TALKING TO PEOPLE OF FAITH: “No One Has Ever Seen God” 1 John 4
February 12, 2009Guest Blogger: Rev. Thomas Mikelson
I have been a lifelong religious leader. I began as a young professor of religious studies in a small Methodist College and then, at age 35, entered the Unitarian Universalist ministry in 1971 (I have recently retired). I entered the UU ministry because its broad inclusiveness suggests the love of God as I experience it. I am a married heterosexual who has publicly supported the rights of gay and lesbian persons throughout my adult life, including the freedom to marry. The first lesbian couple to purchase a marriage license in Cambridge, Massachusetts in May of 2006 were both active in our church there. The City Clerk who issued the license was also active in our church. My minister colleague officiated at the legal ceremony for that couple and I officiated at their religious ceremony. In the spring of 2006, members of our congregation voted unanimously at an official meeting of the congregation to support Freedom to Marry. A banner was hung over the front entry of our meeting house in Harvard Square which said, “Support Freedom to Marry. We Do.”
I believe the Freedom to Marry is both a religious and a civil right. Denial of that right, I believe, is a form of discrimination just as surely as denial of rights on grounds of race or gender or social class. It is puzzling to me how people can oppose discrimination on the ground of race or gender and support discrimination against those who desire to marry someone of the same sex.
I understand that this issue is complex, that some of us are for freedom to marry and some are against it. We are in the midst of a deep and important struggle in our country to find a resolution for these differences of moral judgment. I have tried for years to understand those who oppose freedom to marry, but I cannot withhold the right to a civil marriage with all its rights and limitations from those who wish to marry a person of the same sex. I simply don’t get it. I have been a loyal American and a person of faith my entire life. The laws and codes governing civil marriage are social codes emerging over centuries. What is allowed for one, I believe, should be allowed for all, not for one class of people while not for another. We Americans have learned that painfully with issues of race and gender. Now we are learning it slowly concerning the Freedom to Marry. It is not a matter of whether we like the idea of Freedom to Marry. It is a matter of civil and religious rights.
“No one has ever seen God,” it says in First John 4. I take that seriously. It means that I may love God as I understand God, but there is no guarantee that anyone fully understands God. I take this as a ground for humility and willingness to listen carefully to what my neighbor has to say. In the end, I only can say what I believe with all my heart and believe to be true. In a democracy, that is all any of us can say. There are times when we must settle our differences by voting. A vote, as we know, is a way in which we can settle an issue without resorting to violence. We don’t always get our way. We may not be in the majority. We may think we are right but still lose an election. That is the way of democracy. To force a vote, or rig a vote, or steal a vote, I believe, is a sin against God and against our neighbor. If I understand anything about democracy, I believe God must love this fragile human experiment. I believe God must see the vote as a way for neighbors to disagree and still be good neighbors, to follow the path of love rather than hate, to keep peace when we are bitterly opposed on matters of sharp disagreement.
It is important in a democracy, for people to keep talking together in ways that honor (read “love”) the neighbor. “No one has ever seen God,” remember. We may learn something from conversation. That is what public conversation is about. That’s what government lecterns and journalism and pulpits are about. We should hold these precious public forums in reverence and protect them. They are all we have. To misuse them, or use them lightly or maliciously is to violate the precious covenants of community. That is the end of democracy and the religious freedom it protects.
***Rev. Mikelson is a retired Unitarian minister living with his wife in Massachusetts. He is also a member of Freedom to Marry's Voices of Equality.