Casting the First Stone

They remind me of Mary or the goddess: watchful, female guardians of peace. Their angular robes and faces receive the dappling mist with the same patience as the oaks. The crows shout in waves, calling to each other across the lake, their black forms punctuating nature’s claim on this land. Two of the statues have their wrists crossed over their hearts as they gaze at the autumn carpet at their feet.

They are cast, not carved, and that makes a certain difference. Their substance comes of filling-in rather than shaving away. It makes the angles sharper, and less violent. They seem ancient, especially beside the pewter lake, cloaked in lichen; but, I know they are of modern invention. Newborn in the 1950s, they were formed in the technology of concrete.

Less than a month from today, the people who live on and around this land will vote on a divisive amendment. It will determine if marriage will be constitutionally defined as the union of one man and one woman. Supporters have had plenty to say about traditional and biblical values. Opponents have had plenty to say about logs and specks.

Early last week, my father forwarded an email in which a local pastor encouraged support for the amendment on the basis that “God has established marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. 3,000 years of civilized history affirms this arrangement, as well.” He neglected to mention that the Bible and history also define marriage as a monogamous, life-long covenant with the primary purpose of creating and nurturing children—a definition that most American Christians could not uphold with any personal integrity.

Also this week, a student at the Midwestern Baptist university where I teach published an editorial in which he (a straight, evangelical Christian) decried the amendment in favor of gay marriage. He neglected to mention any of the biblical passages that define or exhort guidelines for sexual behavior.

Whether voting on such an amendment is a moral or legal issue—or whether those voting perceive any distinction between the two— is a significant question. Whether legislating behavior is a valid expression of love for neighbor is another. Whether sexuality is a definer of identity is yet another.

I hope the amendment fails. But I haven’t yet decided how I will vote. Because to cast (a vote or a stone) can mean “to throw” or it can mean “to build.” The men Jesus addressed in the Gospels were apparently willing to do neither.

Thunder tumbles over the roof and a soaking rain begins to fall. We’ve been in drought here as the seasons change and the rainfall shifts the color of walk and bark and stone. The guardian statues darken and recede, but because of how they’re made, they don’t absorb. Their gaze remains both downcast and peaceful, immutable before the weather.

Watching them, I fear that casting my vote for “biblical statues” and “traditional values” would be a weapon; that doing so would arm my faith. I fear that many of my spiritual siblings will vote this way as an attack or a defense, neither of which I can biblically justify. And yet, I’m unsettled about voting against a definition with which I agree. I do believe that marriage, before God, is the union of one man and one woman. But I don’t believe that marital status or sexual desire should have any bearing on dignity or worth—especially for followers of a single, chaste Messiah.

So I discover that I will likely vote “no.” Come November, I will likely vote to deny a definition with which I doctrinally agree because I want my casting to build rather than defend. I have no faith that voting for traditional values will do anything to build a more Christ-like society. And as I watch the rain nourish a parched earth, I want most to live a life that fills and builds: a life with angles that may remain sharp to some, but that are never violent.

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