by Jim Clausing
A few weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to equal protection under the law which made same-sex marriage legal everywhere in the United States. This decision has been hailed by some and met with anger and dismay by others, both of those reactions have been seen in our midst. The question now is, as Christians, followers of Christ, how is God calling us to respond to that, especially in light of our core values of love, leadership, faith, fun/joy, and welcoming community. The purpose of this post is not to get into arguments about what the Bible does or doesn’t say about homosexuality. Whether we were aware or not (and many preferred not to be aware), we’ve had gays and lesbians in the pews of Grace Church for decades, we’ve had gays and lesbians in the pulpit of Grace Church at various times over the years. Some of our members and our family members are and have been gay and lesbian. We need to keep that clearly in mind as we consider our response.
In 2005, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ passed a resolution supporting marriage equality for the LGBTQ brothers and sisters among us. At the time, the plan (by the pastor and council) was to hold a series of forums with members at Grace to discuss what the action by Synod did and didn’t mean, how they arrived at their decision, etc. Alas, there were some members who were so incensed by the Synod action that they chose (while the pastor was away on vacation) to call a congregational meeting to condemn the Synod action. When Pastor Dennis was taking us through the exercise of naming positives and negatives/highs and lows of the past 20 or 30 years, that meeting was cited by some as a high point and by others as a low point. Even 10 years later, there are hard feelings not just about the action, but more about the way it was handled. Ultimately, that meeting in Sept 2005 was about as nasty a meeting as I’ve endured in my local congregation in my 50+ years in churches. Those who wanted to act before discussing the issues instituted a calling campaign and “members” showed up for that meeting that I had never seen before though I had been attending for 8 years at that time.
It is time that we revisit the action that we took at that meeting 10 years ago. I know that there are some in our midst who are uncomfortable with the whether or not homosexuality is a sin. To those persons I say, let us take the opportunity that we didn’t take 10 years ago and study what the Bible really says on the issue and what did Jesus say on the issue. There are several good books on the subject including those found here and here. In the meantime, we need to decide if we are going to treat some of our members as somehow worth less than others. I believe that the resolution that we passed violates every single one of our professed core values. There is no joy or love in that action, only hate and judgement. There is no faith or leadership, only “tradition.” There is certainly no welcoming community, in fact, it is stating that some of our members (and family) are somehow less than others, not worthy of God’s love or not worthy to make their commitment to their partner and family before God here in our sanctuary or with our pastor officiating. Further, it has put the pastors of Grace Church for these last 10 years in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between their conscience and what they believe God is calling them to do on the one hand, and their job on the other. And make no mistake, all three settled pastors and both interim pastors have struggled with this dilemma. As long as same-sex marriage was not legal in Ohio, this could be shoved in the corner and ignored, but that is not an option anymore. As uncomfortable as it is, we need to stand up and decide if what we professed were our core values were merely pretty words or if we really meant them. And if we really meant them, then we have no choice but to repeal the action we took 10 years ago. We cannot claim to be a welcoming community and say that some of our members are not welcome to be married by our pastor and/or in our building. We cannot claim to love all and yet say that some people aren’t deserving of the legal protections in their relationship that most of us enjoy. We cannot claim to lead and serve and at the same time exclude those in our midst who make us uncomfortable. We cannot claim to be lead by faith in Jesus Christ and then turn our backs on the those that society treats poorly, the very ones that Jesus said we need to take care of. We cannot claim joy as a core value and then deny the joy of celebrating a holy, lifelong commitment before God, between two people who love each other with all their hearts just because they are both the same sex.
We need to stand with those that are on the margins, those who don’t act or look like us, those who make us uncomfortable and let them know that God loves them and they (we) are worthy of that love. I’ve spent the last 10 years, knowing in my heart that the decision we made was not Godly, but not wanting to reopen wounds that never entirely healed, I remained silent. I can’t, in good conscience, do that any more. God is demanding that I speak. This may cost me some friends. It may cost Grace Church some members, but following Jesus is not a popularity contest. In fact, it is often lonely and uncomfortable, but if we call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, this is what Christ requires us to do.