When we were kids going out with friends, Henry used to say, “You’re taking a good name with you. Make sure you bring it back.”
I won the genetic lottery when two fine families from Prospect Presbyterian Church united in marriage in 1954. Two families with two good names. I stopped counting at 60 how many Edmiston-Linker-Miller-Overcash-Johnston relatives I have who still live in North Carolina.
The Edmiston side still meets here every June and I am profoundly humbled when asked to offer thanks before the meal – especially because I know that many members of my extended family do not believe that scripture affirms the leadership of women in ministry. And yet everyone is gracious and welcoming of me. I am so thankful to be in our family.
It is in this family that I came to follow Christ. In this family, I learned how to study scripture and pray, and so did you. And yet one of the reasons we don’t talk politics at family gatherings is because we disagree. We vote differently in elections. We interpret scripture differently in terms of what we believe God is calling us to do and be.
With this in mind – and at the risk of offending people I love in North Carolina – I am prayerfully asking you to take the name of Jesus into the voting booth this Tuesday. Because it is already illegal for same-sex couples to marry, my prayer is that – no matter what you believe about gay people – you will, please, vote against Amendment 1. It is unnecessarily mean-spirited and it will hurt people we love.
My authority comes from Scripture, but – again – we interpret Scripture differently. Jesus consistently sided with the weak, the disenfranchised, the other. We’re talking Samaritans, the bleeding woman, the Syro-Phoenician woman, lepers, and tax collectors. In other words, Jesus loved and reached out to foreigners, unclean people who were not allowed in the temple, and sinners.
Again, no matter what you believe about homosexuality, marriage is already defined in N.C. as between one man and one woman. Gay couples can’t be married to each other. And men and women can’t be married to more than one person at a time. It’s already in the law.
As a pastor, I’ve dealt with many pastoral situations that would be negatively impacted by this amendment if it passes. For example, there were two 90-something women in my church in Virginia who had come to DC to serve the government during WWII, never married, and retired together in a single-bedroom apartment, because they were extremely frugal. Or so I thought. When E. went into the hospital, I drove M. to visit her each day and we asked the nurse to please phone M. if E. took a turn for the worse. We put a lime green post-it in E’s medical file so they couldn’t miss it.
One morning, M. phoned me at 7 am and told me that E. had died in the night and they had not called her because she was “not related” to E. Instead they had called a great-niece in S.C. whom E. had not seen in decades. I drove M. to the hospital and they had already taken E’s body away. To make a long story a little shorter, M. told me that she and E. were actually a couple. They had been together for over 60 years. ”Do you know what I’m telling you?” this pillar of our church said to me. “I’ve just lost half of my body.”
M. and E. were never connected via civil union or any other official status. It’s not legal in Virginia. And yet, in the name of freedom and compassion, don’t we believe that we should be allowed to share our lives with anyone we wish – and let God sort it out, if we ourselves find it wrong?
I see that Billy Graham has asked people to vote FOR Amendment 1 and I have enormous respect for this man. But I also know, from Montreat friends, how frail he is and I wonder if he really made that statement or if someone made it for him. The photograph is clearly from his younger, healthier days and the truth is that Amendment 1 is not about the definition of marriage. Again, N.C. has already defined it.
At a San Francisco Crusade in 1997 Billy Graham stated: “There are other sins. Why do we jump on that sin [homosexuality] as though it’s the greatest sin?…What I want to preach about in San Francisco is the love of God. People need to know that God loves them no matter what their ethnic background or sexual orientation. I have so many gay friends, and we remain friends” (“Graham Welcomes Gays at San Francisco,” Christian News, Oct. 20, 1997, p. 7). This is also a wonderful piece done in 2005.
The God I trust in wants all children to have health care, all people – even those with whom we differ – to have secure home lives, and all people to be able to make faithful choices.
You are taking the name of Jesus into the voting booth with you Tuesday. And I respectfully and prayerfully ask that you consider making the same choices Jesus made when he came in contact with the maligned of his time.
Nobody has ever come to Christ because of exclusion or mean-spiritedness. People come to Jesus because of grace.
You are my family no matter what, but I can’t live with myself without sharing what I believe Jesus would want us to do. Please prayerfully consider voting against Amendment 1 on Tuesday.
Your sister/cousin/aunt/in-law in Christ, Jan