One of the more frustrating aspects about the current debate over same-sex marriage is the utter shallowness of the theology on the anti-marriage side. Having wrongfully presumed that it is their prerogative to determine whether other people’s civil marriages meet their theological criteria, the only theological criteria they offer up is that of gender. Britney Spears wants to drunkenly marry some guy for 15 minutes? No problem. A couple of straight swingers want to get married and swap partners every night til death do them part? Let ’em. But to allow any two women or two men to get married would go against their religion.
Of course, few if any would advocate that we hold anyone else’ civil marriages up to religious scrutiny. That would be considered inappropriate, overreaching. Yet, that is precisely what we do any time civil marriage is denied on the basis of gender, as there is no argument against same-sex marriage that is not religious in origin.
Here’s the problem: gay people not only are allowed to get married in my church, but have been for decades. As far as religious marriage – as opposed to civil marriage – is concerned, we will continue this forever. Yet, other peoples’ concept of religious marriage have overreached into our church building, effectively neutralizing our religious marriages so that they do not result in the same civil benefits as others. If religious marriage is going to be interchangeable with civil marriage, as is presently the case in American society, fine. But not if only one narrow interpretation of religious marriage is going to be enforced on everybody.
So the sanctity of marriage should be protected. The marriages that my church conduct should have the same legal standing as any other religious marriages. People smarter than me have drawn up big arguments around the following idea, but in a nutshell, here is my plan for restoring marriage in America.
[UPDATE: If you haven’t seen Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments in their original context, follow this link.]
Each church has a unique context, with members who have particular needs and points of view. Trinity UCC has, since its inception, been one of the most honest churches I can think of in living the gospel and meeting the needs of the greater community on the south side of Chicago (read: low-income black folks, a community that has historically borne the brunt of America’s oppression). Depending on the circumstances that have brought folks to their point of need, “God damn America” can represent a liberating theological notion for those who have been harmed by America – or by the conflation of God/America like we’ve seen following September 11.
The powerful subtext behind “God damn America” is first and foremost that God is NOT America, and does not necessarily bless us just for being Americans. Depending on where you’ve come from, these can be liberating words that can lead people from despair, to God. As a pastor, Rev. Wright’s job at the pulpit isn’t to be politically correct, or to be safe, or comforting, or to not make waves or step on toes, but it is to declare the salvation of God – as effectively as possible, – for the folks who need to hear it. And if you listen to the tiny decontextualized video snippets of any of these “controversial” sermons, you will hear that Rev. Wright’s words deeply resonated with those who were there to hear them.
All I’m saying is, we – and by “we” I’m talking to outraged middle class folks who are so offended by Rev. Wright’s comments that they’re considering not voting for Obama as a result – we must realize that our self righteousness is not necessarily universal. It may well be crazy and indefensible for the pastor of our churches to preach “God damn America,” but then again, context is everything, isn’t it? (Yes, it is.)
Many are now asking, what does this say about Obama, and the emphasis that he has put on our national unity?
To me, it says that he has spent 20 years working in a church that has been a vibrant, saving institution for many low-income black folks in Chicago.
It says that Obama views the gospel message as one that requires adherence to God AND neighbor, just as Jesus commands.
Finally, it says that Obama, who has been through his own share of difficult times, has also spent his life meeting people at their point of need, without losing his optimism for the future of America.
And that is a candidate – and a faith perspective – that I can get behind.
[UPDATE: If you haven’t seen Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments in their original context, follow this link.]
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, has taken a lot of flak for a handful of statements he has made in a few sermons. The reason we’re supposed to care is because Rev. Wright is the pastor of Barack Obama’s home church. I suppose the thinking goes that if Barack Obama can’t be beaten on issues, perhaps he’ll go down by association if enough dirt can be heaped upon his pastor. Time will tell.
Most famously, he has uttered the words you’re not supposed to say after 9/11: “God damn America.” Here is the “full” quote (and by “full” I mean “a pathetic, 10 second snippet of what was probably a 45 minute sermon”):
“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”
Troubling words. But Rev. Jeremiah Wright is prophetic – and right.
It is an utter perversion of Christianity to think that God sanctions everything that America is or does – yet how many Christian leaders behave as if America is God’s Special Favorite? I’m sorry to say it, but we aren’t God’s favorites, just because we fly the Stars and Stripes. America is simply our nation, both great and flawed, with both a proud history of dissent and protecting minority voices, and a shameful history of abuse and oppression from the majority.
To whatever extent God damns anything, you can be damn sure that the God of Jesus Christ would damn slavery.
You can be damn sure that God would damn the government for selling crack in inner cities in order to finance the Contras.
You can be damn sure that God damns the American slaughter of innocent people, whether in Hiroshima or Baghdad.
If our God is a God of justice and mercy at all, it is clear that there are damnable aspects about America throughout her history. It is shocking to hear “God damn America!” But that’s nowhere near as shocking as the notion that God categorically blesses everything America does.
(For more on this, please see Devilstower’s excellent diary on DailyKos.)
Dr. Robert Jensen, journalism professor at University of Texas at Austin, frequently writes articles that I find very compelling, particularly in the areas of white privilege/racism, and gender/pornography. He’s a bright guy, and he’s not afraid to take hard, unpopular stances that have earned him derision from shills on both sides.
Anyway, a recent article caught my eye: Anti-Capitalism in five minutes or less (catchy!). In it, Jensen lays out three major points about how capitalism is ultimately inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable. What follows is some of it, but you should really read it all.
1. Capitalism is inhuman
There is a theory behind contemporary capitalism. We’re told that because we are greedy, self-interested animals, an economic system must reward greedy, self-interested behavior if we are to thrive economically.
Why is it that we must choose an economic system that undermines the most decent aspects of our nature and strengthens the most inhuman? Because, we’re told, that’s just the way people are. What evidence is there of that? Look around, we’re told, at how people behave. Everywhere we look, we see greed and the pursuit of self-interest. So, the proof that these greedy, self-interested aspects of our nature are dominant is that, when forced into a system that rewards greed and self-interested behavior, people often act that way. Doesn’t that seem just a bit circular?
Why yes, yes it does. Here I would add that if anybody is in doubt about the extent to which capitalism is inhuman, one need only consider how capitalism doesn’t merely presume that the many must support the few, it depends upon this arrangement. And the result is that too many are stuck on the bottom, prevented from accessing necessary resources. It’s really quite simple: if everybody had enough, then who could be compelled to do the grunt work? Next point:
2. Capitalism is anti-democratic
This one is easy. Capitalism is a wealth-concentrating system. If you concentrate wealth in a society, you concentrate power. Is there any historical example to the contrary?
If we understand democracy as a system that gives ordinary people a meaningful way to participate in the formation of public policy, rather than just a role in ratifying decisions made by the powerful, then it’s clear that capitalism and democracy are mutually exclusive.
Jensen concludes this section by pointing out that in our democracy, no matter how powerful Bill Gates is, he’s got exactly the same voting power as Jensen (and any other voter). As a nation, we believe our representatives should be elected on a principal of one person, one vote. Yet, is there anybody who seriously believes they have as much political power as Bill Gates?
This begs the question, what is the true source of Bill Gate’s political power? His vote? Or the function of his money in a capitalistic society?
3. Capitalism is unsustainable
This one is even easier. Capitalism is a system based on the idea of unlimited growth. The last time I checked, this is a finite planet. There are only two ways out of this one. Perhaps we will be hopping to a new planet soon. Or perhaps, because we need to figure out ways to cope with these physical limits, we will invent ever-more complex technologies to transcend those limits.
Both those positions are equally delusional. Delusions may bring temporary comfort, but they don’t solve problems. They tend, in fact, to cause more problems…
Indeed. Our American sense of entitlement cannot be overstated. The health of our capitalistic economy depends upon our ability to keep buying excess crap, that we don’t really need. I surely include myself in this indictment; it’s as natural as the air we breathe to be caught up in American consumerism.
Personally, I do consider myself a capitalist. But I hasten to qualify that: I’m a “good old days” capitalist, supporting Mom & Pop’s local stores and farms. Let us denounce and reject this current state of anything-goes, global imperialist capitalism that is so prevalent and harmful – not to mention inhuman, anti-democratic and unsustainable.