Today, one week after the press conference for clergy in support of equal marriage, the Vermont Senate will conclude its hearings on full marriage rights for gay and lesbian persons in Vermont.
As many of you may know or have seen, I have made myself a pretty vocal and visible supporter of equal marriage. I will attempt to reconstruct some of what I said at the press conference last week (remembering that quite a lot has happened in my life since then), but first I want to say why I said it.
It needs to be said that many clergy, whether they have the support of their congregations, denominations, or overall religious movements or not, support this. I have heard from a few people who are upset about what I said, mostly because they think I misspoke, exaggerated, or lied (see below), but I’ve also heard from some who are glad I said it.
But not all.
I have to imagine, in some ways, the people I know who are out there. A character in a novel I read recently had the mystical experience being confronted by the knowledge of all the people she had injured or wronged, all the people who had died for her or because of her actions or at her command. Later in the same novel, however, she begins to understand that, while she can count the people she has wronged, she will never know how many she has saved, how many she has uplifted, how many live lives a little better and brighter because of her. She has to take that on faith, and trust her god to measure the balance, if that is indeed what matters at all. So with us. We know who we upset, but we have to trust that we have uplifted more.
Imagine a teenage man, struggling with how to be honest about his sexuality, who has just been told by his pastor, perhaps his United Methodist pastor, that, while he is a person beloved by God and he is welcome to be part of the church, he can never be married and should never be married, and that his ‘lifestyle’ is incompatible with the teachings of Christ (I didn’t make that up; it’s my denomination’s current, and in my mind misguided, stance). This young man represents one of the highest demographics for suicide, we should also note. Would he be at all comforted, would he be given any hope at all, to see another clergy person voice a different truth? Or the woman grown tired and hard from fighting, who left a church I know after years of devotion, because she couldn’t be the token anymore, couldn’t be the face of the fight. She wants a place to belong spiritually, but the UMC and in many ways the Christian Church as a whole is too painful a place right now. Does she draw any strength from a new generation coming from a spiritual perspective and seeking to bring a new religious voice to the table? I have to believe so.
Those who are upset when churches take a stance in favor of same-sex marriage, those who threaten to walk away from the church if the UMC changes its policy, how are their voices any more important, their pain and anger and sorrow at their church’s brokenness any more real or significant than the countless women and men who have been hurt, pushed aside, and driven out already by our current policy? No one’s experience trumps the other here. We need to learn to live in that difference (which is not mutaully exclusive from trying to correct the error we see). It’s a tough balance, and I get that.
Now, some are upset that I said the majority of United Methodists in Vermont support same-sex marriage in our own [internal to UMC] legislation. I don’t think I misspoke.
I believe that’s true. In fact, I think some of the anger around what I said might come from the fact that I am right, and many folks don’t like that their denomination, in this time and place, has voted in favor of same-sex marriage (and ordination of GLBT clergy as well). That’s the way our voting in our local annual conference goes, consistently and overwhelmingly. If people in pews felt differently, they would send different delegates to Conference, just as Americans send different representatives to Congress when we disagree with policy decisions. Could I have said that the majority of voting delegates to the Troy Annual Conference support equal marriage? Yes. I should also have said that the majority of voting delegates to General Conference oppose same-sex marriage. In both cases, I simplified the language because I thought more detail would be confusing.
My biggest regret is that I think my words, which the reporter says she picked because it was interesting to her to hear someone from a mainline denomination talk about the tension between local politics and denominational policy, helped distract from a show of unity and support from members of the faith community to the GLBT community. That’s a shame.
Below is my reconstruction of what I think I said. You can see the press conference at Vermont Freedom To Marry‘s website (where my statements are not included, because I was literally a footnote!), and read the news report as it aired on the news from WCAX TV.
The question, asked by the WCAX reporter, was, ‘do you clergy represent the opinions of your congregations and denominations as well or just your own beliefs?’ Many people answered, mostly from denominations like Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ, which have a more congregation-driven policy structure. I thought it was important to include the position of a denomination that has national or global policy, since we operate differently, and having the support of my congregations would not be enough. So I opened my mouth.
I am Becca Clark, United Methodist pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Montpelier and Grace United Methodist Church in Plainfield. And I am one of those clergy who would *not* be forced to marry a gay couple, regardless of this legislation. Currently, my denomination, the United Methodist Church, does not allow clergy to officiate same-sex marriage. That’s another battle I fight on another day, in another place. While there’s no one opinion in any congregation or regional body [here I’m refering to conferences, but didn’t use the word intentionally, because I thought it would be too confusing to non-UM listeners], or denomination, our global policy would not allow it, and I think it’s important to understand that this proposed legislation would not and should not override that denominational policy. Although I think a majority of my congregations would support it, and would support their pastor marrying a gay couple, and the majority of Methodists in Vermont support same-sex marriage and have supported civil unions in our own legislation, the policy of the United Methodist Church is set on a global basis, and that policy is different. That’s what happens when you find a majority opinion– and that’s by no means a consensus– on such an emotional issue. All of us here today, though, support equal marriage, and I support it, because I believe that equal marriage is a question of love and a question of justice, and God is a god of both.
‘would you officiate a same-sex marriage?’ the reporter interjected, as I was walking away from the mic.
I returned and said: I would not be permitted. Once my denomination allows it– and that day is coming, yes, joyfully.