Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Hampshire, Marriage, and the Military

According to reports from various news services, the state of New Hampshire is on the verge of joining its neighbors in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, as well as the state of Iowa (where, it should be noted, it was an action of the state's Supreme Court, and not the Legislature, which brought about the "legalization"), redefining the statutes governing marriage so as to establish same-sex marriages as legal and valid in the state. Action on the final piece of legislation (of three measures) needed to accomplish this goal was delayed when the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted down language sought by Governor John Lynch to protect churches and religious organizations from lawsuits in the event that they decline to perform same-sex marriages. The House hopes to negotiate a compromise with the Senate with an eye toward passing the bill by early June; the governor has stated that, without the language which expresses his "core principles," the measure might be vetoed. Legislative leaders from both parties say they hope to avoid such an outcome. According to one story from the Associated Press, the governor "wants to be sure an organist employed by a church opposed to gay marriage could legally refuse to perform at a gay wedding."

The Legislature in the state of New York is also considering similar legislation, which some hope might be enacted by the end of June.

I am thankful that the New Hampshire legislation will, apparently, make an explicit exemption for churches and religious organizations, and their employees, protecting them against lawsuits and other aspects of the power of the state. If such language is, indeed, incorporated into the measure, which then may become law, the church will be safe -- for a time, at least -- from such threats. However, what a legislative body can grant, it can also remove. We must never become complacent, or allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. A day may come; I believe that day will come, when any such protections will be stripped away. We must be ready at that time, without malice, without hatred, and without whining or complaining, to stand firm in the Truth, and, if need be, to suffer if that is what is required of us to be faithful to the Orthodox Faith.

We also need to be careful, in our words and in our actions, not to vilify those persons who may have been misled by our culture into believing that any impulse they experience is meant to be expressed. As Orthodox Christians, we must clearly act to show that those who use the Gospel as a source to cover their hatred, such as those groups who blame events such as Hurricane Katrina, or the deaths of soldiers and sailors in combat, upon the tolerance, and now growing acceptance, of homosexual behavior in this country. Is there anything as reprehensible as appearing at the funeral of someone who died defending our country, and raucously pronouncing that the death was God's punishment, as family and friends mourn the loss of one close to them? In the process of trying to find more specific language for the protection of the faithful in the New Hampshire legislation (a quest that was, alas, unsuccessful), I ran across an article from the San Francisco Bay Times -- or, as it might be called, the "Gay Times," given its target audience. Yes, as usual, I go for the cheap laugh... While the main focus of the article addresses the review of Proposition 8, by which the voters of California overturned a ruling by the state's Supreme Court that allowed, for a time, the recognition of same-sex marriages, it also took up the issue of the military's policy of, "Don't ask, don't tell," and President Obama's re-evaluation of that policy. The author noted that Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force with nine medals in his eighteen years of service, including one given for heroism in combat over Baghdad, was dishonorably discharged from the service two years short of his pension. The following is the description of his heroism as set out in the article:
As U.S. infantry men and women were marching on the Baghdad airport just after our invasion, Colonel Fehrenbach noticed a sizable ambush set up directly in their path. With his wingman crippled, he took on direct enemy fire for 20 minutes, unloading both his and his wingman’s arsenals and destroying the encampment as the army advanced, saving many lives.
The article also quoted some of the comments found associated with a report of the discharge on a web site. I won't ask you to imagine what these were like. The hatred and bigotry was remarkable. My own effort to verify the comments was unsuccessful; repeated attempts to view the page produced the article itself each time, but there was always a message: "Failed to load comments for this thread."

Every one of us is a sinner. Some of us struggle with temptations that involve our sexuality; and here it doesn't matter if our sexual orientation is toward members of the opposite gender, or our own gender, or "a little of both." Others struggle with a desire for fame, or for riches, or for power and influence, or with desire for food, or drink; or with despair that drives some to seek to escape from this life, either for a time, or for all time. None of these sins is better or worse than any other; and all sin separates us from God, from each other, and even from ourselves. As sinners, none of us should think ourselves better than someone else; indeed, if we will listen to the Church Fathers, we are to think the best of everyone else, and consider ourselves to be the least worthy, the first of sinners, the worst of all people.

Please bear with me as I try to say this. When it comes to the question of "gays in the military," I think we perhaps are fixated on a question that really doesn't matter. For those who are adamantly opposed, let me ask, what if your neighbors -- a man and a woman who are married to each other -- chose to express themselves in a way that is better kept in private within the sight of others, even your children? Would you approve? Probably not. As Orthodox Christians, we must proclaim the Truth as it has been entrusted to us, and that includes communicating the morals and ethics of the Church. The gift of sexuality is meant to be expressed between a husband and a wife, but not at all times and in all places. Is it my business to know what goes on behind closed doors in someone else's house? Well, yes, in a way, it IS my business, IF they are an Orthodox couple who make their confession to me as their priest. But apart from that, no. If my neighbor asks what is right, it is my responsibility to tell them what God has said, and how the Church responds -- but it is not my responsibility to peek through their windows to find out whether or not they are following that path. The same is true in the military. It would be inappropriate for one person to make sexual advances upon another outside of marriage, whether heterosexual or homosexual. In the absence of a problem, why seek to expel those who want to serve their country, and who either exercise complete restraint of their sexual desires, or act upon them with the utmost of discretion? Within the military -- which, after all, is not the Church, but a part of the secular society (which, admittedly, we seek to reach with the message of the Christ-like life) -- those who are indiscreet regardless of their sexual orientation, can, even should, be removed from among the ranks as a disruptive element; but those who are discreet are, I think, entitled to their privacy.

All of us will answer for what we have said, and what we have done, and what we have left unsaid and undone, on the great and terrible Day of Judgment. If we are going to seek to uproot and destroy evil, as we should, let us begin with ourselves; but let us be merciful and gentle to all others, praying earnestly for them to be delivered from their passions and the sins to which the passions lead them, and judge them not, lest we also be judged.