Pursuing Justice

Here in Indiana, in the nation’s “heartland,” the State legislature is replaying a scene that has already been played out in most other states—the addition of an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting not only same-sex marriage, but anything else that might conceivably be considered to confer an “incident” of marriage on same sex couples.


Nothing really new here—at least to readers of the Word.  Same ugly arguments, same general hysteria about gays destroying the institution of marriage and ushering in the End of Western Civilization As We Have Known It. The people who are unalterably opposed to recognizing not only the civil rights but the very humanity of gay men and lesbians have once again crawled from under their rocks, and a lot of legislators who certainly know better are deathly afraid that they will pay a price at the polls for doing what is right.


All in all, a depressing spectacle.


Not that there haven’t been bright spots. For once, some of the state’s largest employers have spoken up in opposition to a measure they believe (with much reason) will adversely affect their ability to hire good people. The faculty councils of our Universities have condemned the measure. And perhaps most surprising and encouraging, every Indiana newspaper that has seen fit to editorialize on the subject has come out against the amendment. When such things happen in Indiana, it confirms the reality of a cultural shift that really will force positive change—eventually.


Now, of course, is not “eventually.” So we are being inundated with the sentiments of lovely “Christian” folk who call in to the talk shows and write letters to the newspapers, threatening to boycott the businesses that have—horrors!—extended health benefits to partners of gay employees, or engaged in similarly immoral acts.


As I write this, I am preparing to participate in this year’s Passover Seder. (I know that seems like an odd non-sequitur, but hang in here with me.) For those of you who are unfamiliar with Passover, it is a holiday that commemorates the Israelites’ escape from Egypt and the oppression of the Pharoahs that they experienced there. During the traditional dinner, Jews recite passages intended to remind us that—as one repeated refrain says—“we were slaves in the land of Egypt.” 


When you have been a slave, when you have been on the receiving end of injustice and tyrrany simply because you are different from others in your society, you tend to take issues of justice and equity seriously. The symbolism of the Seder is intended to remind us not to get too comfortable, not to take other people’s suffering too lightly. The Seder is meant to remind us of our duty to obey an even more ancient exhortation, “Justice, justice must thou pursue.”


I don’t know what motivates the people who hate—whether the object of that hatred is Jews, blacks, gays, Muslims or some other category. I don’t know what it is that they find so terrifying about people who are different in some way, or what they find so threatening about the simple extension of equal rights to such people. I do know that real Christians (as opposed to the self-identified, self-satisfied ones who are making the most noise) are every bit as appalled by these expressions of animus as I am.


It is pretty clear they haven’t thought much about what it would be like to be a slave in the land of Egypt, or anywhere else (or what it is like to be a gay or lesbian in America, for that matter).


They haven’t thought much about “pursuing justice” either.