I don’t often have what you might call “spiritual experiences,” and perhaps what I’m about to describe wouldn’t really qualify, especially for my charismatic friends, but I was so moved by it that I wanted to share it.
I was in church recently, at a church I’m somewhat familiar with but certainly not really part of. During the announcements, someone shared that a couple in the congregation was celebrating their 60th anniversary. What a feat! What a reason to rejoice! We were all invited to a meal after the service to celebrate.
The couple beamed, and everyone beamed with them. But then I was overcome with a tremendous sadness–enough to make me cry in a church in which I was a relative stranger. Sixty years ago, how many people who loved each other could not marry each other? How many marriages could we be celebrating now had the church not stood in the way of love? Who should be in this church this morning, celebrating life-long love, but wasn’t?
We’ve only had 51 years of the legal recognition of black-white marriages in all 50 states. At the time that Loving v. Virginia was decided, most white people did not support interracial marriage. Indeed, it would take until 1997 for the majority of white people to say that black-white marriage was acceptable–THREE DECADES after the Supreme Court said so.
And Mennonites struggled with making sense of love, too, fifty and sixty years ago, as a fascinating post by Tobin Miller Shearer to the blog Anabaptist Historians recently illustrated. In it, Shearer, a historian at the University of Montana, details one congregation’s choice, starting in the early 1960s, to cast the Holy Family as interracial in the church’s annual Christmas pageant–and the way that the congregation navigated criticism of that choice. In the end, the church chose inclusion, but it wasn’t a choice without pain.
And, of course, we’ve had the legal recognition of marriage between same-sex partners for even less time. That means that we–the church, specifically, as part of the broader culture to which the church is too often captive–have cut queer people off from the rights, privileges, and blessings of marriage for even longer.
That means that we’ve removed from the church people who, when asked to choose love over church, wisely chose love.
I was struck, sitting in the pew at a congregation that is, frankly, old and that is part of a denomination that is shrinking, at who might be in the pews had the church decided at its start to support and bless marriages. We could have been celebrating the 60th anniversary of a hundred couples that Sunday, not just one.
What a loss for our churches.