Northaven’s Steps Toward Same Sex Marriage

This morning at Northaven Church, our Emeritus Pastor, Rev. Bill McElvaney, announced his intention to perform same sex weddings.

Bill has led our church, our city, and helped lead our denomination, for forty years. He continues to lead us now. The people of Northaven gave him a five-minute standing ovation at the conclusion of his remarks today, so grateful and thankful were they.

CrossI would like to address the specifics of what Bill said concerning where these services might take place. The current reality of our polity is that there are technical prohibitions against these services being performed by our clergy and in our churches.

This second part —that the services may not take place in our churches— is the part that is most insidious and, frankly, evil. Evil, in that it attempts to bar churches from ministering to their members in one of the most fundamental ways.*

There have always been regional differences in our United Methodist Church. In our part of the world, it’s essential that we make a statement and move forward, to support same sex marriage. But that we also be wise about what we do. In this, we are guided by the words of Jesus:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

As Bill alluded to in his statement, for some months now I have been in conversation with the pastors of several neighbor churches near Northaven. They, in turn, have been in conversation with their lay leadership.

I am pleased to announce that two of our neighbor congregations are eager to invite Northaveners to celebrate same sex weddings in their sanctuaries. They are doing this as a way of standing in solidarity with Bill (and perhaps with other pastors as yet to be named) with Northaven, and with Reconciling United Methodists everywhere.

The churches are Midway Hills Christian Church, and their pastor Rev. Arthur Stewart; and Central Congregational Church, and their pastor, Rev. Christine Ng. We are, in fact, also still talking with a third congregation, but we can’t announce anything about that this morning.

Both of these pastors have been in discussion with their lay leaders, their “Board of Trustees,” if you will. And this morning on MLK Weekend, as Bill read his statement at Northaven, they also issued a public invitation to Northaven from their pulpits, as a sign of solidarity with Bill, with us, and with Reconciling United Methodists everywhere.

Additionally, Rev. Ng has informed me that their church will wave all building use fees for any weddings that might take place.

Again, I realize that this is not an ideal situation. I realize that this should only be seen as a temporary solution, at best. Bill says it makes him want to hold his nose.
I don’t really like it, either.

But it does two important things; one prophetic and one pastoral.

First, it allows us to prophetically lift up in the insanity of the current United Methodist polity on same sex weddings.
I invite all United Methodists reading this to meditate on the following sentence: We no longer have to travel across town to find a church who will host a same sex wedding. Two of the geographically closest congregations to Northaven in our North Dallas neighborhood are willing to host them.

This clearly shows how out of step the United Methodist Church has become with the leading of God’s Holy Spirit in God’s Holy Church.

Secondly, this allows us to provide some measure of pastoral care to our own members, now. Which is deeply important. I have previously written of the pastoral necessity of embracing same sex marriage in churches like Northaven. But now, I can put actual data to support the claim…

Recently, we did a survey and discovered that and we now have fourteen same sex couples at Northaven who are legally married under civil law; under the laws of seven different states and other jurisdictions.

Therefore, this is another point for United Methodists everywhere to hear: Same sex marriage is a pastoral necessity of this congregation right now. Not in some future theoretical era. But now.

The inability to perform same sex weddings creates an inability to reach the mission field  God has called Northaven Church to serve.

For several General Conferences, we have heard the United Methodist Church say that we must respond to the people God puts in front of us. We must minister to the people God’s Holy Spirit sends to us. We must reach out to our own, unique mission field.

I could not agree more. It is past time for us to change our polity, to allow churches in every city and town to reach the people God is calling them to reach.

Now, I want to finish by echoing Bill’s words: we have no idea whether any of our couples actually want this. They may not have any desire to have a church-wedding, either at Northaven or anywhere else. We hope that the fact that we did not “pre-arrange” a wedding announcement today will indicate that this is done out of prophetic and pastoral duty, and not as some “publicity stunt.”

c55df-evans-jack-george-harrisAt the conclusion of the sermon this morning, I asked “George and Jack” to come forward. On this very day, Martin Luther King Sunday of 2014, these two beautiful people are marking the 53rd Anniversary of their relationship together.
(The congregation also expressed their support of them in an ovation as well…)

United Methodist pastors across this land, in almost every city, are waking up to the reality of the “George and Jacks” in their congregations. They are realizing that same sex marriage is an important pastoral rite that must not be denied to the people of God.

I will close with two points. And I have made them before. But they bear repeating on this day…

First, legal, civil, same sex marriage is coming to the United States of America. Every single state. And if you don’t believe me, believe Nate Silver. Read the blog at that link, or take a look at the bottom line data in this picture.

And simply remember: Nate Silver is rarely, if ever, wrong about the politics of a situation.

But the second point is the one I am authorized to make, as a minister of Christ’s Gospel…

Same Sex Marriage is coming to the United Methodist Church. Not as a political stunt, but as a pastoral reality.

God wants the Church of Jesus Christ to embrace same sex marriage. And whether the Church of Jesus Christ, or the United Methodist Church, realize it, it’s coming, through the working of God’s Holy Spirit loose in our land today.

Our theme at Northaven this morning was “Follow Your Heartbreak,” a five-week series where we are attempting to discern what breaks our hearts about the world, and what we are called by God to do about it.

Let’s keep trusting that on the issue of same sex marriage, God will turn our heartbreak into joy.

* I make an assumption here that, I assume, everyone will get: that it’s possible to call certain policies and procedures of the United Methodist Church “evil,” without calling the people who believe them “evil.” The limited sense of calling the policies “evil” is the sole intent of the use of the word here.