This article is by Gail A. Ricciuti, Associate Professor of Homiletics at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
My own stance that same-gender couples deserve the same marriage rights (and rites) as heterosexual people has its roots in my “conversion,” if you will, to acceptance of gay and lesbian people – a conversion fueled both biblically and experientially.
I grew up in a Bible-oriented non-denominational church where I learned, particularly under a high school Sunday School teacher whose own lively faith and committed life won the hearts of her students, that scripture was non-negotiable: “The Bible says it, and I believe it. Period.” While the Levitical laws were never subject to our in-depth scrutiny the way the Gospels were, nevertheless the fact that a man lying with another male “is an abomination” was something inarguable that everyone knew– case closed.
But there were other scriptures emphasized and studied that emblazoned themselves on our hearts and minds as also being non-negotiable: like one that leaps out even as I write in this Pentecost season, Galatians 5:22: “. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” By contrast with the “works of the flesh”– from fornication to idolatry to jealousy, anger, dissensions, envy (and the list goes on)– we learned deep in the marrow of our faith that the true and trustworthy indwelling of God’s Spirit in a believer is evidenced by the fruit of that Spirit.
So it was that later, as a seminary delegate to the General Assembly of my adopted denomination some 40 years ago, the Spirit did God’s habitual work of upending all of my long-held assumptions– converting me, yet again, via that very trust of Scripture. There I met, observed, and conversed with a small group of gay and lesbian seminarians, brave believers who were at that time (in the early 70s) the first to come out to their church– the church that was actively barring them from their God-given vocation to be ordained as ministers of Word and Sacrament. I discovered these men and women to be, truly, among the best and brightest: not only in their scholarship and “doctrine” but in their daily witness of faith. In them and from them, without exception, I experienced (and was at the time surprised to experience) . . . Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Generosity. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control. All of these, so evident in each “outcast” I met, the fruit– the sign– of the Spirit’s indwelling presence. And I found myself asking, with Peter at Caesarea (Acts 10:47) “Can anyone withhold [equal participation in the Body of Christ from] these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
The question made immediately obvious by my conversion experience, of course, is how one scripture can seem to “trump” another and how, in that situation, one is to judge which text be given precedence. Perhaps the answer is to consider the Bible’s own witness that the Spirit of God does not choose to co-exist, let alone flourish, with abomination (even though the venues in which the Spirit can work are never limited). I could not deny what my eyes had witnessed and my ears had heard, and found myself transported to Peter’s side when he met the challenge of the “circumcised” believers back home, asking how he could possibly fellowship with the “uncircumcised.” His quiet description of the voice he had heard? “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 11:9)
I would never have thought it, prior to 1972: that one’s sexual orientation is not in itself an “abomination” (although “straight” no less than gay may choose to live out that orientation in abominable, rather than faithful, ways). If God chooses to indwell, and claim for service, gay and lesbian believers, and to call them into loving and committed relationships, it is not our business to stand in the way of God’s Spirit. Rather, we too are called to extend and enable the right of marriage for all, as a human right: strengthening the bonds of committed love as part of the equipping of all believers for faithful witness in the world!