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The Universal Notebook: Gay or straight, it's all in the family

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: Gay or straight, it's all in the family

Last week, the National Organization for Marriage, the anti-gay marriage group that helped repeal Maine’s marriage equity law, held a rally in Augusta where Charla Bansley, Maine director of Concerned Women for America, made an inflammatory statement that must not go unchallenged.

“We must understand that the enemy will never accept defeat in their effort to destroy the family as God designed,” warned Bansley, the Christian school teacher featured in fear-mongering Yes on 1 ads, in which she warned that homosexuality would be taught in Maine schools unless the marriage equity law was overturned.

Like Tea Party conservatives who wrap themselves in the Constitution and the American flag as though they owned them, Christian conservatives commandeer the Bible as though God were on their side. I believe both groups are wrong. And I am not alone.

I may be “the enemy,” but I am not out to “destroy the family as God designed.” I am, however, the enemy of bigotry, prejudice, homophobia, narrow-mindedness, and injustice perpetrated in the name of Christianity. Why? Precisely because I am a Christian.

Christian fundamentalists might argue that I am not a good Christian, but then I would argue that Christian fundamentalists give Christianity a bad name. Fundamentalists almost universally ignore Christ’s message of love, compassion and forgiveness in their zeal to condemn others. Jesus Christ was the most liberal, inclusive being who ever walked this Earth and the Congregationalist tradition within which I was raised embraces his inclusivity.

On June 20, First Parish Church in Yarmouth held a special congregational meeting at which we voted to become an Open and Affirming church, the designation that the United Church of Christ gives to churches that have made a deliberate and prayerful decision to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in the full life and ministry of the church. Yarmouth is the 887th UCC church to become Open and Affirming (ONA) since 1987.

Yarmouth, however, is late to ONA status. UCC churches in Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland and Gorham, as well as in far-flung locations such as Machias, Wilton, Casco and Norway have been ONA for years. First Parish might have become ONA a decade ago were it not for how we mishandled a decision in 1999 to allow our pastors to bless same-gender unions in our sanctuary.

On March 28, 1999, First Parish members voted 149-33 to allow the blessing of same-gender unions and 124-55 to allow same-gender covenanting ceremonies in the sanctuary. But because we had not gone through a careful, thoughtful discernment process, the decision and debate at the 1999 meeting caused a rift in the congregation, after which many members were leery of discussing issues of sexual orientation again.

In 2009-2010, therefore, First Parish engaged in a year-long period of prayerful discussion leading up to the ONA vote. During this process, members and friends of First Parish who are gay and lesbian and who have gay and lesbian family members helped open the hearts, minds and souls of members of the congregation who may have had reservations. The June 20 ONA vote was 82-1.

I had never been as proud of my church as I was that day – until a few weeks later on July 11 when the members of First Parish, by unanimous voice vote, decided to call Rev. Kathleen Dalton to become our new associate pastor. Kate is a lovely, lively, spirited young woman. She is also a lesbian raising two sons in a loving, committed relationship with her partner Nora.

The people of First Parish who made these two historic decisions are not radical gay activists. We are a cross-section of Maine – young and old, conservative and liberal, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, gay and straight, rich and poor, single, married, widowed and divorced. We are doctors, lawyers, educators, business people, trades people, retirees and students.

We are not out to destroy the family as God designed it. We are the family as God designed it.