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Rev. Brian Baker, Gay Marriage and the Arc of the Moral Universe

Front page of July 5 Sac Bee
The headline article in the Sacramento Bee last Sunday, July 5, “Ruling Doesn’t Move Clergy,” caught the attention of some of Sacramento's homeless citizens since most-prominently mentioned of area religious leaders surveyed for the article was Very Rev. Dr. Brian Baker of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in midtown. Trinity Cathedral, as most homeless folk know, is very active in seeking better lives and justice for homeless people. Beyond speaking up for Sacramento’s homeless citizens, Trinity Cathedral provides a meal for homeless people one evening each fortnight and collaborates with Safe Ground’s Pilgrimage program to make available a safe space for homeless people to sleep one or two nights each month.

The recent Bee article, however, wasn't at all about homelessness; instead, it was about area religious leaders’ reactions to the recent Supreme Court decision mandating the legality of same-sex marriage throughout the country.

. ...  ..Rev. Baker's sentiment in support of
  ... marriage contrasted with Imam
  ... ...Mumtaz Qasni's opposition.
What caught my eye and stirred some discussion among my homeless pals was one particular thing that Baker said that the Bee used as a breakout quote: “I believe marriage equality is the will of God and brings us closer to the kingdom of heaven.”

There are two elements in those words of Baker’s that seemed controversial. One was Baker’s apparent claim to know “the will of God.” Pat Robertson of TV’s “The 700 Club,” notoriously, often claims to know precisely what God thinks. On April 30, Robertson claimed “the U.S. will face divine punishment if gay marriage becomes legal nationwide.”

Robertson also said on that day,
…the purported persecution in the U.S. of gays is much like when a group of men tried to rape angels in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Who was on top, who was controlling things? It was the homosexuals. But who had the last word? It was God Almighty when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.”
The other problem in Baker’s words was how he got around the many instances in the Bible – including the Sodom and Gomorrah story – where God seems to be virulently damning of homosexual sex and the people engaging in those acts. In other words, On what basis can Baker claim that marriage equality might “bring us closer to the kingdom of heaven?”

I sent the Very Reverend Dr. Baker an email asking aid in understanding how he could know the will of God and how his words could comport with the Bible and was flabbergasted that, in his responses, he fully, convincingly justified his words quoted in the Bee – including his claim that God does not in any way damn gay people or their sexual practices.

Baker wrote this in his email response to the notion that him knowing the will of God seemed arrogant in a manner akin to Pat Robertson:
Let me say a couple of things in response.  First, I began my remark with "I believe."  I don't know the will of God in a way others may claim they know the will of God.  I would not claim to know much of the mystery of God with certainty.  That said, I believe that God is the gravitational pull that is bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice. I believe that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry is the just and loving thing to do and I believe that it will provide the context for more loving couples to thrive.  I believe it will allow for more love in the world and in that sense, I believe it is in line with the will of God.  That is what I believe but I know I could also be wrong. 
Second, I was intentionally grand in my statement in order to provide a counter-witness to Pat Robertson and others who claim to speak for all Christians.
Great, I thought. There are two definitions of the word “believe.” One is to have an absolute conviction that what you think is inerrantly the capital-T Truth. A second definition of “believe” – which Baker effectively tells us was his meaning of the word in the quote in the Bee article – is to just have strong confidence in the truth of your assertion. Thus, Baker was not at all claiming to have a red phone on his desk, a hotline to God – like Robertson and some other pastors overtaken by narcissism seem to think they have. 

As for Baker neutralizing the Bible’s many passages where it seems gay people and their sexual practices are damned, the good reverend directed me to a videotaped teaching, “Jesus and the Gays,” he gave that dispels claims that the Bible finds gay people and their sexual practices to be loathsome.

I greatly encourage readers of this blog post to view the video. 

Baker wrote this to me in his email regarding his lecture: “I would argue there is nothing in the bible that condemns gay relationships as we understand them. There are a few passages that, if approached with an anti gay bias, you can twist to support your agenda, but that isn't supported with a critical reading of the bible.”

A five-page outline of the lecture can be downloaded here: JesusandtheGaysOutline.docx

Just as a matter of disclosure, I am compelled to inform readers that I, Tom Armstrong, the writer of this post, am not a Christian, nor a believer in any God. I see myself as a Buddhist, a bad Buddhist, a slacker. No Gods talk to me and I don't think they have a voice to be heard.

I do applaud the Supreme Court decision mandating the legality of gay marriage throughout the country. I think the decision was rightly decided, granting marriage as a civil right for gay Americans, and not -- as Chief Justice Roberts would have had it, as he proclaimed in his dissent to the Court's decision -- a matter that should be left to the lawmakers of every state.


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