Monday, September 19, 2011

On same sex marriage: my open letter as a Christian, to another Christian

While we distinguish between pious and godless, good and evil, noble and base, God loves real people without distinction.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

The following is an open letter that I write to a fellow Christian that identified himself/herself on my blog as "Common Sense". Common Sense (CS) made some comments that made me think, pray, meditate, and reflect with what I what was presented by CS. And now it is the time that I should respond and I shall try to do so in the spirit of productive dialogue, of compassion, and of love for another fellow human being:

Dear Common Sense,

As I promised to you, the following is my response in connection with the comments you made regarding my blog entry The pain of my divorce, and how it shapes my position on "same-sex" marriage, and love.  Before I say anything allow me to tell you that I address you as a brother/sister in Christ, as a human being, and as someone that took the step to present his/her views about an issue that continues to polarize our society and our country. For my part I address you as a brother in Christ who is also a father, a student of scripture, of theology, of philosophy, and of life itself in all of its wonderful areas of art, of music, of poetry; always in the spirit not just of love and reason, but of wisdom as much as I can.

You first told me: God's peace to you also sir. Allow me to say to that the peace of the Lord may be with you always.

You then said: Living in sin, no matter for how long, is still living in sin. Just because it's been for 40 years makes it OK? 
"Living in sin" refers to a theological and religious expression based on an interpretation of Holy Scripture in the context of a relationship that you do not approve. My interpretation of Holy Scripture, along with my study of tradition in the church (it has evolved) and my sense of reason makes me disagree with you; the kind of relationships I had in mind and that I thought I explained (perhaps I was not clear with my words) are not only "OK" but are to be celebrated when we "see" the love and the commitment that people have to each other. I celebrate it. However, I would hate that our conversation would end here just because we disagree on this point.

The word "couple" as you use it doesn't apply and I reject it. 
Again, maybe I did not explain myself well. If I see two people in a loving committed relationship (for example a man and a woman in their 20's or a man and man in their 40's) then I believe I am seeing a couple. I have not seen any arguments that convince me of the opposite. I still however, always remain open to different opinions on this issue not just from religion, but also from others outside of religion, like the field of psychology, of cultural anthropology, etc. Let us continue my friend.

Is it also a civil right if that "couple" is a brother and a sister, a Father and his daughter, a 50 year old and a 5 year old, a woman and her cat? Sin has, and will always be, sin. Here, I have a few thoughts to offer that hopefully may clarify some points:
First, we have to ask what is a civil right? A very basic definition offered by the "Legal Information Institute" out of Cornell University (of course there are other groups that may offer a different take on this) is that a civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. So far nothing here has to do with only with religion. Many churches do have their own systems and procedures to deal with the actions of their members, but then we are stepping out of the "civil" arena. Of course, I am happy to know that religious figures (like Martin Luther King in the U.S. and Desmond Tutu in South Africa) are driven by their faith to fight for civil rights. However, in the end, it is a court of law (not the Church) that cases are reviewed and decisions are made that affect every citizen, including both Christian and non-Christian citizens.

Second, I fail to see where I suggested or even hinted that when I was talking about couples in loving committed relationships, that I was talking about brothers and sisters or fathers and daughters. Perhaps your intention was to suggest that if we let people of the same sex be married, then we will have to do the same for "brothers and sisters". May I suggest that in the future, if you are going to use a "slippery slope" argument, it is always important to avoid misunderstandings and not fall into non sequitur; perhaps you have a reason for why legal recognition of "same sex marriage" could lead to legal recognition of "incest marriage", but none was provided. It is at best speculation (and theoretical scenarios) that so far I would need to see solid arguments to support it.

Third, when you added a 50 year old and a 5 year old, a woman and her cat?, again same issue. And here I will say: A) I was not talking about pedophilia (a mental disorder related to the intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors of an adult directed at a child) or sexual abuse of a child. B) I was not talking paraphilia, with its connection to a what the APA (American Psychiatry Association) calls to your context of, as in pedophilia, the sexual urges and behaviors from a person to a "non-human" subject like an animal.

In fact (and perhaps you already knew this) "homosexuality" is not a mental disorder according to both the American Psychology Association and the American Psychiatry Association since the 1970's, when they came to this conclusion – a position shared by all other major health and mental health organizations 
based on their own review of the science, when APA CEO and Medical Director James H. Scully Jr., M.D., wrote a letter on June 13, 2006 to the Department of Defense, addressed to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder Jr., M.D:

I am writing on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association’s more than 36,000 psychiatric physician members and as a veteran of the United States Navy. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is a national medical specialty society whose members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses including substance use disorders. In addition, the APA publishes the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the latest version of which is known as the DSM-IV-TR, which is the standard reference book on mental disorders and their diagnosis.

I write to respectfully request that you update Department of Defense Instruction Number 1332.38, which addresses “Physical Disability Evaluation,” is dated November 14, 1996, and to my knowledge is still in effect. Enclosure 5 of the instruction, in section E5.1.2.9, refers to “Certain Mental Disorders including: …Homosexuality.” DSM-IV-TR does not include homosexuality as a mental disorder. Based on scientific and medical evidence the APA declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973 – a position shared by
all other major health and mental health organizations based on their own review of the science. I urge you to remove homosexuality from the “Physical Disability Evaluation” instruction.

(the link to this document is here)

Allow me to continue with my letter to you.

Sin has, and will always be, sin. Today's so-called standards do not change the truth. You are taking God out of marriage. There can be no true, honest debate when Our Lord is removed from marriage.My dear Common Sense, I can see that you are very concerned with sin. I respect that. For my part I understand that sin can result in internal struggles and outside of ourselves; this last part is the ONLY aspect of sin that could, could be considered in the legal arena. I do not say that for example my heart does not break when I hear of the terrible sin of one person beating another person because he thought that "guy is gay and he was looking at me funny". Nobody deserves to experience that. What I ask is what does the law do and can do. Can the law look into the heart of the person that is going to beat somebody up out of hatred? In the person's heart, sin has already been committed by the thought of hatred. But the law cannot act on that.

We could have many conversations (and pray together) on the meaning of sin or what is truth (from how it was viewed in Ancient Judaism, to the way Jesus Christ understood it, to the way ancient Christian thinkers like St. Augustine talked about it) and we could have a discussion about other similar issues; it is part of the many reasons of why I am in college, why I study scripture, why I study philosophy, why I talk to people from all walks of life, why I am called to ministry, etc. But here is the problem: the nature of sin is something that in itself is a religious discussion. And is not that, "I am taking God out of marriage" or that my faith is not important to me when it comes to how I relate to others, including love. I think God smiles when we are in loving and committed relationships and I think he smiles at the one I have now, just like I think the woman that I love smiles when she thinks of me :)  I am simply acknowledging what government can and it cannot do and also, for example, what was decided back in 1963 where both the required use of the Lord's Prayer and Bible reading as devotional opening exercises in public schools is unconstitutional: In relationship between man and religion, the state is firmly committed to a position of neutrality. (Justice Tom C. Clark, delivering the court's opinion) So, you may disagree with how I am seeing marriage and treating it as this secularized thing that I keep referring to that you believe is NOT marriage. I respect that. But the state stays out of those opinions and it has done so many times. When you also add that I shouldn't mis-apply terms to make my point, I recommend one possible solution: perhaps religious people like you and me when talking about marriage (like I did once in front of God, family and friends, in the Church) should remember to call it matrimony. Then, when I am talking about legal marriage, my words (for the concerned of using more specific words) are pointing out to the REALITY of legal marriage as such, how is it obtained, etc. Then if we talk about matrimony, done by a priest, a rabbi, pastor, etc, at a house of worship, such matrimony is ONLY legal because these individuals have been given authority by the STATE to ALSO perform the legal marriage at the same time.

So now, I turn to the last part of your comments, and truly the part that I struggled with the most: 
How does that feel? completely ignore God and his Word when it suits you? It must make a lot of things easier.
Leviticus 20:13

Only God can look into my heart and truly know how I feel. But I will try to tell you the best that I can: thinking about God, my theological positions based on my exegetical approach to Holy Scripture, the conclusions that I reach that make me ask questions, then ask new questions, that in turn make me pray again, reflect again, meditate again, etc is NEVER easy. It is a struggle.  

Also, why do you say that I am ignoring God? Why do you say that I ignore him when it suits me? It appears to me (and I could be wrong) that you are reaching these conclusions and judging me for them because I disagree with you. And maybe and I cannot be sure:
Because my understanding of God is different from yours?
Because my words point to a different theology from yours?
Because of what I may think of "separation of church and state"?
Because I am willing to look at what science can tell us about this issue?
Because of my understanding of love?
Because of my understanding of marriage in the way that the Church understands it?
Because of my understanding of marriage in the way that the state handles it?

No my dear Common Sense, it is never easy. Never. In many ways there will be times in our lives when we wrestle, struggle with God. If we don't, how do we grow? How do we properly use the spiritual gifts that each of us may have? 

And yet, it was that your last words were simply Leviticus 20:13 That to me was the most troubling part of your comments. Because you ended your comments like this:
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

It is here that I asked myself: Why?
First let us be clear: of the thousands and thousands of verses in Holy Scripture (both in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament) there are no more than 7 to 8 verses that could be related to anything that people call "homosexuality" or "homosexual behavior", that in turn has been used against members of the LGTBQ community. 7 to 8 verses. 7 to 8 verses...

And of those few verses, the one you chose to close your comments with was Lev 20:13.
First, I see an interesting theological scenario: a Christian choosing the Hebrew Bible instead of the verses from the New Testament. If a Christian wanted to use one book from the Bible to make a point on this (the letter of St Paul to the Romans has been used by Christians on this issue) then why not chose a Christian book instead of Jewish book. But no, you decided to chose the book of Leviticus. 

Second, this is the same book of Leviticus that has plenty, plenty of what has been called the "Holiness Code". So, if you quote me to me from Leviticus, what of the rest of it? 

If I was writing a blog entry on how children should behave and how they should treat their parents (and this would apply to me since I have a daughter) would it be wise my dear Common Sense to end my comments (as a Christian) this way:
Leviticus 20:9
Would someone that was reading my blog ask: wait, does he think that those who curse their parents should be put to death? And it would be a valid question, since I would be the one that used that verse from Holy Scripture to support and end my comments. I think my family and friends would be very worried for me, and for my little girl. And who could blame them!

Do you see what I mean? And what if some poor soul, with mental problems read my blog? And like me, he was a father, with a small child. Dear Lord, do you see where I am going with this?

We have a responsibility as Christians to be very careful with the way we talk, specially when it comes to Holy Scripture. And all I said was a theoretical scenario. What happens when these are no longer theoretical scenarios.

When does the way we talk about Holy Scripture, becomes a real scenario? It happens in our country when using Holy Scripture this way has resulted in death. Not life, but death. Remember, when I was addressing your opinion that what I talked about had nothing to do with civil rights? If you recall, in your first comment to my blog, your last words were: Since when is "sexual preference" a civil right? Please...(rolls eyes)

It is that kind of thinking and words like that, when taken to a horrible extreme, can be disastrous. And it is here that I should turn your attention to Uganda. In February 25, 2010, the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) issued a statement to the Ugandan people and their leadership offering a science-based assessment of the proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009” and calling upon them to abandon or defeat it:

"It is good practice that legislation is based not on unsubstantiated opinion, but rather on recognized research findings," the statement notes. "The scientific fields devoted to mental health and well-being, including psychiatry, psychology and sociology, do not consider homosexual orientation to be a disorder, but rather view it as a naturally occurring variation of normal human sexuality." (full text here)

Right now, "homosexuality" is currently considered by most Ugandans to be criminal under current legislation. According to section 140 of the Ugandan penal code “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is a crime. However, homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in the Act, leaving room for judicial interpretation and that interpretation has been disastrous. But even this room for interpretation is not good enough for some.

David Bahati, a member of parliament in Uganda, wants close this "legislative gap." After meetings with U.S. backers and receiving encouragement from Uganda’s first lady herself, the Anti-homosexuality Bill, (AHB) otherwise known as “The Kill the Gays Bill,” was born. The AHB would push existing legislation much further by mandating harsh sentences such as death and life imprisonment. It also provides for the arrest of those who fail to report people whom they know to be homosexual. So, how would this be interpreted if it passes?

And unfortunately, this bill is the combination of two things:
1) Disregard for what science is telling us.
2) Fear and misconception fueled by angry rhetoric not just from officials in government, but Christian leaders.

Christian leaders my dear Common Sense! And not just one priest here, one pastor there, and one person somewhere else. No, from every level at the Church!

These priests, these pastors, these bishops, use verses like Leviticus 20:13 to justify the current environment of official harassment and systematic oppression by government institutions. The Church and the State, are both working together to do this. How horrible! That's what happens when our fears, our hatred and our prejudices go to the extreme, and because some have concluded "others" have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

How can any of this be part of the Gospels?
How can any of this be part of the truth and the life of Christ?
How could we even imagine that this could be part of the will of God?
And if you do not agree with my theological arguments, or with the data available from science, then allow me to ask you:
How can any of this be reasonable?

"Living in sin" gets a whole new meaning, if you have to "live" in prison or you are executed. And all with the tools of the state, supported by the Church in Uganda.

Do you know how many times I have been asked personally, when Christians do similar things around the world: "Why would I want to be part of this?" "Why would I want to be a Christian if this is what Christianity is all about?"
But not all is lost.

There are many groups in Uganda (both religious and non-religious) that are fighting against this.  

The work of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a retired Anglican Bishop from the Diocese of Western Uganda, has become increasingly vital over time, as he sees the intensifying persecution of gays and lesbians in his country. Taking the courageous step of ministering to LGBTQ people in his country, when the other Bishops and priests would not, he is calling on people here in America to “stop exporting hatred” as he continues to advocate for the global decriminalization of homosexuality. Unfortunately, some American Christians have been going to Uganda and have been part of fueling this tragedy. Christians, my dear Common Sense!

And for this, he was told by his fellow bishops to stop.  
He refused.
He was then excommunicated.
Because he felt a calling by Christ.
Because he was moved by the Holy Spirit to do something.
Because he saw the suffering of human beings due to prejudice and hate.
And he continues to take a stand.
And I take that stand with him.
 And many other Christians are taking that same stand.

My dear Common Sense, as you can hopefully see, this was not easy for me to say and to put into words.
And hopefully I have misunderstood some of the few words you wrote that made once again, made me reflect on this manner.

I say this with all my mind, with all my heart, and with all my passion:
No, to hatred on any shape and form.
No, to prejudice on any shape and form.
No to violence, specially against the weakest of us.

May you and me say yes to Christ, and to the kingdom he wants us to have not in another place, but in the life that is part of his will here as it is in heaven:
When he is hungry and we give him food. 
When he is thirsty we give him something to drink.
When we think he is a stranger and we welcome him.
When he is naked and we give him clothes.
When he is sick and we take care of him.
When he is in prison and we visit him.
And some of us are already doing all of this (his will here as it is in heaven) without knowing that we are doing this, to Christ.
And Christ smiles.

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

your brother in Christ,


  1. Very well written, Mario. Thoughtful, intelligent, and insightful.

    You know, whenever I hear hate-mongering coming from the religious I'm reminded of the fact that Jesus only ever really went off of one group of people... ;) Everyone else he treated with love and respect. It's a pretty good model to live by.

  2. Renee,

    Thank you for your comments. I try to remind myself that whatever my views may be, I could be wrong. And indeed, Jesus did things that were unexpected, like shaking the foundations of those who thought were "right".