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Minn. gay marriage vote divides state’s clergy

Published 7:05am Sunday, June 10, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — Members of Minnesota’s clergy are increasingly taking sides on the push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a political battle that’s pitting certain denominations against others and, in some cases, splitting believers from the same faith.

This Sunday, a group of Catholic churchgoers opposed to the amendment are kicking off the “Catholics Vote NO!” campaign, flying in the face of the church’s local hierarchy, which supports the measure.

It’s just the latest in a lengthy list of recent organizing efforts by the faithful — from a recent “pastor’s summit” of church leaders who support a ban to a gathering this past week of more than 100 Christian and Jewish ministers opposed to it.

Among the latter was the Rev. Kelly Chatman, lead pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. He took take a public stand against the amendment, he said Friday, “because I don’t want that other voice to be the only voice, I don’t want same-sex people to see all churches that way.

“I’m doing this because it’s important people see a pastor who believes that God is loving to everybody.”

The amendment on the November ballot asks voters to decide if an existing ban on gay marriage in state law should be enshrined in the constitution. Republican majorities in the Minnesota Legislature put the issue on the ballot after heavy lobbying from a coalition of Catholic and evangelical religious leaders.

St. Paul-Minneapolis Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt is a particularly ardent supporter and has pressured local priests to publicly support it in front of their parishes.

“I’m preaching on it regularly, I’m writing about it weekly in my parish bulletins, we’ve held discussion groups and intend to do more,” said the Rev. John Echert, lead pastor at two suburban St. Paul Catholic churches. Echert said he views church teaching as unequivocal: Opposite-sex marriage “is the only moral, acceptable manner to join in marriage.”

Dogma hasn’t stopped a significant number of retired or former Minnesota Catholic priests from speaking out against the amendment, despite the archbishop’s order not to dissent publicly.

Minnesota’s Catholic dioceses have lent more than rhetorical firepower to the debate: the Catholic Conference’s Marriage Defense Fund reported $750,000 in contributions to pro-amendment efforts as of the end of January, with more donations likely.

LaDonna Hoy, a lifelong Catholic who helped organize this weekend’s event, said she puts little stock in the word coming down from local church leaders. Organizers expect about 200 to 300 lay Catholics to participate in the event, which will be held at a Methodist church in Edina.

Hoy said she believes that gay people, including her daughter, “only want the freedom to love responsibly and faithfully, and the idea of them being marginalized by the law or some religious fear is just distasteful to me. It’s wrong.”

Hoy said many in her own congregation, St. Bartholomew in Wayzata, feel the same, and that the parish priest has not addressed the amendment from the pulpit.

Plenty of prominent Minnesota denominations have come out squarely against the amendment. Five Minnesota synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have approved formal resolutions in opposition to the marriage amendment. Earlier this month, the general assembly of Minnesota’s United Methodists overwhelmingly approved a resolution against the amendment.

“Scripture must be factored, but so must tradition, reason and experience,” said the Rev. Bruce Robbins of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. “God speaks to all of us in different ways.”

Amendment supporters in the faith community have been just as active. In May, more than 175 pastors attended a conference at Grace Church in Eden Prairie where they received instruction on how to build support in their congregations for the amendment.

“People of faith have a right and an obligation to participate in this discussion,” said the Rev. Jeff Evans, an evangelical minister from Edina who is leading pastor outreach efforts.

Clergy on both sides of the issue admitted their own congregations are split on the amendment. Chatman said his congregation has many recent African immigrants with more conservative views on social issues. The Rev. Bryan Pedersen of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Robbinsdale, said he’s been approached by parishioners at odds with his own public stand for the amendment.

“Every one of them will be accountable to God for how they’re informed by their conscience,” Pedersen said. “The definition of marriage is non-negotiable.”

  • lsemple

    I wonder which definition he’s speaking of? The one between an owner and his slave? Or between two slaves at their owner’s whim? Or a widow and her dead husband’s brother? Arranged between two unwitting victims to further their families’ wealth and power? Or, I know, a rapist and his victim. I bet that’s the one he’s talking about. We definitely don’t want to negotiate that one.

  • Scott Bute

    I believe the one from Matthew Chapter 19:4-6 “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one’? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
    Oh I certainly agree that human beings have done their level best to “put asunder” the will of God who created marriage (not the state). Now these clergy, (wolves in sheep’s clothing) have decided to speak out against preserving marriage between one man and one woman and have divided their congregations as a result. The Apostle Paul was clear when he warned us: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.”
    (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

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  • lsemple

    One man and one woman – King Solomon had 700 official wives, and something like 300 concubines. And I can quote the bible, too:

    Deut. 22:28-29 “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”

    Genesis 38:8-10 “8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.”

  • Scott Bute

    You make my point beautifully. God gave us the divine plan for marriage in Genesis, but, due to the fall of man, sin entered the picture and man began to dismantle what God had originally planned for marriage which led to some of the extreme examples that you listed. That is why I quoted Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew who came to set the record straight on marriage and on many other issues which we had completely screwed up. Jesus showed us the way Lisa, all we have to do is surrender and say yes to his will!

    • Lisa Semple

      So back to basics, right? I point out again rapists marrying their victims, slaves and their owners, widows and their brothers-in-law, all detailed right there in the bible. At which point is marriage defined for you?

      Why are you and others continuing to try to force your beliefs on the other free citizens in this country? The majority to not get to define the rights of the minority, that’s why they’re called *rights*. As I’ve stated before, you don’t see the Jews trying to outlaw bacon just because it’s against their religion to eat pork. Why are the non-believing citizens in this country being forced to bend to your will? Why are you trying to deny rights because of your beliefs, beliefs that don’t even pertain to many people in this country? These are the exact same tired arguments that were used to outlaw marriage between races, and it’s obvious those fears never came to fruition. Gay marriage is no threat to you or anyone else in this country. Flaunt your bible all you want, when it comes down to it your only reason for denying people the rights you enjoy is bigotry and fear.

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