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With division on marriage equality within and between faith communities, discussion will continue beyond the election

Compiled by Mary Stamp

While a vote Nov. 6 on one referendum decides whether voters wish to uphold the State Legislature’s vote for marriage equality in Washington State, conversations on the issue continue in the faith community and beyond.

People of faith, as well as the public, remain divided on the issue.  Faith leaders recognize that the difference of opinion is within congregations, churches and faiths, as well as among them.

Within faith communities, conversations are underway beyond the divisions that grow from church/faith pronouncements and political decisions about laws. 

Many may view the division on Referendum 74 as one between the secular and the religious communities, religious leaders did have been speaking out both in favor of it and opposed to it. 

The Spokesman-Review ran a full-page ad of 1,000 Catholics supporting the measure.  It also ran a full-page ad with the Rev. Billy Graham weighing in against it.

In addition, three Spokane-area billboards pictured 15 area leaders—Christian, Unitarian, Unity, Buddhist and Jewish—declaring that people of faith support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

Clergy express support
Clergy from Episcopal, American Baptist, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, United Methodist, Evangelica Lutheran Churhc in America, Unity, Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist congregations gathered for a "Love Rally" to quote Scriptures about loving neighbors, enemies and everyone.

Some are from churches that on national, regional and local levels have decided to welcome gays and lesbians as members, ordain gay and lesbian clergy, and bless unions or marriages—Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, Unity Church and Reform Jewish. 

Some pictured are from nationally denominations with ongoing discussions but an official stance against homosexuality, such as the United Methodist Church.  Some local clergy don’t share that view.

While some churches have official stances based on national policies, other churches have varied practices based on decisions by regional bodies or local congregations.

About 16 clergy, including many of those pictured on the billboard, shared Scripture readings about the call for people of faith to love their neighbors in a “Rally for Love” attended by about 40 others during October held in the Convention Center Plaza while former Senator Rick Santorum spoke in the DoubleTree in opposition to the referendum. 

The 16 clergy read Lev. 19:18, 1 Cor 13, Micah 6:8, John 15:11-15, Gal. 5, 2 John, Matt. 5, John 13:34-35

The Rev. Todd Eklof, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, which paid for the billboards, recognizes that the faith community is not “in agreement on this issue.”

He and the other leaders pictured believe, however, that “faith is at its best when it expresses compassion and promotes justice.”  Unitarians first ordained a gay pastor in 1969.

Todd, who grew up Southern Baptist, has performed no weddings since 2003 and has made a commitment not to perform any until there is marriage equality.  For him, it’s about justice.

“Many great activists and social reformers have been people of faith,” he said.

He cited several polls on changing attitudes, including support among Evangelicals:.

The Rev. Happy Watkins, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church and long time advocate for civil rights, cited not only the call to “love our neighbors as ourselves” but also words of Martin Luther King, Jr., supporting longing for the day when black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, gay and straight will hold hands and sing the old spiritual, ‘Free at Last.’  He grew up in the Bronx in a neighborhood of racial, ethnic and religious diversity that included gays and lesbians.

“We have mastered the air, conquered the sea, but we are not wise enough to live on this earth without war and without hate,” he said. “We as a community must take a stand, not just in moments of comforts and conveniences, but in the moments of challenges and controversies.”

While many African Americans may differ from his view, there was a panel discussion on Oct. 20 at East Central Community Center on “Why Marriage Matters: Conversations with Communities of Color about the Freedom to Marry for All Loving Couples" with LGBT people of color sharing stories in the belief that no one should face discrimination when they want to marry the person they love.  The presentation was sponsored by the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and Why Marriage Matters Washington.

In a sermon posted on facebook the Rev. Andrea CastroLang of Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ, shares her reflections, coming from a denomination and congregation that are “Open and Affirming.” 

In 1972, the United Church of Christ was the first mainline denomination to ordain a gay pastor.  After many discussions, the denomination developed an “Open and Affirming” process and curriculum for local congregations to use to develop mission statements that would be inclusive—not only of gays and lesbians, but everyone, particularly people who are often excluded.

“We are to speak the truth to power and to stand up and vote our consciences,” she said in another sermon.  “We do not have the luxury to be hateful.  It’s not right to write off other human beings who live by different dogma.

“Jesus offered mercy and sight to all.  Those who follow Jesus are to be merciful and compassionate,” she said.

Bishop Grant Hagiya of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church shares that he will “pray for all sides of this challenging issue” and he asks others to do that, too.

To read his comment, click here.

The Family Policy Institute of Washington explained on its website that they brought Santorum to Spokane because, "As a member of the United States Senate Santorum has argued forcefully against policies that undermine the family and weaken America's economic competitiveness. He came “to Washington to help fight for marriage, life and religious freedom."

Some Evangelical Christians follow his perspective, concerned that marriage equality will undermine marriage. 

The Rev. Joe Wittwer of Life Center recently preached to his congregation on the issue, reviewing biblical passages, reminding people of the need to love their enemies, and recognizing that there are differences in the congregation.  He urged people, despite their differences, to love their neighbors.   To view his sermon, click here.

Roman Catholic Bishop Blase Cupich’s letters to parishioners in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane and video messages teach and urge a “no” vote, while also calling for the need to respect human rights.  His messages also include awareness that the conversation will continue.  To view his letters, click here.

He said, “For us believers, however, this is just the beginning of the discussion not the end, for we are gifted with the light of faith by all that is revealed in Scripture and our tradition.”

He added:  “On this occasion, I only ask the favor of giving a thoughtful and careful reading to what I have written here, and to discuss this important topic with friends and family, neighbors and co-workers with calm, civility and respect. We owe that to one other, our state and future generation.”

To view his comments, click here.

That includes his recognition: “Admittedly, the conflicting positions of this issue are deeply held and passionately argued. Proponents of the redefinition of marriage are often motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation. It is a compassion that is very personal, for those who have suffered and continue to suffer are close and beloved friends and family members. It is also a compassion forged in reaction to tragic national stories of violence against homosexuals, of verbal attacks that demean their human dignity, and of suicides by teens who have struggled with their sexual identity or have been bullied because of it. As a result, supporters of the referendum often speak passionately of the need to rebalance the scales of justice. This tends to frame the issue as a matter of equality in the minds of many people, a value that is deeply etched in our nation’s psyche.

“Likewise, many opponents of the law redefining marriage have close friends and family members who are gay or lesbian. They too recognize the importance of creating a supporting environment in society for everyone to live a full, happy and secure life. Yet, they also have sincere concerns about what a redefinition of marriage will mean for the good of society and the family, both of which face new strains in our modern world. They are asking the public to take a serious and dispassionate look at what a radical break with centuries of marriage law and practice will mean.”

With many voices and nuances being discussed during this election in Washington, there’s understanding that there’s not a single faith voice, but differences not only between the different churches, congregations and faith communities, but also within churches, congregations faith communities. 

Many worship, fellowship and serve side by side with folks whose perspectives differ.

Wikipedia.com offers a summary with information on denominations’ varied positions on homosexuality.

Other online information on church and faith groups’ stands are on the Human Rights Campaign website.

Information can also be found on the website of each faith organization.

The October newsletter of the Human Rights Education Institute offers a historical overview of attitudes and laws related to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.  It is available on page 3 of a pdf file at http://www.hrei.org/newsletters/.

Despite some negative ads, some angry voices and some expression of hate, people have also engaged in thoughtful presentations of their concerns, and many voices are calling for loving people with whom they may disagree. 

Those voices offer perspective in a time of contention.

This article merely touches the surface, but hopefully gives people information to continue in dialogue, to continue to love those with whom they disagree.

For information, viisit online sources listed and your own denomination's or faith community's discussions.

 

 

 

 

Published by The Fig Tree, 1323 S. Perry St., Spokane, WA 99202
509-535-4112 / 509-535-1813



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