Learning from Obergefell v. Hodges

“When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” – Pete Seeger, 1955

One thing I’ve failed to note from the plethora of opinion generated in Christian circles from the recent SCOTU decision in favor of James Obergefell, the Ohio man whose marriage to John Arthur in Maryland was not recognized after the couple moved from Maryland to Ohio, has to do with the question, “What might have been?” I don’t read, or hear, anyone asking that in all the post-gay marriage conversation that I’ve become aware of to date.

Losing anything in life presents us with a teachable moment. To miss that moment too often renders the loss less meaningful than it might otherwise be. What might have been? While such a question may haunt us in the wake of our present powerlessness to change the past, I wonder if it can’t just as much help us in the face of future choices ahead. The pain of this question is needed for our healing as we then gain new information for better choices to come. “Where did I go wrong before?” hurts us now so it can help us learn from and avoid repeating mistakes in the future.

So back to Obergefell v Hodges. What might have been?

What if the community of American Christians had long ago recognized the great wisdom of gay Civil Unions nationally and spoken out in favor of such moderate proposals under our nation’s Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection? What if we had taken the law as enacted in Denmark in 1989, or as enacted by our own State of Vermont in 2000, and pushed for that law throughout the land? What if we had opened up the church as a place of blessing for those gay couples seeking to enter a new covenant of Christian love through Civil Union? What if we had taken the lead in supporting the LGBT community and welcomed them as equals into our own church communities? What if we had supported moderation, or compromised, back when we had the chance? What if we had worked as good citizens “under God, with liberty and justice for all” back in 1989 or even 2000 rather than working as we did collectively in State after State to ignore if not even block all legislation for Civil Unions? What might have been? Would there even have been an Obergefell v Hodges? Would gay marriage even be an issue today?

So often we avoid the hard questions about where we went wrong in the past as Christians. Too painful to confront our own powerlessness to now change the past. Too painful to consider our own guilt, as when we should have taken half instead of risking the whole. We avoid asking ourselves, “What might have been?” And by avoiding our pain in the present, we then lose something much larger: our opportunity to heal in the future.

The collective community of American Christians has largely wasted yet another opportunity to learn from our past mistakes. Another teachable moment is about to pass away. We will continue to fight against accepting half only to yet again lose the whole. We will continue failing to lead in pursuit of justice for all, only to again hypocritically celebrate our patriotism as American Christians. We will continue to fail in following the Christ who wept over Jerusalem for her “guaranteed to lose” demand for independence from Rome instead of his preferred alternative of interdependence with Rome (God AND, not or, Caesar). Hence, not one stone would be left standing after the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Do we continue to make Christ weep over our failure to also accept his preferred alternatives?

Though I’m not one to consider gay marriage any kind of fatal blow to the institution itself as ordained by God, I truthfully do not support gay marriage. I’ve long supported the Christian blessing of gay civil unions. (On the other hand, I still support the ordination of gay clergy as pastoral work in the church derives from a Spiritual Gift and not a physical attribute.) But gay marriage? No, I opposed it. I did absolutely nothing to fight for passage of Civil Union laws here in Ohio back in 2000 and beyond. I did nothing at all to prevent Obergefell v Hodges here. I have that painful guilt to bear in my own heart. Yet, I will only be healed if I have faith enough to ask myself this painful question of “What might have been?”

When will I ever learn? When will I ever learn?


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