Every now and then, one needs to be reminded that one shouldn’t compromise or hide who he is. This weekend, I was the “one.” Let me explain:
I love weddings. I love marriage. I’ve written about both before and I think about them a lot. When I think about why I love weddings, I think about the couple’s love for each other. I think about how they’re sharing it and demonstrating it in front of their friends and families. I think about the commitment of a lifetime. I think about how I can’t wait to make that same commitment or to even be given the option. Everything, all of it, is about love. So as I sat in a church pew last weekend, watching two people preparing to get married, I was shocked. Not by the couple, but by one of the first things the minister leading the ceremony decided to say:
“No matter what society tries to tell us, marriage is between a man and woman.”
Yes, I was at a Southern Baptist Church in relatively small Florida town. Yes, I was surrounded by a group of presumably conservative evangelical Christians. Yes, I assumed this was the general opinion of most people in the sanctuary. But no — I did not think that an anti-marriage equality stance merited one of the opening lines of a couple’s wedding.
Let me back up a bit.
I happily agreed to go to this wedding with someone so they didn’t have to go alone. I knew that I would be presumed straight. I assumed I might get frustrated along the way, or hear things that I’d disagree with. I did not know the couple getting married until the night before their wedding. They both seemed very friendly and welcoming to someone they saw as a good friend of a good friend. Their families were also nice. I never felt intentionally unwelcome. There were times it felt awkward, but that’s the nature of going to a wedding of people you just met in an environment like that. The person I was with was in the wedding party, so we arrived at the church hours before the ceremony. I quickly asked if there was anything I could do to help.
As you can see, I made the best of my situation. But then the ceremony started and the minister began to speak. And he said what he said. So now I’m staring at this young couple staring at each other, preparing to be married. They’ve been nothing but nice to me. But now, all I can think about is how the pastor has taken this (presumably) once-in-a-lifetime moment to make a statement about gay marriage. I’m not only personally offended, I’m offended for the couple. It’s hijacking their big day. But of course it was not likely as big of a deal to them as it was to me. Who knows if they even noticed. And perhaps they agreed.
A wedding is supposed to celebrate a couple. It is not a chance for the minister to give a sermon. And surely if the couple had asked him to give one, he wouldn’t have decided to make it about gay marriage. I seem to find myself in places where ministers somehow get this mixed up, whether at weddings or at funerals or memorial services (my mom’s service comes to mind, which you can read about here and here). Unless the couple said, “Hey, we know you probably want to talk about things like love, commitment, honoring each other, etc., but we really want you to start off with ‘gay marriage is wrong,'” I just don’t see how a minister can justify using such a positive time for such a negative purpose.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with me tagging along, smiling politely, engaging in conversation only when I had to, and remaining so silent that my friends wouldn’t have recognized me. We were some of the first ones there and some of the last ones to leave.
Throughout the day, I heard church people gossiping, complaining, pretending. I saw gluttony and heard inappropriate jokes. I saw jealousy, rudeness, and isolation. I can’t remember a time in the recent past when I’ve felt more unwelcome than inside that church. And I’ve felt more than welcome at places the church would probably call “sinful.” Biker bars, poor neighborhoods, foreign countries…I’ve felt comfortable in them all. But not inside this church on that day. It made me think about what the Bible says about Christians and the Church. Here are a couple examples:
“They sold property and possessions to anyone who had need…they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:45-47
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19 – 22
I must’ve missed the part about singling out gay marriage, condemning it whenever possible, and driving gay people, even gay Christians, away from the church.
So the daylong stint of playing pretend, fake smiling, and reliving the unfortunate realities of my childhood in a church that poorly represents Christianity is over. I don’t regret going because I know I made it better for those around me and that was the goal. I enjoyed meeting new people, whether or not they think I should be allowed to get married. And, as always, I learned from the hostility and ignorance of others. But I find it interesting that I’m the one trying my best not to sink to the “minister’s” level.
Thankfully, I’m comfortable with who I am. And I know these people do not represent all Christians. But I really feel bad for the gay kids who have gone through that church and the ones still to come. They exist. Pretending like they don’t won’t help them, or Christianity. Nor will telling them they can change, they’re going to hell, or that they are lesser-than. Times like these make me laugh at the notion that I am somehow persecuting them or limiting their rights simply because I want to be able to marry the person I love.
It’s just plain ignorant. Simple as that. And ignorance is dangerous.