Yesterday, thousands of people joined demonstrations and rallies in major cities across America to protest the passing of Proposition 8 in California two weeks ago. I have friends and family who participated in those rallies in California, Texas, Oklahoma, and New York. This is an extremely controversial issue, with people taking strong stances on either side. And with the heated discussions going on and people becoming defensive and angry, I couldn’t help but ask myself what Jesus thinks about all this. To ask that cliched question, What would Jesus do?
For those who are not news junkies, Proposition 8 was a state question on the California ballot during the election on whether to amend the state constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. It passed with 52% approving and 48% against, effectively removing the legal standing of thousands of already-married same-sex couples, and denying the future ability of gay men and lesbian women to form permanent legal bonds. In the process, it denied them access to many civil rights and benefits offered to heterosexual couples. In a word, it defined them as second-class citizens. Defenders of the amendment argue that it merely codifies what is already our traditional and religious understanding, and is critical to protect our families and preserve our valued traditions. Similar initiatives passed in other states as well.
I’m breaking my own rule here in discussing social or political topics. The mission of Cafe Inspirado is to encourage people and bring them into a more fulfilling life with God. But at the risk of offending friends on both sides, my gut tells me that there are seriously hurting people out there who need some reassuring words, people who feel shoved aside, rejected and despised — by society, their own families, the Church and by God. And while some will likely see things differently than I do, if we call ourselves followers of Christ, I think we should examine his attitude and actions towards those who were socially or religiously unacceptable in his day, and let them serve as our model.
Some obvious passages from Sunday School lessons come to mind. In one scene, Jesus is teaching in the Temple, and some teachers of the Law drag before him a woman caught in adultery. They quote the Law to him, “Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” In words burned into our cultural memory, Jesus responds, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” (John 8:7). And as the accusers leave in shame, he tells the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and sin no more.” Jesus’ message: Though the religious rules and establishment condemn you, I do not reject you.
At another point, when asked by an expert in the Law what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus encourages him to love God and to love his neighbor. “Do this and you will live.” But the man, still unsatisfied, wants clarification. “Who is my neighbor?” Then comes the famous parable about the Good Samaritan who takes care of a wounded man after all the religious people of the day had ignored him. And Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer, “Which of these was a neighbor?” The lawyer replies, “The one who had mercy”. Jesus then instructs him, “Go and do likewise”. (Luke 10:25-37) Samaritans were despised by Jews back in those days. They were racially impure, descendents of captives brought from Babylon and other places by the king of Assyria who intermarried with the Jews still remaining in the land. They practiced a different form of the Old Testament faith, even having a temple of their own, and the religious defenders of pure Judaism considered them “unclean”. Yet Jesus chose one of them as our example for the life we should live. Jesus’ message: though others find you unacceptable, I call you neighbor.
In another account, on the long walk back to Galilee from Judea, Jesus stops and asks for water from a Samaritan woman at a well — to her great astonishment. “How can you ask me for a drink? For Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9) Yet the people of that Samaritan town welcome him, and he and his disciples stay with them for two days. And because of his teachings, many become believers. Jesus’ message: though society labels you unclean, you are valuable to me.
In each of these instances Jesus overlooks the stricter interpretations of the Law, and emphasizes what is in his heart: mercy and compassion, not condemnation or pushing unpopular groups further away. Establishing redeeming relationships was more important to him than being legally righteous. In fact, Jesus was even accused by the more traditional Jews of his day of being a drunk, glutton, partier, even demon possessed because he hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors (corrupt officials), and other socially unacceptable people. Far from ostracizing them further, he welcomes them. And instead of the religiously observant, these outcasts become his favorite people — one of them, Matthew, even becomes one of his chosen twelve.
To approach this topic from a different angle, no one grounded in the Faith can deny that there are genuine believers out there who call Jesus their Lord and also happen to be gay or lesbian. Whether or not we approve of their actions, whether they are caught in sin like the adulterous woman, these believers are brothers and sisters of Christ. They are joint heirs of the Kingdom, washed in his blood, righteous and pure in God’s eyes — whether they threaten our traditional values or not. Who are we, any of us, to point our fingers? Disagree or disapprove, we might. But I am sobered by the certain future of standing before this same Jesus at his Throne of Glory and being examined by him. “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Mt 25:40).
If Jesus were physically present in America today, what would he do? Would he be casting votes to deny modern-day Samaritans basic rights enjoyed by others? Would he stand today with the defenders of tradition? Did he in the past? Would he join in civil protest, picket or carry signs at demonstrations to overturn cultural norms? In my opinion, the answer to each of these questions is No. My reading of the Gospels does not paint a picture of Jesus as a social activist. He did not lobby the Sanhedrin, he did not rebel against Rome or even his own religious leaders. He instructed, he coached, he challenged conventional interpretations. And in their synagogues, he taught God’s love and brought people’s attention away from the letter of the Law which kills, and drew them to the spirit of the Law which gives life. And he demonstrated this in his own personal life. Not with picket signs, but in acts of love, kindness, compassion, and mercy. Yesterday, if he were here, would he have been protesting at City Hall? Probably not. But he would be in our churches, confronting those of us who claim to be God’s chosen, standing in our faces, and asking each of us in his quiet and loving voice, “Who is my brother?”
This past election cycle voted in major changes for Americans. And with those changes come questions about what is right, what is traditional, what is moral, what is constitutional. Serious men and women of faith will form different conclusions. But it has caused me to ask again that ancient and most basic of questions, “What does the Lord expect of me in this?” And the ancient answer is still the same. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic 6:8)
My purpose in writing this is not to advocate the Biblical or spiritual validity of same-sex couples, nor to argue the sinfulness of such relationships. And although I have formed my own opinion of what Jesus would have done, neither is it my purpose to judge the decision of American voters. But to God’s people, I would ask that they examine their hearts and consider Jesus’ view on the matter. And to those wounded by this decision, I offer the words I think Jesus used to speak in the old days, and still calls out today to those with ears to hear: Come! You are loved, you are accepted by God. Though others reject you, I will never forsake you There is no condemnation, no accusation. You are the ones I came to embrace; you are important to me. The Father is waiting, and has paid all your debts. My Blood is for you. You are righteous and have peace with God. You are a valued member of God’s Family, and are welcome in His Church. Just come!