- by Rev. Dean Snyder -
As marriage equality is successful in more states, good people also continue to pay a personal price for the forward movement of history. Some families celebrate with great joy the weddings of their gay and lesbian sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. Others refuse to do so.
Here in Washington, DC, where same-gender marriages have been legal since 2010, I would estimate that half of the same-gender weddings of Foundry members and friends have included the pain of some important family member who refused to attend the wedding. Their absence has been particularly painful because it is not only a rejection of the marriage but of the identity of the family member.
At first it seemed odd. These are often parents or siblings who have accepted their family member's partner at holiday celebrations and family events. The family has accepted the relationship but they refuse to accept the marriage.
The objection is always based on the teachings of the family members' church. Always.
The family members manage to accept their loved one's partner into the family, but they cannot bring themselves to participate in a wedding that celebrates the relationship. As a result, family relationships are strained and good people experience rejection.
Let me repeat myself. They always cite the teaching of their church as their reason for not being able to attend the wedding. Without exception.
This is a harsh reminder of the importance of church teaching and why we need to continue to work to change the Book of Discipline.
Sometimes I am tempted to think it doesn't matter what the Book of Discipline says about same-gender relationships. A majority of U.S. delegates voted at the last General Conference to take the statement that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" out of the Book of Discipline. More than a thousand United Methodist clergy have made the commitment to practice marriage equality. Bishop Melvin Talbert continues to invite more clergy to practice biblical obedience by treating all people and their loving, committed relationships equally. A jury of her clergy peers in the Wisconsin Annual Conference chose not to defrock the Rev. Amy DeLong for conducting a same-gender ceremony.
Acceptance of LGBTQ people within the United Methodist Church is largely accomplished at the local level in many parts of the United States. Our denomination seems to be moving toward tolerance of different attitudes in different congregations no matter what the Book of Discipline says.
However, watching the pain of good people whose loved ones refuse to attend their weddings based on church teaching demonstrates that the teaching of the church matters. We cannot allow our Book of Discipline to continue to discriminate against same-gender relationships.
This also is a reminder of the importance of the work of the Reconciling Parents Network of the Reconciling Ministries Network as well as PFLAG and other organizations committed to support their LGBTQ family members.
While I have seen loved ones who communicated disapproval and rejection, I have also witnessed wonderful expressions of love, affirmation, and support. I would not want to suggest that most families members are not supportive. But some aren't and this can be particularly painful on one of the happiest days of someone's life.
When I have walked in Gay Pride parades here in Washington, DC, the groups that have always received the loudest cheers have been PFLAG and other family groups. I suspect this is because so many LGBTQ people have experienced the pain of family rejection.
Strangely, in some families, marriage equality has temporarily heightened the pain. I suppose no forward movement of history is without a price. Having your closest loved ones refuse to attend your wedding can be is a huge personal price to pay.
So we should appreciate those who decide to get married in spite of family disapproval. We should celebrate and applaud family members who choose to support the marriage rather than be persuaded by the teaching of their churches. We should continue to work to change the Book of Discipline.
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Dean Snyder has served as senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist in Washington, D.C. since 2002. Foundry Church, the largest Methodist church in Washington, is a congregation committed to social justice and inclusion for all peoples. The congregation’s goals include ending homelessness in Washington, D.C., and ending discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with the United Methodist Church and Christianity. Foundry is an ethnically and culturally diverse congregation characterized by dynamic worship and deep engagement. Snyder formerly served as chaplain to Drexel University and as a religious journalist. His articles and essays have been published in dozens of publications, including The Christian Century, Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer. He has been interviewed by many news outlets including network news, CNN and The Daily Show.