Commentary: I DO Support Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality
Written by the Rev. Nancy Ellett Allison
June 17, 2014

The Rev. Nancy Ellett Allison

Issues related to sexuality are intensely personal and can become a matter of life and death, especially when we forget that we are created in the image of God, and each of us is blessed by God as we are. It is life giving to meet, woo, and marry the person we love. It is devastating to hear the bent message that "God" cannot possibly bless your marriage – if you are in a same-gender relationship.

We at Holy Covenant UCC have become a lightning rod for responses concerning the religious freedom and marriage equality lawsuit filed in North Carolina. We have an open case of domestic terrorism with the FBI based on a series of threatening emails received. What sense can be made of the email rants suggests that the homeless young man who threatened our congregation saying "I am coming for you!" and wanting to "execute all homosexuals" was raped as a child.

We also received a check from a stranger for $100 with no note attached, simply a copy of an article from the 1980s in which a mother laments the death of her 22-year-old son who committed suicide. Her great regret? Church had been an unsafe place – he had been sitting at her side in worship when she responded with repeated "Amens!" as the preacher denounced homosexuals as an abomination before God. Our assumption is that this mother now celebrates a church and a denomination willing to take a bold stand for religious freedom and marriage equality.

These responses make clear the reality that, while we joined with clergy and congregants from across the religious spectrum to fight for marriage equality because our inclusive interpretations of scripture affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all, many people do not yet join in that affirmation. When fear concerning God’s sensual gifts to humanity causes people to threaten death to others or seek death as an escape, it is clearly time for the church to reaffirm God’s original blessing of us all.

Created in the image of God, each of us is blessed by God as we are. When same-gender adults experience a free-flowing, blessed love that leads them toward the sanctity of marriage, it is wrong for the state of North Carolina to create an artificial barrier. In the United States we have privileged married couples and families, believing that their stability is healthy for the nation, while ignoring the strength and stability of thriving same-gender relationships. Yet these couples and families value their commitments and should be granted the same legal and cultural status marriage carries for opposite sex couples.

Only the law can create a legal, established, family relationship between adults that is recognized socially and professionally. North Carolina’s Amendment One law assaults religious freedom by penalizing clergy for performing the religious rite of marriage if a couple does not possess a license. No minister should be instructed by the state in its celebration of religious events. When God’s beloved are discriminated against and denied the right to marry, once again, fearful people are being allowed to restrict the freedom of others. It is time for the state of North Carolina to grant ministers the religious freedom to follow their conscience in performing (or not) same-gender marriages.

In the history of our nation, every time we have allowed fear to dictate our legal structure, we have participated in discrimination. We are not truly equal in the eyes of the law until all are treated equally. Now is the time for the church to reaffirm God’s original blessing of us all. Now is the time for the church to follow God’s laws of love, not the laws of a flawed and fearful state.

I am honored to stand with the United Church of Christ, with my clergy colleagues, and especially with my congregants, who demonstrate the enormous courage they have by seeking to say "I do" to one another and I DO in support of religious freedom!

The Rev. Nancy Ellett Allison is senior pastor of Holy Covenant United Church of Christ in Charlotte, N.C., and one of the plaintiffs in the landmark lawsuit General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper.

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