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PASTOR RACHEL MITHELMAN: Marriage equality is a matter of justice
Submitted by j on Fri, 2010-06-18 13:03
by Pastor Rachel T. Mithelman, St. John's Lutheran Church
I am a Christian who was born and raised in the Lutheran church. My roots are in north central Iowa, in the very small town of Thor. Unlike many, I did not go through a crisis of faith as a young adult, leaving the church and then returning. Mine has been an experience of life-long “deepening” in the faith first shared with me as a child through a host of faithful witnesses.
Marriage equality wasn’t an issue I felt strongly about until, in the midst of ministry in the first urban parish I served, I came to a greater awareness of the struggles of gay and lesbian people in our society in general. My understanding of the need for marriage equality has grown over the years and was certainly crystallized after moving back to Iowa five years ago and learning about the work of organizations such as One Iowa.
I truly believe marriage equality is a civil rights issue and a matter of justice. And since Scripture clearly proclaims that God cares that we live justly with one another, as a person of faith I cannot ignore the issue.
Given that our denomination – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) – adopted a social statement on human sexuality in 2009, and also recently changed ministry policy to allow gay and lesbian pastors who are in monogamous, life-long relationships to serve the church, I think the marriage equality discussion has been part of the mix for ELCA members in Iowa in the last few years.
We seek to have respectful conversations within congregations and across the church, because we are not of one mind on what Scripture and tradition says about homosexuality and, therefore, marriage equality. I stated my support for the Iowa Supreme Court decision to the congregation I serve shortly after it was announced. Members of the congregation both agree and disagree with me – and say so – but we have been able to have a conversation in the spirit of love.
The ELCA Social Statement on Human Sexuality falls short of calling same-sex partnerships marriage. But the statement encourages the same love, care, compassion, and accountability the church would extend to a heterosexual married couple to those who are lifelong same-sex partners. No statement or policy is perfect, but the ELCA has recently opened the door more than it ever has before to embrace same-sex couples and the gifts they bring to the faith community.
The ELCA has chosen not to provide any liturgical resources for commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, but it does not prohibit clergy from conducting them. St. John’s and many other congregations in Iowa are currently talking about how we can offer God’s blessing to committed, same-gender couples, especially since marriage equality exists in our state. This can be a very emotional conversation for congregations, but we are working on it.
My belief in marriage equality probably means that I am still part of a minority group in the ELCA, but I truly believe that "the minority" is larger than people realize! My hope is that the ELCA will continue to grow in our understanding of God’s gift of marriage.
Rachel T. Mithelman is Senior Pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church in Des Moines. She and her husband of 32 years, Jack, have two young adult children.