Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 26, 2013

DAVE BANGERT: Faith, marriage and the state constitution

22 clergy members offer legislators religious cover.


Kokomo Tribune

---- — Here’s a guess that there are some interesting conversations — or at least sidelong whispers during opening prayers — in the pews, after 22 Greater Lafayette clergy members took a published stand against a proposed constitutional amendment that would further sanctify Indiana’s definition of marriage.

And if not in the greeting line after services — “Nice sermon, Reverend. About that same-sex marriage thing, though ...” — there will be chatter somewhere else after last week’s guest column in the Journal & Courier.

“We would hope for not much blowback, and most of our parishioners know who we are personally,” said the Rev. Clarinda Crawford, pastor of Congress Street Church in Lafayette. “But, my parents live in the J&C readership area and will have a field day with me next Wednesday at dinner, I’m sure.

“I am originally from the Lafayette area, and I understand well the varied attitudes and understandings that exist on the subject of [the marriage amendment].”

That’s a nice way to couch it — “varied attitudes and understandings” — when it comes to same-sex marriage, particularly in the faith community. Questions of morality, sin and respect have colored, if not driven, the issue when it came to what constitutes equal rights for gays and lesbians. Which Scripture do you care to use? Leviticus 18:22’s fodder for the opposition? Or Mark 12:31’s command to love your neighbor as yourself?

Crawford’s contingent last week landed on the second part, concluding: “As Greater Lafayette area clergy, we believe [House Joint Resolution 6] — the proposed amendment regarding marriage — is a fearful stumble backward instead of a faithful step forward in the work of transformation. We are united in our belief that this amendment would dignify discrimination and threaten religious liberty.”

The proposed marriage amendment has produced a cottage industry for endorsements, with the anti-HJR-6 coalition Freedom Indiana collecting high-profile signatures from mayors (including Lafayette’s Tony Roswarski and West Lafayette’s John Dennis), universities (Purdue’s University Senate has signed on) and some of Indiana’s largest businesses. More than 300 clergy and faith leaders of the Interfaith Coalition on Non-Discrimination, including several from Greater Lafayette, signed a letter to General Assembly members in November, asking them to reject HJR-6 before it is sent to voters in November 2014.

Still, in the business of running a congregation, picking sides is a bold move for pastors, rabbis and others who stand in the pulpit each week. No matter your personal commitment to diversity, it’s hard to deny gay marriage has the power to split congregations.

So why sign on now?

“As you can imagine, the faith communities in Greater Lafayette are no different than those across the nation,” said the Rev. Tim Burchill, pastor of St. Andrew United Methodist Church in West Lafayette.

“That is to say, we are all wrestling with how best to respond to gay and lesbian women and men. There is the biblical witness, there is the historic teaching of the church, and then there is the changing attitudes in our culture, and the desire of women and men of faith to love and minister to all. Suffice it to say that there are significant differences between committed Christians about the best way to respond.”

Burchill, who said his signature was “my decision and doesn’t reflect the position of my congregation,” said he sees HJR-6 as “more about wedge politics and the opportune exercise of power than it really is about morality, legality or a desire to think and act clearly about changing mores and traditional values.” He said he sees the effort as shortsighted and mean spirited. Besides, he said, same-sex marriage is already illegal. Why a constitutional amendment?

“It can feel sometimes as if Rome is burning and our leaders are debating whether or not it is best to fiddle on the violin, cello or viola,” Burchill said. “If my hope was not in God, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Legislators are on the clock. The Indiana House and Senate voted in favor of the constitutional amendment by a 4-to-1 margin in 2011. That was step one in a three-step process. Step two — voting on the amendment again — must happen during the 2014 session to trigger step three: a statewide referendum.

The private sentiment of many lawmakers, especially as public support crumbles and the prospects of a successful referendum as hardly a sure bet, has been a wish that HJR-6 would go away. That Statehouse leaders simply ignore it so it dies.

Not buying that sort of apathy and pushing ahead is a pro-HJR-6 lobby that largely reflects the views of evangelical congregations that haven’t been shy about the Leviticus 18:22 side of the argument. (If you don’t want to grab a Bible and prefer pop culture references, the passage underpins comments in a “GQ” interview that prompted A&E to suspend Phil Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” last week. The backlash against A&E from Robertson’s fans, many who share the show’s fundamental Christian tones, is proof of the latent strength for a same-sex amendment, no matter what public polling suggests.)

This won’t be a one-sided story in the faith community. Faith leaders have weighed in — see the Catholic bishops’ nuanced statement that reaffirmed church doctrine on marriages while also calling for parishioners to respect the dignity of every human being — and will weigh in some more.

You know, “varied attitudes and understandings.”

What the 22 Greater Lafayette clergy members offered last week was something legislators looking for a way out needed: Some faith-based cover.

Dave Bangert is a columnist for the Journal & Courier of Lafayette. Contact him at dbangert@journalandcourier.com.