PORTLAND – As a lifelong Christian, ordained minister and teacher of Christian ethics for nearly 32 years, I am aware that religion can often be a force for great good, but also at times a source of much harm.
Harm happens whenever religion is invoked to justify exclusion or devalue members of the community.
On my study wall there is a framed print that a friend from Tennessee gave me years ago. Stewart grew up in the South during Jim Crow segregation, and the print depicts a minister standing with a Bible in one hand and a sign in the other hand that reads, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”
Too often religion has been on the wrong side of important issues of the day. When religion supports exclusion or devalues some as less worthy, we need to stop and ask, “Where is the love of God in that?”
While some may contend that religion stands for “all things heterosexual and only heterosexual,” the truth of the matter is that people of faith across diverse traditions welcome gay men and lesbian women and their families as equal and valued members of their congregations. They also support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples because of, not in spite of, their faith and core values.
As a Christian, I take this stand because I hold fast to the Bible’s authoritative guidance. The God of the Bible commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
One of the best ways to show love, respect and care for our neighbors, including our gay and lesbian neighbors, is by encouraging committed, responsible partnerships between two persons who love each other and are willing to make their faithful pledge to marry.
Two developments have prepared the way for people of faith to support marriage for same-sex couples.
First, many have come to know gay men and lesbians as “real people” who want to take on the responsibility to make a family with a beloved partner, the person of their own choosing. As one Christian summed it up to me recently, “What God cares about is your heart orientation, not your sexual orientation.”
Second, people of faith in every religious tradition affirm the full humanity of women as well as men, celebrate marriage as the partnership of equals, and acknowledge that genuine marriage is an intimate friendship between two persons who pledge to love, honor and care for one another throughout a lifetime.
As a Christian who supports marriage for same-sex couples, I stand with people of faith from many different traditions that value not only marriage, but also religious freedom.
The citizens’ initiative that would allow same-sex couples to receive a marriage license includes a new addition to Maine law that would ensure that all churches, members of the clergy, denominations and religious organizations have the freedom to make up their own minds about same-sex marriage without ever jeopardizing their tax-exempt status or running afoul of the law.
While I defend any pastor’s freedom not to marry a couple that he or she believes should not marry, I want that same religious freedom for myself and other clergy who are prepared to marry couples whom we believe are ready to enter into this holy union.
About these matters, we encourage our friends, family members, and neighbors not to fear.
As my colleague Ben Shambaugh, dean at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Luke, explained recently when asked why he supports the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, “My faith is not a faith of fear. The God I believe in is not an angry God. The God I believe in is a God of love and acceptance who has created all of us. I feel compelled to take a stand and lead on this because of my faith, not in opposition to it.”
More than 75 congregations throughout Maine recently participated in a Sabbath Weekend for the Freedom to Marry for All, sponsored by the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination.
Clergy preached sermons, adults studied and reflected together in Bible studies and educational forums, and congregants talked with each other about the blessings of a faith that “casts out fear,” welcomes the stranger and embraces same-sex couples and their families as beloved people of God.
In response to such acts of love, faithfulness and generous welcome, people of faith through Maine have good reason to rejoice and say, “Amen.”
– Special to the Press Herald