We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Price of Justice

As has been widely reported both in the U.S. and overseas, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), meeting in Detroit, has just approved two motions that take a large step toward finally resolving the decades long brawl over homosexuality.  First, it voted to change the wording of the Book of Order, our constitution, to read that, “marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”  The vote was 429 (71%) in favor and 175 opposed, a surprisingly large margin given the tumultuous history of the issue—and apparently an artifact of the continuing departure of the losers.  This decision must now be ratified by the presbyteries, and there is a widespread sense that the requisite majority will do so.  The General Assembly also voted to allow pastors residing in states where same-sex marriage is legal to conduct such marriages at their discretion and with the permission of the session (governing board) of the congregation they serve.

The reaction from the right has been as predictable as it is swift (see here and here for examples).  Inevitably, PC(USA) is going to lose still more congregations as those who oppose simple justice for the LGBT community hasten into their ghetto for an illusive safety from the swelling currents of our age.  They or their heirs only postpone the inevitable as the whole issue will follow them into that ghetto where over time some will have a change of heart and begin again to challenge the ghetto's values and interpretations of scripture.

For liberal evangelicals the best and most faithful interpretation of scripture is always the one that affirms the principle that God acts, "with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth" and "takes delight" in these things (Jeremiah 9:23-25).  Three generations ago, the Spirit of God inflamed us with a desire for racial justice; two generations ago it was gender justice; and in this generation it is sexual justice.   The rapidity with which the nation is embracing equality for the LGBT community is heartening and even suggests that there is a certain momentum that has been gained in the struggle for justice and equality for all.  It would be na├»ve, of course, to think that this is the last battle that is going to have to be fought in the churches or in the nation, but it is good to see that justice does tend to prevail even if it has its price. The turmoil, the heated debates and anger, and the loss of more and more conservative evangelical churches and members are a part of that price.