[Sarah Morice-Brubaker:] why don't you give us a little bit of the background on your August speech to the City Council? What was the resolution, and how did you decide to take the approach you did?
[PHIL SNIDER:] As you can imagine in a city such as Springfield (located in the heart of the Bible Belt with several religiously affiliated schools and universities), any ordinance that seeks to affirm gays and lesbians and secure equal protections for their rights is going to come under all kinds of resistance, often in the name of religion.
I wanted to make a strong rhetorical impression that might have some staying power, so I decided to quote sermons on segregation that sounded strikingly similar to conversations that were currently taking place in our city about the ordinance. I saw an article from the Miami Herald that helped jump start the process, and soon thereafter I came across a sermon preached by Bob Jones on Easter Sunday in 1960, in which he (as I understand it) was partly responding to Billy Graham's move toward advocating for social reforms in the south. I did a bunch of Google searches related to strings like "sermons on segregation" or "sermons supporting racism" and started compiling phrases similar to what I had been hearing in Springfield.
It was actually one of the easier speeches I've ever written, mostly because so much of it was quoted material. After all of this started going viral, I was especially taken aback when a friend of mine informed me that one of the more popular quotes I used was actually related to slavery, not segregation, which of course drives the point home all the more.
[SMB:] Walk me through how you came to the convictions you hold: your religious convictions, and your convictions about marriage equality (realizing that they are not two separate things).
[PS:] A bunch of different things, but mostly my friendships with those who are gay. Here is an excerpt from a sermon I preached back in July:
My mind has changed a lot on this over the years. Throughout the course of my own ministry I started meeting more and more people who came to me in pastoral confidence and talked to me about their struggles growing up as a gay person in our society in general and in the church in particular (feelings of hurt, rejection, and depression, often feeling suicidal).
I used to think about homosexuality as a sin along the same lines of alcoholism or adultery (and I should “love the sinner but hate the sin”), but after a while even that didn’t add up in my mind. For instance, if one is an alcoholic, and gives up drinking, one’s life improves, it gets better. And if in a relationship neither partner cheats on the other, well, obviously, that’s much healthier for the relationship.
But throughout the course of my pastoral ministry, I started to notice that people who are gay don’t tend to get better over time when they try to renounce their sexuality. I know several people who have gone to counseling to try to become straight, or have literally had people pray in exorcism fashion for their “gay” demons to leave them, but none of it worked.
Then I started to notice that the gay people I knew who were most healthy were actually the ones who had come to terms with their sexuality and didn’t try to repress or ask God to change it, but had accepted it as part of who God created them to be. And I started to think that people don’t choose to be gay any more than I chose to be straight. Why in the world would someone choose to go through such heartache and pain? It didn't make sense to me.
All of those experiences changed my mind in pretty significant ways, so much so that I now view things much differently than I did when I first started ministry. Now I tend to think that the Bible reflects the prejudices of ancient culture on this matter in the same way it does regarding slavery, or viewing women as property, or any number of things that our culture no longer affirms or accepts.
My perspective can best be summarized in a quote from my theological hero, John Caputo: “My own view is that the outcome of a careful debate about these matters would be to show that there simply are no arguments to show that homosexual love is of itself anything else than love, and that therefore, since the essence of the Torah is love, it hardly falls afoul of the law. To be sure, when it is not love, when it is promiscuity, or infidelity to a sworn partner, or rape, or the sexual abuse of minors, or in any way violent, then it is indeed not love, but that is no less true of heterosexuality.” (Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?)
Those interested in more technical conversations related to scripture and such can check out my sermon series, What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality?
Regarding the second part of this question, about marriage equality: If a person doesn't believe that one chooses to be gay anymore than one chooses to be straight, then there really isn't a strong foundation for denying people the right to marry. Plus, if marriage is viewed as a sacrament, then why is it the state's business to determine what a sacrament is? I believe not only in the separation of church and hate, but also in the separation of church and state.
Click here to see the video of his speech.