July 13, 2004
By Rev. Roberta Finkelstein
As hearings begin on the federal marriage amendment, we will hear it again. The Great Lie. Over and over again, we are being told that God ordains oppression.
A decade ago, I served a small congregation in Virginia. There was a downtown church building available for rent. We couldn’t afford the full rent and didn’t need the whole big building, so we talked with another small congregation about sharing.
We got together and toured the space, noting the places where each of us could have a sanctuary, office space and classrooms. Then we sat down to talk. They told us they didn’t know much about Unitarian Universalism, and had looked it up in the encyclopedia.
That led to questions, which we answered. We were doing OK. Then came the deal breaker. “What about homosexuality?”?
I said that we are a congregation that believes that all people are children of God. We are one of a number of open and affirming communities of faith across our nation who celebrate the diversity of ways in which people are created. We supported any intimate relationship that was built on love, mutual respect and a sense of responsibility for self and other. The other minister’s face fell. “Oh, that just won’t work,”? he said. “I couldn’t risk having my people walk by your sanctuary on Sunday and overhear you saying that.”?
At that point the meeting ended, but I still replay in my mind how the rest of the conversation could have gone. “What kind of people have you got that you cannot afford to let them catch even a fragment of thought that differs from what you tell them? Maybe there is a young adult who knows in his heart and has known for years that he is made to love another man. And he lives with the pain and fear of knowing that if he follows his heart he will be rejected by his family and shunned by his religious community. Maybe if he overheard me, he might realize that there is more than one faithful way to understand himself. Perhaps instead of acting on his despair (because among adolescents, the highest suicide rate is for gays and lesbians) he might find a way to become the person he is meant to be, fully human and fully alive in his ability to love and be loved.
“Or maybe it would be the two spinster ladies who have been ‘roommates’ all their adult life. These two women, who have loved each other faithfully and monogamously, have brought homemade cookies to every wedding; they have cheered every successful marriage. They have spent all their emotional and spiritual resources keeping the secret of their love for each other, because they feared losing their community of faith. How terrible it would be if they were to walk by and discover that there is another way ““ a church that would welcome and celebrate their loving relationship, a God who wants them to live out their God-given ability to be intimate. ”
Rosemary Radford Ruether coined the phrase “The Great Lie”? to refer to a theme that runs through all the major religions of the world, a theme that she and we believe is a corruption of the message of true faith. The Great Lie is that God ordains oppression. The Great Lie has been used by men for thousands of years to rationalize the subjection of women. It was used by Christians in this country who owned slaves ““ not only to justify the economic system itself, but to justify the physical, psychological and spiritual cruelty of that system. And now it is being used to justify codifying discrimination against gays and lesbians.
On May 17 the first legally sanctioned gay marriages were celebrated in Massachusetts. The pictures graced the front page of every newspaper.
We each have a choice to make about how we view those pictures. Will we look at them through the lens of the Great Lie, and be afraid of what they represent? Or will we see them for what they are: pictures of loving couples making a healthy, life-long commitment to each other?
A decade ago two small congregations entered into conversation about sharing space for worship. We stumbled over differing understandings of discrimination. We were afraid of each other. Today, all people of faith in our nation have entered into a conversation about sharing a public understanding of marriage. Let’s not stumble over our differences.
The Federal Marriage Amendment is just the newest version of The Great Lie. Let’s reject the Great Lie and defeat any attempt to amend the constitution that legitimizes oppression. Let’s stand together on the side of love.
The author is minister at Unitarian Universalists in Sterling.