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Minn. Gay Marriage Vote Divides State’s Clergy

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

(credit: Jupiter Images)

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Members of Minnesota’s clergy are increasingly taking sides on the push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a political battle that’s pitting certain denominations against others and, in some cases, splitting believers from the same faith.

This Sunday, a group of Catholic churchgoers opposed to the amendment are kicking off the “Catholics Vote NO!” campaign, flying in the face of the church’s local hierarchy, which supports the measure.

It’s just the latest in a lengthy list of recent organizing efforts by the faithful — from a recent “pastor’s summit” of church leaders who support a ban to a gathering this past week of more than 100 Christian and Jewish ministers opposed to it.

Among the latter was the Rev. Kelly Chatman, lead pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. He took take a public stand against the amendment, he said Friday, “because I don’t want that other voice to be the only voice, I don’t want same-sex people to see all churches that way.

“I’m doing this because it’s important people see a pastor who believes that God is loving to everybody.”

The amendment on the November ballot asks voters to decide if an existing ban on gay marriage in state law should be enshrined in the constitution. Republican majorities in the Minnesota Legislature put the issue on the ballot after heavy lobbying from a coalition of Catholic and evangelical religious leaders.

St. Paul-Minneapolis Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt is a particularly ardent supporter and has pressured local priests to publicly support it in front of their parishes.

“I’m preaching on it regularly, I’m writing about it weekly in my parish bulletins, we’ve held discussion groups and intend to do more,” said the Rev. John Echert, lead pastor at two suburban St. Paul Catholic churches. Echert said he views church teaching as unequivocal: Opposite-sex marriage “is the only moral, acceptable manner to join in marriage.”

Dogma hasn’t stopped a significant number of retired or former Minnesota Catholic priests from speaking out against the amendment, despite the archbishop’s order not to dissent publicly.

Minnesota’s Catholic dioceses have lent more than rhetorical firepower to the debate: the Catholic Conference’s Marriage Defense Fund reported $750,000 in contributions to pro-amendment efforts as of the end of January, with more donations likely.

LaDonna Hoy, a lifelong Catholic who helped organize this weekend’s event, said she puts little stock in the word coming down from local church leaders. Organizers expect about 200 to 300 lay Catholics to participate in the event, which will be held at a Methodist church in Edina.

Hoy said she believes that gay people, including her daughter, “only want the freedom to love responsibly and faithfully, and the idea of them being marginalized by the law or some religious fear is just distasteful to me. It’s wrong.”

Hoy said many in her own congregation, St. Bartholomew in Wayzata, feel the same, and that the parish priest has not addressed the amendment from the pulpit.

Plenty of prominent Minnesota denominations have come out squarely against the amendment. Five Minnesota synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have approved formal resolutions in opposition to the marriage amendment. Earlier this month, the general assembly of Minnesota’s United Methodists overwhelmingly approved a resolution against the amendment.

“Scripture must be factored, but so must tradition, reason and experience,” said the Rev. Bruce Robbins of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. “God speaks to all of us in different ways.”

Amendment supporters in the faith community have been just as active. In May, more than 175 pastors attended a conference at Grace Church in Eden Prairie where they received instruction on how to build support in their congregations for the amendment.

“People of faith have a right and an obligation to participate in this discussion,” said the Rev. Jeff Evans, an evangelical minister from Edina who is leading pastor outreach efforts.

Clergy on both sides of the issue admitted their own congregations are split on the amendment. Chatman said his congregation has many recent African immigrants with more conservative views on social issues. The Rev. Bryan Pedersen of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Robbinsdale, said he’s been approached by parishioners at odds with his own public stand for the amendment.

“Every one of them will be accountable to God for how they’re informed by their conscience,” Pedersen said. “The definition of marriage is non-negotiable.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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