Friday, March 6, 2009

How do I speak to Christians about civil marriage equality?

I recently spoke to a group working for equality in civil marriage laws. Someone asked me “How do we speak to Christians who have religious issues with same sex marriage?” This is an excellent question and one, which I will attempt to answer in this posting.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “The best place to hide something is an obvious place since, no one would ever think of looking for it there.” We are speaking here about CIVIL marriage law and NOT religious marriages. As a Catholic priest for over 23 years, I often had couples come to my office requesting sacramental marriage (a religious marriage) that I had to turn away because they were previously married. Even though they had obtained a valid CIVIL marriage license from the state of California or, in many cases had been married CIVILLY for many years. Such couples are not permitted to be married in the Catholic Church and their CIVIL marriages were viewed by the Catholic Church as invalid, since they had already been married before to someone else.

In the Gospel of Mark chapter 10 verses 11-12 Jesus is speaking and he states bluntly:

“And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

For those of you with “red letter edition bibles” these words appear in red ink. Why? Because they are not merely the words of say, St. Paul, etc. but of Jesus. They are not found in one of the epistles but in the Gospel. Yet, when was the last time that a fundamentalist minister went up into the pulpit and read these words to his congregation? Why do they not give “fire and brimstone” sermons condemning “adulterers? Why then, do they not mobilize a referendum initiative and spend tens of millions of dollars to forbid divorce in California? After all, Christ in the Gospels condemns divorce and remarriage.

The simple answer is that most of their congregants would stand up and walk out of the church. Money would dry up! The truth is that many of the faithful have been divorced and re-married to someone else and many of them multiple times! Therefore, it is acceptable to read the bible literally, when you read the words of St. Paul in the first chapter of Romans but, WHOA, we have to be very “pastoral” and delicate in our treatment of the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark! It simply makes more business sense to ignore the words of Jesus.

Therefore, fundamentalists turn out not be such “bible Christians” at all. When it comes to the Catholic Church, the only Christian church that LITERALLY reads the bible on this matter, the church in the United States of America has made a fine art of interpreting Canon Law (church law) in a way that the Catholic Church in England, Mexico, Germany, etc. would not dream of doing. So much so that our Canon Law professor at the seminary told us of Rome’s displeasure in how the local Church (USA) liberally grants questionable annulments. Why does the Catholic Church in the USA do this? Because we would lose untold numbers if we interpreted the bible and church law the way the rest of the Catholic Church does elsewhere.

The highest rates of divorce in the United States are not in California or New York; they exist in the Bible belt! On their own terms, by their own standards, these churches or rather, their leadership is condemned. The very Bible they use to condemn same sex couples convicts them of adultery. Furthermore, the ministers/priests who officiate (d) at the marriages of people who have been previously married are in the light of the Gospel, accomplices to adultery and promoting it within society. In doing so, according to the Bible, they attack and undermine families and the family values which they so vociferously claim to defend.

You want to protect marriage? You believe in Christ and the Bible? Then do as he commands in Mark 10: 11-12.

Perhaps now, you understand the wisdom of your right to a CIVIL marriage. Perhaps now you understand the dangers of literal interpretations of the Bible. Perhaps now you comprehend why it is unwise for a pluralistic society to allow religious institutions to dictate civil law. If so, then extend those same rights to everyone else.


Kevin said...

Hey Father Geoff! WOW! So true! Bible Christians only read what they want to read! I remember being at one of their bible studies and they were talking about Judas not even being a Christian! I said, "None of them were..they were all Jewish"! You should have seen the looks on their faces and when they discovered I was Catholic and gay..boy! Great post about how we read the bible! Cheers...kevin

Bill said...

That is a very compelling argument.

Anonymous said...

Again my brother you have hit the nail on the head....

The whole thing about defending marriage is the bigest joke of our day both in the church and outside the church.

The precentage of d1vorces and the reason, or no reason, why most are grated is ridiculous...

The present situation of marriage has not been harmed because of same gender marriage. They have done it all by themselves.

Thank you again for all you do and are doing.

Fr Vince

Anonymous said...

You have so much wisdom and speak from the heart. I wish you were able to speak to the Justices in California during the hearing last week.
Thank you for educating us and the rest.

colkoch said...

One of the ways heterosexuals justify their adultery and multiple relationships is because they are not gay relationships.

Catholicism is heavily invested in maintaining this fiction with all their family values rhetoric. In the end it's about the perogatives of male heterosexual activity. To see it any other way is sheer folly.

Kudos to your Fr. Farrow. You must be among a huge number of priests who see this despicable dicotomy and a lot of those priests are straight. In essense it comes down to using the sins of some people to justify the sins of others. It makes me sick.