Minnesotans United organizing a faith-based campaign of education around marriage amendment
Written by Anthony Moujaes October 8, 2012
UCC Minister Rebecca Voelkel addresses an interfaith group of congregational leaders in the iconic chapel of United Theological Seminary. Photo credit: David Lohman.
Katherine Borgesen thinks Minnesota's proposed marriage amendment has no business being considered as part of the state constitution.
"It shouldn't even be an issue. That's between individuals and what the church believes," said Borgesen, a member of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Austin, Minn., since 1965. "It has nothing to do with the government. It's the separation of church and state – well, we don't have much of that anymore."
On the Nov. 6 state ballot is a proposed amendment to the Minnesota constitution that seeks to limit marriage to a union between a man and woman.
More than 40 UCC ministers, 22 congregations, the Minnesota Conference and two seminaries have pledged to work to defeat the amendment, joining a state-wide coalition organized in opposition to the measure. UCC pastor, the Rev. Obadiah (Oby) Ballinger, is one of the coalition's organizers, acting as an independent contractor for Minnesotans United for All Families. The organization, based in St. Paul, is working with faith communities on an education campaign. To make sure voters are aware of all sides of the issue, the group is holding informational meetings in churches and rallying support to defeat the proposed amendment. Ballinger's church, Community UCC in St. Paul Park, has allowed him to take a partial leave to work with Minnesotans United.
"The heart of the campaign is people talking to people," Ballinger said. "We've trained 2,500 people of faith to have conversations on why it is important to vote 'no.'" In addition to support from UCC churches, the campaign has support from Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Unitarian and Universalist groups, and a coalition partner has been working with Jewish communities.
Ballinger said Minnesotans United is working on initiatives to "equip congregations to speak against the amendment as people of faith."
There are more than 650 members in the coalition – a quarter of which are faith communities. The UCC pastors who have signed on are publicly taking a stand together as people of faith and are being encouraged to help any way they can. "Faith members can host training, offer space in their building and other efforts to raise our voice," Ballinger said.
First Congregational UCC in Austin hosted an informational meeting on the issue last week that encouraged open dialogue from both sides. Instead of trying to sway voters, the conversation revolved around opinions and how to ask questions to fully understand the issue.
"Part of being in the UCC is encouraging conversation," said the Rev. Shari Mason, pastor at First Congregational.
Congregations are also raising money to contribute to the campaign. First Congregational UCC in Minneapolis donated almost $20,000 to Minnesotans United to make sure the UCC is well represented in the organization. Ballinger said the church is "a catalyst in making so much of this work possible." The church donated $10,000 from its budget, and individual members made personal pledges of nearly the same amount.
Borgesen attended the Austin information session. She has three sons, two of whom are homosexual, and she plans to vote on Nov. 6 against the amendment. Minnesota is one of four states in the upcoming election that has a marriage equality issue on the ballot – the others are Maryland, Maine and Washington.
Borgesen say she believes Minnesotans should attend these informational sessions regardless of their stance on marriage equality. "You need to be aware of what's going on in your community," she said.