Churches at the center of marriage amendment battle
Groups on both sides of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage are reaching out to church-goers.
Jeff Evans, pastor of Christ Church Twin Cities, volunteers with Minnesota for Marriage, a group that supports the amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. He has been helping organize meetings with fellow evangelical pastors to answer their questions about the amendment. They also encourage pastors to speak to their parishioners about the importance of supporting traditional marriage.
"Really, what we want them to do is just preach and teach according to God's word," Evans said. "So once we enable them to do that, we really think that we are reaching out to the parishioners in a better way than just coming in with whatever political tool."
The group still takes advantage of more conventional political tools, including offering a pledge voters can sign to commit to voting "yes" on the ballot question, along with resolutions churches can pass in support of the amendment.
Meanwhile, a group opposed to the marriage amendment, Minnesotans United for All Families, has been working hard to build support in the faith community. The group has its own faith director — Twin Cities Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Grant Stevenson.
"It really kind of breaks my heart that a lot of people assume that Christians and Christian pastors are all on one side of this issue," Stevenson said.
His group has been sponsoring training sessions at churches across the state. The sessions are aimed at helping people of faith learn how to talk with others about their opposition to the amendment. The goal is to train 4,000 to 5,000 people by mid-September.
"The primary thing that is important about the campaign, and it is even more so around the faith department, are the conversations we are encouraging people to have — particularly about their own experience as a gay/lesbian person or someone they love and care about. It really has an effect on people's perspectives," Stevenson said.
Visit the websites of both groups and they each boast a lengthy list of religious organizations backing their efforts. All six of Minnesota's ELCA Lutheran churches have come out against the marriage amendment, along with the Episcopal Church in Minnesota and all Minnesota Jewish Reform rabbis. Actively supporting the amendment is the Roman Catholic Church, Assembly of God and many evangelical churches.
The various campaign efforts can be seen playing out at local religious institutions. The Rev. Kurt Farrell serves as pastor for three Catholic parishes — Holy Redeemer in Eyota, St. Aloysius in Elba and St. Charles Borromeo in St. Charles. The marriage amendment has definitely been a topic of conversation, and Farrell said he sees it as his responsibility to explain why the amendment is important to protect the institution of marriage and families.
"We feel that anything that is going to undermine marriage and family is something we have to speak out against," he said.
Each parish in the Diocese of Winona was asked to send a representative to attend a workshop on the marriage amendment and then set up a committee on marriage. That committee is tasked with helping promote the amendment in various ways. St. Charles Borromeo plans to hold an event on Nov. 3 focused on celebrating people's marriages, with the chance for them to renew their vows.
The Rev. Doug Sparks, rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Rochester, takes a very different view of the marriage amendment. During a recent weeknight, he joined about 30 others protesting outside St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. Inside the church, Bishop John Quinn of the Winona diocese, was leading a Mass focused on marriage.
Sparks said he lives his life inspired by Pope Paul VI's quote that "If you want peace, work for justice." Sparks said that for him, allowing same-sex couples to wed is a matter of justice. His church sponsored a five-week session focused on marriage and had another five-week program on the church's decision to bless same-sex unions.
"We stand in opposition to this amendment because we stand for justice," he said, "and marriage equality for all persons is an issue of justice."