Saturday, June 27, 2015

What Emanuel AME Church has to teach us about the way forward

Now that same-sex marriage is woven into the national legal fabric of the US, Christians and their communities of faith are considering how to respond. Some are angry, decrying the imminent demise of the nation; others are celebrating this progressive move.

This isn’t the first time that churches in the US have had to deal with changes in legal requirements that relate to marriage. Up until the 1970’s there had to be some provable violation of the bonds of marriage for a divorce to be granted. Since the creation of no-fault divorce, however, the process has been streamlined and made easier for everyone (except, of course, the children).

This was a challenge for people of faith, who trusted the authority of that part of the wedding ceremony that proclaimed,

“What God has joined together, let no one separate.” (A quote from Jesus, to be clear)

The State made a ruling on divorce, and churches had to live with it. How did many churches respond? Many realized that marginalizing or excluding divorced people from their fellowships was not the way of Jesus. Divorce recovery ministries sprang up. There was even a growing acceptance of those who divorced and remarried. Most didn’t do a particularly good job of exploring the theology of it all, but there was still a response that resulted in acts of ministry.

Now the State has made a ruling on marriage, and churches have to live with that as well.

So, now what?

I think that the good people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, have helped us with the way forward.

After nine worshippers were gunned down in their church, the members of Emanuel probably recognized that the rest of the world would sympathize with them if they called for retributive justice—the death of the perpetrator that might somehow set things rights. They might have called for a violent response from their community.

Instead, they sent the world a message. They said, in effect,

“In times of pain, sorrow, and grief, we begin with worship, and then we forgive. That’s how we do it.” And the world, including the media, marveled.

And now, the Supreme Court has laid claim to a time-honored tradition for religious folks of all kinds: Marriage. And, as a majority, the citizens of our nation are on board with that change. The times, indeed, are a-changin’.

So, my Christian brothers and sisters, how do we do it?

Do we spew vitriol on the Internet, drawing lines and investing ourselves in the polarized screaming matches that have too long characterized people in our society? Do we simply embrace the decision of the court and cheer for what we’ve thought was right all along?

Or, do we stop, take a breath, and consider who we are. We who follow Jesus are not called to be ideologues that live or die based on the rulings of the Court or the preferences of our culture. We are called to be God’s people for the sake and blessing of the world.

The most appropriate response to the drama of this week is, I believe, to come together in worship. I think the noble people at Emanuel AME have shown us the power of such a response. Regardless of our views about the Court’s decision, we should intentionally and vulnerably place ourselves in a posture that demonstrates the lordship of Jesus Christ and recognizes that the church in America is a church in exile.

And then we open our eyes and ears and ask ourselves: What does the ministry of Jesus look like in this time and place? In challenging times, how is the love of God made known? I’m pretty sure it won’t be made known in political posturing and venomous denunciations.

So, how will we do it? The world is watching.

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