A screen capture of Bishop Grant J. Hagiya speaking as part on an ensemble of Washington state religious leaders supportive of Marriage Equality.
By Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministry
United Methodists, including Grant J. Hagiya, Bishop of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area, are playing a prominent role in the media campaign to support Referendum 74. Washington United for Marriage, a coalition of “more than 500 organizations, congregations, unions, and businesses working together to defend civil marriage for loving, committed same-sex couples,” has spotlighted faith communities in recent weeks, working to reframe the belief that marriage equality is without support from faith communities.
One of two recent spots entitled “Faith” features Bishop Hagiya and other religious leaders including the Rev. Dr. Sandy Brown, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Seattle, making the case that the referendum protects churches from a requirement to perform same sex marriages while offering an equal right to marriage to gays and lesbians.
Another ad released the same day tagged “Lang” features the Rev. Rich Lang, pastor of Seattle’s University Temple United Methodist Church, and his wife Cathy discussing their support of the referendum. Rev. Lang describes his struggle with the issue and the role his understanding of compassion played. A similar ad was released in June featuring the Rev. Melvin Woodworth, pastor of Tacoma’s First United Methodist Church, and his wife Candice.
[toggle title=”Script of “Faith”:”]Referendum 74 protects religious freedom. Church will still perform marriages according to their beliefs. It also protects the growing numbers of people of faith, who do support marriage for all committed, loving couples; including same sex couples. It’s not for us to judge. We are all God’s children. Marriage matters to all of us. We shoud protect religious freedom and allow same sex couples to marry. Referendum 74 does both.[/toggle]
Local churches and pastors are supporting the referendum in a variety of other, less media-centric ways. Woodland Park United Methodist Church under the leadership of Rev. Nancy Yount worked with an ecumenical consortium of church to hold a march of 250 clergy and laity through the Greenwood and Phinney Ridge neighborhoods of Seattle.
The Rev. Shalom Agtarap of Ellensburg United Methodist Church released a statement of support through the Washington United coalition. In that statement, distributed widely through social media, Agtarap states that she can’t find a place “where Jesus denigrates those who commit themselves to love of God and neighbor.”
The Ellensburg and Woodland Park United Methodist Churches both identify themselves as reconciling congregations.
[toggle title=”Full statement by the Rev. Shalom Agtarap”]Incompatible with Christian teaching. Threat to traditional marriage. Unworthy of equal rights and benefits.
These phrases are often used to argue against marriage equality. In my formal work and life as a follower of Jesus, however, I can’t find a place in Scripture where Jesus denigrates those who commit themselves to love of God and neighbor; the only principles that really matter. I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and I support marriage equality. Approve Referendum 74!
Rev. Shalom Agtarap,
Pastor Ellensburg United Methodist Church[/toggle]
The Larger Context
While meeting this past June in Pasco, Washington, a strong majority of the lay and clergy members of the Pacific Northwest Conference passed a resolution “encourag(ing) all people to approve Referendum 74 so that the Marriage Equality Act can be put into law.” Since that time, United Methodist Churches, clergy, and laity throughout the Pacific Northwest have worked to support the resolution through their words and actions.
It almost goes without saying that United Methodists are not of one mind on the issue of marriage equality. While the majority of Methodists in the Pacific Northwest support the right to marry, some view the issue as distinct from the full acceptance of lgbtq persons in leadership within the church or the question of whether these unions should be blessed by the church. The Book of Discipline, containing the doctrine of the church, holds that “homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth” but considers the “practice of homosexuality [to be] incompatible with Christian teaching”.
When it gathered earlier this year, The United Methodist Church’s top legislative body, the General Conference, discussed but did not adopt amended language for it’s Book of Discipline that would have acknowledged differing beliefs of the issue. Many that disagree with the churches current stance define their objections in terms of justice and make comparisons to historic struggles for the rights of women and African-Americans.
In response to the perceived lack of action by the General Conference, delegates to the Western Jurisdictional Conference, meeting in San Diego this past July, passed a Statement of Gospel Obedience “commend(ing) to our bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if the statement in ¶ 161F does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.” The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church encompasses the eight westernmost regional conferences of the United States. The referenced paragraph defines the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
In a post to the Good News Magazine website (GN is a publication of the confessing movement within United Methodism) by magazine vice-president Thomas A. Lambrecht, Lambrecht draws a parallel between the words of the Western and Northeastern Jurisdictional Conferences and those of “the passionate “hotheads” that led the Southern states to follow incendiary words with incendiary actions, tearing apart our country and causing unimagined death and destruction” during the Civil War (link). Lambrecht makes this connection toward the conclusion of an article detailing the legislative work of of both conferences.
In direct reference to the statement approved by the Western Jurisdiction, he states:
While the words of the Western Jurisdiction’s statements are hurtful to church unity, what really matters is the actions that individuals in the Western Jurisdiction will take.”
Despite a lack of clear agreement within the larger connection, support for Referendum 74 has been approved by the majority of churches Pacific Northwest Conference. If the referendum is approved by voters in November, the law would take effect in December leaving United Methodists churches, clergy and laity in Washington state with another decision as lgbtq couples seek their blessing and pastoral care for newly legal marriage rights.