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.