Shuck and Jive

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Marriage Equality

[On August 7th, The Johnson City Press requested readers to write their opinions regarding the amendment to the Tennessee constitution on the November ballot to restrict marriage to heterosexuals. In the August 20th edition, they printed some of these opinions. The paper wrote that in its "unscientific on-line poll" approximately 70% of the respondents were in favor of the amendment. Twenty-six percent were against it (1% undecided, 3% "don't care"). The paper published my letter, printed below.]

Voting Against
"I have been honored to officiate at holy unions for gay and lesbian couples that I believe are as holy and blessed as any of the marriages I have performed for straight couples. I serve a congregation that welcomes and loves gay and lesbian people, their partners and families, and regards them as full and equal members.

I will be voting against this amendment in November. Regardless of what happens with this legislation, it is even more important that sexual minorities in this area know that you do not have to choose between your faith and who you are. There are congregations here that are open and affirming. I am proud to serve one of them."

John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church

[If you would like to learn about this issue and support equal rights for all people, you can check out this website: "Vote No on No. 1"]


  1. I want to say that I am very proud that John and other church members spoke up in support of gay and lesbian rights in the Johnson City Press. It is disheartening to read that 70% of the people in the informal pole (probably around the state too) will vote to ban the LGBT community from enjoying the same rights that the privileged majority hold--not that there is too much evidence that heterosexuals are doing too well with marriage anyway.

    It never fails to amaze me that human beings can decide to hate 7% to 10%of the people in their own communities whom they have never met and do not know. There are those who attempt to back out of this shameful disregard for our mandate to love one another with some paraphrase of the idea that they "love the sinner, but hate the sin." Those who like to talk about public policy do something similar in separating the person from the deed: People, they say, have rights to equality, but not all acts should be sanctioned. I loved the one about the bicycle on the freeway in the paper. And yet, there is not a single heterosexual who wrote into the paper Sunday who separates who they are from their sexuality. Indeed, they would all say that their sexual identity was intimately connected to their self-concept and self-esteem. What makes them think that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are any less connected to their sexual identity? It is not the fully integrated people with clear sexual identities and appropriate human boudaries that we have to fear. We should fear those who in fact do separate themselves from their sexual acts in the form of becoming predators, rapists, or child molestors. By far, these are the crimes of the heterosexual community, not the LGBT community.

    For the religious fanatics who are fond of extricating their favorite lines from the first five books of the old testament (Jesus does not seem to have realized what an important issue homosexuality was or is), I would suggest that we equally take up arms against (a)the wearing of clothes made of more than one fiber, (b) planting a field with more than one crop, or (c) not forgiving the debts owed us by our brothers and sisters every seven years. Laws of the old testament, after all, must be applied equally--or NOT AT ALL.

    I hate to actually say that some of my best friends are lesbian or gay, but, as it turns out, SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE LESBIAN or GAY, and I don't tolerate well having them oppressed, discriminated against, or hated for no other reason than they are not part of the majority. There are but two great commandments: Love God with your whole heart and your whole mind and Love your neighbor (even your enemy, Christ would say) as yourself. Live and let live. Love and let all be loved. Granting the same rights to all is the only way to protect these rights for ourselves.


    Jim Bitter

  2. John’s letter reminds us of a similar note he published in The Billings Gazette. In fact, it was such a letter that lead us to FPC in Billings and eventually our commitment ceremony/Holy Union in the sanctuary. We pray that there are GLBT couples and singles in the Elizabethton area, who may have felt disenfranchised and will read John’s letter and find the courage to attend a worship service. It will not be a regret! Under John’s leadership we were able to participate fully and use our gifts and talents to serve the congregation, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and God.

    We still bask in the glow of beautiful memories that John helped to create on our special day. He preached the most sincere and heart-touching sermon. Our parents still ask about John, his passion and commitment to GLBT rights, and his well-being.

    Our hope is that all GLBT people could have the opportunity to know the same warmth and love of God.

    Blessings to you all in Elizabethton! Keep up the good work in your congregation and the strength to be open and affirming!

    Tony & Mike
    Billings, MT

  3. Theologian Karen Armstrong suggests that the most fundamental aspect of all religions is compassion.

    "Compassion makes us dethrone ourselves and consider another."

    "Jesus states that it is those who have visited those who have visited people who are sick, naked, hungry, and in prison... will come into the divine presence... not those who have the correct theology or the right sexual ethics."

    People who deny the rights of others deny themselves an understanding of the divine. Acceptance of others is not enough, acceptance is mandatory. In order to live on earth, one must accept the reality that other human beings inhabit it as well.

    Christianity requires that people not only accept others, but love them no matter who they are and how they live their lives.

    I ask is HOMOSEXUALITY or HATE more destructive to society? Christianity?

    In my life, I have found that the loving relationship between one and one's spouse has the power bring both participants closer to God. Can we deny this of homosexuals. Marriage does not create the loving relationship, but acceptance is an important factor to social beings and it is important to let homosexuals know that the reality is that a loving God would probably prefer that one being a loving homosexual relationship than a destructive heterosexual relationship.

    Go further than the assurance of rights... give compassion... to all.

  4. The challenge has been set - what is more harmful to society "Hate or Homosexuality?"

    What seems most spurious about this falsely dichotomous view is that it reduces any objection one might lift to homosexual "marriage" (or - to put it better - any deviation from monogamous, lifelong, faithful heterosexual marriage) to HATE. I can assure you that I do not hate homosexuals, though I am grieved at their sin. (No moreso, I hope, than I am grieved at my own.)

    There are actually a number of reasons that have nothing to do with religious convictions - reasons that are well supported by social scientific studies as well as logical thought - to oppose advocacy for anything other than the normativity of marriage as defined above (lifelong, faithful, heterosexual).

    If you are still open to reasonable objections, I encourage you to visit which was formed, in part, to counter the extreme views of those supporting the "beyond gay marriage" movement.


    Chris Larimer

  5. Thanks, folks.

    I think that there are at least 500 churches in the Tri-cities area. Maybe that number is closer to 1,000, depending how we define the area. That is a guess. Let's say, 750. Of that number, I know of no other church that openly (as in declares in its statement of welcome on the bulletin and web page) declares full welcome to sexual minorities. But I do not know for sure. Some congregations are open and affirming but may not state it, although, I have to wonder if they are sincere. In other words, when challenged will they stand up for their glbt members and visitors?

    Let's say there are two or three, maybe even five congregations that are officially welcoming churches (I can think of the UU church and the Unity church. Munsey Methodist claims to have "open doors, open minds, open hearts" but I don't know how open they are to glbt folks).

    The point is that of 750 congregations, five at best are officially welcoming. That means that there are 745 congregations that are not.

    I do not debate the full humanity and the full blessedness of same-gender relationships in my congregation. It is a given.

    If there is one issue on which I have become very directive in my pastoral authority, it is that I have zero-tolerance for any statements or actions that in any way suggest that glbt people and their sexuality is unacceptable, sinful, or whatever.

    Congregation members may have individual opinions regarding the full humanity of glbt persons. They may think that the sexuality of gay, lesbian and bisexual persons is sinful. Fine. But if they say it, and I hear it, I stop it. I do the same for racist or sexist comments. My predecessor, John Martin, had the same policy. (BTW, I have never heard those comments in the year that I have been here. John helped to clear that path).

    My conservative colleagues may cry, "Unfair! You don't tolerate my views." My response: "You are absolutely correct." Zero tolerance.

    This congregation is a safe sanctuary and it will remain so as long as I am pastor.

    There are plenty of websites in which folks can discuss or debate the so-called sinfulness of homosexuality. There are plenty of churches in which folks can do the same. This is not one of them. We are light years beyond it.

    However, we do talk about advocacy, special issues for glbts and their families, how we can make life better, how to respond to bible-abuse, how glbts can reclaim their faith in a culture of spiritual violence, etc.

    If you would like to e-mail me privately and discuss/debate, that is another matter. If you, Chris, would like to discuss that with folks, maybe that would be a good discussion to have on your blog.


  6. I just have to say that I really don't even see an issue in all of this homosexual equal rights and a weird constitutional amendment. It's like some scandal to keep us from focusing on what is really hurting us, and what a horrible job the current government is doing keeping us safe from the real danger. (Does this sound familiar to ANYONE?) If all we had to worry about in our nation was an issue of gays or no gays, that would tell me one of two things: 1) that we are living in a complete fantasy world as in a children's book where nothing bad ever happens in the world except that maybe from time to time, you might lose your glass slipper. 2) our unity, everything that holds us together and makes us great, strong, makes other people from other countries say that they would rather live here, is threatened by the shallow, narrow-mindedness of people who try to tell us how to live our lives. My-way-or-the-highway kind of thinking. Nothing frustrates me more than people who tell you that what you believe, or your faith is WRONG. Well, excuse me, but your faith doesn't quite suit me, and if you don't mind you are interrupting my life, and if I would rather believe that there is only a Heaven and no Hell because it makes me happier, then kindly DEAL and we will both go on living our lives in the best way we see fit. I think that religion is supposed to comfort you, not burden you, and if you can have a religion and the comfort of knowing that you are a good person as far as people go, and you are going to make it into Heaven, then great. Knock yourself out. But for those of us with slightly more diminished self-confidence, believing in a Hell and eternal death as a punishment for bad behavior is quite frankly too depressing to live with. And then there are people who have completely released religion altogether. The whole thing just doesn't fit them, and when you die, you die, the end. Great. Terrific. You know what works for you, and you are not going to go insane over how good a person you are and it makes you happier. But in the end, does it really matter? Each different combination of religion, or lack thereof, offers some happy ending or other. If you believe in both Heaven and Hell, then your incentive is to be a good person, and TING! judgement day arrives, and God welcomes you to a life for all eternity. If you believe the slightly shortened version of things, then yours is a faith of forgiveness for anything you are willing to be truly sorry for, and consequently, that is how you treat others, and you still get your happy ending in Heaven. For the rest who have let go of religion, when you die, there is no disappointment, no grief, it just happens, and it keeps you from worrying, and you are able to live your life easier with the knowledge that this is the only life you have, you don't want to mess it up, and so you live it to its fullest potential. And so my point (even though I got a tiny bit off track...) is that if it affects only you, and helps you find your own happiness, then go for it. And if that means that you are homosexual, heterosexual, a nun, a priest, a minister, a doctor, a teacher, be yourself, and don't let other people tell you how to live your life. And don't be trying to tell someone how to live her or his life. Life is too short to be critiquing other people or worrying about what they might be doing wrong. As a very wise man named Jesus once pointed out, you cannot help your friend with the sliver in his eye until you remove the timber from your own.

  7. Hi Ali!

    I gotta give you a pulpit, girl! Thanks for your wisdom and passion!

  8. Ali, you express my thoughts so well. Thanks

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.