Gay Marriage: Coming (Soon?) to a Church Near You.

It is now widely recognized that the move to marriage equality is irreversible. From polling evidence, the trend is clear. Politically, candidates for office are increasingly recognizing the dangers of homophobic rhetoric, and some are starting to see the value of declaring openly for equality. Courts are ruling that discrimination, in marriage law, in military service, and in adoption law, is plainly unconstitutional. As some US states and countries of Europe, Latin America and elsewhere move towards recognizing queer families, the greater visibility that follows erodes resistance easing the path to equality for those that follow.

All this is well known – for civil marriage. What is less widely recognized is the extent of change that has also been taking place in the churches. Inevitably, this will lead in time to acceptance also for same-sex church weddings. From the position just a few years ago where almost all major denominations were strongly against homosexual relationships, and public condemnations passed without comment, this claim may seem hard to swallow, so let us review the evidence.

 

Same-sex Wedding, First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco

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Lutheran Inclusion: Clergy Welcomed in San Francisco

This past summer, the PCUSA General Assembly voted to recognise openly gay and lesbian clergy. Last summer, the ELCA did the same. In neither case, did the decision immediately end the problems of the past. First, ratification was required, which the ECLA have since done, but not yet the PCUSA. That still was not enough.  We can all too easily overlook the long years of hurt inflicted on queer clergy prior to this decision. Changing the law is not enough: hurts must also be healed.

This is why I like this report , of a celebratory admission procedure for seven pastors in the San Francisco area.   Even before the Assembly decision last year, there were many gay or lesbian pastors working in welcoming congregations, but they could not get formal recognition on church rosters. With a change in regulations, it would presumably be a simple matter technically to arrange the inclusion on the roster in a simple, low key way – but that would not address the real problem.

Instead, the ceremony that has been planned will be joyous and festive. In addition to formally welcoming these pastors into full acceptance and inclusion, and making partial recompense for the years of slight, it will also be recognizing the many years of work, across a broad front, that led to the decision.  Chris Glaser and other queer writers on faith have observed that we, as gay, lesbian and trans people in church, have a need for formal ceremonies to mark our own special life transitions – such as coming out- which can be described as truly sacramental. This ceremony is just such a sacramental moment for these San Francisco Lutherans. Let us join with them in giving thanks and sharing our prayers – then extend the work into other faiths which still have further to go.

From the Kansas City Star:

“It’s going to be an extremely glorious and festive ceremony because it’s the culmination of decades of work to welcome LGBT people into the ELCA,” said Amalia Vagts, executive director of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a nonprofit that credentials openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for ministry.

Megan Rohrer, one of the pastors who will participate in Sunday’s rite of reception service, grew up in South Dakota and attended a Lutheran college where she said students tried to exorcise her “gay demons” by throwing holy water on her. Some of those people are now Lutheran pastors in South Dakota, she said.

Rohrer, who is transgender and a lesbian, was ordained by four congregations in San Francisco in 2006, but could not join the ELCA roster until the denomination’s national assembly approved the new policy in August.

“I didn’t really believe the policy was going to change as quickly as it did,” she said.

Rohrer said she is hopeful Sunday’s service will be a “symbol” to young people that the Lutheran church is working toward becoming more welcoming of people of all different backgrounds.

Jeff Johnson, another one of the pastors who will be added to the roster, said the ELCA’s position for years of not accepting the choice of some congregations to ordain gay clergy was painful and disappointing.

“The actions the church is taking on Sunday affirms the decisions of those congregations,” Johnson, pastor of the University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley, said. “The church is respecting our family, our partners, the choices we’re making.”

 

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