Box-cutting Thoughts On Lection Texts

The Supreme Court’s action yesterday to rule Federal definitions of marriage unconstitutional has profound implications for every American congregation, and especially those who are small fellowships and/or members of the United Methodist Denomination. The United Methodist Church has a General Conference rule — in a sense a “Federal act” — threatening those clergy who officiate in gay marriages and civil unions with the defrocking. The word “officiate” is not too well defined and in local circumstances can be extended to mean participation or recognition. I found the wording that Justice Kennedy used to explain the court’s action profound:


“DOMA humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples" and "makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives."

Any denominational action that restricts the blessing and recognition by clergy and church leaders of the family units formed by gay people is equally malicious. Here we have a secular body speaking prophetically against the church. We have a choice. We can accept the rebuke and seek to quickly move to full recognition of gay marriage or we can say that the culture in America is wrong, unbiblical, and that the ends of preserving our tradition is worth the humiliation we are currently subjecting committed gay couples and their families to.

I am putting a face to this in my mind. I think of a beloved member and active worker in a small congregation who smiled while we all talked about our families. It was only in chance meeting at a public event that I was introduced to his partner of many years.

Ministering to a family unit that is considered second class or unmentionable by our church law puts clergy at an extreme disadvantage. It further, hamstrings their efforts to lead their congregations to be more accepting. In small membership churches, this is critical because the ministry is so often one on one. The small church pastor finds herself encouraging committed couples to take the next step and marry. Clergy in rural and inner-city contexts are on the front-line of advocating marriage as an aid in creating a more stable environment for child rearing. 

Religious celebrations, such as Christian marriage, speak in covenantal language and force the fellowship to recognize relationships they may otherwise be inclined to dismiss. I would say that the church’s interpretation of marriage formed the philosophical foundation that the majority opinion was built on. The Christian church gave Justice Kennedy the moral imperative, now we must play catch-up to bring our practice into his interpretation.