By David E Braden
There have been a lot of posts on marriage recently (Blessed Unions; Overcoming Serial Discrimination; The UMC and the Republican Party; and my good ol’ entry late last year on who should define marriage).
I’m definitely still in denial about gay marriage in America. It still seems too hard to believe that after years of fighting and lobbying, we’ve seen three states allow gay marriage – not just civil unions, but marriage – within their jurisdictions in just one month’s time. Five states, that’s 10-percent of all the states in the Union, now have gay marriage. All of this news is extraordinarily exciting!
What’s the reality?
But then I think about the fact that, with the exception of Iowa, the five states that allow gay marriage are also some of the least religious in the country. In fact, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont all make the Top Ten list of least religious states in the country.1
We’ve seen the studies of Prop 8 in California and know that people who attend worship at least once per week, regardless of religious tradition or race/ethnicity, were more likely to vote in favor of banning same-sex marriage than those who do not.2 So although the progress in the Northeast is fantastic, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, gay marriage isn’t really going to go anywhere fast in the USA unless religious people – gay and straight – start to do something about it.
Christian Marriage for All?
At my church in Chicago, Holy Covenant UMC, we’ve been studying how we can bless couples of all sexual orientations with integrity as a community. Although gay marriage isn’t legal in Illinois (stay tuned for civil unions legislation that is in our state legislature), I think most of Holy Covenant would agree that the union of two souls in Christian marriage is a sacred union, blessed by God. In our studies the past few months, we have learned a few things.
We know that the Book of Discipline is clear: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”3
We know that there are churches across the Connexion with varying responses to this rule – some that celebrate holy unions outside of the church to remain within the Discipline, some that celebrate gay marriage with UM pastors and inside the church despite the Discipline, some that have ended celebrating any marriages in their church all together because of the inequity and injustice of the policy. Many churches haven’t even talked about the policy in the Discipline because it’s a difficult conversation to have. And for some, it never may have occurred to them even to have the conversation.
We know that the consequences of breaking the Discipline are real. Broadway UMC is just down the street from us and their former pastor, the Rev. Gregory Dell, was suspended for a year for celebrating gay marriage ten years ago. And that’s not counting the toll that experiencing a church trial has on a congregation, even one like Broadway that was/is overwhelmingly supportive of its pastor and the inclusion of queer people in its ministries.
At the end of the day, we have to make choices. What choices can we live with? What choices will make us proud as a community of faith? Are we ready to dive into waters that might be too deep for us to swim? What is just? What is right? What is honest and true? Where is God in this and what is the God of Grace calling us, asking us to do?
I know that I don’t have all the answers and I don’t think any policy or decision that we come up with at Holy Covenant will be nearly sufficient enough as changing the Book of Discipline and eradicating homophobia and heterosexism from our Church law, policies, and practices. But we have to start somewhere.
1. Steve Crabtree and Brett Pelham, “What Alabamians and Iranians Have in Common: A Global Perspective on Americans’ Religiosity Offers a Few Surprises,” Gallop.com, (Feb. 9, 2009), http://www.gallup.com/poll/114211/Alabamians-Iranians-Common.aspx
2. Patrick Egan and Kenneth Sherrill, California’s Proposition 8: What Happened and What Does the Future Hold? (New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, January 2009), http://www.thetaskforce.org/press/releases/pr_1_06_09
3. ¶341.6 “Unauthorized Conduct,” The Book of Discipline 2008.