John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:4-11)
Well, I just got some news I didn’t expect to hear today. A federal judge just declared my home state of South Dakota’s ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional. You read that right: South Dakota, that reddest of red states, a state I would have counted on to linger to the very end in this fight with the likes of Alabama and Mississippi, is going to have to let gay folks get married.
My first thought was a baffled, “Wait, is this for real? We’re not the last in the country?” My second thought was a rush of breathless excitement as I realized that, soon, my gay friends and family back home would finally have the same marriage rights as I did. My third thought was about an essay that went viral a couple years ago, written by a South Dakotan of my generation the day after Macklemore played Augustana College in Sioux Falls. (Augustana must have booked him just before “Thrift Shop” exploded, because a mere six months later he was packing the 17,500-seat CenturyLink Center in Omaha a few hours south.) In particular, the author, Dannika Nash, remembered his performance of “Same Love”:
Before the song, Macklemore spoke really simple words along the lines of: “Hey, you can all have your own opinions on how we treat gay people in this country, but this is mine.” And I held my breath in anticipation of some kind of uproar or walk-out…but the crowd cheered louder than they had yet. In our red state, in our conservative little city, the 5,000 young people in that arena wanted to hear about marriage equality.
For me as a Christian, the most piercing line of Macklemore’s song is the same one that Nash singles out in her “Open Letter to the Church from My Generation”: “When I was at church, they taught me something else. If you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed. That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned.” It doesn’t matter how many times I hear it, it still stings. Because even as today’s decision sets my conservative little state on the path to marriage equality, I know that there’s still a lot of hate and unacceptance being hurled at my gay brothers and sisters from people who consider themselves the followers of a man who claimed that every single human being was a member of his family (Matt. 12:46-50), and who showed forth that radical acceptance in every (inter)action. No court decision is going to alter the fact that in “America the Brave, we still fear what we don’t know.”
But – “it’s a damn good place to start.”
For if we’re going to claim to follow this itinerant Palestinian Jewish preacher, who comforted the troubled and troubled the comfortable, who taught us to love our enemies and then went and did it, then preaching hate is not an option. If we have the audacity to baptize God’s children in Jesus’ name, then there is only one thing we can possibly say to those we welcome into our communities – the same words that Jesus heard at his own baptism and that he preached to everyone he met: “You are a beloved Child of God, with whom God is well pleased.”
To say anything else, to set conditions of sexual orientation or gender or nationality or race or any other fake human division on the Love of God, is to poison the Water of Life. And I’m no more prepared to accept poisoned holy water from my church than I would be to accept poisoned tap water from North Dakota oil companies. I signed up for a place where everyone can belong. I signed up for a God who loves us all, no matter what. And I will be damned if I settle for anything less.
So South Dakota, I’m proud of you today, for choosing love over fear. I pray that your people might live up to your laws this time – and that we all might live up to the Law of Love. We are all beloved Children of God, with whom God is well pleased. No conditions. No exceptions. Ever.