“I Now Pronounce You: The First Wheaton Alumnus-Officiated
Unofficial Alabama Gay Wedding Homily in History”
“How the Same-Sex Gospel Was Proclaimed in Birmingham”
Several months ago I came out nationally. As a recovering homophobe.
Back in June, while our nation was anxiously anticipating the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, fundamentalist irrationality was reaching a boiling point. Salvos of ignoble, spiteful comments and memes were flying at me constantly from my Facebook newsfeed as well as from the Christian media sites I visit regularly for journalistic purposes.
Evangelicals everywhere seemed to be halting potluck plans in order to build backyard bomb shelters: Soon Uncle Sam might start handing out federal benefits to gay and lesbian married couples, whereupon apocalyptic sulfur will rain down upon the citizens of the late great Planet Earth! Dig faster, dig faster!
For what it’s worth, all I saw on June 26, 2013, was an abundance of rainbows.
During that several-week period of meta-matrimonial madness, I published two articles on the national political website Forward Progressives on the subject of same-sex marriage.
The first article was a brief biblical survey of marriage (“What Every American Should Know about the Biblical Definitions of Marriage.”) I’m including a link to this article, because the response from readers has been overwhelmingly positive. Critical thinkers of all persuasions seem to appreciate having a useful lexical speed bump to throw in front of hermeneutically reckless Christians, many of whom have forgotten (if they ever knew) that marriage, just like any other social institution, progresses naturally along a cultural evolutionary path. But don’t take my word for it: just ask one of Solomon’s 1,000 wives.
The second article was much more personal: “If You’re Happy and You Know It: A Journey from Evangelical Homophobia to Equal Sign.” The essay is a testimony about growing up in a charismatic Christian community and my gradual salvation from the close-mindedness of fundamentalism, especially with respect to homophobia. Most people in the OneWheaton community can likely identify with such a personal journey, so I do not feel the need to go into greater detail.
The two unnamed institutions of higher education that serve as backdrops in this article are Bethel University (Twin Cities) and our beloved mother’s milk, Wheaton College. Bethel was the first college I attended; it is where I met the “chapel diarist.” Wheaton is only a passing reference in the article—though I will share with the OneWheaton community in the coming months several personal tales about homosexuality and homophobia in the Wheaton Kingdom.
My homophobia days are long behind me. By the time I left Wheaton in 1997, I was well on the path to recovery. However, it took another decade for me to arrive at my current personal conviction about same-sex marriage rights. I don’t kick myself about that philosophical evolution, which at times moved at the speed of glacial drift. In fact, during that decade, I had homosexual friends who were only half-convinced that same-sex marriage was for the best. Marriage is a cultural centerpiece of society; major sudden shifts about such institutions take time to integrate into one’s personal (as well as the collective) worldview. Heck, I’m still trying to adjust to the Milwaukee Brewers being in the National League. More seriously, those who have approached the issue with careful thought should not be punished for taking time “to get there.”
I currently reside in Columbia, South Carolina, which as anyone who watches Comedy Central should know is Tea Party Mecca. (For the record, I am a native Minnesotan.) That said, there is a thriving LGBT community in the South Carolina capital; few people I know blink twice about the annual SC Pride Festival and Parade that marches down Main Street to the State House. Don’t get me wrong: the last thing you should think is that fundamentalism and bigotry have been eliminated in the Deep South. The South Carolina General Assembly is more likely to declare the Harlem Shake the Palmetto State Dance than enact same-sex marriage legislation next session. But things have come a long way in the past few decades.
As described briefly in the “Happy and You Know It” article, a few years ago, my daughter’s godfather, Wayne-John, announced to me that he was getting married. To his boyfriend Clint. Wayne-John and Clint were living in Alabama, which, like South Carolina, has come a long way with respect to gay rights, but still has a loooooooooooong way to go.
Wayne-John and Clint of course knew that their wedding would not be legally binding, but that did not dissuade them from desiring to make a lifelong commitment before family and friends. And God. That’s where I came in.
As the ceremony would not be recognized by any body politic, they decided to ask a not-quite-person-of-the-cloth-semi-biblical-scholar to marry them. (Shh. Don’t tell them I never finished that Wheaton thesis on Christology in the works of Edward Schillebeeckx.)
I’m still not altogether sure why Wayne-John and Clint asked me to marry them. Perhaps they had heard me make enough esoteric references to Koine Greek and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to be convinced that I could craft a homily that sounded “sturdily biblical.” Or perhaps they knew enough about my past to realize that what was certain to be the happiest day of their lives might just be a day of considerable fulfillment in my own.
Wayne-John and Clint have now been happily “married” nearly six years. The recent Supreme Court ruling is likely tempting them to make it official before Uncle Sam in one of the fourteen states that recognizes same-sex marriage, but I guarantee you the date they’ll always consider official is September 29, 2007. That was the day they pledged their hearts and souls to each other before God.
What follows is the homily from that wedding ceremony. I’m not certain, but this might constitute the first Wheaton alumnus-officiated unofficial Alabama gay wedding homily ever published. Thus, I’m pleased to share with you this little bit of history, which to my mind represents a hallmark of Christian love and personal redemption…
This story is continued in I Now Pronounce You: Part 2.
Wheaton, Class of 1995
To read more of WheatonOne ally Arik Bjorn’s articles for Forward Progressives and other publications, or to contact him, visit his Facebook writer page at: https://www.facebook.com/