A few months ago, a Georgia Baptist church voted overwhelmingly to approve allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies in the church. That’s right: a Baptist church,in a southern state of the USA. The Macon Telegraph reported:
Members of First Baptist Church of Christ, one of Macon’s oldest churches, on Sunday overwhelmingly approved allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies in the church.
The Rev. Scott Dickison, the church’s pastor, said the resolution passed with 73 percent voting in favor. About 230 members voted by secret ballot in a conference following the regular Sunday service. Dickison said that was about the typical size of the congregation on Sunday.
“I’m grateful for the congregation traveling together to this point, and it is an important point but it comes with some tenderness,” he said. “We will continue to heal together as we move forward.”
Yet this is not by any means unique. As marriage equality continues to advance around the world, churches everywhere are having to face up to the implications for their own congregations – and many that were once implacably opposed, are finding that they can indeed live with the new reality – or even embrace it.
For the First Baptist Church in Macon, the decision came after a long process of reflection and discernment, which began five years ago, with discussions about the Christian ethics of homosexuality. Their decision was a strictly local one, which is the way the Baptists operate. In the same way, somewhat counterintuitively, it was a Baptist congregation that was the first church in the UK to host a gay wedding service.
More importantly, this decision did not come in a vacuum. A year previously, the congregation had undergone an exhaustive process to clarify their essential mission and charism, as followers of Christ. The decision to approve gay marriage, in church, followed logically from their conclusions. From their website:
While Pope Francis and several leading cardinals have shown a welcome emphasis on pastoral accompaniment for LGBT Catholics and others in unconventional situations, it is disgraceful that others continue to insist on legalistic excuses for exclusion. The appalling directive in Madison diocese about church funerals for married lesbian or gay Catholics, and the recent firing of yet another teacher at a Catholic school not because she is gay, but because it became she was about to marry, are just the most recent examples of this.
Yet these practices, far from upholding Catholic teaching, are in fact contravening it. As Fr James Martin SJ has repeatedly pointed out, it is unreasonable to claim that such sanctions are required because people are acting in conflict with Catholic doctrines, when they do not apply equivalent sanctions to people acting in conflict with other Catholic doctrines. This selective treatment is plainly discriminatory, and directly contradicts the Catechism requirement to treat lesbian and gay Catholics with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” – and also the directive against unjust discrimination.
This point was made very clearly four years ago, even before the more pastoral tone introduced to the church by Pope Francis, by Cardinal Wuerl of Washington. I reproduce below a post from my archives, originally written in April 2013, as pressure for marriage equality was building across the USA – and some bishops were fiercely resisting.
It’s been obvious for a long time that as equal marriage becomes increasingly inevitable, as ordinary Catholics show their direct support for all Catholic relationships and families without discrimination on sexual or gender grounds, the bishops will be forced to consider ways to respond to the changing realities on the ground. Cardinal Dolan’s admission that the Church needs to be more supportive of gay and lesbian Catholics but doesn’t know how, has drawn widespread commentary. Somewhat slipping under the radar, even though it does point to part at least of a workable response, is this, from Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the cardinal archbishop of Washington, explained Sunday that gay Catholics who marry their partners may remain part of the Catholic Church even though the church will not recognize their marriage. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Wuerl explained this is similar to how the church treats Catholics who are divorced and remarried.
“We do that same thing with people who are married, divorced and remarried,” Wuerl said on the church’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages. “We say, you know, you’re still part of the family, but we can’t recognize that second marriage… and it’s never been a great problem.
The high profile campaigns by bishops and their orthotoxic camp followers against gay marriage, and the extensive publicity to the language used about homosexuality, especially the description as an “intrinsically disordered” condition, leads many of us to assume that Catholic doctrine is especially discriminatory towards us. In fact, this is not so. In its insistence that every genital sexual act must be open to procreation, Catholic doctrine on sexual matters is equally disordered, to all.
The problem comes in the application, in pastoral practice. Although the Catechism and other documents are clear that artificial contraception within marriage, sexual relationships before marriage or after divorce and masturbation are all considered “grave sins”, “intrinsically disordered”, or “great evils”, in practice in most parishes there is a great deal of pastoral sensitivity displayed on these matters. For some reason, it is specifically same – sex relationships that arouse the ire of the Catholic right, who may not approve of other sexual transgressions, manage to bite their tongues and refrain from judging those who trangress, or the priests who welcome them in their parishes.
So, Cardinal Wuerl’s recognition that married gay Catholics are in a position no different to those who have remarried after divorce, “and it’s never been a great problem”, is a helpful step forward. It’s not been a great problem not because the documents approve, but because in most parishes, the formal rules are ignored, and a more sensitive, pastoral welcome applies instead. I hope that married gay and lesbian Catholics will take Cardinal Wuerl at his word, and take their places in Catholic parishes alongside other married couples – and expect the equal treatment, without encountering “great problems”, that the Cardinal has given them grounds to expect.
Jugis said in the deposition that continuing to employ church workers who advocate against or violate “fundamental moral tenets” of church teaching would be a cause for “scandal.”
-New Ways Ministry
What is truly scandalous, is when church bishops ignore both the Gospels’ clear message of inclusion for all, and the Church’s own teaching on the primacy of conscience and the importance of social justice – including employment justice.
Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Bishop Bill Wright says he believes there’s a valid “common good” argument for the government to legalize same-sex “marriage”. In a September article for Aurora, the diocesan magazine, he drew a clear distinction between whether it “squares with Catholic teaching”, or “is a good practical rule for people living in this society at this time”.
Bishop Wright makes clear that the Catholic church cannot recognise same-sex unions as marriage “except in the limited sense of a marriage according to Australian law”. But, he continues, that is a distinction that the Australian church already accepts, in other situations.
In Australia, the postal vote plebiscite on marriage equality has become nasty, with numerous reports of an increase in homophobic violence. Conversely, those on the other side complain of an increase in anti-Christian hostility.
It is pleasing therefore, to note that at least one Australian bishop has introduced some pastoral sanity, in a letter to his diocese (Paramatta, in West Sydney). In it, he calls for “respect”, from both sides. That is basic to Catholic teaching (but sadly, too often ignored), and is at the heart of James Martin’s celebrated book on the church and LGBT Catholics. Bishop Long goes further, however, making a key point that is usually overlooked in these discussions: there is a fundamental distinction between civil marriage, the subject of the plebiscite, and sacramental marriage – matrimony .
Just as the introduction of legal divorce made no difference to Catholic Church practice, the proposed introduction of same-sex marriage in civil law, will not make any difference to the Catholic sacrament of matrimony.
I appeal to all Catholics in the Diocese of Parramatta to conduct this dialogue with a deep sense of respect for all concerned, and for the opinion and decision that each person is free to make.
It is important to remember from the very outset that the postal survey is about whether or not Australians want the legal definition of civil marriage changed to include same-sex couples. It is not a referendum on sacramental marriage as understood by the Catholic Church.
Malta is considering the introduction of gay marriage, and some people in this traditionally Catholic country are strongly opposed. “Maltese Catholics United for the Faith” have published a full page newspaper advertisement denouncing same-sex marriage. This is consistent with the pattern in so many other Catholic countries and states which have introduced marriage equality. Usually, the bishops have endorsed these campaigns against, or even sponsored them.
The Archdiocese of Malta categorically states that, while respecting the right of freedom of expression of every person or any other entity, it is not in any way involved with the propoganda by the Maltese Catholics United for the Faith.
The Archdiocese of Malta conveys the teaching of the Church without resorting to any other name, and encourages everyone to fulfil their duty responsibly on the 3rd June, as outlined by the Bishops of Malta and Gozo in their Pastoral Letter for the General Elections 2017.
The advice to voters contained in that pastoral letter is remarkably restrained, Instead of weighing in on the specifics of the issues, it refers in much broader terms to the responsibilities of voters, and the importance of choosing people of wisdom and integrity. It urges voters to exercise their consciences in this decision – and to embrace the “ethical values we believe in.” The closest that the letter comes to specifying those values is to name “the protection of human life from its conception to its natural end”
This is a clear reference to abortion, and in so many previous instances, this would have been automatically followed by a reference to “the sanctity of marriage”. Not in Malta. Instead, the statement continues with the value of “respect for the dignity of each person”.
Coupled with the earlier insistence on conscience, LGBT Catholics and their allies may read this as permission from the Archdiocese to support marriage equality.
In an update to this story at Mashable, the Archdiocese of Sydney denies that it has “threatened to remove its business” from companies publicly supporting equal marriage. However the text itself of the letter they sent makes clear that they have indeed at least applied pressure on those companies because “same-sex marriage is incompatible with the business practices of the archdiocese”.
It’s well known that same-sex marriage is incompatible with Vatican doctrine – but are we to deduce from this letter, that the business practices of the Sydney archdiocese, are to avoid dealings with any external organizations that do not comply with Church teaching?
Telstra withdraws from marriage equality debate allegedly due to church pressure
Allegedly under pressure from the Catholic Church, Australia’s largest telecommunications provider will not be participating in the public campaign in support of same-sex marriage, a new report suggests.
According to The Australian, Archdiocese of Sydney business manager Michael Digges approached a number of companies who had given permission for their logo to be used in a newspaper advertisement in support of marriage equality in May 2015.
and here’s the update at Mashable, with an extract from the letter they sent to “refute” the orginal story:
The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has rejected claims it threatened to remove its business from companies such as Telstra who participated in a public campaign for marriage equality.
While the business manager of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Michael Digges, wrote to companies with which the organisation had partnerships in June 2015, it was to point out that support of same-sex marriage is incompatible with the business practices of the archdiocese, it said in an emailed statement.
“It is misleading to say the Archdiocese threatened in any way a boycott of companies included in the campaign,” it continued. “Mr Digges offered to meet and discuss the issue further with the people to whom he had written in the spirit of genuine dialogue.
“The Catholic Church’s stand on same-sex marriage remains very clear and the Church will continue to engage in respectful public debate on the issue.”