Churches split over gay marriage
Religion is on both sides of the same-sex marriage conflict
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
At a black Pentecostal church in Raleigh, N.C., the Rev. Patrick Wooden entered the sanctuary on Sunday to a standing ovation, exulting that God’s “high hand” had led voters last week to pass a statewide amendment banning same-sex marriage. He took to the pulpit and denounced President Obamafor taking a stand “in support of sin,” and “in opposition to the biblical model of marriage.”
A thousand miles away, at a predominantly white, Lutheran church in Madison, Wis., where a rainbow banner greets churchgoers arriving for services, the Rev. Susan Schneider preached that gay men and lesbians were included when Jesus commanded his followers to love one another: “Knocking down the walls is what Jesus was after.”
Mr. Obama’s declaration last week that he supports same-sex marriage prompted ministers around the country to take to their pulpits on Sunday and preach on the issue. But in the clash over homosexuality, the battle lines do not simply pit ministers against secular advocates for gay rights. Religion is on both sides in this conflict. The battle is actually church versus church, minister versus minister, and Scripture versus Scripture.
The dividing lines are often unpredictable. There are black churches that welcome openly gay couples, and white churches that do not. Some Presbyterian churches hire openly gay clergy members, while others will not. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin, but there are Catholic priests who secretly bless gay unions.
And leaders in the United Methodist Church have been debating whether to ordain openly gay ministers for four decades, and voted again just this month to uphold their prohibition. But there are Methodist ministers who perform same-sex marriages in defiance of church rules who share the denomination with ministers who preach that America is going the way of Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality.
The faith divide resembles what the nation experienced in the debates over slavery, said Michael Coogan, a lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew Bible at Harvard Divinity School and the author of “God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says.”
“The proslavery contingent quoted the Bible repeatedly, saying that God has all these commandments about slavery and nowhere in the Bible, including the New Testament, is it stated that there’s anything wrong with slavery,” Mr. Coogan said. “The abolitionists also quoted the Bible, but used the same sort of more general texts that supporters of same-sex relationships are using: love your neighbor, treat others as you would have them treat you, the golden rule.”
Mr. Obama invoked his own faith when he revealed on Wednesday — a day after North Carolina voters approved an amendment to ban same-sex marriages, partnerships and civil unions — that he supports same-sex marriage. He said that he and the first lady “are both practicing Christians,” and that “obviously” his position “may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.”
“But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule, you know? Treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
On Sunday, after Pastor Wooden quieted the standing ovation in his sanctuary in Raleigh, a sea of pink hats and dresses in honor of Mother’s Day, he went into a sermon that portrayed the fight for the same-sex marriage amendment as a divinely ordained cause.
Quoting from Exodus, he said God had led people to the polls with a “high hand,” just as God led the Israelites out of Egypt. Mr. Obama went “against God,” the pastor said. He invoked the New Testament passage from Romans in which men turn away from women and burn in their lust, “men with men.”
Pastor Wooden’s 3,000-member congregation, the Upper Room Church of God in Christ, is part of an African-American denomination that declared in 2004 that it would “never allow” or bless same-sex unions. The declaration cited passages from Scripture: that God created “the woman for the man,” (I Corinthians 11:9), and that “marriage is honorable” (Hebrews 13:4).
Pastor Wooden was in the forefront of the political fight over the marriage amendment in North Carolina, serving on the executive committee for the campaign and voicing radio advertisements heard around the state. He said that he had been raised by a single mother, and that he believed children needed both a mother and a father.