When I first got married, my wife had ideas about teaching me to play tennis. Actually, that isn’t true. I had ideas about my wife teaching me to play tennis. It was a sport she enjoyed and something that we could do together. She was a little skeptical but willing. It was, of course, a disaster. The first problem was that I’d never been all that serious about the game. As I told her before we started, I played tennis like I didn’t play baseball; everything went over the fence. Initially, this wasn’t a problem as I was willing to run after all the errant balls and she was willing to stand around and watch me. But this eventually grew boring and she decided it would be useful to help me with my swing. So she stood by me, modeled the swing, and bounced the ball to me so I could hit it. I was very fast on the trigger, hoping to impress her, I suppose. I swung around quick and caught her hand with my racket. She cried out, I went to her and apologized, she shook it off after a moment and decided to try again. She started to bounce the ball and, sure I knew what I was doing, I swung again and immediately wacked her hand again. Afterwards, she wasn’t angry with me, but she has never stepped onto a tennis court with me again.
In competitive tennis, there are frequent unforced errors. Generally, they happen when the person serving is trying very hard to hit their fastest or trickiest shot. The margins for error are slim and, as a result, bad serves often occur. To keep the players motivated to risk all on an impressive serve, those who fail on their first attempt are given a second chance. Most people, when they already have one error, play it safer the second time, so that they don’t lose the point. Others, like me, blunder forward, sure of their skill, stumbling right into the reckoning that hubris always brings.
I’ve been thinking about this lately in relation to the church’s response, thusfar, to the legalization of gay marriage. Admitting that it isn’t legal everywhere as yet, it is definitely legal in some places. What this means is that gay couples can attend church in areas where gay marriage is legal and say, in all honesty, that they live the law of chastity as they are legally and lawfully wed. However, from reports I am hearing, it appears that some local leaders do not see gay marriage as legitimate, no matter what the law states, and therefore some legally and lawfully wed people are being excommunicated for the sin of marrying the person they love.
I’m going vague here both because I don’t know the specifics of the cases that have been mentioned to me and because I am obviously not privy to all the information that local leadership is privy to in making these decisions. But, all that said, this isn’t something that we have to do. Someone should not be excommunicated just because they are living in a manner that will prevent them from going to the temple. There are gay members that want to participate in our church, in our congregations, but who are being removed because they have decided to make a life-long commitment to live in a monogamous relationship with someone they love. What is the harm in such people saying prayers, partaking of the sacrament, or teaching a class in church? Even if their marriage cannot be solemnized in the temple, we can still treat them with dignity and allow them participation in our congregations, where, frankly, we need all the help we can get.
This feels like an unforced error. We are driving these people away from the kingdom of God on earth and we do not have to. These are people who love us, who love the church, and we keep swinging away at them to make some self-justifying point. We’ll be very blessed indeed should any of them desire to give us a second chance.