Wednesday, September 2, 1998

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
We must "let people be who they are,"
says the Rev. Barbara Grace Ripple.

Some religious
leaders decry legislation
defining marriage

A Christian minister says
churches should welcome
homosexuals, not target
them for persecution

By Mary Adamski


"Same-sex marriage will not undermine society.

"The need for people to live their lives in deception is much more destructive to the fabric of society. I believe all persons have the right to live in committed, covenant relationships."

That's not the rhetoric of a gay-rights lobbyist. It's the view of a Christian minister.

The Rev. Barbara Grace Ripple, superintendent of the Hawaii district of the United Methodist Church, is one of several religious leaders who do not wish to be linked with groups using a "Christian" label while campaigning in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow legislators to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.

The question will face Hawaii voters on the ballot in November, and gay-rights issues are under discussion in other political arenas around the country. In Hawaii, conservative Christian groups have set a goal of raising $2 million to fight for a same-sex marriage ban.

"If we believe God's creation is good, and people of various sexual orientations are part of that creation, we need to affirm the rights of all persons to live as fully as possible," said Ripple.

"Our society would be at peace if we let people be who they are. That is part of the fabric of Hawaii, where so many people of such differing backgrounds have found acceptance."

The Rev. Stanley Bain, pastor of Keolumana United Methodist Church, said the California-Pacific conference of the church voted in June to call itself a "welcoming" conference, a title intended to be an outreach to gays and lesbians. A majority of the 1,200 delegates from 300 churches supported the concept.

Next all the congregations, including 34 in Hawaii, will go through a process to decide individually whether to assert the "pledge to make our churches welcoming to all people without regard to sexual orientation."

Bain said: "I think our role as church is to protect and advocate for those who are being persecuted rather than identifying others for persecution."

Sam Cox, a Methodist minister who recently retired after 22 years as director of Hale Kipa shelter for teen-agers, said: "Members of our congregation come to me very concerned about the media blitz. It sounds like the entire Hawaii Christian community is embracing the idea. This does not represent the broader Christian church."

Bain and Cox recently sent a letter-to-the-editor in response to another writer who chided the Christian community for putting its money toward lobbying against same-sex marriages rather than helping the homeless or victims of domestic violence.

"We concur that this money would be better spent and closer to the teachings of Jesus if it went to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless," wrote Bain, Cox and Deborah Fritz.

The Methodist clergyman hastened to point out that he believes the lobbyists have a right to their own opinions. "I don't think they claim to be speaking for the entire Christian community. What we are saying is, not all of us in the Christian community feel the way they do," said Bain.

"I think God's revelation comes to us in different ways and is received in different ways. None of us has a corner on that revelation. Not even Christians have a corner on Christ."

Cox said he accepts that "people may personally be opposed to same-sex marriage for religious reasons. But it doesn't mean they will impose their will on others. People may have personal views; it doesn't mean they feel government should be involved."

"To me, the Nov. 3 vote is more about civil rights than religion," said Cox. "The church is hopefully transforming itself. The historical church endorsed slavery." And, Bain added, not too long ago, "divorced persons were alienated from the church, but that has changed."

When the United Methodist Church conference voted to hang out a "welcoming" sign for gays and lesbians this year, it was not a completely new step. Many churches throughout the 70 Methodist conferences have chosen for years to label themselves "reconciling" congregations, indicating the same idea. However, it's a word that bothers some because it implies forgiveness is needed, and this led the western conference to change to "welcoming."

Ripple said: "We are able to accept one another as a follower of Christ even when we differ in certain issues. I can be a pacifist and you can be for just war. One can be opposed to abortion and another can believe in choice."

Nevertheless, as in many Christian churches, the Methodists are not free of disagreements. Members of a more conservative view choose another label, "transforming" congregations, implying that homosexuals are expected to change to be accepted.

And conservatives have targeted "The Book of Discipline," a compendium of social principles and procedural guidelines that is open for change at the church's general conference every four years.

"Little things that seem harmless are put in to restrict rights: language about fidelity in marriage, abstinence in singleness. The reason they do it is to get at homosexuals," said Ripple.

In a church that prides itself for being "nondoctrinal," members are struggling with an Aug. 11 decision by the Judicial Council, the nine-member "supreme court" of the church. The council said pastors who perform homosexual marriage ceremonies risk being brought before the court and stripped of their credentials as clergy. The action was sparked by an Omaha pastor who performed a same-sex union ceremony last September.

The ruling hinged on language put in the "Book of Discipline" at the 1996 conference saying "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

Bain said the council action "restricts my mode of operation, it prejudices how I can function in my role as pastor. I have never been asked to perform a same-sex service. I'd like the freedom to decide in each case, just as I do with heterosexual marriage. What I would do would be determined by the situation . . . and I would be willing to take the consequences."

Ripple said the ruling concerns her. "I will work to change portions of the "Discipline" that go against the gospel of Jesus."

Ripple said: "I don't think God has called me to judge and change others. God is a faithful God, who has forgiven us so many times. He really loves the people he has created."

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