Every day en route to work, I'm greeted by a billboard telling me "Obama supports gay marriage." It then asks if I do, while recommending that I "vote Republican."
Really? That's supposed to be my voting criterion? Why are decisions like choosing presidents or chicken sandwiches now a gay thing?
Take the chicken sandwich, for example. For years I enjoyed eating at Chick-fil-A. As a Christian and a pastor, I had huge respect for the fast-food chain because it bucked corporate and cultural norms by staying closed on Sundays in deference to its founding family's faith. Then it became a gay thing.
Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy voiced his opposition to gay marriage, citing adherence to "the biblical definition of marriage." OK. A bit archaic if you ask me, with the Bible allowing for polygamy and all, but the man's entitled to his beliefs.
Had it ended there, I'd still be dining at his restaurants. Then, as the controversy unfolded, I discovered that he had financially supported organizations that try to turn public policy against gay rights. Being gay myself, it became personal.
Wait a minute, you say. You're a Christian pastor and you're gay? How is that possible? Don't you believe in the Bible? Haven't you read Leviticus?
Actually, beyond just believing in it, I truly love the Bible. I can't imagine pastoring a church without one. I have even read the long, boring book of Leviticus (no offense, God, but You and I both know that it makes for a less-than-compelling read).
In return I ask, have you read Leviticus? Or just its most famous line: ""You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination"?
To be sure, there are passages that condemn homosexual acts, just as there are those that tell us not to eat lobster or wear clothing of mixed fabric or -- my personal favorite -- that instruct employers to pay their workers daily, not weekly or bi-weekly. (I'd like to see Christian businesspeople follow that one!)
While we entertain arguments nitpicking over individual passages, there's a whole rest of the Bible with really good stuff we might miss. I know I did for years, being hung up on the anti-gay passages that the church of my youth insisted upon. When I later began earnestly studying the rest of the Bible, I found that I could easily reconcile my faith with my sexual orientation.
Sadly, many adolescents never get that chance. Stuck at those few verses of ancient condemnation as I was, they can't deal with the fact that their sexuality seems at odds with their beliefs. Some just abandon their faith. Others feel driven to end the internal conflict the only way they can think of. In desperation, they end everything.
Poor kids. I wonder how God feels about them taking their lives ... and about the beliefs that push them to see suicide as their only option.
I was lucky. My struggle drove me only to a nasty bout of alcohol and drug abuse. Self-loathing from not being able to be the person your religious beliefs oblige you to be can do that to a person.
Everything turned out OK for me. Allowing God to transform an enormous life negative into an amazing positive, I became able to use my experience with addiction for a larger purpose. Recovery was a deeply spiritual process that helped me understand and accept myself, which enabled me to understand and accept others. Nowadays, I step into a pulpit every Sunday striving to infect others (and re-infect myself) with the contagion of acceptance and understanding.
So when conversations turn to gay marriage, I go for understanding and not argumentation. I explain how all of us, through no fault or choice of our own, fall in love with someone at some time, usually in our youth.
When it happened to my straight friends, they celebrated by openly dating and getting married. When it happened to me, I couldn't share my feelings with anyone. Acutely aware of the religious and social views around me, I knew of the ridicule and prejudice I'd face. One love was celebrated; the other made to feel shame. To understand how that might affect an adolescent mind, please see the previous paragraphs on suicide and substance abuse.
So, in answer to that billboard I see on my way to work: I think everyone should be able to share their joy when they fall in love, so I guess I do support gay marriage. However, I hope that someday we can drop the word "gay" and just call it marriage, accepting it equally without labels. Because it's not a gay thing. It's a human thing.
Ron Pedersen Jr. is a minister in the United Church of Christ now serving Mount Troy UCC (firstname.lastname@example.org). His views do not necessarily represent those of his congregation, whose members hold a variety of opinions on issues pertaining to gays.