeneutics (Romans and Leviticus reject same-sex attraction so it must be a sin). Viewed in this light, same sex marriage looks like a frontal assault on Christian civilization.
If I wish to support same sex marriage, my argument builds on the principles of equality and justice and I appeal to my same-sex couple in the real world who are passionately in love and are desperate to be married. Viewed in this light, opponents of gay marriage appear to be unspeakably cruel and, yes, bigoted. We find biblical support for our position in the biblical principles of equity, justice, grace and love.
Much depends, of course, on whether same sex attraction is chosen, innate or a complex mix of the two. But, like everything else, where we come down on this critical question is largely a function of social location. The same is true of the partisan predicates that predetermine our conclusions.
Social context can get awfully murky. Many people, perhaps most, find themselves limping between two opinions on gay marriage. We live with a foot in both culture war camps and are uncomfortable with the ideological options on offer. We feel the common sense appeal of “Adam-and-Steve” arguments but, golly, those chubby fifty-somethings celebrating their gay marriage on television sure look like nice people.
But “I have mixed feelings about gay marriage” makes for a really lame Facebook post, so folks in the conflicted category usually end up with the majority. In recent years this has produced a tidal shift toward to the left.
In theory, I could respect bold contrarians who take a stand on gay marriage that is unpopular in the tribe they inhabit; but thus far I haven’t seen anyone do it. Not one Cowboy fan thought Dez dropped the ball. Not one Republican politician celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision. Not one Democrat, in my experience, is bathed in sack cloth and ashes. We always end up cheering for the home team.
There are a few misguided fools who stand up to their own tribe. They’re called prophets and generally die young. Jesus is hard to follow with integrity because he took the ultimate prophet’s stand. We’re glad he took up his cross, but we won’t follow his example if it means saying no to our tribe. Jesus love us still . . . but he ain’t impressed.
Normally, we just cheer for the home team because it feels right somehow. And if we’re surrounded by a sea of Dallas blue and Green Bay green, we ignore Dez Bryant and remind everyone that football, after all, is only a game. We are either partisan or perplexed.
That’s who we are. That’s what we do. Almost every time.
So lets all lighten up a little. Stop trying to silence the opposition. Stop freaking out if the opposition tries to silence you (even if it means sacrificing 1,000 “likes” on Facebook). The call is made and the game is over. Dallas fans briefly considered mounting a throw-the-bums-out revolution right there in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas; but cooler heads prevailed. In football as in politics, if no one has the authority to make the final call, the game can’t be played. And we love the game.
Football might be dispensable; democracy isn’t.
People of good will and solid Christian conviction can be found on both sides of the gay rights issue, or on both sides at once. So let’s see if we can argue, celebrate and lament without demonizing folks who belong to a different tribe. Can we do that?
(BTW, Dez really did make that catch).)