I’ve read a number of letters and articles addressing your current stand against same-sex marriage and the actions you’ve taken to uphold your personal beliefs. Many things have been said: a few I’ve agreed with, most have been overly emotional but hardly unexpected in this day of exaggeration and hyperbole. Many people admire your convictions, and I agree. I went through a similar decision related to my faith a few years ago, though I came to a very different conclusion. I hope that by sharing it, you might understand where others are coming from.
You see, my degree in pastoral studies is from The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago: a conservative Bible College that you may have heard of. While I was studying there I developed and refined my theology: and I learned from some of the best teachers in the country. But my junior year, after some deep discussions with fellow students, I decided I needed to be counselled: because I was secretly gay. So I confessed to student services: I went through a full “reparation treatment” akin to the Exodus International style of therapy to try to align my sexuality more traditionally. And we thought it worked. I did everything I was supposed to. After I graduated I even got married to my wife: and for ten years I quietly kept telling myself I was cured. We worked with a church in Pennsylvania: and in that time and place, no-one guessed my secret struggle. Unfortunately, it didn’t stick. Years of effort resulted in only a frustrated marriage. Like most gay men I found I couldn’t change my attractions. Eventually my wife and I divorced (in spite of Matthew 19:9, there was no adultery) and I decided that it was time to be honest with myself and to come out”.
So I did an extensive study of alternative interpretations to the conventional anti-gay passages in the Bible. What I determined was that in spite of the anger and the rhetoric we hear today, the passages are less than obvious or perfectly clear. There is no solid reason to regard same-sex intercourse as sinful. Thus it becomes one of those activities that we should agree to disagree on: like drinking, dancing, smoking, playing cards and going to movies. When I was at Moody, we were not allowed to do any of those things: there was a perception of sin associated with each of them. I signed the “Student Life Guide” and agreed to abstain from those activities while a student: and I did, even though I did not personally recognize an issue with any of them. Homosexuality is the same. I understand that many people think it is sinful: and I don’t expect them to participate. According to the “Principles of Conscience” described in Romans 14:14, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” I understand that for you it is wrong: but for me being gay is not unclean, and I certainly hurt no-one (verse 15): and so I’m able to “give thanks to God” (verse 6) for my sexuality.
I was studying at Penn State back when I was first learning this: I started looking for a job and got an offer in Arkansas. I did interviews in California and Massachusetts: and came in second for both. I remember asking myself: was I really going to explore my new sexuality in Arkansas? But then I was a geographer, and I knew that I could find supportive people anywhere. So I took the job and moved to Little Rock: and met a wonderful and supportive gay community. I found a church were I could worship and serve as a gay man in the city: I was even on the preaching schedule, about once a month or so.
This would have started in late 90s, early 2000s My first difficulty was that same sex intercourse was illegal in the state: and I took Romans 13:1 quite seriously. “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Those laws were not enforced, however, and in 2002 they were repealed. In the meantime, I had met the man to whom I was planning to be with: we had a “commitment ceremony”, which in my mind was as close as I could get to being married before God. My theology had changed very little from my Moody days: and it was important for me to have a public commitment (a marriage) to my husband, as I did with my wife. My relationship with God took many twists, but none of those turns broke my foundation. And indeed, God had blessed me since I’d come out, and seemed to be opening doors to be more open about my sexuality.
It’s funny: I know you won’t believe me. I continue to follow every theological principle that I learned at Moody. I am saved; I have a close walk with God. I am filled with the Spirit and I continue to grow in sanctification (Col 3:1-10). Yet I know that many people feel it is impossible for a gay man to do so, and you are probably one of them. As it says in Acts 15:11,”we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as [you] also are.” That chapter describes the Council of Jerusalem, and the elements of the old Law that were to be applied to Gentile believers (Acts 15:19-21). Among them is the command to “abstain… from fornication”: which is the very command we are trying to follow when we try to get married: yet which has been so often denied.
Then came the election of 2004. The Arkansas Marriage Amendment was passed, saying that the state would never respect same-sex marriage “or anything like same-sex marriage”. For me, this was significant. It was one thing to be committed to my husband: but part of the Biblical definition that people harp about is that the commitment should be public and recognized. I did not have that. We wanted to be “one” in the Biblical definition: related, a family. With all the associated rights and responsibilities. And that was founded on the legal definition of marriage. We could not do that under the laws at the time and place: and unlike you, I was not representing the “popular” or dominant religion of the day, so I did not expect accommodation. If anything, I expected to be ridiculed by Christian columnists if I came out as wanting to be married because I was a queer Christian: so I never even tried. We decided instead to move to Canada, to Toronto, in order to get married and have that kind of full recognition. I left my adopted state: a job that I “loved” and “was good at” in order to stand up for my principles. I was clear with friends and coworkers why I was leaving: though it took a while to fully explain to my old boss. I started a new job in December of 2006, and we were married in February of 2007. A tiny wedding, but it was ours before God and the world. It was hard at first to completely remake my life, but I considered it to be one of the crosses I had to bear to follow Jesus, as in Matthew 16:24.
My husband and I have continued to be blessed since our marriage: now almost ten years. I’m working with a church in Toronto; it happens that today I was elected to parish council. I speak regularly about LGBTQ issues and perspectives: often about the intersection between the gay community and faith. I have no question that I did the right thing when I left my then-home to get married. The world has changed radically since, however: Exodus Intentional has closed its doors; gay reparative or conversion therapy has been widely discredited; same-sex marriage is now the law of the land in the U.S. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime: but my friends are now able to legally marry in Arkansas and to celebrate publicly.
Which brings me to the point of this letter. I know you loved and were good at your job: but that job has changed, now now requires you to do something that you think is offensive. I understand that. I understand that you wish it wasn’t so, but it is. In refusing to do your job, you are hurting many people, not just yourself. You’re hurting the cause of civil rights and equality. You’re hurting the individuals whom you’ve refused marriage licenses. But worse: you’re hurting the gospel. The message that was preached two thousand years ago was not one of judgement or denial or difference. It was a message of inclusion and acceptance in spite of anything that might be perceived as “sin”. It was, and is, a message of love.
I know you think you will “lose your voice” if you leave your job: but unfortunately, you’ve already lost it. At least you’ve lost anything that might have been beneficial in what you say. You’ve made your point that you think same-sex marriage is wrong: but refusing to provide marriage licenses, you appear to be less someone who is principled and more someone who is bigoted. And in our world, that is a much more serious accusation. People naturally associate that kind of bigotry with our faith because of your words, and that is wrong. Those are not the words of Jesus. They are the words of the Pharisees: who not only had their own ritualized and legalistic interpretation of the Law, but had the power to impose it.
I know you have trusted your legal team and the likes of Mike Huckabee in determining your course of action: but they have a vested interest in using your situation for their own advantage. I lived under Mr. Huckabee when I lived in Arkansas, so I’m quite familiar with his policies. And he is one whom I would say “has received his reward in full” according to Matthew 6:2. Don’t be like him.