Same-Sex Marriage Legalized – Egalitarianism in Action

I’m a pastor of a national church body that is both progressive and traditional. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approved, in 2009, a resolution to ordain gay and lesbian ministry candidates. This decision led a number of folks and congregations to leave the ELCA; overall membership has plummeted now to under 4 million members. At its inception in 1988, the ELCA had a membership of more than 5 million souls. The 2009 decision is not the sole factor to explain the church’s decline, but one of many including changing cultural values and increasing number of hours worked by Americans.

SCOTUS

US Supreme Court – 2015

On Sunday, July 5, I preached on the recent US Supreme Court decision (Obergefell v. Hodges) to legalize same-sex marriage. The congregation I serve in Austin, Texas is dual-language, English and Spanish; we gather to worship separately in both respective languages each Sunday within a “one congregation” context. We have members in each worship group who represent either side of the gay marriage issue – traditional and progressive. The text of II Corinthians 12:9 – spiritual power reaching full maturity in weakness – served to remind our traditional-leaning members (most of whom were raised in the previous century and taught that homosexuality was wrong) about the hidden strength of spiritual power: It gives us the wisdom to sort out the things we can change from the things we need to accept. Our Christian tradition beckons us to love our neighbors and interact with them compassionately, even if their life choices and/or politics don’t agree with our own.

The Supreme Court decision, coming days before the 239th anniversary of the nation’s birth, gave me an opportunity to preach also on the egalitarian foundations, still alive and well, of our society. Egalitarianism, as I proclaim it, goes beyond equality to a deeper reality than simply equal quantities, measurements, or values. Egalitarianism emerges and comes to light from a situation of specific inequality—dominance-subordination. Egalitarianism is political in nature: a group or commu­nity engaged in the struggle of self-determination within the larger community or with a competing community seeks, at­tains, and maintains a balance or equity with its competitor.

The word egalitarian was coined during the Gilded Age (1870 – 1900) as the maturing industrial era created economic and social inequalities previously unknown.  While the word egalitarian is a very recent addition to most languages, the concept of egalitarianism is a deeply biblical and ancient one. From God telling Pharaoh through Moses “Let my people go!” to Paul proclaiming to the Galatians that “all of you are one in Christ Jesus” – egalitarianism, be it spiritual or secular, unites and liberates those who are subordinated by unjust domination.

The biblical record serves to buttress egalitarian­ism as a social value in secular society. As a political response to the dominance that a top-down hierarchy or majority can create, egalitarianism has played a major role in American history. Many immigrants came to America from Europe because the promised or imagined opportunity provided relief from social and economic domination. The abolition movement achieved success in the nineteenth century, as did the civil rights movement in the twentieth century, fueled by egalitarianism. Egal­itarianism is one of humanity’s greatest achievements be­cause of the opportunities it affords to those previously kept under thumb. Those seen to be individually weak join forces to stand up to or have equal footing with the strong and powerful. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin’s use of the egalitarian line “all men are created equal [sic]” in the Declaration of Independence has served both to restrict the haughty and to liberate the downtrodden. Egalitarianism best serves to eliminate unjust and unmerited privilege that debilitates minority populations. America’s slaves, indigenous, immigrants, minorities, women, children, handicapped, gays and lesbians have all achieved civil rights—sometimes through blood, sweat, and tears—because of egalitarianism.

scotus 1967 warren court

1967 Supreme Court (Thurgood Marshall joined in October after the June 12th Loving decision)

The 2015 Obergefell decision echoes the 1967 Supreme Court decision to legalize interracial marriage in all the land. According to Gallup.com, some 75 percent of Americans in 1967 disapproved of interracial marriage, and fourteen former slaveholding states did not permit it. The Loving v. Virginia decision helped move the nation away from some of its racist past, and toward a future of greater light.

Our Supreme Court justices and their decisions are not infallible, but oftentimes a wisdom derived from the radical phrase “all people are created equal” comes forth from their decisions. Both liberty and egalitarianism are founding and guiding principles of this society; their simultaneous cooperation and competition with one another (balancing out the other’s excesses) help this society live up to its stated convictions.

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

For book clubs, community of faith study groups, and individuals, the Summary Version and Study Guide of JaLBM is now available at the Blue Ocotillo website and on Amazon. It’s a “Reader’s Digest” version (fifty-two pages) of the full-length original with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Join the conversation about social and economic inequality – without having to be hyperpartisan – and let’s figure out how capitalism can do better!

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5 Comments

Filed under Commentary

5 responses to “Same-Sex Marriage Legalized – Egalitarianism in Action

  1. Arlin Buyert

    Beautiful and powerful Tim! Thank you.
    Arlin.

  2. Jud Smith

    Thank you for your thoughts, T. Carlos. Once again you have thrown fuel on the fire of rational determination and opinion. As I am sure it was your intention, you did not declare your personal feelings with regard to the Supreme Court’s decision, you merely tied it in with the overall objective of uplifting the concept of egalitarianism in our society. My feelings toward the decision really have nothing to do with gay/lesbian relations or any prejudice for or against such unions, but I do have an opinion as to the wisdom of the Court’s decision as it affects the future of our Republic and the constitutional structure of our three-pronged political system. So, once again, you have inspired me to write in my own blog, judsmithwrites.com, a new post which will be finished this afternoon. I would be interested in your reaction, should you care to read it.

    BTW, Ruthie told me you are having a Church Council meeting to discuss, in light of the Bishop’s directive, whether SJ-SJ, as a facility, will host gay/lesbian marriage ceremonies, and, by extension, how they feel about their called pastor performing such ceremonies. Since she asked for it, I gave Ruthie my opinion on how those proceedings might unfold; what options there might be to discuss and what ramifications might evolve from exercising one or more of those options. I would love to be a fly on the wall in that meeting. If you care to share the outcome with me, as an “outsider”, I would be most appreciative, but understand if you are uncomfortable with that.

    Peace,

    Jud

  3. Tim, nice work… I’m preaching Philippians this summer… Sunday’s text was from CH 2:12-2:18… including Paul’s line… “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” It was autobiographical… connected to the phrase… “refrain from grumbling and arguing”… as he and Peter had to do just that… Both were secure in the claim “Christ died once and for all.” Their salvation was certain… their actions and directives differed… and the result is that there are more Christians in the world… as they worked together … apart!

    The Supreme Court’s decision has no bearing on my salvation, your salvation or anyone else… so what seems old is new again and for that we must rejoice!

    Gigee

  4. Norb and Geanie Firnhaber

    Tim, again a profound and pertinent piece. Let’s trumpet the word “egalitarianism” and its kinship with the Gospel. Keep writing these illuminating reflections…and persuasively prophetic.

    Norb

    >

  5. John

    A thousand years ago marriage was a “law” strengthen by religious “regulation” at a time when there was no rule of law. So religion served it purpose when there was no other tool around.

    Now that there is rule of law, the entire religious aspect of marriage is completely unnecessary.

    One might take this farther and wonder if religion is necessary as a substitute for rule of law when there is rule of law.

    I think that so far reality has spoken, it is religion itself which is being continuously adjusted in order to fit the rule of law. Resistance is futile.

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