As we make our way into summer at First Lutheran, the garden has been planted, which will eventually provide fresh produce for the local food basket. A robust veterans’ ministry is underway among us, which had its first success story in May when a veteran in need came for a handout but received far more support than he could have hoped for: a new ID was arranged, his food supply was secured, his debts were organized and his benefits were confirmed. Our Teen Clothes Closet is preparing to re-launch as posters, leaflets and lots of other publicity will invite area teens in need to worry about one less thing as they can come to our house and see what clothes they like. In July our middle schoolers will be sent on a mission trip to Louisville, KY, while the high schoolers make their way to Detroit for the National Youth Gathering. Our parents will continue sharing stories and wisdom through ParentShare as their kids will take a break from regular Sunday School, but still have the opportunity to learn about God through VeggieTales. In August we will recognize our volunteers, and we’ll explore Everest for Vacation Bible School.
And yet with all that we are planning for and with all that God has in store for us throughout the summer, I feel it is necessary to offer attention and further explanation to the decision our Vision & Leadership Team made in May to permit same-gender weddings at First Lutheran. In the process of the team’s discernment, we read every response to the survey and gave thoughtful consideration to how members answered “why is your response yes/no/undecided”, “What questions do you have for God pertaining to this decision?” and “What additional thoughts or questions do you have for the V&L Team at this time?” We weighed the wisdom of studying the question further vs. making a decision now. It was a difficult conclusion to a challenging process that has come to unfortunately dominate the faith life of our congregation. Many factors contributed to the process, our individual discernments and the timing of our decision. Below, I’ve included a number of the most common questions and comments we read which, when answered, I hope will clarify the Vision and Leadership Team’s actions.
First, a brief summary of the survey responses
We received 137 responses. Yes: 92 (67%), No: 37 (27%), Undecided: 8 (6%). You may remember the congregation was invited to offer their response to a similar question in February… “Regarding the subject of same-gender marriage, I consider myself to be… welcoming and affirming (61%), welcoming but uncertain (15%), welcoming but not affirming (11%), not welcoming and not affirming (12%).” Those numbers were based on 249 responses. In preparation for our May retreat, the V&L Team contacted every single ‘no’ responder who signed their response in an effort to gain as much insight into their viewpoint as possible.
Now, for a few of the comments we read
“Yes. The Church should be a welcoming and nurturing place for all people regardless of … their sexual orientation.”
“No. Marriage is between one man and one woman.”
“Yes. Jesus teaches about love. If I am wrong, I would like to be making an error for the sake of love, acceptance and inclusion.”
“No. If the Bible condemns homosexuality, why would it condone same-gender marriage?”
“Yes. If we do not do [these weddings] I will go to another church.”
“No. I will have to leave this church if you let this take place.”
“Yes. This shouldn’t be a question.”
“No. This shouldn’t be a question.”
As for some of the questions…
Why are we rushing this process?
The Vision and Leadership Team have been studying and praying about this decision for a year. The congregation has been invited to participate in learning opportunities since February. We recognize that some people feel like we rushed this decision but there are more in our congregation who feel like we have been dragging our feet. Vision and Leadership decided that now was a fair time to vote based on all the information at hand.
Why aren’t we voting as a congregation?
We learned from studying other congregations in their processes that congregational votes have a greater potential for dividing members against members and one of our greatest concerns as a leadership team is to have the least amount of division.
Calling a vote is the fastest way to end the discussion. The Vision and Leadership Team wanted to encourage as much discussion as possible so they could discern whether the congregation was ready to move in one direction or the other. Since the responses were overwhelmingly in favor of doing same-gender weddings, we felt confident now is the time to vote as a Vision and Leadership Team, which saved the congregation from the burden of being forced to vote on a topic many feel ill-equipped and unwilling to answer.
How can you consider this when the Bible says marriage is between a man and woman?
For most of the Vision and Leadership Team members, the definition of marriage did not contribute toward our discernment as much as whether or not homosexuality is a sin. If homosexuals are born that way, what else would God want them to do with their gift of sexuality than to share it in a Christ-like way in the highest form of relationship there is: marriage. We also do not believe the Bible defines marriage by the gender of the two individuals but instead defines it by the level of commitment two individuals make to each other. Marriage, in my opinion, is defined by the vows, not body parts.
Does this decision include non-member weddings?
We have found that requiring membership for weddings simply makes some people become members of First Lutheran in a less than genuine way so that they can simply get married. Once they’re married, we never see them again. So this requirement has been counterproductive in the past and wouldn’t help in this circumstance either.
Do we have to call this “marriage”?
Marriage is the most accountable way of two people living out a mutual monogamous consensual lifelong relationship. We believe it is appropriate to call the same-gender union a marriage.
Are these weddings going to take place at the altar?
We do not want to create two classes of Christians with one who is allowed to be married at the altar and another who is not. If we are going to do same-gender weddings, they need to be done in front of the altar.
Will same sex couples have the same premarital requirements?
How should we help and support those who disagree with the final decision?
This was my favorite question. As I write this, we are just five days out from announcing the decision, and I have already met with or talked to dozens of people who are either 1) really mad or 2) really excited. And yet, in the midst of all the emotions that inevitably accompany a decision like this, I have seen our members care for each other. I saw no smugness on the faces of those who agree with the decision, and those who are upset are bringing their anger to the appropriate places (me and the V&L Team rather than simply complaining behind our backs). The greatest help and support that can be offered to those who disagree—which is a substantial percentage!—is to keep inviting and including everyone to your small group, your committee or team. If you notice someone has been absent from worship for a while, give them a call. If you sense disappointment in someone you know, ask to hear them out. Genuine Christ-centered relationships will survive this episode of our life together. But it may require some awkward or difficult moments. I know I’ve already had a few of these moments. I invite you to share!
Photo by Marc Wathieu on Flickr.