Quaker Theology - #28 - Spring-Summer 2016
Three Reflections on Same Sex Marriage
Why I Support Same Gender Marriage
Several years ago, I was attending a Quaker conference north of Chicago
and began talking with a man from Ohio, who spoke in the plain language
of our Quaker ancestors. Lots of thee’s and thou’s. It seemed
pretentious, as if he were subtly reminding the rest of us we weren’t
as good a Quaker as he. At one time, Quakers used “thee” and “thou” for
a very important reason. It was the common form of the word “you,” so
in a very stratified society with rigid social codes, to call everyone
“thee” or “thou” was to affirm the importance and worth of all persons.
It was the Quaker equivalent of not bowing before the queen. In 1650,
using the plain language of “thee” and “thou” was a brave social
witness against inequality. Today, it just seems peculiar.
This is because our understanding of equality and what constitutes
equality is constantly changing. Today, we don’t have to argue that
slaves should be free or women should vote. Now there are other
injustices in need of remedy, other wrongs to right. Those who commit
themselves to equality for all people will, unfortunately, always have
work to do. I wanted to say to that man, “We’ve won that battle.
Let’s move on.”
Still, his plain language was a keen reminder of our ancestors’ witness
against inequality, which we need to be reminded of now and again, lest
in our complacency we suppose that just because we are free, so is
Freedom is something we’re intensely aware of when our own rights are
limited, though we’re often blind to our own tendency to limit the
rights of others. For the weight of tradition and culture lay heavily
upon us, causing us to believe that certain forms of inequality are not
only appropriate, but Godly. When Southern slaveowners defended
slavery, they did so using the Bible. Today, when fundamentalists
demand the submission of women, they quote chapter and verse.
This has always been the case, which is why the emphasis on equality is
as necessary today as it was two hundred years ago, for though the
outward expressions of inequality have changed, our inward impulse to
deny others the same freedoms and privileges we enjoy has not changed a
The historian Ira Berlin has recently written a book entitled, Generations of Captivity. It is a history of slavery in America. I’ve been reading it the past several weeks. It is an eye-opener.
Did you know that in many of the Southern states it was against the law
for slaves to marry? Slaveowners were concerned that allowing slaves to
marry would provide legal protection to their offspring. This presented
a problem, because they wanted slaves to have children so there would
be more slaves. So they encouraged slaves to breed indiscriminately,
but refused to extend to those slaves the blessing and privilege of
Now think about that, friends. Is there any better way to utterly
demoralize and destroy a group of people than to rob them of a sense of
belonging and identity and forbid their participation in family life
and relationships? For more than ten generations this injustice was
perpetrated against people of color and we wonder today why so many of
their families remain fractured and frayed. The ten generations of
damage done to them might very well take twenty generations to heal.
This is the terrible toll of inequality.
The degradation and decimation of a people invariably begins with
forbidding them to form family relationships. Just as America forbid
its slaves from marrying, Nazi Germany prohibited Germans from marrying
A 2007 opinion poll in Israel revealed that more than half of Israeli
Jews believed intermarriage with Arabs was equivalent to national
treason. Even today, Palestinians who marry Israelis are not granted
citizenship or residency rights under Israeli law.
Friends, we can talk about inequality in a detached, analytical manner,
we can cite instances of inequality from other eras or cultures which
don’t impugn our character or challenge us. Isn’t this always our
tendency, to act with historical hindsight, wondering why our ancestors
didn’t see an injustice that is obvious to us, while we remain blind to
the injustices we visit upon others. In the words of Jesus, we want to
remove the splinter in someone else’s eye and keep the log in our own.
After all, it’s easy to vilify slaveowners and Nazis. But as thoughtful
Christians, we must be willing to scrutinize our own lives. Do I
practice inequality? Do I enjoy rights and privileges I am unwilling to
extend to others?
For too many years, the Church has declared war on gay people and those
who support them, booting them out or humiliating them with
unreasonable and unkind prohibitions which violate their conscience and
diminish their humanity.
Our steadfast refusal to allow gay people to marry has placed us in
dubious company. To deny two responsible adults who care deeply for one
another the right to marry is wrong. As a pastor, I speak often about
the blessings of married life. Being married to a person I love has
enriched my life immeasurably. Being married has helped me grow and has
brought me deep joy. It has, in the words of our Quaker wedding
ceremony, divided my sorrows and multiplied my satisfactions. I know
many people are happily single, but I can’t imagine not having my
I can no longer in good conscience deny the blessing of marriage to an
entire group of persons, who, because of their fetal development, were
born different from me. It violates my sense of Quaker equality and my
Christian belief in the worth and dignity of all persons.
I have also, in the words of Dan Maguire at Marquette University, come
to realize “that heterosexuals have no monopoly on love…that the right
to marry is a human right, not an award for being heterosexual.”
So we speak, kindly, tenderly, but firmly and resolutely, and we say to
gay people, God’s wonderful, beautiful children, “May God bless you and
your partners. May God bless your relationships, your homes, and your
* * * * *
The Sky Didn’t Fall
Adapted from The Indianapolis Monthly, August 2015
On October 7, 2014, same-gender weddings became legal in Indiana.
Despite predictions that the seven-headed beast of Revelation would
rise from the sea and smite us, God wasn’t nearly as upset as some
imagined and decided to forego the apocalypse.
I feel kind of sorry for the people who predicted the collapse of
Western civilization if gay people were allowed to marry. It’s clear
they were wrong, and are probably embarrassed about all the fuss they
made. The loss of credibility is never easy. Plus, it’s hard work being
an alarmist, having to constantly fan the flickering flames of fear. I
hope our state legislature and governor, who did more than their share
of that, were able to take a well-deserved rest this summer. If they
wanted to take an entire year off, I wouldn’t object. In fact, I insist
on it. Stay home. Rest. Spend time with your families. Travel. Far
I attended my first same-gender wedding this past spring when my
brother married his partner of 26 years. It was held at their church,
which belongs to a denomination that doesn’t permit same-gender
marriages, but its members are compassionate and its pastors are brave,
so they held the wedding anyway, then invited everyone down to the
basement to sit around tables in awkward silence eating cashews and
cake, like every other wedding I’ve ever attended. I had the privilege
of pronouncing my brother and his partner husbands for life.
When I read the words from the Quaker wedding service, “the state
sanctions and the church adorns marriage as the ideal relationship in
human society…”, everyone cheered after the words “the state
If anyone present opposed same-gender marriage, they didn’t make
themselves known. Just to be on the safe side, I didn’t ask if anyone
knew why they shouldn’t marry, nor did I invite anyone to speak now or
forever hold their peace. I never ask that question, since I wouldn’t
stop the wedding anyway. Suppose a father doesn’t think the young man
marrying his daughter is good enough, which is to say every father of
every daughter who has ever lived. Why hand him the microphone? I
was at a wedding once where the pastor, not a terribly bright man,
asked the congregation if anyone objected and an old girlfriend of the
groom spoke up. The pastor ignored her, so I’m not sure why he asked
for objections in the first place.
I’ve objected to several weddings I’ve performed, believing they didn’t
stand a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. But I’ve always
objected quietly, to my wife, after the wedding was over. Objecting to
a wedding is pointless, since there’s no stopping two people bent on
marrying the wrong person and ruining their lives.
To be honest, I was a little nervous conducting a same-gender wedding,
since I’d never done one before. But about five minutes into it, it
felt like the hundred other weddings I’ve done and I forgot the couple
was gay. I just saw two people in love. At the end of the wedding, when
the bride and groom customarily kiss, I could tell a few people were
nervous about what might happen. A friend of mine attending said he was
going to close his eyes if the couple kissed, but they just gave one
another a quick hug and that was pretty much it. Not unlike one
baseball player hugging another after a home run. They didn’t even pat
one another on the fanny like baseball players do.
What struck me most about the wedding was the normalcy of it. The
singers sang the same songs, we pastors prayed the same prayers, the
couple lit the same unity candle, the women cried the same tears, the
men gave the same bored sighs and wished they were home puttering in
their garages. An objection would have livened things up. I had a
speech in my suit pocket, in the event we were set upon by the Westboro
Baptist Church. I was going to seize the pulpit, pull the speech from
my pocket, and hold forth. It was, if I do say so myself, one of my
better speeches, an eloquent defense of freedom and equality, which now
gathers dust in my files, never to be heard.
My brother and his husband asked me to preach a sermon at their
wedding. For all the weddings I’ve done, I’d never given a sermon at
one, and tried to worm out of it. But they persisted, so I agreed to do
it. I sighed a lot though, just to let them know it was an effort. I
knew everyone there would hate me if I preached fifteen minutes, so I
kept it at five minutes. Trying to say something profound in five
minutes is hard work. It took me eight hours to write. In return, I
received a gift certificate to Goodman’s Shoe Store. In the old days,
ministers used to be paid with chickens, but now we get gift
When you attend a wedding, it’s safe to say that of all the people
working that day, the minister is being paid less than any of them. The
photographer, the cake-baker, and the florist are raking it in, while
the minister is lucky to get a piece of cake, even though the minister
did the pre-marital counseling, oversaw the rehearsal, sobered up the
best man, and fended off the bride’s mother when she tried to take
over. I once had to talk down a bride’s uncle when he showed up with a
pistol threatening to shoot the groom. Other than that, it was a lovely
wedding, and the happy couple stuck it out through thick and thin for a
whole year before divorcing.
Let’s talk about what makes for a real marriage. Are you listening,
statehouse? My brother and his husband have been together 26 years.
During most of those years the Church condemned them, the government
discriminated against them, members of their own family refused to
acknowledge their relationship. They received none of the societal
support my wife and I have enjoyed in our 31 years of marriage. But
they stuck it out. Indeed, more than stuck it out, their love grew,
their commitment deepened, their happiness expanded. And here’s
the irony, my brother and his husband wanted me to stand in a pulpit
and advise them how to make a marriage work. Can you believe
that? That’s like Andrew Luck [quarterback for the Indianapolis
Colts NFL team] asking me to give him a few tips on throwing a football.
While I’m clearing the air, let me add that their gay marriage harmed
my traditional marriage exactly zero percent. In fact, my wife and I
held hands all the way home, which led to something else that I won’t
talk about. Just let me say it in no way involved the seven-headed
beast of Revelation.
* * * * *
At the Editors’ request, here’s the sermon I gave at that wedding:
In the bulletin you were given, it refers to this
talk as a sermon. Don’t let that make you nervous. I’m going to talk a
bit about marriage, but what I have to say probably doesn’t qualify as
a sermon. Sermons are twenty minutes and often boring. I’m going to try
not to do that.
This is the first same-gender wedding I have attended or participated
in. I suspect the same might be true for many of you. This is new
ground, made possible by our nation’s expanded understanding of
marriage, our growing insistence on equality, and our increasing
realization that love transcends one’s sexual orientation.
I want to ask each of you to look up at the ceiling. Study it closely.
Note the absence of large, gaping cracks. Observe, if you will, the
sturdy beams, the lights hanging steadily in place. When you leave this
church, notice how the sun and the stars still move orderly through
space. The prophets of doom were mistaken.
The sky has not fallen, the world has not ended, because gay people can
now marry the person they love. Instead, two people, who have loved one
another for 26 years, are finally able to enjoy the gift of marriage.
And our world is the richer for it. Our world is always better when
people make enduring commitments, and when their friends and family
bear witness to their commitment.
It feels odd to give marital advice to two people who’ve been a couple
twelve years longer than the median length of marriages in the U.S. And
those were traditional marriages that enjoyed society’s support,
government’s incentives, and religion’s blessing. Gay couples have
enjoyed none of those advantages until very recently, and even that
support is uneven. David and Ken, your relationship has prospered in
spite of obstacles most married couples never face. So I’m not going to
pretend I have anything to teach you.
I can only say that whatever you’ve been doing, keep doing it. Keep
listening, keep caring, keep giving, keep forgiving, keep enjoying,
keep learning, keep loving.
A woman came to me several years ago. She had left her abusive husband,
had lived by herself for a number of years, then had met a wonderful
man and began dating. After a year, they decided to move in together.
She admitted feeling guilty about living together.
“We’re going to get married soon,” she told me. “I don’t like living in sin.”
I asked her why she called it living in sin.
She said she’d been taught that living together outside of marriage was sinful.
I told her I disagreed, that I thought living in sin was when you promised to love, honor, and cherish someone, then didn’t.
I think there’s a lot of married people living in sin.
When you’re married, attending a wedding has a way of reminding you of
the promise you made. What David and Ken are doing visibly and vocally
today, many of us are doing invisibly, quietly, today. As they make
their pledge, we remember our pledges, and in our hearts renew them.
Every blessing to you, David and Ken. May your marriage, and your lives, be filled with all that is lovely and good.