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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 26, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 43
Keeping the faith
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Keeping the faith

Meet some Seattle-area religious leaders who support Approve R-74

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Although many opponents of marriage equality claim to be motivated by religious faith, the Approve R-74 campaign has built an impressive coalition of pro-equality religious leaders. While all say they are motivated by the traditions of their faith, each takes a unique approach to the issue of civil marriage.

Rabbi James Mirel leads Temple B'nai Torah in Bellevue. He tells SGN he needed very little convincing to support equal marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples.

'It wasn't a big discussion,' Mirel says. 'I've been supportive for 30 years.

'I've been performing commitment ceremonies,' Mirel added. 'It made a lot of sense, and I feel strongly about it. It's a deep faith-based issue for me. It's an issue of equality.'

BIBLE NOT FINAL WORD
Mirel dismisses the view that Biblical prohibitions against same-sex relations should be taken as authoritative.

'Like most ancient religions there may be places in our tradition where you find anti-Gay legislation,' he says. 'From the modern Reform [Jewish] perspective, all people should be equal. That's what you find in our tradition - equality under the law.

'We look at tradition as a guideline. The essential thing is justice. 'Justice, justice you should pursue,' scripture says.'

According to Mirel, he has gotten no pushback from his congregation over his endorsement of the Approve R-74 campaign.

'Maybe ten percent of the congregation is a little more conservative,' he told SGN, 'but no one called or spoke to me about [R-74]. It was a blessing for me. I know there are people who get pushback - I speak to them sometimes - but people in our congregation understood.'

A fixture of Seattle's progressive community for many years, pastor Rich Lang, now at University Temple Methodist Church, also finds arguments for marriage equality rooted in his church's religious tradition.

'I think of marriage equality as a Christian sacrament,' he says. 'Why make distinctions when all marriages manifest the same spirituality?

'I think of it as a positive evolution from within our tradition. Progressive Protestantism - we can't throw out the Bible, we need to know the Bible to pull out the stories that expand us. There's a strong narrative of inclusion in the Christian gospels.'

In a TV spot for the Approve R-74 campaign, Lang says he wrestled with the issue of same-sex marriage for a long time.

'I'm 56 years old,' he told SGN. 'That's an important fact. My kids didn't have to deal with the conflicts I did. Growing up, I had no clue. The only time homosexuality impinged on my consciousness was through the vile language.

'And I myself was growing up in a family where my mom was married five times - no, six times! - and all my sisters have been divorced. It was total marital dysfunction,' Lang recalled.

EXPERIENCE MATTERS
His change of heart came, he says, through his own life experience, rather than through Bible study.

'I began to meet people who were openly and actively Gay, and they were just like me, and their coupling was sometimes more functional than what I had observed among straight couples.

'For Christians it's not about battling with the Bible. That comes after experience. When you know people who are openly Gay it becomes less tenable to hide behind the stories our culture has told us.'

Ron Moe-Lobeda is pastor at University Lutheran Church. He says he looks forward to performing same-sex marriages at his church, 'and I think many of our Seattle area churches would.'

While the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the group Moe-Lobeda's church is affiliated with, does not yet recognize same-sex marriages, 'our church is moving in the direction of affirmation and acceptance,' he says.

'At our synod we passed a resolution supporting [R-74] by 87 percent, so that covers not only our more progressive Seattle-area congregations, it's the whole state.'

Tim Phillips, lead pastor at Seattle First Baptist Church on First Hill, points out that the reader-board outside his church proudly states, 'Marrying all couples since 1979.'

'We called them commitment ceremonies,' he explained, 'but as far as I'm concerned they're married!'

'LOVE IS THE CENTER'
He has two reasons for supporting marriage equality, Phillips tells SGN.

'The first is my faith. Love is in fact the center of what God wants for the world. Just as other religions do, I recognize marriage as a sacrament - it's a window into God's love.

'The second reason is I'm a Baptist, and we've had a commitment to the separation of church and state from the beginning. Churches can hold whatever position they want to about marriage. I don't think any argument based on what people think the Bible says should have any weight.'

Phillips says his congregation is united in their support for marriage equality, even if other Baptists disagree.

'We get pushback from outside folks,' he says. 'We were picketed by the Fred Phelps people. For our folks, the idea of the government telling two people they can't be married rankles them, even if they're not completely on the same page.'

Phillips says he looks forward to marrying same-sex couples legally.

'We would marry same-sex couples not merely because the state says we should, but because we believe in it. For me it's a faith issue and - as a Baptist - a church and state issue.'

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