As a Unitarian Universalist pastor in Utah, I serve a congregation composed of many people who have left the LDS church. Most have left with great pain, shunned too often by family and friends. Some were shamed for who they are and what they believed (or just could not bring themselves to believe.) My sermon yesterday addressed some of that pain (click) and I hope it brought some healing to some who heard it.
We always have more visitors during the LDS conference weekend, and the same was true yesterday.
I do follow what happens during the conference and was encouraged by some of the remarks made by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said “there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles or doctrine.”
Wonderful words, words that generated hope among many. If the church could admit past mistakes, perhaps the future could hold positive change. Then 200 women were turned away from the priesthood meeting. Then Elder Oaks had to go on and on about how sinful same gender marriages are. The two issues are not unrelated. I truly believe if women had more real power in the LDS church, the bigotry against GLBT people would soon diminish. Almost all Mormon women are mothers, and given the large family sizes, many have GLBT children. They know the importance of unconditional love to a child’s spiritual and physical growth. They have also learned that rejecting such a child can lead to that child’s death either through suicide or through risky self-destructive behaviors.
President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, was relatively subdued this time. Elder Oaks took up his message, however, by saying,
“There are many political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and are contrary to the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and child-bearing. These pressures have already permitted same-gender marriages in various states and nations.”
Laws legalizing so called “same-gender marriage,” he added, do not change God’s law of marriage of His commandments and standards.
“We remain under covenant to love God and keep His commandments and to refrain from bowing down to or serving other gods and priorities — even those becoming popular in our particular time and place.”
I wonder if he answered his own, earlier question:
“Are we serving priorities or gods ahead of the God we profess to worship?” “Have we forgotten the Savior who taught that if we love Him we will keep His commandments? If so, our priorities have been turned upside down by the spiritual apathy and undisciplined appetites so common in our day.”
Yes, I think the answer is definitely yes. The priorities of the LDS hierarchy are truly upside down. Patriarchy, homophobia, greed and arrogance have led them to forget the greatest commandment.
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Excluding people from full inclusion in a faith community based upon their gender and or their sexual orientation does not follow that commandment. Jesus also did not say the church should build high-end shopping malls.
My marriage to my beloved partner is a blessing not a sin. The LDS church’s naming it a sin, is the real sin.
So keep praying guys (and you are all guys). Start listening to the God that lives outside your moldy doctrines. Start listening to the women who could lead you home.
Summaries of the conference talks are (here)
We never thought marriage was important for us. Yeah, sure, we knew there were some financial benefits. OK, a LOT of financial benefits! (Some of them are listed here) But still, as far as our relationship went, we did not think marriage would make a difference to us. We’d been together for 38 years after all. We had kids together, several foster children as well as our own three biological kids. We were out and open. We had friends and our Unitarian Universalist religious community that treated us as a family. We were committed to spending the rest of our lives together. Who needed marriage?
As a minister, I have officiated at a lot of weddings. They can be truly wonderful ceremonies and it is an honor to bear witness to a couple’s love for each other. It is particular moving to me to perform a marriage for a couple that I know, when one or both are friends or members of my congregation. It is also a privilege to, on behalf of the state, declare them legally married. It has always bothered me that I could not perform a legal marriage for every couple whose wedding I performed.
Still, I didn’t really get what a big deal marriage is. I didn’t know what I was missing. It isn’t just the ceremony and the party. We could have done that at any time. All UU ministers perform same gender weddings and have done so for decades. I have a lot of minister friends. One of them did our legal marriage last month in California. I put up a facebook post asking for someone to do the honors and no less than 5 friends volunteered to help within 4 hours of the posting. We were married. We are married. We’re having a bigger religious wedding ceremony and reception later, but we are already married. The legal status matters. The financial advantages are just that, financial advantages. We got a few of those in California back in 1993 when we registered as domestic partners.
So what is the big deal about marriage? What have I learned that I didn’t know before?
I don’t have all the answers to those questions yet. I do know that a legal civil marriage is every bit as important as the religious ceremony. A legal civil marriage is recognized by everyone. A religious ceremony provides recognition by your faith community. If you are legally married, everybody has to recognize the relationship, not just the people that happen to approve of it. I think we all know a few married couples that have lousy relationships, ones we don’t really approve of in any way. It doesn’t matter if they were married in a church or temple or by a county clerk or by someone with a mail order ordination. We still recognize them as married, even if we might wish they weren’t.
That is what happened when we signed the marriage license and turned it into the county clerk to be recorded. Everywhere we went in California, our marriage was recognized. It was an incredible feeling, a powerful feeling. We can now visit Washington DC, Massachusetts, and a dozen other states and a score of countries and no one, not even the grossest bigot, can say our marriage is not valid. Ok, they can say it, but it wouldn’t be true.
Here in Utah, however, our marital status is in question. Things are not clear. It will most likely take court cases before our marriage is legally valid here. In a state where publishers refuse to print a bio for an author in a same gender relationship (see article) changing enough hearts and minds will likely be a long, slow, and tedious process.
It is not OK, it is hurtful and wrong, but that is the way it is right now. It will be different someday. Progress will continue. In the meantime, we’ll kept working on those hearts and minds. We are still married, even in Utah.
As a minister in a faith tradition that practically invented religious freedom, I really hate it when bigots use religious freedom as an excuse for their bigotry.
I read the article below today and got irritated again. It doesn’t take too much these days.
Back in Utah, I am tired of my recent legal marriage in California not being recognized here.
The anti-marriage equality folks seem to be falling all over themselves trying to pretend their main concern is protecting religious liberty. Give me a break! What about the religious freedom of churches and clergy who believe in marriage equality and have for a long time? Unitarian Universalist ministers, myself included, have officiated at same gender weddings ceremonies that are exactly the same as those we have done for opposite gender couples. The only difference has been that some of those marriages were not recognized by the state or the federal government.
Why is civil marriage a religious concern anyway? Why are clergy even authorized to sign legal documents for the state? Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?
From the article:
“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, Jonathan Johnson, Executive Vice Chairman of Overstock.com, grew worried. While he liked the federalist arguments he heard, he worried about the equal protection arguments. At some point,” he remembers thinking, “equal protection and free exercise of religion are going to run into each other. This makes sense. What happens, for example, when a same sex couple comes to an Orthodox rabbi, asking to be married in a synagogue?”
That last question is beyond absurd. What would happen if a Hindu couple asks to be married in a synagogue? It would depend on the synagogue’s rental policy I suppose, but they could certainly say, “We only do Jewish weddings here.”
Different faith traditions have a LOT of different rules for who they will and will not marry. Catholics can’t be divorced and marry in the church. Interfaith couples will often seek out a Unitarian Universalist minister to marry them because their own clergy won’t unless one of them converts. Some clergy require extensive premarital counseling. Some clergy (FLDS for example) will marry several young girls to one old man.
As a minister, I can refuse to officiate at any marriage that violates my ethical or religious beliefs. For example, if I believed a couple was in an abusive relationship, I would refuse to marry them. They could not sue me, even if I was wrong about the nature of their relationship. If I wanted to, I could also refuse to marry a couple because they both had blue eyes and I believed that more genetic diversity is important for couples planning to have children. Even for a dumb reason like that, they couldn’t sue me.
Yuck. These arguments aren’t about religious freedom; they are about bigotry.
Trust me, every couple wants to be married by someone who will bless their union with an open and willing heart. They might complain about the difficulty ordering a cake or flowers when they run into bias there, but they definitely aren’t going to ask a hostile clergy person to have a major role in their special day.
Pat Robinson and the Westboro Baptist Church are not on anyone’s list for who they want for their gay wedding.
In a few days, i will going to Louisville Kentucky to attend the General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I love GA. I love gathering with thousands of other Unitarian Universalists (UU’s) whose hearts are full of love and who have a passion for creating justice.
My first GA was in Quebec City in 2002. Barbara Pescan’s powerful sermon (click to read) at the service of the living tradition urged me to answer the call to ministry that had been stirring in my soul. “May be someone down in the valley, tryin’ to get home,” she sang and it rocked my world.
I have attended ten years of GA’s and most have now blended together with so many worship services, workshops, plenaries, and elections. That first GA still stands out for me in so many ways, however. It was the first time I had seen so many Unitarian Universalists in one place. I remember being on a very crowded escalator and thinking, and then saying, “I can’t think of any place else I would actually enjoy being stuck in such a long line.” Smiles and nods greeted my comment. We were so glad to be together.
I remember the tears running down my face during a hymn. I am not sure which one, maybe Fred Small’s “Everything Possible”, maybe another one of our LGBT affirming songs. Hearing thousands of people singing, affirming the inherent worth and dignity of all, filled my heart and my eyes to overflowing
During GA that year, the US Supreme Court threw out all the Sodomy laws, declaring them unconstitutional. When the decision was announced in the convention hall, everyone was cheering and crying. Love was no longer illegal.
I don’t know what the Supreme Court will decide on the two cases before them now. Their decision just might be announced during this year’s General Assembly in Louisville. Hopefully, we will be able to cheer again. I know there will be some tears in any case.