Via a link at Faith in Public Life.org comes this story from Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, in which the pastoral concerns of some clergy are examined as California opens its doors to legal same-sex marriages. The first clergy person profiled is a United Methodist, and Goodstein, for a change, gets the UM position on gay marriage, and the pastoral conflict that ensues from it, exactly right:
The Rev. Kimberly A. Willis said she had not decided what to do because she wanted to be able to minister to all of her congregants at Christ Church United Methodist, in Santa Rosa, about 10 percent of whom are gay. But if she officiates at a same-sex wedding, she could be charged with violating the United Methodists' Book of Discipline, put on trial and defrocked.
So Willis spent Sunday on the sidelines at a religious service in which several same-sex couples were celebrating their imminent marriages. Willis spied a gay couple in the front row who attend her church, and said she felt outraged that she could not join the other ministers leading the ceremony to bless them.
Willis said, "I can bless a car, and I have. I've been asked to bless animals, children, homes, bread, grape juice, but I can't bless a gay and lesbian couple. That's unreal to me."
The United Methodist Church's official position is that being gay is somehow outside the creative grace and love of God, and therefore not subject to approval and blessing by our clergy. Not only is this position theologically untenable - how in the world can any part of creation exist outside God's purview and care and love? - but it raises, in the everyday practice of ministry, serious pastoral concerns. How in the world can Rev. Willis minister to the needs of her congregants if she cannot bless their union? Indeed, if she followed the letter of the Book of Discipline, she should be telling them that they are in violation of God's law and need to be healed, or cured, or something. Instead, being a caring, grace-filled member of the clergy, with the wonderful (and rare) gift of discernment that make for the best ministers, she sees the conundrum the legalization of gay marriage places upon her. As an individual she can celebrate with her friends and acquaintances that the state will acknowledge their marriages. As a clergy person, however, she cannot minister to them even as the state says that such marriages are legal.
While I know that, at some point in time, enough churches will be willing to bless same-sex marriages, right now it puts Rev. Willis and hundreds (perhaps thousands across multiple denominations) of clergy in the awkward spot of being limited in the way they can do pastoral care with their church members. This should be a serious problem, and force the United Methodist Church, which recently ended its quadrennial General Conference by reaffirming its current stupid stance on gays and lesbians, whether in the clergy or in the bedroom, to pick up the issue again and deal with it, not at some grand theoretical level, but where the rubber meets the road, as it were - a pastoral level. If a law or rule of the church prevents any clergy person from doing his or her job completely or effectively, it seems to me that law or rule is wrong and needs to be changed.
At some point, it will. In the meantime, people like Rev. Willis are going to frustrated by the arbitrary limits placed upon her to do her job to the fullness of her ability. And her church members will know this. When a minister cannot do his or her job completely and effectively, the whole church suffers.
This, not the fact of gay marriage, is the real tragedy and price upon our society and culture, of religious bigotry and blindness.