Thursday, July 05, 2012
A Pastoral Perspective on Marriage Equality
I suppose there’s something appropriate about coming out at a More Light event, so, by way of full disclosure, although I am a pastor in National Capital Presbytery, which includes the marriage equality District of Columbia, I serve a congregation in Arlington, Virginia, and, last time I checked Virginia was a lot further from marriage equality than we are from the District.
So I wondered why Michael invited me to be on this panel. At first I thought perhaps he was hoping that I would take a bit of pressure off my neighbor in Arlington and our new vice moderator, Tara Spuhler-McCabe, by outing the rather long list of friends and colleagues in National Capital who have officiated at same-sex weddings.
Sorry to disappoint, but I honestly have no idea. I do know that pastors who serve Virginia or Maryland congregations can, with only a modicum of DC bureaucratic hoop jumping, get licensed to officiate at weddings in DC.
But that’s really not at all what I want to talk with you about, because almost six years ago, Clarendon adopted a policy that precludes its pastor from signing marriage licenses for any couple. We did this because the church is not in the wedding business; we’re in the Jesus business.
So these days when I talk with couples – straight couples or same-gender couples – about celebrating their covenant promises to one another, we spend a lot of time talking about Jesus – about what it means to follow Jesus in the context of a marriage, about how love of partner is related to and informed by love of God, about how God’s covenantal promises to us may shape and inform the promises we make to one another, and about how the role of the church with respect to that is to invoke God’s blessing on sacred vows and the relationships we promise to have and to hold.
Soon after we made that decision, a young woman came to worship with us one Sunday morning. In speaking with her after worship, she shared that she had come to Clarendon to “check us out” on behalf of friends, a lesbian couple who were afraid to come and worship because they were not sure that “all are welcome” really meant “all.”
The friend read a flyer at church describing our policy on marriage, talked with me and with some members of the congregation and understood clearly that her friends would be welcomed with joy. Our policy is part of our witness to God’s radically inclusive love.
A little more than a year after that, I was blessed to bless the union of two lovely young women, Lisa and Heather, and sometime soon I’ll get to baptize their beautiful daughter, Ava.
I’ll never forget their wedding day – a perfect spring day at a gorgeous Virginia winery! After the service, I was approached by Lisa’s brother – who, I’d been forewarned, was not really comfortable with his sister’s sexuality, and had a lot of questions and concerns about this whole same-sex union thing. I was a bit wary when he told me that on the ride up from SW Virginia his daughter had asked, “daddy, will this service be on the news?”
I chuckled and said, “thank God, no” thinking, “what a hassle that would be” and wondering just what he was getting at in telling me this.
He cut me off saying, “you know, it should have been. That way everyone could see how perfectly normal and ordinary this is.” It was a profound and holy moment because what he was really saying was, “that is my sister, and I love her, and I want her to be happy.”
As I think about pastoral concerns and the question of marriage equality, I have to admit that one of my chief pastoral concerns is for my colleagues. I want all of them to be able to experience such ordinary joy and such holy moments of transformation, and I don’t want any of us to have to worry about our ordinations simply because part of the Jesus business calls us to walk with couples – straight and same-gender – into the wondrous, blessed journey of covenantal promise and married life.