Don’t Void the Warranty: A Christian Response to the Same Sex Marriage Debate



                                                       Rev. Leonard Lovett, Ph. D, Ecumenical Officer COGIC


     It is not what President Obama said when he stated his support for same-sex marriage that constitutes the problem in the debate, but rather the timing and framing of the issue within the context of politics as a public policy issue that constitutes the crux of the problem. The president has a right to his opinion as leader of one of the most powerful nations in the global village. We are admonished to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesars and unto God what belongs to God. The family is one of the “orders of creation” fundamental to the perpetuation and maintenance of the human species. It is unfortunate that the Marriage Amendment debate has emerged within the context of politics as a wedge issue thus forcing supporters on each side to make such an important concern an election choice that will ultimately decide the presidency of the United States of America.

     After much reflection I am compelled to agree with the president’s statement affirming the rights of all citizens of our democratic republic to make their marital choice. It was implied that to deny persons the privilege to marry is to violate their basic right to equality under the law. I do not view this debate as a Civil Rights issue. This is a public policy issue with far reaching implications for Civil Rights. Once same-sex marriage is viewed singularly as a Civil Rights issue it is no longer under the purview of Scripture. I will fight for the right of anyone to make the choice to marry whomever they chose even in what they perceive to be a “loving relationship.” As a Christian I am to demonstrate compassion toward such persons. I have been reminded that “compassion is mercy with work clothes on.” The difficulty comes when we attempt to legitimate such a union with the name Christian. As a public theologian-ethicist I am obligated to speak to the moral legitimacy of such a union through the prism of our historic faith. From the standpoint of public policy a civil union is a form of marriage that requires the state to make it legitimate. Marriage as we have come to comprehend it is grounded in covenant which assigns a sense of responsibility and intrinsic worth to the institution of marriage . Within the boundaries of covenant there can be no authentic freedom without moral responsibility. Any attempt to enjoy freedom without moral responsibility leads to anarchy.

     We do not change the rules of the game to accommodate the players. My faith inspires and informs my societal frame of reference. My opinion is secondary to the One who thought me up. As a Christian theologian Scripture is my guide for faith and practice, not what society desires and embraces. When Paul the Apostle admonishes us not to “Be conformed to this world” it is another way of saying not to allow the world to force us into its mold. (Romans 12: 1) In simple Christian language, the world is human society without Christ. The manufacturers warranty on an automobile is intended to be a safeguard against anyone other than the authorized dealer repairing same. The warranty is voided when an unauthorized person tampers with the engine.

     The metaphor is obvious. Historically for Christians Scripture has been our mandate for marriage. However, in a pluralistic society other choices will emerge.   The manual unequivocally states that the sacred union of marriage should exclusively occur between male and female with the hope of procreation, recreation, permanence and uniqueness. . The very institution of marriage is bound by covenant grounded in our Judaeo-Christian foundation of faith. To believe and/or to do otherwise is to alter the original institution and render void the warranty and marriage as an institution could risk will losing its sense of sacrality, character and purpose. Postmodernist thinkers would argue that it is a fallacy to ascribe any meaning to a text or even to the text’s author and views truth as a social construct that is relative. That it is the reader who establishes the meaning, and there are no controls that limit the meaning that can be imposed This is a dangerous posture to leave the interpretation of the text (even Scripture) to even an uninformed reader. There are moral absolutes intended to keep us within the boundaries and framework of being grounded upon some kind of foundation. Without moral absolutes society would become as chaotic as a residential neighborhood without speed limits or constraints. We live in a moral universe that metes out serious consequences for anyone who violates its rules.

     At this juncture in history we can ill afford to allow the same-sex debate to become a wedge issue that will keep us from voting at all. I have had to correct a few African-Americans who have been coerced to believe that a vote for President Obama is a vote against God. A refusal to vote constitutes a vote for the very person you oppose. This is the same kind of flawed reason that gave Bush and the Religious Right four more years in 2004 when right wingers used abortion and the Marriage Amendment as wedge issues and successfully defeated John Kerry and Al Gore. My reading of the history of politics reveals many people honestly believe presidential elections are bought. I suggest that anyone interested in the surge of right wing politics in the sixties with the launch of the ultra-conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964 should read a 1984 book titled Ominous Politics by John S. Saloma III, a Harvard trained political scientist who taught at M.I.T. Millions of dollars were invested in multiple think tanks that gave intellectual validation to the strategies and claims set forth by right wingers. With the emergence of Ronald Reagan in the eighties they were well on their way. The “tough on crime” policies of Reagan that later led to mass incarceration of marginalized persons of color a point well argued by Michele Alexander in her now popular book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in a Color Blind Age. The warehousing of black and brown people of color making them felons for life has a direct correlation with the growth and power of radical right wing politics under the guise of law and order.

   Politics was never intended to dictate the nature and covenant terms of marriage. The role of politics is to make life more humane through organized means. To do otherwise is to violate the purpose of its calling in the world. Until then we are called to witness and challenge the darkness of this world until the light seeps through.

*Disclaimer: The views expressed are not the official views of the Church of God in Christ. I take full responsibility for the viewpoint shared in this brief response as a servant of the church



Keeping the Story Straight: A Response to the Marvin McMickle Interview

Dr. Marvin McMickle may I congratulate you on your ascendency to the presidency of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. I read with interest your August interview title These un-united states: A civil rights veteran on politics, power and God, by Tim Louis Macaluso and Mary Anna Towler in the Rochester city paper in Rochester, New York. As a graduate of Crozer Theological Seminary 62’ I am compelled to respond to the post. Dr. McMickle, you discussed a plethora of problems, issues and concerns that affect many of us during these challenging times. Then you leveled a critique of Pentecostal churches with a focus on COGIC in particular, of which I am a member. Please know that I am not averse to criticism of any kind when it is grounded. You ruminated about your journey as a veteran of the Civil Rights era and chided younger persons for their lack of sensitivity for what is happening today. In 1961 during a high point in the Civil Rights era you were approximately twelve (12) years old. You were approximately seventeen (17) years old when you met Dr. King in 1966 in Chicago and nineteen (19) at his demise in 1968. I would be interested to find out more about your arrest with Dr. Abernathy. To fully contextualize your critique would indeed give much more credence to the rest of your amazing journey.

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A Tribute to Bishop Elton A Lawrence

In the words of a renowned poet, “God’s finger touched him, and he slept.” A legacy of sainthood has been bequeathed to us as a result of the transitioning of Bishop Lawrence. In addition to being a spiritual leader, Pastor, Man of God husband and parent of two siblings (Welton and Mae who he loved beyond measure), he was indeed a saint. During the Winter break of 1961 while attending Morehouse College, Bishop Lawrence extended an invitation to me to come minister in Detroit on my journey from Supt T Harris church in Flint on Lippincott Blvd. This was the beginning of a life- long friendship. I was with him when he bought his first Cadillac limousine in 1975. A decade later he invited me to use the first level of his house to rest for a week. He and his wife were consummate host. There I encountered the human side as we went fishing on Lake Michigan with the chairman of his deacon board who admonished me that : “the pastor doesn’t like for anyone to catch a fish before him.” I remarked, “that is his problem.” I caught the first fish while practicing how to cast the reel with no bait. He was one of the most friendliest, unpretentious, loving human being I have ever met. He was the co-efficient of consistency. His example appeared to have been of such that his works will “praise him in the gates.” He was one of a kind.

It was his authentic smile that was so distinguishing. and therapeutic for anyone who needed a lift. He loved his church and was content to shepherd the people of God with a high quality of leadership. I honestly believe he had a non-stop flight to glory on his departure. In the words of Paul the Apostle, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

My wife, Phyllis Marie and my sons join me in prayer for your family and the People of God. We say Sweet Shalom
Dr. Leonard Lovett


From the Chief Editor

As Chief Editor I want to apologize for a brief interruption and delay that could not be averted. With all the current crises at our doorstep I anticipate an exciting Summer. We are assembling a group of exciting Editorial Writers who will come from various regions to share significant commentary. The Springtime has brought a new birth of wonder in the air. Your comments will be helpful as you talk to us from the public square about the issues that are meaningful and will make a difference. Until then