Three weeks ago, I went into Washington, D.C., with some friends to watch oral arguments before the Supreme Court for the case of Lawrence v. Texas.
Lawrence v. Texas deals with the constitutionality of a Texas sodomy law. The facts of the case are fairly straightforward. Police came into John Lawrence’s apartment on a report of a weapons disturbance and there discovered Lawrence and another man engaged in “deviate sexual conduct,” as defined by the Texas Legislature. The two men were jailed overnight and later convicted under Texas’ sodomy law. They appealed the conviction through the Texas appeals process, and eventually petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a hearing. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, which in legal terms means you can come over to our house and play.
A flurry of “friend of the court” briefs were filed with the Court, from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, National Organization for Women, American Center for Law and Justice, American Family Association, Center for the Original Intent of the Constitution, Concerned Women for America and Family Research Council.
When oral arguments are heard, each side’s lawyer is given 30 minutes to present arguments or to embarrass themselves, depending on how you look at it. As a law student, I decided that this case was interesting enough to go to the Court and watch the oral arguments. Getting into the Supreme Court is every law student’s dream, and after years of reading casebooks and writing briefs, sometimes you can actually understand what is happening.
Oral arguments began at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. In order to get a seat in the small viewing gallery, you have to line up early—especially for a case that has received a lot of media attention. Most seats in the gallery are reserved for politicians, the press and lawyers who have been admitted to the Supreme Court. Law students, tourists and the insanely curious are admitted on a first come, first serve basis. We decided to play it safe and got into line at 9 p.m. Tuesday night, 13 hours before arguments were to begin.
It was a long, miserable night, but fun in a stupid we’ll-never-do-this-again-so-enjoy-it sort of way. Looking around at the 75-odd people there, it was obvious that we moderately conservative, heterosexual Christians were in the minority. While I have interacted with homosexuals enough in the past to be comfortable around them, I had never been surrounded by people so consumed with their orientation, so hell-bent on throwing their sexuality in everyone’s face. At the beginning of the night when the excitement was still high, a girl ran down the line telling everyone: “When the justices drive by at seven tomorrow morning, we are going to do a huge gay kiss! Just grab anyone, it doesn’t matter who, as long as we’re all making out.” Activism at its best. The guys signing people into the line showered praise on the girl who stood at number 69. Others handed out invitations to the gay-lesbian roundtable in Georgetown, and I received various flyers like the one from the Lambda Legal Group: “You make love, we make it legal.”
At one point during the night, I overheard a conversation in the group ahead of me. “Do you think there are any, uh, anti-gay people here?” one girl asked. “Yeah,” said a guy, “I heard there were actually like four of them.” They both looked around. “Wow, they must be standing among us!”
Listening to this conversation, I felt oddly uncomfortable with my faith. It’s not that I am a militant “anti-gay” and ran the risk of being found out, but I certainly wasn’t there to represent the pro-gay side. I hadn’t come to the Supreme Court to advocate either the gay or straight position, but I knew without saying a world that my Christian faith would brand me as a right-wing, hate-crime radical.
So I sat there, in conflict. My conflict was simple: I had no idea how to relate to this group of people in a positive, Christ-like way. I knew that if I identified myself as a Christian, I would have to defend both my faith and my position on homosexuality, and I was not prepared to do this. Sure, I had the ability to argue the law and could explain the levels of scrutiny under 14th Amendment equal protection. I could have talked about fundamental rights and original intent and why the state of Texas had the better constitutional arguments in support of the sodomy law. I also could have pulled out my Bible and pointed out chapter and verse where God condemns homosexual behavior. I could have easily argued from either the moral or legal perspective on why I thought the Supreme Court should rule in favor of the “anti-gay” side.
Instinctively, however, I knew that none of these arguments would hold up in a face-to-face discussion. Here we were, sitting on the sidewalk outside of the Supreme Court in the middle of the night. Throwing around legal theories or moral sound bites would only hurt my “sidewalk” credibility. So I found myself grimly silent, disturbed that I could not articulate my position and faith without coming across as a judgmental moralist.
There was also the conflict of personal aversion crashing against the fear of becoming a Jerry Falwell. I did not enjoy being checked out by polite men. I didn’t like it when the gay trial attorney put his arm around me while he told a courtroom story. When the two women in their 50s winked at me from the warmth of their sleeping bag, I wanted to run away. I was both slightly repulsed and angry at myself for feeling that way.
At about 8:30 that morning, the protestors from Godhatesfags.com showed up. Their picket signs said things like, “Fags deserve the death penalty,” “God hates fag enablers” and “Fags = Dogs,” and they sang “God Hates the USA” as they walked up and down the sidewalk trampling on the U.S. flag. Other signs indicated that every unfortunate accident is God’s way of punishing us for allowing sodomy: “God sent the sniper,” “Thank God for 9/11,” “God crashed the shuttle because of you.” In the triumph of anti-Christian sentiment, one sign proclaimed: “Matthew Shepard, in hell four years and counting.”
Gay or straight, we were ticked off. The crowd started an anti-protestor chant, people cat-called, and two girls ran up in front of the protestors and made out. The D.C. police came up and warned us that if we demonstrated in any way, we would lose our place in line, so things quieted down pretty quickly, although the protestors continued to sing.
I think of a similar event almost 2,000 years ago, when a woman and man were caught in adultery, and how relevant this story is today. The preachers and conservatives and lawyers bring two men to Jesus—“Look, Lord, these men were caught in sodomy, in the very act. The law of Texas says this is a misdemeanor, Class C; the law of God says this deserves death. What do you say?”
Eventually the security police ushered us inside. We watched the arguments, discussed the case when it was all over and went home.
I learned two huge lessons at some point that night. The first was that as Christians, we have to be educated in our faith. We’ve heard it before: Always be ready to give an answer. Christianity is only effective if you can communicate it at the most basic level of society—down on the sidewalk level. We should be so consumed with Jesus Christ that we can engage others in a discussion of our faith at any given moment. When we are down “in the streets,” we need to be able to articulate our beliefs in a persuasive way—not throwing around moral judgments or using Bible verses as bullets—but to represent Christ and the power of his love.
Being able to give an answer for our faith involves more than knowing the Romans Road. It necessitates a Christian worldview so that we can articulate our faith when discussing cultural, political and moral issues. What do you think about the Middle East conflict? About euthanasia? About the Academy Awards? About sodomy laws? If we want a relevant voice in our culture, we have to be able to intelligently discuss these issues from a Christian perspective.
Even more important than this, if we want to change the culture and impact other people, we have to be prepared for personal relationships. We can try to represent Christ in the protest line, from the pulpit or in litigation, but the Gospel is best spread through personal relationships and one-on-one contact. Christ shared His unique message of God’s love and forgiveness in His daily contact with other people: He ate with tax collectors and sinners; He blessed the adulteress and the child.
A strange thing happened when we were protested. The crowd of gays, lesbians and closet “anti-gays” unified in a mutual disgust of the protestors. We identified with each other no matter which side of the issue we supported when confronted with blind hate. When the protestors told us that God hates fags, I was emboldened to speak out, to break past the wall of fear and orientation differences.
Regardless of the issue—homosexuality, abortion, environmentalism, drinking, card-playing, denominational differences—Christians are called to love. You cannot tell people that God loves them until you are willing to love them yourself. Moralistic preaching and legislative resolutions are only so effective for changing the culture. And beyond that, it really isn’t our responsibility to change people. That’s up to the Holy Spirit. We are commanded to love.
After the protestors arrived, one of the activists confided, “I just don’t understand why anyone would want to outlaw sodomy.” I think there was more than the mere desire for privacy; he could not understand the rage and hate he witnessed. I was silent that night, not out of shame for the Gospel, but out of shame for how the protestors and holier-than-thou types have represented the Gospel. I desperately wanted to reach out, to engage in conversation, to assure the people in front of me that God loves them and that any Christian who does not do the same is in sin.
We can talk about Christian relevance, the moral majority and having high standards all we want, but in the end, building personal relationships is the only effective method of evangelism. It wasn’t until I spent all night on a sidewalk in D.C. that I had the relational credibility to talk to people of vastly different moral and political backgrounds. Surface solutions like, “We need to tell them they’re sinning and that God can deliver them—then everything will be alright,” fail to bridge the relationship gap.
As disciples of the cross, we are called to communicate: “Go and tell all men; preach the Gospel.” If we want to preach the Gospel, we should use Christ’s methods. Jesus did not stand in a picket line; in fact, He himself was picketed. He did not shout moral slurs or focus on cultural fault lines. Instead, He quietly spoke His message to the individual: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
[Michael Reitz is a law school grad preparing for the bar exam. He and his wife live in Northern Virginia.]
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