|Keep out (Newberry Springs, CA, March 2015)|
If a sacrament is indeed the outward manifestation or symbol of God's grace, then the sacrament should be special and reflect God's love unfettered. Like God's love, anyone can receive grace if they accept the sacrament they are called to receive, with a penitent heart. Exercising one's free will to accept that sacrament is opening the door to God's blessings and grace.
But crossing my mind as this played out on Tuesday was that three weeks ago was the 70th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One of his amazing works was "The Cost of Discipleship" (1937) and in it he describes a concept that he referred to as cheap grace.
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?...
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.So what does this have to do with the proceedings at the hearings?
Whether it was in the comments made by the counsel defending the state bans or, even more uncomfortably, the presumptuous questions made by Justices Scalia, Roberts, and even Kennedy, there was much to make me think:
Why do we debate how to restrict in a secular society something that is a manifestation of grace?Or, perhaps in a different way:
Why do we debate something religious like a sacrament in a civil forum?The second question is undoubtedly the result of millennia (using the term offered by Justices Kennedy and Roberts) of state proscribed cohabitation rules. I lean towards disestablishmentarianism but this wasn't the key question so I didn't dwell on it much.
Instead I focused on how the justices were debating something that is a manifestation of grace and how best to implement it.
And it felt cheap.
It sounded demeaning.
It made me feel like marriage was once again something you negotiated, along with land, goats, and dowries.
But it wasn't the fault of the Supreme Court. It's really the entire argument against marriage equality and the supposed reasoned debate in secular spheres about what should or should not be allowed. It's all so cheap.
Did any of these three justices (and presumably Alito and Thomas) suffer personal sacrifice in finding someone to love and securing that love? Probably not. Most straight folks have it comparatively easy when you consider how much the LGBTQ have to contend with society, church, family, and employment. Did they do what I did? I went into the closet, came out of the closet, hid in the shadows of the closet again, inched out, slid back in, and finally stayed out. At times, my parents wouldn't talk with me just because I dared to be honest about how I was born.
So, for me, I struggled in the past, struggle today, and will continue to struggle tomorrow - struggle to find out how best to live out Christ's affirming love and expectations of His disciples. I don't see that struggle from what sounded to me like smug comfort in lavish leather chairs.
The discussion of the sacrament of marriage felt like, in a nutshell, nothing but cheap grace. And the struggles of those who want to marry someone who happens to be the same gender, the struggles of the teenager who is bombarded with taunts and jeers just because God made him or her differently, the struggles of a human being discovering and remedying the misidentification of their gender at birth, the struggles of all those transgender victims murdered or assaulted because of someone else's discomfort - all these struggles are the true cost of discipleship.
There's little cost to be in the privileged caste, economically or sexually.
That's pretty cheap. And the grace you pride yourself into hoarding, like NIMBY suburbanites advocating fracking unless it's in your backyard, that grace is cheap. It's cheap grace.
So those who push for continued marriage discrimination in the name of God, arrogant and proud as it may be, may indeed feel they speak from grace, but it feels exactly like what Bonhoeffer was describing. They advocate cheap marriage.
I'm sure that many on the other side of this discussion think that we are cheapening grace, that by not repenting and becoming straight we wish to receive sacraments that we should not be entitled to receive. I might buy that Koolaid if we could indeed change ourselves into people we are not. But we weren't called to be another way. We were made thusly and God didn't make a mistake. If you accept that our wiring is not a choice, then there is nothing to repent against. We are merely accepting the cross handed to us at birth.
How is our desire to marry comparable to the base celebrity marriages in Vegas that often sometimes just a few months? How is our desire to marry comparable to reality tv show marriages? How is our desire to marry comparable to right wing commentators who marry half a dozen times and, pretty obviously according to the bible, keep repeating their adultery? Their marriages are cheap and the grace implied, this sanctity of marriage offered by the state, is the true abomination.
I don't fault those who never had to fight for receiving grace. If I did, I'd be just another person filled with envy at my returning itinerant brother. I celebrate their grace. But for them to get that grace and try to keep me from enjoying the outward sign of it in the form of marriage, well, that's unjust, arrogant, and demeaning. It cheapens the grace that they've received.
May we all remember that the cost of discipleship is fraught with peril, but it's in our courageous will to live out the expansive, wild love of Christ that we will find the truly redemptive resurrection to a life made new. Let all who are thirsty come.