Churches continue wrestling with issue of gays and marriage

Monday, July 12, 2004

Same-sex couples are marrying in Massachusetts and heading to courthouses in San Francisco so that their relationships have legal recognition, but few religious bodies are ready to give their blessing.

Church denominations continue to wrestle with the issues of homosexuality, ordaining gays and blessing same-sex unions.

Most religious groups have adopted some belief statements about marriage and homosexuality. Few denominations will ordain gay or lesbian ministers and even fewer will preside at same-sex weddings or civil unions.

Typically the church's role in society has been as a conservator of traditional values, said the Rev. Scott Moon, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.

As such, churches generally support the move to protect marriage as a union of man and woman, he said. But at the same time, the church should be having conversations about marriage and not relying on culture and society to define it, Moon said.

"That conversation could make sure that couples are more faithful at living with the promises they make at a wedding," Moon said.

Denise Eaker of the Visions of Pride gay and lesbian organization in Cape Girardeau thinks more religious communities should try to understand and offer counseling to gay couples seeking to build relationships.

If one community would start talking, then it might spark other communities to do the same, she said.

Marriage and people's notions about it are always in relationship to how marriage is perceived in culture and society, Moon said.

Here are what some denominations believe:

Assemblies of God: In statements issued in the 1970s, the church said marriage is the deepest unity of a man and woman and as such is a God-ordained covenant made before God and man. Teachings on homosexuality say that such behavior is a sin and contrary to God and mankind. It "perverts the created order of human sexuality, the heterosexual fulfillment of both man and woman."

Southern Baptist: Delegates to an annual meeting in June approved a resolution that defines marriage as an act between a man and a woman. The Protestant body opposes a homosexual lifestyle.

Episcopal: Some dioceses of the Episcopal Church will bless same-sex unions, but same sex-marriages aren't allowed in the church. Episcopalians approved the ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire last year.

Catholic: Statements issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops say define marriage as an "exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of life and love." It "should always be open to the procreation of children" and serves as the foundation of the family. Providing the status of marriage to same-sex couples would be wrong, the bishops said, because marriage and same-sex unions are different realities. Same-sex unions contradict the nature of marriage because they aren't true conjugal unions that lead to procreation.

Missouri's Catholic bishops recently released a letter through the Missouri Catholic Conference that urges church members "to make every effort to go to the polls on Aug. 3 and to vote in favor of Constitutional Amendment 2. Your support of this proposed amendment will help to preserve the integrity of marriage and family life."

Lutheran: The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod traditionally has held that marriage is a union between a husband and wife. During the national church body's convention, which began Saturday in St. Louis, a resolution creating an official statement to clarify the church's position will be considered.

United Methodist: The denomination, at its recent General Conference, affirmed that marriage is an act between a man and woman. The denomination does not bless same-sex unions in its churches nor allow its clergy to preside at such ceremonies.

Presbyterian (USA): The denomination issued a position in 1991 that says church buildings and facilities should not be used for same-sex union ceremonies. And since a Christian marriage "can only involve a covenant between a man and a woman," it wouldn't be proper for a minister to perform a same-sex ceremony that is determined to be a marriage ceremony. The church does not ordain ministers who are gays or lesbians involved in sexual relationships.

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