God, gay rights and Good Neighbors

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MTT News's picture
Francesca Mastrangelo & Matt Geiger

Gay marriage is a political hot button. For years, the issue has drawn ideological lines between political candidates, families and communities. 

When Facebook users changed their profile pictures in March of 2013 to red-hued versions of an equality logo created by the LGBT-advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, nearly 3 million internet users demonstrated their support for gay marriage legislation passing through the Supreme Court.

The court declined the case, leaving the populace to return to the debate.

But here in Middleton, it’s a more nuanced issue that one might assume. It isn’t, as many national media outlets have been wont to frame it, a fight between liberal atheists and conservative Christians.

The Good Neighbor City is home to an eclectic mix of faiths, churches and congregations, and they don’t all see eye to eye on the issue of gay rights.

The same is true at the national level. Amidst a flood of activism in recent years, members of the religious community stepped up to the fight in recent years. Large religious organizations such as the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church of the United States and the Unitarian Universalists are both long-time supporters of same-sex marriage and vocal proponents of anti-discrimination legislation.

How a specific faith community sees the issue is often linked to that particular church’s methodology when reading and interpreting scripture. Some Christians are literalists, for example, and believe everything in the bible has a straightforward, literal meaning that is fairly free of interpretive leeway.

Others see the Bible as the Word of God as seen through the lens of fallible human authors living in specific times and places in history. They point to passages in which the Apostle Paul appears to condone slavery, admonishing a slave to obey his master,  or a passage in the Old Testament ordering people not to wear blended fabric, and say those texts must be understood in context rather than applied literally to today’s world.

So with people of faith debating gay rights nationwide, where do Middleton congregations stand in the battle for LGBT equality?

Middleton Community Church, located on Schewe Road, counts itself among the publicly-declared “open and affirming” U.S. places of worship.

According to the congregation’s website, “LGBT people are welcome in MCC’s full life and ministry.” Since 2008, the Middleton Community Church has issued statements “in support of LGBT civil rights, elimination of institutionalized homophobia within the UCC, as well as HIV/AIDS education and care as it affects LGBT persons.”

Pastor Jim Illif said his church took part in an intensive, ongoing study of scripture in the mid-2000s in order to clarify its stance on LGBT issues. In 2008, at the conclusion of that time, the church approved its “open and affirming policy.”

“We approved it unanimously, with 117 votes, and it has been a guiding principle ever since,” he said. “It had zero negative impact.”

“When we talk about it, both then and now, we explain that this is a reflection of Jesus’ attitude,” said Illif. “He worked on the margins, with people who weren’t necessarily accepted by all of society at the time.

Illif went on to say the issue is more complex than modern, humanistic liberalism pitted against conservative faith communities.

“This is our challenge in our time,” he said. “To be open.”

Some other local congregations see the issue differently. St. Bernard Catholic Parish, located on Parmenter St., adheres to what it sees as biblical tradition when it comes to the acceptance of gay relationships.

Rev. Msgr. Douglas Dushack noted that although he can’t speak for the personal views of his parishioners, St. Bernard promotes the current Catholic position on marriage.

“I imagine that our members are both pro and con when it comes to this issue, but as a congregation we follow the bible’s teachings and the church believes that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Dushack.

While St. Bernard maintains convention when it comes to marriage, Rev. Dushack believes the parish opposes any form of prejudice-based discrimination such as bullying and hate crimes committed against LGBT individuals.

Located on High Road, Gateway Community Church also opposes gay marriage. But a church leader there said that won’t stop the congregation from showing “love” for those who are gay.

“At Gateway we are committed to simultaneously upholding the truth of God’s word and the love of Christ,” said Gateway pastor Paul Lundgren. “To hold up God’s truth, we cannot in good conscience support same-sex marriage; to hold up Christ’s love, we will continue to love our neighbors, including those who are homosexuals, by serving, teaching, learning from, and opening our doors to all people.”

Pastor Roger Eigenfeld, of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church on Hubbard Avenue, said there is little debate on the issue within his congregation. St. Luke’s is open to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, and while Wisconsin is not among the 17 states that currently allow gay marriage, St. Luke’s would perform same-sex marriage ceremonies here if that were to change.

“All we do is follow what our denomination tells us,” Eigenfeld said, “and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted in, I think it was 2009, on the issue. We’re open to all people of all stripes – Christ died for us all.”

Eigenfeld said it is sometimes “disappointing” to see the issue of LGBT rights characterized as one of secularism versus Christianity.

As Middleton congregations and residents represent a spectrum of opinions when it comes to gay rights, finding common ground on this polarizing issue would offer new meaning to being a “good neighbor.”

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