A few weeks ago two of my friends got married. Marriages in general are joyous and celebrated occasions, but this one even more so. They had been married in every sense of the word, except legally, for years, standing by each other through raising a child (now a teenager), job changes, house remodeling, cancer—you name it—the usual challenges (and pleasures and comforts) of a married couple. But they did so without legal rights and protections.
My friends were only now married because of a strange silence in New Mexico law, a silence that can be interpreted however county clerks and judges determine. The law neither permits nor prohibits same-sex marriage. However, New Mexico’s anti-discrimination law prohibits inequity on the basis of sexual orientation. Many county clerks, in the absence of any prohibition, are choosing to issue same-sex marriage licenses to uphold the anti-discrimination law.
Until this recent turn of events, any legislative attempts to provide same-sex unions the same rights as heterosexual unions in New Mexico were thwarted. Over 25% of New Mexico’s population is Catholic, and the state’s bishops have historically condemned same-sex marriage. But with a leader like Pope Francis, who says things like “Who am I to judge?” in response to questions about homosexuality, they are rather quiet, pointing back to the legislative branch for responsibility. The conversation continues and county clerks have asked New Mexico Supreme Court to clarify the law (scheduled for October).
I’m not trying to interpret governmental law or play at politics. That’s what the judiciary system and elected officials are for. (Though I will speak with my vote, sign petitions, and share on Facebook!) I’m not trying to make any theological arguments or conclusions (about sexuality, women’s ordination, Mark of the Beast, etc.). The church has committees and scholars for that. (Though I will write and practice what I believe, whether or not it’s backed by “approved” logic and hermeneutics.)
I am trying to make practical choices in my daily life that affect people, creatures, and planet. And in the absence of legal or theological clarity, I will always choose the highest applicable law.
When the Sadducees posed a complicated marriage/death scenario and asked how the law would apply, Jesus answered the ridiculous, theoretical question with a reality check:
You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God…. Have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.
And when the Sadducees’ rivals, the Pharisees, asked yet another trick question, he followed that up with this:
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.[i]
This is what it means to “know Scripture” and “the power of God.” It’s all summed up so simply: Love. Love with your whole being. Love God and your neighbors (anyone who happens to live on our planet—we are inextricably connected and close). Even love yourself. Love because God is the God of the living and is merciful and just.
God’s love is not a nice feeling or, even as wonderful as it is, only forgiving—it is active, passionate, life-giving, powerful, sacrificial, healing, restoring. And so must our love be.
At times throughout history, brave people have chosen to interpret law according to this highest principle of love. Rather than follow an interpretation of law or tradition that was hateful, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, or violent, they’ve faced rejection, expulsion, incarceration, and even death.
Some of my heroes who have claimed the higher law of love:
· Susan B. Anthony – Quaker who advocated for women’s rights and abolition of slavery
· Martin Luther King, Jr. – Baptist minister who claimed civil rights for all, regardless of skin color
· Nelson Mandela – South-African revolutionary who fought apartheid through racial reconciliation
· Bidder 70[ii]– Tim DeChristopher, climate activist whose civil disobedience slowed the leasing of public land for oil and gas exploitation
· Paul Bridges[iii]– Republican mayor of a small town in Georgia who befriends and supports immigrants
· Daneen Akers and Stephen Eyer[iv]– filmmakers giving voice to LGBTQ individuals within the Seventh-day Adventist church
· Vandana Shiva[v]– environmental activist, physicist, and author reclaiming the power of seed-saving and sustainable agriculture
These and many others have taken the law of love seriously, not in theoretical or theological terms (governments, bureaucracies, and even churches move slowly toward change; we don’t have time or luxury to wait!), acting quickly, peacefully, and practically in relationship to real people and real situations.
They can’t predict how their action will be met. The first county clerk in New Mexico to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in 2004, was censured and a retaining order prohibited her from continuing to issue the licenses. Someone has to make the first move, and it rarely comes from the higher-ups.
Those individuals without the authority or prowess of lower laws to back them are indeed courageous and truly prophetic. Regardless what’s popular or convenient, comfortable or lucrative, they follow their conscience, which is formed by experience with and knowing of Love.
I hope, in my own way, to follow these trail blazers, of whom Jesus was the most radical. My commitment: I will practice justice and mercy. I will apply interpretations of love based on real life and needs. I will fight peacefully for humans’ and Earth’s rights, health, and wholeness. I will choose love over any other law.
How do you uphold the law of love?