So the church I pastor, Trinity Presbyterian of Charlotte, began its own process in late spring. Throughout the summer, members are invited to write a letter to session to express their thoughts and feelings. Back on June 5, we hosted a potluck dinner to bring our church family around the table for fellowship and conversation. Richard Boyce, dean of nearby Union Presbyterian Seminary, did a brief lecture on literalism, relativism, and the Bible's understanding of covenant as it relates to marriage. Both Grace Lindvall, our associate pastor, and I were asked to share our thoughts on same-sex marriage. Mine can be found below.
Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time probably has an idea where I stand. But in nineteen years of ministry, this is the first time I've spoken publicly to my congregation on the matter. Why? For many years the typical advice for pastors has been "don't talk about it;" because doing so could compromise your pastoral credibility with those who disagree with you. And we certainly didn't want anyone to leave the church over it. Perhaps that was wise advice at one time. But with our session prepping to vote on the matter in a couple of months, the congregation I serve deserves to know what's on their pastor's heart, regardless of whether they agree with me or not.
So here it is. As I prefaced at the dinner, my hope is that whoever hears or reads my thoughts receives them much as one receives a gift on Christmas morning. Sometimes you open that gift and it's exactly what you want and you're excited. Other times, it's not at all what you hoped for and you're disappointed, even angry. Either way, you still receive it in gratitude because that's the spirit in which it was given. We can agree agreeably, and we can also disagree agreeably. In the end, that's what being church is all about.
In one sense I regret that it’s taken up so much of the church’s time and energy when there are plenty of other things we should be focusing on. But I also realize that this is a very important matter in our culture and in the church; and I’m grateful to be part of a denomination who has actively wrestled with it, even though it’s taken many years and led to some individuals and even entire churches leaving our denomination.
I can tell you that, from the get-go, I never understood why the church would say to an LGBT person, “We know you think you’re called to ministry, but because you’re LGBT, as heterosexuals we can tell you that you’re not.” I went to seminary with a few gay/lesbian students and saw that their sense of call was as strong as mine. So I have long supported the ordination of LGBT persons. My journey on same-sex marriage has been a little more nuanced, and I wasn’t fully aware of where I stood until around six years ago when I met my cousin Scott’s partner, Joey. Getting to know them and their struggles as a loving couple who simply wanted to have that love validated in the same way as a heterosexual couple, and getting to celebrate with them when Amendment One was struck down a couple of years ago, all of that helped clarify my position on the matter.
And over and over again I keep coming back to a number of things. I keep coming back to the fact that "welcoming all," as our church’s slogan goes, cannot be "welcoming some." I keep coming back to the fact, as Richard mentioned, that the Bible is more nuanced about marriage and covenant than we typically think. I keep coming back to Jesus, who never once commented on this issue; only that his actions were consistently about loving everyone, even and especially those maligned by the society of his day. And I keep coming back to one of the very first things I promised you when you called me here as your senior pastor - that I would strive to let love guide me in everything I did, and if I were ever going to err, I would always err on the side of love.
I also keep coming back to Susie. Maybe you know a Susie, maybe you don’t. I'm betting you do, whether you realize it or not. When Susie is born and the news is shared with her church, the whole congregation rejoices. Later, her parents ask for her to be baptized, and the church says, "Yes, of course! " During her early years the church says, “yes, of course!” to Susie by providing Sunday school and Sunday night youth for her. When she goes through confirmation, the session and congregation enthusiastically say, "yes, of course!" When she asks to serve as an acolyte and crucifer, the church says, “yes, of course!” The church says “yes, of course!” when they give Susie a Bible her senior year. Throughout college and early adult years, the church says “yes, of course!” when she comes home to visit and reconnect. Then one day, Susie tells the church that she has found the love of her life and wants to be married in the place that literally “yes, of coursed” her from birth. She also tells them that the love of her life is named Emma.
So what does the church say now? If I’m honest with you, I struggle mightily with the idea of a church who, after all those “yes, of courses,” would choose in this instance to say, “no, of course not.” For me, at least, that just does not feel like church. That is why, should our session vote to allow same-sex weddings at Trinity, I would be happy not just that our church is aligning with our denomination's stance, but also aligning with what I feel is our calling as the welcoming and loving body of Christ. And if it does not, if I’m honest with you? Well, we would still no doubt do many great things as a church. But we would not be doing them as a church who welcomes all. We would be doing them as a church who welcomes some.
With all that said - and this is the most important thing I'll say tonight - I fully embrace my role as one of Trinity’s pastors to love and serve all it’s people, no matter who they are or what they believe. This means that I’m not only called to love and care for that LGTB person who wants to be treated the same, but also to love and care for those who, in good conscience and with a loving heart, do not feel same-sex marriage is right. No matter what you believe about this issue, you have a place here at Trinity. So whatever our session decides and whatever you as a church member feel, I will continue to love you and be your pastor. For nineteen years and counting, that has and will always be my calling.