Tradition vs Flip-Flopping on the Great Gay Debate

16 Mar, 2013

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Politicians flip-flop on issues all of the time, usually it is because it is the politically advantageous move to make, or the one that will benefit their campaign the most financially.

We laugh at these lukewarm legislators as they attempt to explain away these shifts when it is obvious to us in the peanut gallery that we’ve all sent nincompoops to Washington.

So when a politician reverses a stance and honestly comes clean to why they have made a change I am eager to listen and learn.

This week Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio reversed his stance on same-sex marriage. This is a senator who was a co-sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal ban on same-sex marriage. He also has voted in the past not to allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

What changed? Here is what was recorded at The Huffington Post.

In an interview with Ohio reporters in his Senate office, Portman said that his son, Will, came out to the senator and his wife in February 2011.

“It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,” Portman said.

Portman said that his son, who is now a junior at Yale University, inspired him to reassess his position on same-sex unions. The senator also consulted clergy on the matter, as well as friends such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter Mary is openly gay. According to Portman, Cheney told the senator to “follow [his] heart” on the matter.

“The overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly the Golden Rule, and the fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue,” Portman said.

In a column for the Columbus Dispatch he further explains,

“I’ve thought a great deal about this issue, and like millions of Americans in recent years, I’ve changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples,” he wrote. “As we strive as a nation to form a more perfect union, I believe all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage.”

“I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.”

I think it can be easy for us to take stands and make rules from a distance. We determine what the Good Book says, and like the father figure Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, we put the words into our own culture, context and filters. We even make words up for terms that we don’t have a good translation for and then preach them like the English word is gospel truth. But when change threatens our tradition, as just happened to Sen. Portman, we are faced with making very hard choices. In the movie version of Fiddler, Tevye perceives his daughters at a great distance when he focuses on the tradition that he holds so dear to. It is when he turns to see his daughter’s faces that he finds them close enough to embrace.

We can draw our lines in the sand; we can let our gay sons and daughters know that they are dead to us, but we could truly be missing the heart of the Gospel if we side with tradition instead of standing close enough to embrace our loved ones.

I see a lot of people standing on platforms and behind pulpits regarding this issue. I hear people speaking in defense of ‘traditional’ marriage (which from a biblical perspective is honestly very funny – which heroes of the faith have a traditional marriage that you’d want to follow?). What I think we need is more people like Rob and Jane Portman, who are brave enough not to turn their back on their son because of his sexual orientation. And when they realized that some of their actions and opinions were contrary toward their God-given love, they turned around.

***

As for me – Yes, I have flip-flopped and want to be on the record. I am not in the least threatened by LBGT people having the same civil rights and privileges that I have. In fact, I think this is an injustice that needs to be thoughtfully, responsibly, and humbly addressed.

As for how I think the Bible addresses this has also changed. The original words, meanings, and contexts of the scriptures used to create the rules I was raised on is not near as clear as I thought they were. Honest, thorough study is needed and much of what I have read is based on opinion and filters, not consistent interpretation methods. When I hear someone say, “The Bible says it and that is clear enough for me,” I realize they have read the English translation but they haven’t diligently studied the scriptures. It makes me wonder if they really want to.

Do I have any answers? Maybe just one for the way I am approaching this issue – I have stopped bellowing the word “tradition” with a closed fist raised in the air and instead I have turned around to embrace my brothers and sisters standing right next to me. Once I get close enough I consistently see that these are people that I love. And I would rather live by the scriptures that are clear about loving one another, than those that are unclear to me about someone’s sexuality.

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Pinging is currently not allowed10 Responses

  1. david casey says:

    I think this should be a non-issue. Why are we letting the government define marriage in the first place? As far as I can tell, it is mostly about tax breaks, legislating morality. I really don't care what the State thinks about my marriage or anyone else's. Leave us be to make our own decisions and deal with God on judgment day.

    • Chad Estes says:

      David, I agree that a part of it is about rights and privileges and I don't think the government should stand in the way of people having those same rights. It might take the government taking a stand FOR them to make this change. imho

  2. wordhaver says:

    A thoughtful, piece, Chad.

    And how could I not like a post that uses as a primary metaphor Tevye and “the other hand”?

    I think the challenge here is that to raise either or any of the “other hands” when it comes to this issue is risky business. Show compassion to the LGBT community, and your hand gets slapped as you are labeled “soft” on the Word. Stress the continuing relevance of the Genesis story of origins in male/female sexuality and your hand get's slapped as you're labeled bigoted and phobic. Do both, and everyone hates you. So this ends up being an issue on which we tend to be the “limbless man” – at least in public. Most of us no doubt sound off plenty when we are with our own, wherever we fall on the issues.

    I find the Tevye analogy intriguing (of course!) on several levels. Wonderful observation about making these judgments with his daughters at a distance. It’s when he brought them close and looked at their eyes that he gave one more pull of tradition’s thread. It is true that convictions strongly held in a vacuum of theological theory go through a catharsis of sorts when they suddenly have a face put on them. And they should, if we have a beating heart. Notice also that, even though seeing his third daughter’s eyes, when it came to her marrying a Gentile he simply could not pull that thread for fear he would break. Seems to be a parallel situation, at least in evangelical perception.

    Still, through all this, I can’t help but wonder, would the Prodigal Son’s father’s response been different if instead of him merely confessing that he had “sinned against heaven and against you” he had said “Dad, I’m gay”? Just what would the father have done then? What does the Father do now?

    • Chad Estes says:

      I thought of you as I wrote this, Mike. I so love this story and think it has so much merit for us to ponder. What tension there is between our tradition and our love. Personally I hope I am always challenged to pursue relationship when it comes to these kind of issues. I am always torn when Tevye rejects his 3rd daughter at her marriage and am always heartened when at the end his heart cracks open to the great relief of his family.

  3. Mark Cafiero says:

    Here are some thoughts from an Agnostic who leans towards Christianity (because of how I was raised)…

    I believe that God gave us a sense of morals. In every issue at hand, I read and listen to politicians and writers as yourself for the good points and make decisions for myself. But mostly I like to wonder how I would view things like homosexuality and/or gay marriage if I never had another person's opinion enter my mind. It takes a bit of concentration. But when I'm done, I usually have my unbiased opinion and I can move forward with confidence in myself. It's a great feeling.

    So with the morals and the art of thought, I conclude that being gay is not a moral or ethical issue. There are simply people attracted to the same sex for one reason or another. Whether it's genetics or how they were raised, I'm not God so there's no way I can claim to know. But it happens. That's it.

    Should gay people be allowed to get married? Well marriage is a religious ceremony, and not just of Christianity. Cultures everywhere celebrate it. So, yeah. Sure. Let the Gay people decide if they want to get married. Unless you're God and you know better than everyone on this topic. Do you think you're God? No? Ok then carry on.

    So there's my "agnostic" opinion. Since you entertained me with your story of beer and limericks, I thought it's only fair to read your article. ;)

  4. joetheflow says:

    As always, insightful, provocative, and challenging. Thanks for this entry Chad. A subject that my wife and I have been talking about for years. Love is love – hate is hate. Maybe too simplistic but I'm a simple man.

  5. stephanielasater says:

    I'm probably venting here, more than responding to your article – but this is what came to mind as I read it. Forgive me if I am not directly responding to your article. I think I'm agreeing with you – although I don't completely agree with your assessment of Bible translations.

    I don't think it is problematic to say that homosexuality is morally wrong and at the same time believe that those who practice it should be treated with dignity and respect. Doesn't "tolerance" imply that you are tolerating something you don't agree with? If you think homosexuality is morally ok, then it isn't really tolerance to accept it. Isn't this a bigger indicator of love – if we can express our love towards someone we don't agree with?

    It seems strange to me that so many people equate thinking homosexuality is morally wrong to hate. That is not a fair assessment. It seems the only way for christians to communicate that they don't hate homosexuals is to think it is morally okay. Can we only love people by conforming to their views and compromising our own? Doesn't that also imply that others should conform to my beliefs or they don't love me?

    I've encountered hatred from homosexuals because I am a Christian, simply because I am a Christian and certainly not because I did anything other than show them kindness. And I have also had homosexual friends who have accepted my christianity, even though they don't agree with it (and actually despise it). I don't know why everyone is so quick to generalize about christians and hang them out to dry. The hate goes both ways and should be evaluated on an individual level and not on generalizations.

    Regarding gay marriage, I really don't think love is the issue when it comes to our moral beliefs and how they influence the laws we make. Love should influence our behavior, not our beliefs. The moral basis for our laws is a much more complex question than just gay marriage. I tend to be a bit more liberal about this particular issue but I think it is unfair to accuse those who are opposed to it of being hateful, bigoted, unjust or "threatened". These generalizations miss the point.

    I do agree that many christians have been overly hard on homosexuality – and at some point I intend to write about this myself (regardless of the response I get). I try not to get too caught up in my own defensiveness of christians and remember that there are some loonies out there. I remember at a particular family event a redneck extended-family-member said (in a drunken state), "I think all homosexuals should be taken out and shot." My husband restrained me as I attempted to come flying out of my seat and physically attack a man who was easily twice my size. It made me sick. However, he is not typical of most of the Christians I know. In fact, at the risk of being judgmental, I question his christianity. Fortunately, I'm not the judge. And God is much more gracious than I am.

  6. Suzanne says:

    You are my next-door neighbor in the blogisphere today, and I am intrigued by your thoughtful consideration. Like Portman I want a happy life full of love for my son, but I don't think that would ever include acceptance of gay marriage. Marriage is more than simple sexual attraction. It is not "a bargain made to further the interests of commerce and trade," as Wycherley put it. It is not even all about the children, as any number of infertile couples could tell you. It is a sacrament. As such, I don't really recognize civil marriages done in a court house or a Las Vegas drive-through, any more than I would recognize a gay marriage. The only issue I have with it's legality is if that is forced upon a congregation that does not accept gay marriage. This is why I think it is a shame for gay couples to take bakers and reception hall owners to court. What DOMA did was protect the Catholic church hall from a law suit on behalf of a gay couple who 'want their rights.' And that is the crux of the issue. Who gets to have 'rights'; the church or the couple?

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