Mars Hill Forum #80 at Smith College: Empty Intimidation by a Same-Sex Marriage Attorney
John C. Rankin
In February, 2004, I addressed a Mars Hill Forum on same-sex marriage at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) had just made a ruling essentially forcing the legislature to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
It was a feisty event with the audience, and in particular, with an attorney after the forum. A YouTube posting of some of the dynamic interchange can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7awiTTCWrd0.
One Christian student sat among some twenty fellow students prior to the forum’s start, all avowed lesbians. They were saying how I was going to be chewed up and made ready for shark bait, and they were ready for it. After all, I was a white heterosexual male, an evangelical pro-life minister – six strikes against me before I stood up. But as the forum progressed, they started to complain, “He’s being too gracious…”
I made three observations to start the evening. First, I told the audience that I wanted them all to succeed in attaining the fruit of being image-bearers of God – peace, order, stability and hope, to live, to love, to laugh and to learn. The question is how we best achieve these goals, whether on God’s terms, or on our own broken terms.
Second, I stated that I did not want one inch of greater liberty to speak what I believe, than the liberty I first commend to those who disagree with me. The Golden Rule in political context. And third, if any homosexual person there happened to be facing danger, and if I were in position to intervene to protect his or her life, I would do so instinctively.
During the question and answer period, one lesbian activist, and one male homosexual activist, both said remarkably similar words – that my opposition to same-sex marriage was “doing violence” to them. I then responded, “Do you mean that I am doing violence to you because I disagree with you?” I could have reversed the moment and said, “Does that mean you are doing violence to me if you disagree with me?” I did not, and had I done so, I could have lost the moment and forfeited the ethics of the Gospel, which is to love those who consider themselves our enemies, and not to accuse them. I could have forfeited the power to give and thus yielded to the power to take when taken.
After the forum, an attorney approached me and introduced himself. He had clerked for the SJC in its Goodridge decision legalizing same-sex marriage. He asked if I had read the decision and I said yes. He then called me a liar several times. So I started quoting it extensively on the spot, and he changed the subject after admitting I understood it.
He had wanted to intimidate me into silence.After all, who was I as a minister to address legal matters? He needed to prove me out of my league and unqualified. This attempt grew comical yet tragic. He emailed me several times afterward, having looked at my website. He was concerned with a “disturbing pattern” of me going from campus to campus “stirring up ideological antagonism toward the indigenous gay students …” and what I am doing is “very, very hateful and arrogant” and “meddlesome.”
He recommended that I change my occupation, diagnosed my emotional insecurity of “clinging desperately” to the Bible, and finally my need to go on a 30-day (pagan) “Insight Meditation” retreat, where I would learn to “SHUT UP AND LISTEN for a change …”
Imagine that. A biblical opinion on same-sex marriage is so rarely heard on pagan and secular campuses, and there I was at Smith College, the most pro-lesbian college in the nation, in Northampton, Massachusetts with its reputation for the heaviest concentration of serious witchcraft. No matter my articulation of the image of God, freedom of speech and willingness to risk my life for a homosexual person – I was being told to shut up.
While this man was speaking with me, a young woman interrupted him, graciously and with great poise. She said to me, “Thank you for coming. I am struggling. Can we talk sometime?” She had been an atheist, daughter of a physicist, came to Christ within two weeks time, began to deal with some deep pain in her life, and then to grow wonderfully in the Lord.
Also, following the forum, the prime sponsor, the Smith Christian Fellowship, grew remarkably in size. Many lesbians approached them afterward and thanked them for sponsoring an event where both sides were heard.
In addressing the debate over same-sex marriage, there are twin dangers for the church. A core of homosexual activists would like to a) goad us into hateful speech, or b) intimidate us into silence.
But if we truly love our neighbors as ourselves, as God has loved us, then we will fall prey to neither. Then we have authority to show how same-sex marriage is not good for anyone, and as it only deepens human pain while tearing apart the social order.
Addendum: Two years later I received an email out from a young college woman who saw the DVD of the forum. As a result, she states: “I have lived like a Unitarian for so long without questioning it. I began to ask myself hard questions and have come to only one answer. I believe in the Word of God, and I never knew it until now.”