[I wrote the following as an Op Ed for the Honolulu Advertiser, whose Opinion dept. had expressed interest in hearing from a religious perspective in support of HB 444, to allow civil unions in the state of Hawaii. They did not print it. To date, I have not found within their pages a mention of Christian perspectives that support the bill, but plenty of Pastors and churches that vehemently oppose the unions. Oh well…]
As a concerned Hawai’i resident, I have been following intently the pivotal and provocative discourse surrounding House Bill 444 (HB 444). As an evangelical Christian, I was dismayed at the choice by many Hawai’i churches to organize around a position that opposes just and equitable treatment for a segment of our society. I do not oppose the ostensible majority position of Christians in order to create or sustain division, but to ensure unity amongst the state’s faith communities in the cause of justice and to solidly relocate the public repute of Christians… so help me God.
Before I distill the religious argument embodied in such a pregnant issue as civil unions, I must first illuminate a statistical fallacy that is being used to perpetuate a myth that 70 percent of Hawai’i’s population “has voted” to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Every eligible voter between the ages of 18 and 28 currently residing within the boundaries of our state were not among those represented in 1998. It is clear that 11 years ago Hawai’i felt that particular dynamic personified the proper definition of marriage, but no reasonable person may therefore presume that each of those many thousands of constituents would support or oppose one’s position on HB 444. To presume anything about those thousands upon thousands of voters is no less than retroactive voter fraud. Please, on both sides of the aisle, do not co-opt my entire generation for one political agenda or another.
Let me also correct briefly another glaring misrepresentation I have noticed as a result of these proceedings. Within the narrative of the oft-cited doomed metropolis of yore (found in Gen. 18 and 19), we find not a single instance to indicate that homosexuality (or even sexual immorality) was the actual cause of the downfall of Sodom, but was merely a condition present at its destruction. The prophet Ezekiel illustrates more specifically the transgressions by which the twin cities were judged: arrogance, obesity, unconcern, and a lack of care for the poor (Ezek.16:49). It is imperative to the integrity of the Church that Biblical literalism gives way within our faith communities to Biblical literacy. These contrasting concepts often stand at opposite gates of a wide bridge between the popular church and the body of Christ in the world today.
To clarify, I recognize two existing bodies that evoke spiritual meaning in our world today. The “church” may be understood as merely the institution thereof, such as the buildings, but also people who see their faith as merely a social function. By capitalizing Church, I am suggesting the universal, transcendent, multi-national body of people engaged in advancing the Kingdom of God. It is no secret that for many years, Americans have identified Christians as being intolerant, bigoted, arrogant, and unforgiving. This represents only the popular church, as the Church will always be known by their love (Christ’s directive in John 13:35 is simultaneously qualitative and non-compulsory; as the church fails to love, it fails to be the Church).
The church’s posture of rallying on state grounds this past Sunday reflects a very basic dislocation of confession. The Church confesses one Lord and Savior, or in contemporary language, one President and Prime Minister. The Kingdom has its own politics, economy, and social structure, it does not rely upon this world’s (Christians are called to be counter-cultural, not sub-cultural). Unfortunately, as evidenced by the gathering attended by 8,000 church members, we have elected to utilize the state’s authority in order to affect our surrounding culture (to ‘evangelize,’ to spread the good news). In doing so, we inexplicably confess Caesar as our, well, Caesar. The seduction of control has tempted us to subtly slip our hand into the gauntlet of power that is reserved exclusively for the authorities. We have mistaken the power of the state with the authority of the Church, and the world has caught us with our hand in the cookie jar.
In this matter of civil unions, I regard it within its proper legal framework. You will notice that proponents have approached the state, not the Church. Religious communities will always be free to define marriage according to their specific traditions, but the state has a legal obligation to provide equitable and just treatment for all within its jurisdiction. As our nation protects such equity before the law, I fail to see a reasonable argument that our lawmakers may rest upon to deny said rights. To the churches, I would point out that any couple that accepts financial and civil reward as a result of their union does so at the expense of (and therefore remain in debt to) the public. In reality, all “marriages” that receive such benefits from the public are, in their most basic form, a civil union. From a Christian perspective, I personally understand the sacrament of marriage to be separate and distinct from such public (but not community) demands.
Finally, I agree with those within the church that have asked me to remain silent that the Church must be one. We must indeed be unified under the justice and grace of God. However, the silence of the church has had catastrophic results in the past, and we must not miss this opportunity to learn from our mistakes. The Church must not mistake power for authority. Dr. King warned us against believing that “America is the world’s divine messianic force-to-be.” To define our communities as being against something, we fail in being for anything. I know many leaders on Tuesday insisted that the church in fact “loves” homosexuals, but words are bankrupt if they are not transformed into action. May we follow Francis of Assisi in preaching the Gospel always, and using words only when necessary. Let us be unified under justice; let us be unified under God.