Sunday, April 19, 2015

Does the Church Have Responsibility for Same-Sex Marriage? The Question of Animus

As same-sex marriage is set to revisit the United States Supreme Court, a question has already been raised by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Namely, is political and legal opposition to same-sex marriage rooted in an “animus” against homosexual persons qua homosexual persons?

Sadly, there is a reality within the church and culture of such animus, and this has only served to disembowel the constitutional argument for the social goodness of one man and one woman in marriage. This animus is usually the exception, but its presence is poisonous.

In the fall of 2002, I was baptized into this animus reality as I addressed a forum at Boston University on the topic: “Is Same-Sex Marriage Good for the Nation?’ My interlocutor was Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. We had not met before, and I arrived at the auditorium first. When she entered the room, with a number of followers behind her, I stepped forward, reached out my hand to shake hers, and with a smile said, “A pleasure to meet you.”

As I did so, her followers all reared back in surprise, which is say (as I interpreted the moment), they expected me to be a “homophobe” and were not prepared for genuine humanity and hospitality.

Arline led off the evening and said up front that every other person she had debated on this subject “had palpably hated me, but not so tonight with John Rankin.” I was surprised, and even more so later when she also said, “John, we know that you love us.” I never used the word love, but certainly showed respect for her equal humanity, and sought to listen well.

After a forum some years later, Arline gave me a hug, and in an email said to me: “John, you are a true gentleman and a thoughtful advocate.” She also gave me permission to publish and attribute these words. This from the woman who successfully led the lobbying movement for the nation’s first “gay rights” bill in Massachusetts in 1989, and again in 2005, led the lobbying effort for the first in the nation same-sex marriage law.

In my post-graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School in the 1980s, I was once took a class in feminist ethics. During lunch, early in the term, three women classmates approached me as I was sitting in the refectory. One of them introduced herself along with her two friends, and she said, “You know John, for an evangelical, you’re a nice guy.”

She continued, and introduced a topic de novo. She noted that the three of them were lesbian, and every lesbian they knew had been the victim of “physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse” by some man in her early years. This was new information to me. And why, I still wonder, were they sharing this testimony with me?

I remember praying in my spirit as I heard these words, Dear God above, has the church ever heard this? Or do we merely pass judgment on those who are homosexual and move on?

In 2003 I shared this story at a huge turnout before the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature, broadcast live on CT-N. The topic was pending legislation on same-sex marriage, and as I relayed this story briefly in my testimony, the whole room was filled with groans so cacophonous I could hardly hear myself speak. A friend in the audience later told me that all the groans were from women wearing same-sex marriage stickers, and that they held their breaths until I was done with that segment.

I was neither questioned nor challenged by anyone there, nor subsequently. It was something to get past for those in charge. What I did, unknowingly, was to speak a pain that dares not speak its name – and to speak it with unfeigned human care for those who have suffered. This reality has deep resonation among the male homosexual population as well.

I have addressed this and related topics in many other settings such as the University of Rhode Island, Yale, Wesleyan, New York University, Syracuse, Harvard, the University of New Hampshire, Smith, the Chautauqua Institution, a homosexual restaurant, churches of various theological persuasions, many personal conversations with avowed homosexual persons, Trinity, Dartmouth, Brown and the University of Hartford. As well, at the behest of an ad hoc meeting of fellow ministers, I was the scribe for The Ministers Affirmation on Marriage in the Hartford Courant: “Yes to Man and Woman in Marriage: No to Same-Sex Marriage.” It never elicited any public critique, as first 200, then 700 ministers and Christian leaders signed it. I even once debated the infamous and late Fred Phelps of “,” itemizing fourteen ways in which he made an idol out of hate.

Yet all the while, in my proactive theology and politics, I argue that one man and one woman in marriage is sine qua non for a healthy civil order, and that same-sex marriage undermines this foundation. This is in ways that almost no one discusses, and why I have submitted an Amicus Curae before the Supreme Court posing seven questions – where the well-being of all people equally is the goal.

Here are the questions:

1] Is there any written source for unalienable rights in the United States apart from the Creator identified in Genesis 1-2?

2] Is marriage itself an unalienable right – one that all people can demand for themselves – or is it an option under liberty?

3] How does the Creator define human sexuality?

4] Are same-sex marriage advocates thus forcing a choice between unalienable and ultimate rights given by the Creator, on the one hand, versus basic and penultimate rights defined by human authority, on the other?

5] And if so, are same-sex marriage advocates decoupling the Declaration of Independence from the United States Constitution and civil law?

6] Can same-sex marriage advocates give any example in human history where a homosexual ethos has advanced the well-being of the larger social order?

7] Is homosexuality a fixed or immutable trait? In Goodridge, re Marriage Cases and in Kerrigan, no scientific basis for a supposed genetic or social determinism for homosexual identity was even attempted. And I have seen none attempted otherwise. Apart from clear evidence of a “fixed or immutable trait,” Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, relative to defining a “suspect” or civil rights class status, is not met for homosexual persons qua self-identified homosexuality. Homosexuality is not a civil rights class in U.S. law.

Before the Court can make any ruling, I believe these questions must be addressed and answered.

On my website,, at the Marriage or Pansexuality icon, there are nearly 70 articles that explore this plus much more cognate territory. I invite those in the church to consider a question: To what extent does male irresponsibility despise and abandon boys and girls into an ersatz human sexuality, one that teems with sexually transmitted diseases, abortion and early death? And for those so abandoned, as they find homes among communities of shared suffering, what would we have done had we suffered such violation, and sans a true grasp of the Gospel?

The harshest language Jesus ever used was in calling some of the hypocritical elite “sons of hell.” Any man who betrays true manhood, and does sexual violence to others, along with the hatred of a Fred Phelps, are clear examples I know where such judgment is merited.

I also invite those who disagree with me in any capacity, inside the church or outside, to pose their most rigorous questions.

Jesus removes the condemnation from a manipulated woman caught in the act of adultery, and then calls her to leave her life of broken trust (my language for the most biblically comprehensive definition of “sin”). And he gives the power of his Holy Spirit to all those who want to heed his words. I have a friend, a Unitarian minister, whose church has welcomed many avowedly homosexual persons. And yet, he made a remarkable statement to me once in a public conversation. Namely, though in his counseling with many of them, he affirmed them in their homosexual identities, but saw no resulting improvement in their psychological and physical health across the years. There are far deeper painful relational realities at play. Does legalized same-sex marriage cause any remedy for such human suffering, or only give imprimatur to deepening broken trust?

If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, the church bears great responsibility. Broken relationships will continue to multiply and the social order will continue to crumble on many fronts. I pray otherwise, but we in the church must be proactive and not reactive in our grasp of the Gospel. And if same-sex marriage does not become federal law, our calling remains equally the same.