Warren Blumenfeld looks at how differently people within the same religion view homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Is God sending mixed messages?
Since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled marriage for same-sex couples constitutional in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, most of the major religious denominations throughout the country have since issued statements in response to this historic and wide-ranging decision. As there are numerous religions and denominations within each, we find also numerous and very disparate responses along a continuum: from very progressive and supportive to extremely conservative and oppositional.
Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of world history recognizes that many if not most conflicts between peoples and nations have centered on different (though not necessarily opposing) religious perspectives and viewpoints.
So I find the enormously contrasting responses to the Supreme Court not particularly surprising. But my primary question centers on this: “If all religious denominations truly believe they have been touched by, are privy to, and are following the will and word of the True (with a capital “T”) God(s), how can they come away with such varied and often contradictory perspectives?
Possibly God(s) give mixed messages. Let’s look at a few examples of religious statements on the Supreme Court ruling regarding marriage for same-sex couples, presented in part:
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America:
“In response to the decisions announced today [June 26, 2015] by the United States Supreme Court with reference to the issue of legal recognition of same sex marriage, we reiterate the historical position of the Jewish faith, enunciated unequivocally in our Bible, Talmud and Codes, which forbids homosexual relationships and condemns the institutionalization of such relationships as marriages. Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable. At the same time, we note that Judaism teaches respect for others and we condemn discrimination against individuals…”
“Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable….The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the ‘integral ecology’ that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children….”
“The Court’s decision does not alter the Lord’s doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice.”
Southern Baptist Convention, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
“I am a conscientious dissenter from this ruling handed down by the Court today, believing, along with millions of others, that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman and that it is improper for the Court to redefine an institution it did not invent in the first place. I believe this action of finding some illusory Fourteenth Amendment right to same-sex marriage will have wide-ranging and perilous consequences for the stability of families and for freedom of religion.” President Russell Moore
“Gay marriage is totally prohibited in Islam as well as in all the divine religions. Gay marriage is an atrocious and obscene act which belongs to unsound nature. Islam teaches that believers should neither do the obscene acts nor in any way indulge in their propagation.” Muhammad Muhammad Abu Laylah
In fact, all predominately Muslim countries except Turkey criminalize same-sex sexuality.
At this point, I would like to mention that Catholics, Southern Baptists, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, and Orthodox Muslims have clashed and engaged in warfare, some for millennia. However, by these conservative denominations of the three major Abrahamic religions joining in unity on the issue of same-sex sexuality and marriage, this indicates that agreement is possible.
In bringing these former and continuing battlefield enemies together, I therefore nominate the U.S. LGBT community for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, an award well deserved for converting competing and conflicting parties into allies and for reducing tensions that have traditionally separated them.
“Though the Supreme Court ruling this morning changed the law of the land, there is still progress to be made in changing the hearts and minds of evangelicals who disagree with civil marriage equality. This progress can only be made when compassionate, respectful dialogue is encouraged within communities of faith.”
“As Jews, we believe we are all formed in God’s image. This compels us to extend and recognize the same rights to everyone in our community, including individuals who identify as straight, gay, lesbian, or transgender. For many years, Reform Judaism rabbis have called for equal rights for all members of our communities, and we see today’s Supreme Court decision on marriage equality as a huge moral victory for the United States.” Steve Fox, chief executive
New Ways Ministries (Catholic Organization)
“New Ways Ministry rejoices with millions of U.S. Catholics that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples! On this historic day, we pray in thanksgiving that justice and mercy have prevailed and that the prayers and efforts of so many have combined to move our nation one step closer to fairness and equality for all.”
“We endorse the human and civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) individuals. We affirm our commitment to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and we support full equality and inclusion of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, in society and in the Muslim community.”
Does God/Do the Gods Change His/Her/Their Mind(s)?
Not only have we witnessed the mixed messages, but in addition, we have seen how God(s) changes his/her/their mind(s). Let’s take two specific examples looking specifically at two Christian denominations:
1. The Southern Baptist Convention
The issue of slavery became a lightning rod in the 1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention, and in May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on a pro-slavery plank. They asserted that to be a “good Christian,” one had to support the institution of slavery, and could not join the ranks of the abolitionists.
Well, either by divine intervention or due to political pressure, 150 years later in June 1995, the SBC reversed its position and officially apologized to African Americans for its support and collusion with the institution of slavery (regarding it now as an “original sin”), and also apologizing for its support of “Jim Crow” laws and its rejection of civil rights initiatives of the 1950s and 1960s.
2. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Then LDS president, Brigham Young, instituted a policy on February 13, 1849, emanating from “divine revelation” and continuing until as recently as 1978 forbidding ordination of black men of African descent from the ranks of LDS priesthood. In addition, this policy prohibited black men and women of African descent from participating in the temple Endowment and Sealings, which the Church demands as essential for the highest degree of salvation. The policy likewise restricted black people from attending or participating in temple marriages.
Young attributed this restriction to the sin of Cain, Adam and Eve’s eldest son, who killed his brother Abel: “What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro?” stated Young in 1849 following declaration of his restrictive policy. “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.”
While making a speech to the Utah Territorial Legislature in 1852, Young further asserted: “Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain]…in him cannot hold the Priesthood, and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before, I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it.”
Joseph Fielding Smith, Tenth Prophet and President of the LDS Church wrote in 1935 that, “Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness, he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures….” And in 1963 he asserted: “Such a change [in our policy] can come about only through divine revelation, and no one can predict when a divine revelation will occur.”
It seems that the Twelfth LDS Church president, Spencer W. Kimball, who served from 1973 to his death in 1985, was touched with such a “divine revelation” and, therefore, reversed the ban, referring to it as “the long-promised day” by allowing people of African descent full membership rights in the denomination.
What Are We To Conclude?
So, to reiterate, I ask: How can individuals and denominations who all claim to know the True God/Gods while apparently praying to the same God(s) be touched in such different ways and have such differing visions of divine will? Does God/Do the Gods send us mixed and often contradictory messages? Does God/Do the Gods change his/her/their mind(s) from time to time?
By even asking these questions, I’m most likely making a primal mistake by using reason and logic in matters religious, which by its very nature can never be proven. “Faith” is by definition believing in deities and precepts that can never be empirically validated. On the other hand, possibly our divine creations have played a colossal joke on humanity laughing at us all the while.
Photo: Elvert Barnes/Flickr