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Memo to PBS: Jesus Supports Marriage Equality

“See, I am making all things new!” That’s a great biblical exclamation for this Easter season (Rev. 21:5). But apparently the news media didn’t get the memo. That’s not terribly surprising, but I did expect more from PBS.

I have come to expect that both Fanatically Xenophobic (FOX News) and the Moderately Socialist News Broadcasting Company (MSNBC) to play the tired old religion-hates-gay-people card. It makes for great ratings. But the PBS News Hour?

The News Hour led their broadcast today with the great news that President Obama has declared his support for civil marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples. The story then shifted to the analysis part. And upon whom did PBS call to discuss “both sides” of this issue? Evan Wolfson, of Freedom to Marry, and the Rev. Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church, who is opposed to marriage equality. (Here’s the clip.)

Really, PBS? Did you just again trot out that silly old trope about religion never really catching up to the real world? Really?

So, PBS News Hour, you chose today, when the President of the United States – a man of deep faith – declared his support for marriage equality (and even cited religious reasons for it!) as the occasion to perpetuate the tired old cliché that religion is the opponent of fairness and equality? Really?

So, PBS News Hour, please consider that people of religious faith who fully and actively support full civil rights for LGBT people are not an anomaly, an aberration, or statistically insignificant. We’ve been raising our voices as best we can for quite a while now. Seriously, please do let us know what more we can do to get your attention. Seriously.

For now, PBS New Hour, please consider this, just from my little corner of the world:

The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Pacific School of Religion (a seminary!), where I have worked since 2003, has been striving tirelessly for full marriage equality for all people. We’ve done this by joining our efforts with many other religious organizations, faith communities, clergy, and congregations all across the country. In the San Francisco Bay Area alone, the Center’s Coalition of Welcoming Congregations (more than 200 congregations) has spoken loudly and clearly about its support for civil marriage equality. (Read the Center’s statement issued today about the President’s support of marriage equality.)

The Episcopal Church, in which I am an ordained priest, will this summer consider a variety of materials for the blessing of same-gender relationships. Moreover, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism (among many other religious bodies) all support civil marriage equality for same-gender couples.

So, PBS, why am I picking on you? Because I’ve come to expect more from you than all those other television hacks trying to pass as journalists and who care only about ratings and advertisers.

Why am I picking on you? Because what you did today illustrates a much wider problem about religion reporting in the United States, a problem that has profound consequences not just for LGBT people but for immigration policy, international relations, and economics.

Why am I picking on you? Because LGBT teenagers are killing themselves, humans are destroying the planet, the gap between rich and poor grows wider every day, and we’re drowning in health care costs – and progressive people of religious faith actually have something to contribute to all of this! Would anyone know this by watching your newscast?

My peculiar faith as a Christian, an Episcopal priest, and a gay man convinces me wholeheartedly that Jesus supports full marriage equality for all people. And that’s just the tip of the religious iceberg of what I and so many other Christians believe Jesus would support in the effort to create a society in which all people thrive and flourish.

I’m more than happy to redouble my efforts to get the word out about the socially and politically good news of the Christian Gospel and to mobilize as best I can my friends, colleagues, and the hundreds of thousands of other Christian companions in this country who believe likewise.

That’s what I’ll do. Now, PBS News Hour, what will you do?

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Divine Dignity for All — Married or Not

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (a federal court) just issued a theological statement on February 7. Christians might want to take note. This is what they said: “Proposition 8 [which stripped same-sex couples of their right to marry] serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”

The phrase, “to lessen…human dignity” is the theological statement I have in mind. To be clear, I don’t mean that this is only a theological statement; it can easily be a completely secular, non-religious statement, too. But it is also a deeply theological one. Jews, Muslims, and Christians (among others, I imagine) readily claim that every human being is created in the “image and likeness” of God. Well, how much more dignity does anyone need than that? (My friend and colleague Susan Russell has a great post on her blog about human dignity, both religious and constitutional.)

Human dignity, in all its many forms and applications, seems in rather short supply these days. Do we really believe that people living on our streets without homes or food are treated with “human dignity”? Do we really believe that immigrants forced to clean our toilets and pick our fruit but are vulnerable to deportation at any minute are viewed with “human dignity”? Oh, the list goes on and on.

Here’s one more item on the dignity list: There are many people who (to use Christian language) exhibit the “fruits of the Spirit” in their lives but who do not feel called to marriage. In countless ways, these “unmarried” ones contribute to the mission and ministry of the Church and to the common good (remember that?) of our society. So, yes to the dignity of marriage for all; and yes to the dignity of those whose relationships just don’t fit that model but are precious gifts to the Church and to the wider society nonetheless.

It really is possible to keep insisting on the dignity of every human person and supporting the dignity of marriage at the same time. Let’s call it spiritual multi-tasking. To suppose we can only talk about one thing at a time is to relegate all those supposedly “secondary” concerns to, well, secondary status.

I recently floated more deliberately an idea that I hatched a year ago to put some of these observations into practice. I call it “Dalantine’s Day.” It’s my modest attempt to affirm that there are many different kinds of relationship from which we all benefit in countless ways and which don’t rely on romantic pair-bonding. The deep intimacy of close friendships, for example, or the affection among colleagues, or the activism of neighborhood groups, or single parents raising children, or children caring for elderly parents, or those particular moments of extending hospitality to a stranger, or relationships of care with non-human animals of all kinds.

All of those various relational configurations are actually lauded by biblical writers, but few would realize it by listening to the religious rhetoric on both the “right” and the “left” today. Both sides perpetuate the idea that the most dignified form of human relationship is marriage. How many churches, I wonder, celebrate any other kind of relationship in their liturgical lives and ritual practices?

We can do better. The peculiar faith of a peculiar gospel people can do much better. In my view, achieving same-sex marriage is a worthy, laudable, and completely Christian cause for celebration, because it’s about justice, fairness, equality, and of course, love. But if we don’t say something more, then we religious folks are falling far short of the standard that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals set for us all yet again on February 7: human dignity.