What will our Congregation Decide About Homosexual Marriage?
One of the things that I say to couples that are coming to me to get married is:
“I am a witness for the state and a witness for God. In some other countries there are two marriage ceremonies, a legal one and a religious one. In the United States you have a choice of having just a legal marriage or a marriage that is both legal and religious. So, why do you want me to officiate at your wedding? Why not a judge or a mayor? How do you intend to live out your marriage differently than someone who does not make their wedding vows in the presence of God and who does not ask God’s blessing on your marriage?”
Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that homosexual marriages are not only legally permitted but are mandated to be recognized as legal, the intertwining of the legal and the religious dimensions of marriage has been like two bare wires touching. So, what has been your response as you have talked this over with your family, friends, and church members?
During the period of time between the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the case and its ruling Carol said to me, “If the Supreme Court rules in favor of legally recognizing homosexual marriage, I feel sorry for you, for it will be a lose-lose situation for you. If you do not marry a homosexual couple, one group of people will be mad at you. If you do, another group will.”
Well, guess what. It’s not just me who has to make this decision, it is also you. You as a church member. You as an American citizen.
The freedom of religion in our country means that I, as a pastor and as one who is legally authorized to solemnize weddings, can choose whom I will and whom I will not based on religious grounds. As you have seen in our community, our judges do not have that choice because for them it is only a legal matter. But of course it is not that simple either, because some judges have religious convictions that puts them in the unenviable situation of having to go against their conscience.
As a church we have before us the decision as to whether or not we will permit homosexual marriages in our sanctuary. Our current wedding policy, which was given to me when I came here in 1983, states that “No same sex marriages, unions, or blessings will be performed.” So the question before us is not whether or not this will remain our policy but how will we decide whether or not this will be our policy. This will not be easy, for sexuality and marriage are powerful within us and come from the deepest understandings of ourselves and of God.
Prior to the Supreme Court decision we did not have to make a decision since it was not legal to do so. Now both the congregation as a whole and I as a pastor will have to decide whether or not we will perform homosexual marriages.
When several colleagues and I were discussing how our congregations would handle this decision, one said, "I am in favor of homosexual marriages and will do them, but I am pretty sure my congregation will not allow them on the premises." Another said, "I will not perform them but I think our congregation is going to approve of having them." A third said, "We are going to study the sexuality documents before we come to a decision."
The ELCA wrestled with the theological, biblical and social understandings of sexuality when it adopted its social statement, Human Sexuality, Gift and Trust. We did the preparatory work for it here at St. Paul Lutheran Church and explored the many different aspects of life that are influenced by and connected with sexuality. If you have not read it, I invite you to do so at http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Human-Sexuality.
When it was adopted by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2009, much attention was given to the section on our understanding of homosexuality and the fact that we did not come up with a single understanding of homosexuality. Instead four different understanding of homosexuality were articulated as being the diversity of biblical interpretation and theological conclusions within our church. The statement invites us to live together in unity but also in diversity.
Understanding #2 is closest to my personal theological and biblical understanding.
Do you know which of the four understandings is closest to yours?