This familiar refrain was heard often last week when the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision overuling states' bans on same-sex marriage. The question many people are asking now is what does the decision mean for us at EBPC? And what does it mean for Brentwood and Tennessee as a whole? In fact, I was asked these questions during an interview with the Tennessean last week for an article headlined "Williamson businesses, churches prep for same-sex marriages."
The article quotes me as being open to performing the weddings of two people of the same sex – which I am. It is a decision that I would reach through prayerful discernment of whether the couple has a love of God and of each other and the ingredients in place for a marriage commitment. And that they undergo premarital counseling. It is the same process I would use with a man and a woman who wish to exchange marriage vows.
Some of you may remember a recent sermon I gave that discussed this very issue long before the Supreme Court ruling. I want to call to mind one brief example from that sermon that illustrates my belief.
...This is a difficult issue for many of you and I speak with humbleness. I speak of it in humble trust to try to make sense of this complicated gift of the Bible. Like so many of you I have changed in my understanding over the years. Like the transfiguration – looking at things in a new frame, like what Jesus asked his disciples to do when it came to see the stories of their past and seeing the purpose of Jesus’ mission in a new way.
My views on homosexuality changed when I became a minister. I was shaped by knowing people and the children in a congregation. For years, I have stood at the baptismal font. I have taken children in my arms and I have baptized them. I say: “God knows you, God loves you, and God created you just the way you are and knows you by name.” The congregation would stand and would say “we support you. Then in the 3rd grade we give the children bibles and would say “this will teach you about the love of God.” Then we take them through confirmation. Then they grow older and they leave for college and young adulthood and we would say: “go and grow and expand.” And some of these children may come back, and they want to get married in the church. And in the case of a few children we have baptized and have grown up and who come back they might say “I want to get married. But the person I want to marry is like me. Will you accept that?” What do we say? “No, not you, you can’t get married here.”
Can we say with certainty that these five passages are timeless truth and your church family will prevent you from blessing your vows? This has made more than one young person – gay or straight – wonder if there is a place for them in their church. Or is there the possibility that we, as the Church, as the people of God, can recognize this force of love when we see it and claim it for what it is—agape, love—and to acknowledge it, honor it, even more—bless it!
Now you know where I stand. But, where does this leave us and EBPC? The article implies that as a church we are “prepping” for same sex marriages (it is even in the headline!). But, I would say our very thoughtful Session “prepped” long before SCOTUS acted. Members of our EBPC Session spent many hours of study and reflection on this issue last fall (and I would like to commend them for doing so) before the PC(USA) General Assembly approved a recommendation that allowed for pastoral discretion in performing same-gender marriage. (This article – Amendment 14F- was ratified by a majority of presbyteries in March of this year.)
At that time of our review and discussion, same-sex marriage was illegal by law in Tennessee and there was no inkling in our discussion that it would become a reality so soon. Moving forward in light of this new decision from SCOTUS, just as our Session approves all weddings that take place on our church grounds, and as the Moderator of our Session, I will encourage our Session members to continue thoughtful and prayerful discussion around how our church engages with all members of our society.
I've included several links below with more background on this issue, including two articles below recently released by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Please take some time to review, and after doing so, if you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me or the members of the Session if you would like to discuss this more. I am always happy to hear from you.
To read the Tennessean article, click here: http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/williamson/2015/07/03/williamson-county-sex-marriage-ceremonies-church-business-religion/29628715/
The second link is a news article from PCUSA on the Supreme Court decision http://www.pcusa.org/news/2015/6/26/pcusa-celebrates-supreme-court-decision-same-gende/
The third link may be particularly helpful for some as it answers questions about the recent SCOTUS ruling’s implications for the local congregation. http://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/news/same_gender_marriage_after_supreme_court_decision.pdf
For my full sermon I mentioned earlier, click here.