We are not the same America.
We are not the same America that we were 20 or even 10 years ago. For decades, civil liberties framed the discourse about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) justice. Now marriage, a union that is sacred for so many, is at the forefront of our national consciousness in ways we could not conceive. Now, more than ever, we cannot omit religion. The task before advocates and communities of faith is to have conversations that invite folks in—meaningful exchanges that “ask” rather than “tell.”
Those who resist LGBT justice had said, “Marriage equality should be decided by the people.” Many had argued that the states should determine whether or not to grant the freedom to marry.
But the people had decided. In fact, a growing number of Americans—including a record number of religious African Americans—already believed in this fundamental right. The Supreme Court was simply following the people’s lead when it ruled same-sex couples cannot be denied marriage licenses.
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in churches on Sunday to hear how sermons touched on our national tragedy in Charleston and our national triumph in the courts. Undoubtedly, there was dissent around this major step in our march for full equality. Without question, conversations were happening that wouldn’t have taken place without the landmark ruling.
While for some folks, marriage has nothing to do with religion, for many others, it has everything to do with religion. The marriage equality decision flies in the faces of those who do not feel God sanctions this sacred union between same-sex couples. Advocates cannot say this is solely a civil issue to people who believe it has all to with the Almighty.
If we are not prepared to engage with one another about how religion matters, then as advocates for LGBT equality, we are not going to be prepared to push our movement forward. We would do well to follow the lead of organizations like Many Voices, a Black church movement for gay and transgender justice, that allows people to be in the space of their beliefs, talk about how they got there, and what their investment in staying there is. This is the work ahead of us as a nation.
Being able to marry matters. But we know that legislation and court decisions alone do not change attitudes. People do.
Advocates cannot just tell folks that they are wrong and why. Our entry point cannot be, “This is what that scripture actually means…” Our entry point begins at seeking to understand what is the foundation of a person’s resistance and their relationship to that resistance.
This is also an opportunity for people of faith who are on the fence about LGBT acceptance to slow down and do some reflection—to ask themselves some challenging questions.
When do you feel that the will of God is in full operation?
Sometimes we want to ascribe “God’s way” to the outcome we desire. But when it is not the result we yearn for, we tend not to recognize the outcome as possibly what God wanted to happen. We dismiss the outcome with phrases like “this is the devil’s doing” or, “we’re surely living in the last days.”
I encourage people to think about how this decision is different from the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Was God in that and not in this? What is our investment in making this decision one not of God and holding on to the other ruling being of God?
What if this is just what God intended? Imagine if this is exactly what divine will moving to create greater inclusion looks like. What would that mean for you?
What would it mean if God was really speaking through the Supreme Court decision to say that it is time to let His people go? Ask yourself those questions.
And when you’re ready to share those answers, we’ll be ready to listen.
Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington is the founding president of the Washington Consulting Group, a multicultural organizational development firm and has served as an educator, administrator, and consultant in higher education for over 30 years. Dr. Washington is also the president and a founder of the Social Justice Training Institute and serves as Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and Social Ethics at Winston Salem State University. Co-pastor of Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore, Dr. Washington serves as the board chair of Many Voices, a Black church movement for gay and transgender justice.