Monday, June 08, 2009

Thoughts on "holy unions" and same-sex marriage

Late afternoon, Saturday...

I am sitting in a shady spot at The Badlands Offroad Park in Attica, Indiana. All around me there are the rasps and roars of off-road vehicles - everything from the bumblebee buzz-whine of 125cc 2-stroke dirt bikes to the throaty roar of high-powered dune buggies, and everything in between. For folks who would forsake pavement to ride through the great outdoors, The Badlands is a mid-US mecca for off-roading (I forget how many hundreds of acres they have here). Today Chris is just doing a blow-the-dust-out and get-acquainted ride on his Yamaha WR426 (I mention it only because someone, somewhere, may want to know what he rides, I guess - and because I care enough to know, believe it or not!).

Riding a motorcycle holds no thrill for me - I have enough trouble balancing on four wheels - but I enjoy being outdoors when it's cool and breezy, and Chris has been longing to come to The Badlands ever since he first thought about coming to Champaign.

So here we are. It's cool, shady and breezy, and I have a sufficient supply of pretzels and Diet Coke, and about 3 hours of battery time on ye olde laptop. So as he's off on his first dream-ride, I have some time to catch-up, reflect, and ponder life around me.

For a number of reasons, my thoughts have been turning to questions of faith, and questions of church. One of the valuable lessons which the two decades have taught me is that questions of church are quite, quite separate from questions of faith. I will be forever grateful to the communities which helped form my faith - but I am also very glad that there were non-church communities that helped my faith survive when the church world failed me.

For many of my former seminary friends still in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), this is the weekend of several Synod conferences...gatherings of the regional governing conferences within the ELCA. It is a time when bishops are elected, and policy is either set (for a region) or recommended to the greater Churchwide Assembly for action. Synod conferences can be a time of stunning boredom, of great inspiration, or great frustration (sometimes in equal measures!), especially as the regional synods act on resolutions which can indicate an area's stand on certain issues.

It was out of these regional resolutions that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2007 took the step to "memorialize" (without getting painfully technical, to make a non-binding recommendation to the Church at large) that ELCA bishops did not have to enforce the rules on clergy in committed same-sex relationships. The rules still stood - clergy should be monogamous within traditional marriage, and celibate outside of it. Nothing changed there.

But up to that point, the rulebook essentially said that clergy found to be in committed, monogamous same-sex relationships were to be removed from the roster of ordained clergy, period - effectively defrocking them. What happened in 2007 wasn't a giant step forward - as I wrote earlier, the bishops still hold the gun, and it's still loaded - but the action two years ago allows the bishops to not have to "pull the trigger" and remove partnered GLBT clergy. The action of the ELCA allows their bishops to choose mercy (imagine that in a Christian organization!...), where there once was no room for it.

I've seen updates this weekend on Facebook from my former classmates attending their synod conferences, and some of them are hearing the same old language on same-sex marriage and partnered GLBT clergy - abomination, sin, death, rejection. But the joy, for me, is hearing them some of them angered by it, resisting it - and speaking out against it. For those of you who are in that group, and are reading this, my partner and I give thanks to you, and give thanks for God for you and your voice.

That, by the way, is one of the reasons I am "out" - not because I feel the need to convert anyone, wear a rainbow flag banner, or any of that nonsense, but to simply put a face (or a pair of faces) on this issue. My prayer is that men and women of faith, when they hear these discussions about same-sex relationships, will realize, "That's Steve they're talking about. My friend... coworker.... fellow student... church member... neighbor. We're talking about Steve, and his partner Chris. Not some fear-based mythical stereotype, but a person I've worked with, and laughed with, and prayed with, and lived with."

Several people have asked me if I want to have a "holy union" ceremony (the Presbyterian church we attend does that), and I think they are surprised by the answer. You see, anyone who spends time with us doesn't have to ask if we are a couple. It's not because we are some lovey-dovey, please-get-a-room kind of people, but because we care for each other, deeply - and I think that kind of love and care becomes obvious, even if you aren't used to seeing it between two men.

We are committed to each other. At one point near the start of our relationship, Chris said something like, " think you'll keep me for a while?...." and I jokingly told him that we'd see how we do for the first forty years, and still occasionally tell him that he only has 38 years left before he can re-negotiate this deal between us.

To be honest, there is nothing that a church can do to legitimize our relationship that McKinley Presbyterian Church in Champaign hasn't already done. The pastors and members greet us as a partnered couple; no one bats an eye when we hold hands when we pray in worship; it's just no big deal in so many ways that I can't even begin to explain to someone who has not seen a truly open-and-affirming congregation. This congregation already recognizes our relationship; we don't need a ceremony or a party to get there. My family doesn't need a holy-union to recognize our commitment to each other, either. We celebrate that union every time we get together with them.

My dream would be to have a "holy union ceremony" where it would matter most - in Chicago, among my former seminary and AA sisters and brothers; or in Kansas City, among my former church members and AA friends who have loved me, supported me, and know my faith; or in Springfield, MO, among Chris's family and friends. It would be the chance for our family and friends to join us in celebrating a life-long commitment to love, to publicly affirm our belief that God says to Chris and I, "This love is good in My sight," and to build community as the early church did - with some really, really good food. (Wonder if Arthur Bryant's or Oklahoma Joes's would cater? Now that would be a "dream wedding"!)

It couldn't happen at LSTC in Chicago, nor at Atonement Lutheran in Kansas - the ELCA just isn't there yet, and won't "get there" for some years to come, I think. I don't think we could even do it at the Hollis Center, an ELCA-supported retreat center west of KC - too much church support would be jeopardized if the word got out. Maybe Arthur Bryant's up at the Casino wouldn't be such a bad idea, after least we wouldn't have to worry about Fred Phelps picketing us there...

The only legitimacy that my relationship with Chris can gain is in legal and civil rights - rights of survivorship, joint property ownership, being treated as "family" in a hospital setting, and things like this. That's the reason why we are advocates for same-sex marriage - not for the cake and candles, or the chance to be his-and-his Bridezillas - but so this bond between us can receive the same legal and social blessing from the rest of the world that McKinley Church has already bestowed upon us.

Until that day, we will soldier on as we have, trusting in God's acceptance and love, and praying for the same from His followers. May it come quickly, Lord.


Black Pete said...

As you know, Steve man, I'm married to a minister and yes, she would perform a same-sex wedding if asked.

But that's not why I'm commenting: it's really about why get married in the first place. There is certainly the matter of legalities, although that is changing as we speak, to where a union of just about any kind has much the same legal protection (and restriction) as a marriage.

So why bother? It boils down, I'd say, to publicly sharing your joy in relationship with another human being and giving people who care about you a chance to witness your vows, your commitment, and to do and say a whole bunch of meaningful (and ridiculous) things in your honour at the reception afterward. As well, you can incorporate your faith into the ceremony as you wish.

Not bad reasons to get married, I'd say. Twenty-five years for Joyce and I this August. I'd do it again in a minute.

Bear Me Out said...

The spiritual recognition and the legal one make for interesting politics and theology.

Most folk don't realize the difference!

Good to hear from you.

Michael Dodd said...

I will be attending my first same-sex wedding in Iowa come November. They are having it at a local art museum after it closes for the day. Should be a lovely setting, it is an important place for the couple and Tom and I look forward to it.

Heidi Renee said...


BentonQuest said...

Great post!