Friday Jul 11 2008
The heart loves where the heart loves, without any reservations
By: The Rev. Gerry Paulsen
In the United Church of Christ, “Open & Affirming” means that we welcome people of every gender identity (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) as full partners in the life of the church. As minister at New Faith of Auburn, an Open & Affirming church, one of my many roles is to be a welcoming presence for some of those who are excluded and even condemned in many Christian churches, because of their gender identity. As I’ve observed with interest the recent California Supreme Court decision to legalize same gender marriages, I have been unsurprised but saddened at the negative reactions to the new circumstances, and heartened by the courageous people who have chosen to stand with our LGBT sisters and brothers. We don’t yet fully understand the scientific and psychological basis for gender identity, but great strides are being made toward unraveling that mystery. From my study, I understand that we are born with a gender identity which unfolds as we develop. This identity is much the same as our eye color and fingerprints, part of who we are created to be. It is not a mistake, a mental illness, nor evidence of sin. Some people attribute sexually unacceptable behavior (rape, promiscuity, or pedophilia) to homosexuality, but statistically, this is not true. Marriage is by dictionary definition: “The act of living together as husband and wife; married life; wedlock.” The basic requirements are that both people be of legal age and not be currently married. You can have a wedding without a marriage (if the legal prerequisites have not been fulfilled.) You can have a marriage without a wedding (as in a civil ceremony). Many people want both — the best of both the civil and religious worlds. As a minister, a couple must demonstrate their mutual love, and take vows that evidence their intention to create a mutual and exclusive commitment (“forsaking all others”), hopefully for a lifetime. As long as these conditions are met, and a marriage license is obtained, there should be no further impediments to a marriage in the state of California. End of story. If only it were that simple. What we have in reality is confusion and strong feelings that cloud the matter. In the context of Christian theology, I look to the actions and words of Jesus for guidance. What I find are examples of Jesus reaching out to include the outcasts (Samaritans, the bleeding woman, the lepers, the children) and chastising those who judged their sisters and brothers harshly. When asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40. How wonderful it would be if our reputations as Christians could be: “See how they love one another.” We need to pray for clarity and wisdom, and for an increase in compassion with one another. The United Church of Christ, New Faith of Auburn, and I extend Christ’s welcome to all who enter our doors: “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” Jesus didn’t turn people away, and neither do we. Come and be fed. The Rev. Gerry Paulsen is the pastor at New Faith United Church of Christ in Auburn.