(This also appeared in the Faith column of the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, KY on July 10, 2015)
Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37-40, KJV).
How does you love someone you disagree with? That’s not a rhetorical question. I struggle with it, as I’m sure many of you do. We know that disagreement is not pleasant, love is not easy and answers are not always clear.
After the Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage a few weeks ago, there are many people who are happy, and there are many people who are angry. Within each group, there are those who certainly have no desire to have a dialogue with those on the other side. I personally think that is unfortunate, but it’s true. But there are others—from both those who agree with the Supreme Court decision and those who disagree—who are asking themselves the question, “How do I love someone I disagree with?”
Let me be clear by stating where I personally come down on this issue, because it would be disingenuous and unjust for me to conceal it: I support equal rights for LGBT people in our country, including the right to marry. But I pastor a congregation in which some people share my view and some people strongly disagree with me. I honor that. I love them both. And regardless of how my faith journey and Biblical hermeneutics have led me here, I have answered God’s call to serve and represent the entire congregation, not just people who agree with me. My thoughts, beliefs and feelings about LGBT people are far too voluminous and complex to fit into the space of this column, so I will not try to describe them here. But suffice it to say that the reader of this column deserves to know first where I stand.
The question remains: How do we love those we disagree with? If you are straight and you have LGBT friends or family members whom you love, yet you do not agree that same-sex marriage should be allowed, what does it mean to continue to love them? If you are gay and celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision, yet some of the people you worship with disagree, how do you love them? If you are straight and support LGBT right to marry, yet disagree with other straight sisters and brothers who do not, how precisely do we love each other?
The short answer is: I don’t know. But my response is qualified. After all, there is a lot I don’t know. But I do have faith that God’s creative capacity for grace and love, which surprises and delights us again and again, is able to show us the way if we make space for it. The grace and love of the resurrection was creative and surprising. Before the first Easter, I would not have been able to predict how God was going to wrest victory from the defeat of death, but on Sunday morning God surprised us. And the creativity and imagination of God is exceeded only by God’s love.
So this is what I do know: It’s going to be tough, but there are worthy guidelines for the conversation we need to have as a community.
Love happens through self-limitation. A strong family results from limiting options, not keeping them all on the table. What do I mean by that? For example, if leaving the family was an option, we all would have resorted to it a long time ago. But when we commit ourselves first to each other through thick and thin, agreement and dissent, then we force ourselves to hear each other out. Therefore, when we have the conversation about the place of LGBT rights—including marriage—in the context of faith, let us make the decision first that we are still going to be neighbors on the other side of this discussion, even if no one’s mind is changed.
Love happens with humility. Whether you believe sexual orientation is sinful or not, the Christian faith is abundantly clear that we are all sinners. For a Christian, this is true despite your view on this issue. Now I don’t think that this means we just sweep it under the rug, like many suggest, and move on. We don’t say, “Well, you’re gay, but I’ve been divorced 4 times, so who am I to judge? Let’s just drop it.” No. We need to have this conversation. But it does mean that when we do have the conversation, we preface it with a right-sized understanding of ourselves. Instead, I invite us to say, “As a sinner, this is what I see and believe and why. Please tell me how you see it and why. But know I’m committed to being your neighbor no matter what.”
Love is a gift from God. When love does happen (and as Christian, I believe it will), let us not wear out our arms out patting ourselves on the back for all the good work we’ve done. That love, which will come as after long, painful conversations, of being vulnerable enough to describe what you believe and risk being rejected, that love which comes after long seasons of listening more than speaking, of being compassionate towards those with fundamental differences, that love, when it comes, will not be some wooden idol shaped by human hands, but rather a gift of God. And as such, that love is a creative, gracious power that has literally changed the world throughout history. So of course it can heal divisions in our community.
And finally, as a member of this community, as your neighbor, let me be clear that I love each and every one of you whether we agree or not. That is my Christian commitment. I have faith in that love, because I have faith in the one from whom it flows. And I know that with God’s help, we can do this.