Tag Archive | marriage equality

pleasing no one

The recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality has prompted both celebration and fear, joy and sorrow. There are those who are flying rainbow flags in triumph.  There are those who are fearful of how this ruling will change the world in which they live.  And there are others who are completely against marriage equality, and same gender relationships, period.

As a parish pastor I am called to serve ALL these people – at the same time.  I have a fine line to walk. And the thing is that no matter how I walk it, it still won’t be good enough.  Because there are some (and I mean some, not ALL) who would say, “If they can’t accept LGBT folks, then they’re not following the love of Jesus anyway, so just let them leave.”  And others who would say, “I don’t want ‘those’ people in ‘our’ church, they’re not following the Bible – let them leave.”  In this instance, as in so many others, I will never be able to please everyone.

The thing is, as a parish pastor, it is NOT my job to please everyone, but it IS my job to love everyone – and many times this is easier said than done.  When people are bickering or fighting, they want me to take a side – really meaning to pick a winner (which also means declaring a “loser”). NOBODY likes it when I won’t take sides.  Now, sometimes it’s an issue that simply needs a church council vote, or a referral to our theology that provides the answer so that I don’t have to be a referee. Then I am hopefully a comforting presence to the ones on the losing side of a vote or church polity, and a guide against being “puffed up” to those who win.  But there are other times, like now, where there is no simple resolution to the conflict between those who are “yeah or nay” about marriage equality.  It’s frustrating and it can be painful.

It is not my place, nor do I think it is Jesus’ Will, to say, “let them leave.”  Jesus is in the business of saving – of welcoming and loving all – not of kicking people out.  Deciding who is in the Church or out of it, who is going to heaven and who is going to hell, is not just above my pay grade, it’s above my place in the universe.  Jesus is the decider of salvation, not me or anyone else who lives and breathes as a creature of God.  It’s a hard thing to follow the Lord of love.  Because that means welcoming everyone, even those with whom we may vehemently disagree.

Our church doors are open to those who celebrate the marriage equality ruling.  Our doors are open to those who don’t know how they feel about “those people.”  Our doors are open to those who are against different “lifestyles.”  Jesus wants no one leave.  As I said above, it’s hard to follow the Lord of love. It’s hard because rather than doing the easy thing, which is to build walls around ourselves to protect us from those who are different, or those we deem unlovable – Jesus calls us to welcome precisely them. Jesus calls us to reach out of our comfort zones and realize that he isn’t just the Lord of me and those who are like me – Jesus is Lord of ALL.  He is even the Lord of my enemies (who he also calls us to love – dang! – as I said, this loving is hard work).

My denomination (the ELCA) still defines marriage as between a man and a woman.  That won’t change anytime soon, because such a change can only be done on a national level through a vote of our biannual assembly, which includes clergy and laity.  (We are NOT a “top down” denomination where bishops can simply “tell” the church what to do.)   When marriage equality was making its way through individual states the ELCA had the stance of allowing each pastor/congregation to decide what their congregational practice would be, and this stance was reaffirmed when the Supreme Court made its ruling.  In some congregations deciding on their practice will be drawn out and painful.  In other congregations it will be a “no-brainer.”  In my congregation it really isn’t even on the radar because I have an “older” bunch and haven’t officiated a wedding in years.

I will cross that bridge when I get to it.  And when I do, I can probably promise you that no one will be pleased with how I handle it – because I will love those who dance with joy, and I will love those who are hurt and angry.  Will I do the wedding?  Yes, for all the reasons I outlined in my previous posts here and here.  But that doesn’t mean I will lord it over those who disagree.  As a Christian, and as a pastor, it is not my job to lord over anyone, but to follow the Lord of love, who calls us to the hard work of loving all, even those with whom we disagree.  To try with all our hearts and strength NOT to let them leave.


***Does “loving” mean we continue to embrace individuals in our congregations who are destructive, and actively undermine the ministry of the gospel?  Does it mean we welcome some at the expense of the safety of others?  No. But if we must let them leave, for the sake of the good of all, then it is also the job of the church to guide them through as healthy a goodbye as possible, and help them find a new community of faith, where they might feel more at home.  They may reject the guidance and care (actually most people who leave, leave “in a huff” and don’t want pastoral care), but it is always the place of the church to offer it.

pondering marriage equality, part 2

This post is part two of my thoughts regarding the recent Supreme Court decision to allow gay couples the right to marry.  In part one I shared my thoughts on the legal (logical and non-religious) aspects of marriage equality.  In this post I’ll walk through the theological minefield of same gender relationships. As always I share my ponderings as an individual.  My denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has released several teaching documents and statements related to human sexuality which I invite you to research.  The views expressed here are entirely my own.  That being said:

As a Christian, I support the decision of the court.

However, I truly respect the beliefs of those who view same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s Will (although I disagree).  I respect those beliefs as long as they aren’t part of a larger conspiracy of hate and bigotry and religious persecution complexes that are bordering on hysteria.  I have NO patience for this kind of panic and fear/hate mongering.  There are those screaming that because the country is allowing consenting adults of the same gender to marry one another, our country is going to hell.  What I want to know is why THIS is the thing that’s pushing God over the edge?  Why not slavery and the MURDER of unknown numbers of African people forcibly brought here and USED and disposed of when they were no longer useful?  Why not the MASSACRE of unknown numbers of Native Americans when we STOLE their land, calling it our “destiny,” corralling them on reservations and making their lives a living hell?  Why marriage and not these horrors perpetrated knowingly and with malice toward others?  A God that would overlook such atrocities but strike us down over the legal union of loving consenting adults is to me the very definition of theological lunacy.  If that sounds harsh, well, yes.  Gay marriage pales in comparison to a LOT of really sinister things we’ve done, and are continuing to do, in this country.  We need to keep things in perspective.

My support of same sex relationships, comes not from simply reading the Bible – but HOW I read the Bible – and this is the primary focus of this post, NOT individual texts.  I am not a literalist.  Indeed, I think no one truly can be, because even those who purport to take the Bible literally end up weighing certain passages as more important than others.  My Church of Christ grandmother was adamant in her church’s belief that since the New Testament made no mention of musical instruments in worship – that there should be NO musical instruments in worship.  All music is “a cappella.”  Now, there are plenty of mentions in the Old Testament of musical instruments in worship – so Church of Christ people (God love them) are making an interpretation that New is more important than Old.  Most Christians aren’t kosher.  Most Christians don’t celebrate Passover, which God declared to be a “perpetual” ordinance.  I don’t know ANY Christians in this day and age who think slavery is a good thing, although it was common and even blessed in both the Old AND New Testaments.  Indeed both the supporters of slavery AND abolitionists used Scripture to support their beliefs.  A few words from Paul about women has kept us out of leadership positions for EVER, and yet we have examples of Deborah the judge, Anna the prophet who blessed baby Jesus, Mary who was told by the risen Christ to announce the resurrection to the poor men who were hiding, and others who clearly held positions of leadership.  It’s impossible to follow the Bible without making decisions about differing passages.  THAT is interpretation, whether we like it or not.

Granted, it is a hard thing for us to read and love Scripture, and yet ponder and pray and discuss and debate and sometimes fight over meanings.  Which passages should be laws for ALL time (thou shall not murder), and which ones were meant to guide specific groups in a specific time and place (women should keep their heads covered)?  It is hard work.

  • It is easy to look at a passage that seems to speak against homosexuality, and say “YES.  It’s an abomination  It can NEVER be ok!”
  • It is hard to look at that same passage and ask, “Well, what was the writer really talking about?  Were they talking about consenting adults or something more sinister?”
  • It’s easy to read a passage that says men can’t “spill seed,” and say “YES.  This is why men can’t have sex with men and why masturbation is evil.”
  • It’s hard to ask, “Well, WHY?”

It is easy to take Scripture at its face value.  But in the end, that view doesn’t really respect the beauty and history and the blood, sweat and tears of the Bible and the story of the faith within it.  I would argue that wrestling with the history and context, and the arduous task of weighing the “perpetual” versus the “temporary” is the more respectful way to approach our beloved document of faith.  Martin Luther once said that the Bible was the cradle in which we find Christ.  The Bible is NOT Christ.  Truly truly I tell you, I love the Bible, but it is not the Bible that saves me.  That honor belongs to Christ alone.  I do not worship the Bible.  I worship Jesus Christ, my lord and savior.

There are two main reasons for the biblical prohibitions against homosexuality.  I warn you, it’s a bit graphic.  If you’d rather not, then skip the next two sections…

NUMBER ONE – The survival of the race was of paramount importance.  The whole purpose of marriage was to have LOTS OF BABIES.  This is understandable.  The nation was constantly at risk from war and disease (including infant mortality and maternal death).  Lots of babies also included LOTS OF WIVES to have the lots of babies.  The idea of a relationship (even between a man and a woman – husband and wife) that DIDN’T include procreation was anathema – hence women lending out their slaves to their husbands to have babies for them if they were “barren” (how nice – sanctioned RAPE so the man could have an heir).  The idea of marriage for procreation still exists in some ultra-orthodox Jewish circles.  I recently saw a movie about a woman who killed herself because she was childless after years of marriage.  Her husband loved her and wouldn’t divorce her despite intense family pressure to do so (because marriage ≠ love, marriage = procreation), so killing herself FREED him to remarry and have children.  There was no guarantee of that however, because they couldn’t discover the reason for their infertility due to the biblical prohibition against “spilling seed” (wasting sperm) – the other major biblical argument against homosexuality.

NUMBER TWO – Biblical biological knowledge was just plain WRONG.  WRONG.  According to the Bible, or I should say, “biblical thought,” the whole baby was contained in the sperm, and the woman’s womb was just the soil in which the seed was planted.  Our biblical ancestors knew nothing of eggs and conception.  So, spilling seed was killing babies.  Any man ejaculating babies into anything else besides a woman’s “soil” was killing those babies, which completely went against rule number one – to perpetuate the species.  We know now that’s not true. Spilling seed doesn’t kill babies.  That poor woman in the movie above KILLED HERSELF, when perhaps their whole problem was with her husband’s fertility – but he wouldn’t get tested because he could not “spill seed” into a cup to have his sperm count analyzed (even for medical purposes).

After the hard work of respecting and loving and digging deeply into Scripture, what I am left with is this:  Biblical prohibitions against same-sex relationships have absolutely nothing to do with who it’s acceptable to love, and everything to do with the importance of procreation.  Given the world we inhabit today, I believe that while the biblical injunctions against homosexuality may have been of primary importance for the people of that time and place – they are NOT for people of this time and place.   I am not the only one who has come to these conclusions.  And I did not simply accept the words of others – this issue has been important to me and an object of study for YEARS.  I hope this time and wrestling is seen as a sign of my deep love and respect for Scripture, and not as some would argue “just tossing OUT Scripture.” Ultimately, however, I have no control over what others think of these conclusions or of me – but that’s okay, I sleep well.

So as a Christian, I support the decision of the court.  Again, I respect those who disagree.  We can still hold hands and pray and sing and even worship together, as long as that respect remains on both our parts.  It can and does work, I promise you.  And if you can’t make space in your heart for respect and love of neighbor, if you can’t see your way to hold hands and pray and sing and worship with me because of this, then I will pray FOR you.

I realize as I finish that I haven’t made space to discuss how I will practically deal with this as a pastor.  Just quickly – at least for now it isn’t an issue in my congregation since my folks are well past the marrying years.  I haven’t officiated a wedding in YEARS.  However, if asked, I WILL cross that bridge – but that’s another post…

Shalom.  Peace.

pondering marriage equality, part 1

It seems like EVERYONE has had something to say about the Supreme Court ruling granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.  I weighed in with a short paragraph on my facebook page the day of the ruling, not wanting to go into great detail and get into an online debate.  For the most part I find those kinds of debates exhausting and unproductive, since it’s so hard to have a good discussion when limited to short blurbs.  It’s one of the reasons, along with posting sermons, that I started this blog.  I wanted to have the space to share my ponderings (hence the blog title!).  It’s still not as good as a face to face conversation, but it’s better than twitter at 140 characters, or facebook where I roll my eyes at “status updates” that go on forever.

I warn you – this is the LONGEST post I have ever written.  I normally try to stay under 1,000 words since that’s what I’m mostly capable of reading at any one time, but there was NO WAY that was going to happen with this.  What I’ve done is break it into two posts with two main themes – the LEGAL and the THEOLOGICAL.  In this first post I am sharing my legal thoughts (keeping in mind I’m not a lawyer).

Also, and always, I share my ponderings as an individual.  My denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has released several teaching documents and statements related to human sexuality which I invite you to research.  The views expressed here are entirely my own…

I support the decision of the court.

Marriage is a legal contract, first and foremost.  If a couple comes to me and wants to get married but doesn’t have a marriage license issued by the town/county/state – I CAN’T DO IT.  Or I could, but it wouldn’t be legal.  In many countries, the legal marriage and the blessing of that marriage are two different events.  Remember when Prince Charles married Camilla?  They went to the town registrar first, got married, then went to the church and received a blessing.  That’s the way weddings are conducted in many countries.  Even now people don’t have to get married in churches.  Many don’t.  And the court was CLEAR that religious teaching and practice would not be impacted by the ruling.  You can still teach that homosexuality is wrong if that is the belief of your church.  PASTORS WILL NOT BE FORCED TO CONDUCT SAME SEX MARRIAGES.  Pastors will be no more forced to officiate at “these” weddings as Roman Catholic priests are to officiate at remarriages of divorced people.  Everybody needs to just calm down.  (I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, but really, some of the predictions of doom are just a bit over the top).

In case anyone is unsure of this, the following is a quote directly from the ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges, p. 27):

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”

And as a legal institution, the state of marriage has changed very much through the years. Remember the days of legal (ahem… biblical) polygamy, arranged marriages and the “selling” of daughters in marriage (think dowries)?   Even some of our current wedding traditions are based on antiquated beliefs, like a father “giving away” his daughter.  I compromised with my mother at my wedding that my father would walk me down the aisle, but there was no “who gives this woman” baloney.  And when I officiate I do NOT do that.  No one “gives” a woman away because no one “owns” her in the first place – although at one time this was practically true.  Women couldn’t own property, they had no rights to their children in cases of divorce, and except for lower classes in domestic labor women did not hold jobs.

A woman’s name changing when she married was also a sign of “ownership.”  She went from having her father’s name to her husband’s name.  (Disclosure – I changed my name when I married, but only because I didn’t like my “maiden” name and my husband’s last name was “pretty.”)  In fact, we aren’t so far removed from the days when, after Helen Logan married Frank Smith she became Mrs. Frank Smith – she lost her identity altogether.  The marriage pronouncement itself also noted this, as the couple were proclaimed “MAN and wife.”  Notice how the man stayed a man, but a woman became a wife.  Also, “you may kiss your bride,” was also a public display of that ownership.  Most wedding ceremonies have changed these customs to show equality, which is a GOOD thing – the proclamation of “husband and wife” and the phrase I use, “as a sign of your vows you may kiss each other.”  And titles are changing, but boy was there a backlash when women first started using “Ms.”  Why does a man’s title not signal his marital status, but a woman’s MUST (until the recent invention of “Ms”) – again, back to ownership.  In addition to the “Miss, Mrs., Ms” titles, we have the antiquated “maiden” and “matron” labels.  We still see these used in wedding services, except when you have rebels like me.  When I was married our bulletin listed my “woman” of honor, not a “maid” or “matron” of honor – because the marital status of the person standing beside me as I said my vows was nobody’s business.

Marriage has also been a very political institution, once (and sometimes still) used to unite families, grant higher (or lower) social status, appease political enemies/allies and even countries.  For the higher classes emotion played little part in deciding marital partners.  Princes and princesses were often married off without even meeting their spouses prior to the ceremony.  Marriage was one of many moves for the powerful to play in the social and political chess game of status and power.   In very traditional circles (in various religions/cultures, not just Christian, Jewish or Muslim), marriages are still sometimes arranged from childhood.  Imagine knowing at 9 years old that Joseph/Miriam was the person you would be marrying when you were of age, regardless of whether or not you actually liked them!

Since marriage is a legal contract and the reasons and meanings of marriage HAVE changed throughout history and indeed in many of our lifetimes, including allowing people of different races to marry, it seems logical to me that the court would look at the desires of two fully-consenting adults, who wish to be legally committed to one another and held accountable to one another in the eyes of the law, and say “yes – it is so ordered.”

I support the decision of the court.

In part two, I’ll unpack my support of marriage equality from a theological perspective…