Joseph Avenue Christmas is the story of one man's journey to the true meaning of Christmas. Not just the birth of the babe, but the salvation of the soul. Set on the wintry streets of Rochester, NY it is a visit to the heart of that city and the hearts of some of its best and bravest people. From their good example, and the simple lessons of their own lives and faith, a troubled man finds on a dark Christmas Eve an escape from an increasingly failed life.
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Night before last I was standing next to a baseball diamond, watching my 8-year-old play, when the phone rang.
It was a guy I know through politics who is connected pretty well, so I answered, in case it was something important.
He sounded shook.
He stammered that he thought it would go to voice mail.
I asked him if he wanted me to hang up so he could call back and talk to voice mail.
He said he didn’t.
So he stammered some more, hemming and hawing, half apologizing for calling, saying he would understand if I said no.
Then he invited me to his gay wedding.
And he kept talking about how he understood if I didn’t want to and he knew where I stood but it couldn’t hurt to ask and, well, finally I had to interrupt him.
I told him I’d be honored.
Then, teasing him, I said I’d avert my eyes when it came to the kiss because, “I don’t go in for that homo stuff.”
He kept talking, though now it was less anxiety and more surprise and relief, and maybe even happiness.
The plan is that come fall, on a farm not far from where we each grew up, a governor is going to perform the ceremony and a congressman is going to be the witness.
And I’m going to be the guy in the back wishing he could make a joke about which side is the groom’s side.
I’d never thought about going to a gay wedding before, and I’d never thought about whether or not it would be appropriate to go to a gay wedding. My response was in the moment and impulsive. But it was not an impulse I regret or would reconsider.
It was the impulse of friendship.
A guy asked me to attend something that was special to him. The issue is not what I think about that something; it’s what he thinks about that something, and what I think about him. I think he is a friend, and so I can only see the invitation as a kindness and an honor. And a friend can only respond to that kindness in one way.
I said I’d be glad to go.
And I think I will be.
If they can put up with me, I can put up with them.
I mentioned this on the radio yesterday, and a guy called up and asked what sort of an example I thought I was setting for listeners and my children.
I told him I thought that was a fair question, and something which I took seriously.
My position on gay marriage is based in my religion – and when it comes to gay marriage, my religion says there is no such thing. That’s what I teach my children, that’s what I tell listeners.
I have publicly opposed gay marriage for years. I have spoken against it and written against it, and I have vilified and opposed politicians who supported it.
I think it’s bad law and bad policy.
It’s also sinful and wrong.
That’s what my religion teaches me.
Of course, my religion also teaches me to love my neighbor, and to treat others the way I want to be treated.
Just as it teaches me that I am sinful and wrong, and that I am no one’s moral superior, that I rely on the grace of Jesus Christ for my salvation as much as anybody else.
I am not timid about declaring what I know to be right and wrong.
But neither do I want to be timid about being a friend and brother.
And so the question is: By attending a gay wedding, am I condoning that wedding, or am I merely offering friendship and support to a friend who is participating in that wedding?
I believe it is the latter.
And I think that’s fine.
I think there are parallels.
I have attended the baptisms of my friends’ infant children. I do not believe in those baptisms. I believe baptism can only be entered into by people old enough to exercise moral choice. At those baptisms did I stand up and shout against the practice of infant baptism? No, I simply shared in the joy of my friends at a happy occasion in their lives.
I have similarly said, “Amen,” at the end of countless public prayers which were offered up in ways completely inconsistent with the way I believe the Bible teaches us to pray. I did not believe in those prayers, but I knew they were well intended and by participating in them, I was engaging in neighborliness and solidarity with people I admired.
I recently attended a gathering related to a college graduation. At this event, various people got up and spoke in the vein of their very twisted world view. To my way of thinking, they were all idiots. Objectively, what they said made no sense at all. But I applauded at the end of each speech, and I smiled like everybody else, and I rejoiced in the spirit of the day. And I was glad I was there.
I don’t have to agree with everything I participate in. And not everything needs my seal of approval.
Further, an aspect of loving your neighbor is respecting things that are important to him, even if they may not be important to you. The fact that someone else is happy ought to be enough to make you happy.
My position on gay marriage is clear. So is my position on friendship.
And friends don’t always see things the same way.
My friend and I don’t see gay marriage the same way, but we do see friendship the same way.
So I am going to his gay wedding.
And I’m going to sit on the groom’s side.
If I can figure out which one it is.