Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to them, and to which God has called them. This is my rule in all the churches. – Saint Paul (1 Cor. 7:17)
In response to the recent incarceration of a Kentucky county clerk for refusing to perform her duties, certifying marriages for all Rowan County couples, the General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, David K. Bernard, posted some of his thoughts on Facebook. Near the beginning of the post, Bernard writes, “As Christians, we can agree on the following points…”
While it is tempting to jump straight to a discussion of the following points, it is Bernard’s deftly phrased opening, “As Christians, we can agree” to which we must be most attentive. Who are these Christians or this we? Surely not all Christians, as it is quite clear that Christians in general rarely speak with a unified voice on anything, marriage equality definitely not one of those rare issues. Perhaps Bernard means Apostolics or Oneness Pentecostals or even United Pentecostals when he says we? Even so, such a statement would still be less than accurate, as dissenting views on marriage equality exist in all three of the aforementioned more narrow possibilities. This deceptively benign opening, “As Christians, we can agree” warrants our close attention, because it is a foundational prop in what can only be called a phantasmagorical production. A feverish bit of theater, in which we are confronted by the spectacle of a weeping woman, who having been maliciously persecuted for the sake of righteousness, nevertheless stands firm for Jesus. This carefully choreographed pageantry seeks to stoke the fear of an imminent loss of Christian freedoms, all the while ignoring the abdication of Christian values taking place in the humiliation, suffering and indignity inflicted upon hapless couples who had the audacity to seek equal treatment under the law.
This foundational prop of which I speak, is the carefully cultivated fiction — a fiction many Christian leaders (including Oneness Pentecostal and Apostolic elites) are desperately trying maintain — that frames the struggle for marriage equality as an external attack upon Christian faith by an assortment of worldly forces. That marriage equality is an internal issue of Christian debate/dissent (no matter how narrowly one draws the circle) is something that cannot be acknowledged by the reigning powers. Christians however, even Apostolic Christians, have never been a monolithic group, and framing marriage equality as an issue in which Christians are pitted against non-Christians (non-Christians we should add, who seek to undermine Christian freedoms) is disingenuous. Such a framing is vulgar propaganda that only feeds a false persecution complex currently in vogue among many conservative American Christians.
The truth is this: the gays are not out there waging war against all things Christian. Let us be clear. In their fight against marriage equality, church leaders and those who follow them, are not holding the line against an onslaught by godless heathens, but are instead committing the sin of Cain. Let us name this they whom we are told to resist. They are our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our musicians, educators, pastors, worship leaders, janitors, ushers and elders — they are faithful children of God. That it may genuinely surprise many to learn that nearly half of lesbian, gay or bisexual Americans identify as Christian (and that percentage is increasing) is just more evidence of how successful establishment propaganda has been.
Here is an uncomfortable truth. Whatever religious persecution of Christians is taking place in this country; it is all too often taking place at the hands of other Christians. As a little publicized victory by a coalition of clergy, same-sex couples and religious denominations late last year demonstrated, in denying LGBT Christians marriage equality, North Carolina’s marriage laws violated the First Amendment rights of Christian clergy and the principle of “free exercise of religion.” While the recently incarcerated Kentucky county clerk does offer us an opportunity to confront religious persecution in America, it is not the example of persecution her supporters imagine. The persecution, to which she calls our attention, is one that seeks (among other things, namely the imposition of one’s own religious beliefs upon non-believers) to deny LGBT Christians and the Christian communities to which they belong, the freedom to exercise their constitutional right to the free expression of their religion. It is imperative that we see beyond the actors on the stage in order to unmask this tragic reality that both the victims and the perpetrators in this story are Christians.
While Bernard’s post appears to be a genuine attempt at finding some balance between secular authority and personal conscience, sadly, he doesn’t seem to appreciate the irony involved in citing Romans 14 to conclude a reflection in which he has attempted to impose a tendentious reading of scripture upon all Christians. In 1 Corinthians 7, Saint Paul acknowledges that even for faithful Christians, marriage is a complicated subject and that we should resist any attempt at homogenizing believers. May we hear afresh Saint Paul’s words that every one must be free to faithfully live the life to which God has called them, not forced into a life that other Christians may seek to impose upon them. A candid discussion about marriage equality might begin, “as Christians, we do not agree.”