I’m not surprised about the Supreme Court decision today. Disappointed? Sure. But not surprised. Even if proponents for the rational definition of marriage had won the day today, this issue was not going to go away. In a twisted sense, we can feel some release of tension as we now move on to the next stage of this battle for our culture.
And this next stage is probably going to last a very, very long time. Consider the issue of abortion rights: there, we are dealing with an issue where many people can clearly see the evil involved in the legal murder of children, even people who might still support so-called “abortion rights,” lamenting it as a “necessary evil for hard circumstances.” Yet despite the comparative clarity of that issue, 42 years later, we are still a long way away from seeing an end to abortion in this country.
Compare that now to the issue of “marriage equality,” an issue with which many people, including people who might be hesitant about defending it, have a hard time seeing anything at all wrong. For many, this is not a “lamentable necessity” like abortion – this is a triumph of human rights. We will need to see the social effects of this change before anyone will consider looking at the issue in another way, and that is likely to take a couple generations to occur.
These social changes will not come about because of same sex marriage directly. They will come about through the continued disintegration of heterosexual marriage and family, through the diminishing of any meaningful responsibility in marriage beyond one’s affective commitment and/or sexual satisfaction.
I understand that many proponents of the rational definition of marriage may be a little depressed today. Fortunately, we have a Scriptural model to guide us. In 1 Kings, Elijah the prophet tries to get the people to commit to Yahweh instead of vacillating between Yahweh and Baal, the god of their king and queen, a god who demanded less than the covenant fidelity of Yahweh. In a glorious and ultimately violent act (check it out in 1 Kgs 18), Elijah angers the political powers that be in defense of the truth.
Then in the next chapter, he runs away and hides. He runs away to Mt. Horeb, the same mountain where God first revealed his Name to Moses and then later gave the people the Law. And there, Elijah prays for death, because he is convinced that he is all alone, that his mission is a failure, and that he is going to be killed. God doesn’t tolerate Elijah’s pity-party and instead chooses to make himself known, not in storm or earthquake or fire, but only in a whisper. We’ll come back to this.
God asks the prophet a question: “Why are you here, Elijah?” Elijah fails to get God’s meaning in the question, which is much more like Mustafa’s vision to Simba in The Lion King: “Remember who you are.” After Elijah bemoans his own depression, fears, and perceived failures, God reveals the future to Elijah, and the change that is coming to the political regime in power. He concludes with an important point: “I will spare 7000 in Israel – every knee that has not bent to Baal” (1 Kgs 19:18). Elijah not only must continue to be prophet, but importantly, he is not alone.
There are about 12.5 million people with same sex attraction in the United States. When talking about this issue with my students, some of them point out that that’s a lot of people. Well, as of today, there are about 100 million people in this country who support the rational definition of marriage in contrast to the Supreme Court ruling. That’s also a lot of people. Before today, only about 2/3 of states had laws allowing same sex marriage. In the Supreme Court decision, the opposition won by a 5-4 vote.
My point here is that we are not “alone.” We may no longer represent the majority point of view, but despite the inevitability of mainstream media from this point forward proclaiming that “everyone” supports marriage equality, it is simply not true.
But it could become true if we simply wail to God and pray for death. Instead, we must trust in God and get back to work. While the situations are not fully equivalent, there is much to learn from the recent ruling in Ireland: we have done a poor job of not only defending marriage, we have also done a poor job witnessing to the meaning of marriage. We are baptized as prophets, and those who are married must prophesy to the truth of God’s love through our relationship with our spouse and especially through the domestic church formed with our children. People should see us and know there is something different about us.
This contemporary moment has passed and we now have to prepare for the literally decades of work to come. We must stop waiting for the storm and the earthquake and the fire. Instead, let us be ever more attentive to that still, small voice and demonstrate that we stand for something better than what has been sold to us today.