We need God’s love

It has happened more than once. A friend comes to me, looking nervous, with something important to discuss. Sometimes he hems and haws. Sometimes he just blurts it out. He's gay. He's same-sex attracted. He's "coming out." The terminology varies, but the one constant is that he's afraid of being rejected, afraid that as he tells people, they will no longer love him. But he believes that he has to take the risk, because he's tired of pretending, tired of wondering if friends' and family's love for him is based on an incomplete picture of who he really is.

In my case, they needn't have worried. We talked - sometimes just a brief conversation, sometimes many discussions over weeks and months. We listened. We hashed out where we agreed and where we disagreed, but at no time was my love for any of them ever in question. It endures, stronger than ever. We remain fiercely loyal to each other, despite our differences, to this very day.

As much as you or I may disagree with the need or the manor or the philosophy behind "coming out of the closet," you have to admit that it clearly took guts for these friends of mine to face potential rejection head-on like that.

Well, now the shoe is on the other foot.

Personally, I don't see a lot of stigma attached to homosexuality or bi-sexuality or transgenderism or really any related "ity" or "ism" these days. I can't help noticing, however, that society seems to build a nice big closet for a completely different group - those of us who still believe what even progressive figures like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton professed to believe only a few short years ago: that marriage is by definition the union of a man and a woman.

This is no small group of outliers. The latest Pew Research poll reports that overall, 39 percent of Americans oppose the redefinition of marriage. Among minorities, the numbers were even higher, with 44 percent of Hispanics and 51 percent of African Americans favoring retaining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

That's a whole lot of people.

You wouldn't know that, however, looking at my Facebook feed in the wake of the Obergefell ruling. I find that the supporters are celebrating while those who oppose the decision remain uncharacteristically silent.

Why? Because nobody wants to be branded as a bigot or a hater.

Here's the thing. I know these people - or at least quite a few of them. I am in fact one of them. And neither I nor anyone I know who opposes the redefinition of marriage are motivated by hate or bigotry or any other type of animus toward gay people or anyone else. I love everyone in the Christian everyone-is-created-in-the-image-and-likeness-of-God sense. And what's more, I love the people in my life. Friends/co-workers, agree/disagree. Doesn't matter. Love them. Care about them. Want what's best for them. Want them in my life.

But I, for one, am heartbroken that we are being portrayed as bigots. It's enough to make a person want to crawl into a hole. Or a closet.

So what are we to do going forward? Keep our heads down and our mouths shut? Stay in the closet? As tempting as it may be, I don't think it's the best solution. A lot of people - including several Supreme Court Justices - are predicting that this decision will lead to erosion of our religious freedom. Already, Time magazine and others have published calls to revoke churches' tax exempt status. Reports are surfacing of churches being denied insurance. Lawsuits are looming as the secular and Christian visions of marriage collide. And while the church itself has survived far worse, an under-insured parish with a dramatically diminished contribution base will not fare well in this environment.

Frankly, this alarms me.

There are a lot of Americans who question the wisdom of this decision. I'm confident there are a lot more who may agree with the idea of same-sex marriage but don't want to see churches persecuted as a response. If people on all sides of this issue don't find ways to speak up now for our - and everyone's - right to live according to the tenets of their faith, we may find those rights withering away.

But I don't think the answer is to "come out swinging" - to get obnoxious, to come across as bigots, to confirm the stereotype.

Never has it been more difficult or more important to "speak the truth in love." I believe that part of Satan's endgame here is to polarize us - to divide the "gays" from the "religious." And, ultimately, to marginalize the church and inhibit its ability to act as an instrument of Christ's love to all men and women.

I get that the more radical elements of this debate aren't much interested in listening. And I get that just makes us want to shout all the louder. But I hope we can find ways, difficult as it may be, to remain strong and firm while maintaining an attitude of Christ-like love.

Job No. 1 for the Christian is to love one another. That means speaking up. It means defending those whose rights are threatened. It also means loving each and every person - including those who disagree with us and even those who persecute us - with the love of Christ.

We can't do that alone. We need the Holy Spirit. Remember the apostles hiding behind locked doors just before Pentecost? We need to pray like we've never prayed before for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as real and as powerful as they received on that day. We need His words, His Spirit and His love animating our every move going forward.

Because God is love, and without Him, love can't win.

Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We're On a Mission from God and Real Love.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015