Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In Him No South or North

the branch of christianity to which i belong is wrestling with the church's response to the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage in the united states.  our denomination now permits the ordination of gay clergy but does not recognize the legitimacy of same-sex marriage in our book of order, the official "rules" of the church.  this places our ministers in a difficult position, particularly in states where gay marriage is now legal.  a move is afoot to change the church's policy during our next general assembly, when delegates from across the country will gather.

some of our congregations left the denomination after the policy to ordain gay clergy was adopted, and others are already making plans to leave in anticipation of the acceptance of same-sex marriage within the church.  their departure will make the national church much more liberal in its makeup, and for those of us who are in the less conservative camp that is a good thing.  it places those who feel a deep loyalty to the denomination and yet disagree with its stance on gay rights in a difficult position, though.  this is particularly true of ministers who continue to wrestle with their consciences on this issue.  how ministers who are not yet convinced that acceptance of gay marriage is consistent with christian teaching address the issue with their congregations largely determines the position the individual congregations take with regard to remaining a part of the national church.  those congregations that have withdrawn did so largely because their ministers led them in that direction, and these departures have been painful for many members of the congregations that have chosen this path, forcing the minority that opposed leaving the national church within these congregations to leave congregations of which they had been a part for many years to find a new congregation or to remain and take part in an action they felt was wrong.

my congregation's ministers find themselves in the position of feeling torn about this issue.  on the one hand they disagree with the church's policy and on the other they feel a responsibility to guide our congregation to remain a part of the church as we know it.  exactly what policy change, if any, is put forward for consideration as a proposal from the general assembly is an open question, and i hope that any such policy will allow for individual ministers and congregations to act as they believe right in their interpretation of christian teaching.

yet, when i think of the discrimination gay men and women have suffered over the years, i wonder how a commited gay couple would feel towards our congregation and our ministers if they asked permission to be married in the church and were refused.  we have gay couples in our congregation who have been active in the life of the church and who are beloved by others in the church.   there has never been a problem of accepting them and calling them to positions of leadership in the congregation.  right now, gay marriage is prohibited in our state, though the state supreme court is considering whether the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage should be allowed to stand.  if the ban is struck down, this may be a situation our congregation is forced to face, and i can't predict what position our ministers and lay leaders will take.

i am inclined to say that these leaders should be free to follow their consciences in making this decision.  yet, i keep coming back to the pain that gays have suffered.  how difficult it must be to feel you must refrain from holding the hand of the person you love in public or to resist the urge to kiss your partner at the stroke of midnight at a new year's eve party, to be unable to ask permission to celebrate your anniversary in the church fellowship hall or to have your anniversary announced at the weekly church dinner along with heterosexual couples, to watch as a straight couple walks down the aisle to celebrate their commitment in front of the congregation while you and your partner are unable to celebrate your love with your fellow christians.  can we allow this pain to continue to be inflicted on those we love and who are our brothers and sisters if they are God's creations?

may we embrace all persons as they are, loving them because they are as God made them.  may our positions as individuals and collectively as members of the church be loving and accepting.  may we act towards all as we would act towards jesus.  shalom.

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