Tuesday, December 13, 2011

10 Questions

Recently a high school student from Christchurch School in Middlesex, Virginia contacted me for help with a school project.  She was arguing in favor of marriage equality and, as one of the requirements of this project, had to contact someone who could be considered "an expert on the philosophy on this subject."  She thought that a Unitarian Universalist minister might just fit the bill.  (She thought this especially after she'd driven through Charlottesville on vacation and seen the "We Support Equal Marriage Rights" banner that hangs proudly on the front of our building!)

Tonight I answered the 10 questions she sent me as our interview.  I thought I'd share my answers here as well:

~ 10 Interview Questions ~

Why did you choose to be a minister at a UU church?
I was raised within the Christian tradition(s) – specifically Presbyterian and Methodist – but was exposed to a wide variety of religious/spiritual teachings growing up:  Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Wicca, Shamanism, the teachings of Carols Castenada, Transcendental Meditation, etc.  When it became clear that it was time to act on my long-recognized sense that I wanted to be an ordained minister, I discovered Unitarian Universalist and could see no other tradition that provided the same room and, in fact, encouragement for such an eclectic gumbo of religiosity.

What is the UU view on homosexuality?
Unitarian Universalists recognize homosexuality as one of the ways we humans naturally express our sexuality.  It may be statistically less prevalent than heterosexuality, but no less “normal.”

What is your view on gay marriage?
I find it astonishing that, once the disparity is pointed out to people, that it is not immediately obvious that the current view of “marriage is between a man and a woman” is inherently discriminatory.  I see no convincing – nor even coherent – argument that justifies limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, while I see myriad reasons for expanding our “definition” to include all couples – of any gender arrangement – who want to make a commitment to their loving relationship.

What, religiously, has influenced your view on gay marriage?
Unitarian Universalism is not a creedal religion – that is, we do not organize ourselves around specific sets of belief.  Rather, we are a covenantal religion – our faith communities are organized around shared commitment to certain principles of behavior.  The first that we enumerate is our covenant to “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of each individual.”  I don't see any wiggle room or exceptions in that.

How do you think gay marriage fits into an American society? (ex, do you think it meshes well, do you think it’s necessary) 
It was not so long ago that Blacks and Whites were not allowed to marry, yet as we evolved as a culture we could see that these anti-miscegenation limitations were truly harmful – both for the individuals involved and for society at large.  The same, I believe, is becoming true of our attitudes toward same gender marriage.  Once again we are learning that “separate is not equal.”

Do you know of any arguments for gay marriage that I probably wouldn’t find in my research?
This is something that I wrote as part of an editorial several years ago:

As a minister, and as a husband, I am very much concerned with the sanctity of marriage.  I view each wedding at which I officiate as a holy event, and pray that no one may tear asunder those “whom God has joined.”  I agree with those who call marriage a sacred institution, and I believe that something much deeper is happening than the mere conferring of legal recognition and status.  As a traditional wedding reading puts it, “This celebration is the outward sign and token of a sacred and inward union of hearts, which religion may bless and the state my register and legalize, but which neither state nor church can create nor annul, a union created by loving purpose and kept by abiding will.”

I am confused, though, why politicians are concerning themselves with the “sanctity” of marriage, which means its holiness or sacredness.  Those are religious concepts.  The issue of the sanctity of marriage is the province of the church or the synagogue, the mosque or the ashram; it’s not the role of government.  As our nation’s founders noted, the only reason governments exist is to secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That’s it.  Governments can be concerned with the legal and societal aspects of marriage, but its sanctity is none of their business.

And as odd as this might sound, it’s not even really any of my business as a minister.  The sanctity of a marriage is something between God and the couple.  Whether or not a union is holy does not depend on whether I or anyone else says it is.  It doesn’t depend on whether a book or a community’s traditions says it is.   The only thing it does depend on is whether or not it is, in fact, a holy union.  I’ve had the privilege of officiating at the unions of several lesbian couples whose obvious love and commitment demonstrated to me that theirs was a holy union indeed.  And I’ve know many heterosexual couples whose dishonesty, disregard, and outright abuse of their spouse made their so-called “sanctified” marriage anything but.   

What about against gay marriage?
Sorry, but I can’t really think of any, as I noted above, convincing or coherent arguments against gay marriage.

Why did you choose to work in a UU church in a state where gay marriage is illegal?
Three reasons:  Firstly, the job was offered to me.  (And I have seen no healthier nor more exciting congregations than the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church – Unitarian Universalist.  How could I pass it up?)  Secondly, our congregation has taken a very public stand in support of the marriage equality movement, among other things hanging a banner on the front of our building that boldly declares our position.  Thirdly, having served a congregation in Massachusetts, where same-gender marriage is legal, I somewhat relish the opportunity to work on increasing the number of states where that is so.

How important is the issue of legalization gay marriage to you? Is there a different aspect about gay relationship legal logistics that is more important?
To be sure, there are many aspects of heterosexism that are in need of being addressed.  I am personally drawn to the issue of marriage equality for several reasons.  My Universalist ancestors declared their theology in the simple three-word phrase, “God is love.” I am then, if you will, in the “love” business.  I believe that the right to enter into a committed relationship with another person is one of life’s great gifts.  It is an unparalleled environment in which to embody this divine love and to nurture not only your own spiritual development, but also another’s, and that of the so-called “third partner,” the marriage itself.  That individuals are being denied this right simply because they love someone whom our culture currently deems to be “the wrong kind of person” offends me deeply.  Further, I find the fact that the language and veneer of religion are used to defend this discrimination – this limitation of love – is abhorrent.

How can gay marriage fit in well with major religions? (Big, broad question, I know. With vast opportunities for long answers!)
I recognize that there are interpretations of certain passages of scripture and certain elements of tradition in many different religions that appear to support a prohibition of same-gender marriage.  I am also aware that there are passages and traditions in these religions which appear to support slavery and ritual murder, as well as prohibiting working on Sundays and (a personal favorite) the wearing of clothing made from mixed fabrics.  At the same time, it seems inescapably clear that these same scripture and traditions hold up again and again the values of love and compassion.  If God made us all then we are all God’s children.  If all sentient beings have Buddha-nature than it does not matter whether you marry someone of your own or of another gender expression.  If all things in creation serve Allah by fulfilling their own nature, then this must be as true for homosexuals as for heterosexuals.  I see no contradiction with what I understand to be the core teachings of any of the great religions humanity has developed.  As the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has summed up the primary teaching of religion:  “If you can, help people; if you can’t do that, at least don’t harm them.”

I think that this is a pretty good explanation of where I stand.
In Gassho,

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