With the vote over a divisive 2012 ballot measure——now less than a year away, civic groups, professional lobbying organizations and, yes, churches across the state are marshaling their members’ energies, hoping to sway Minnesota voters towards passage or defeat of the amendment.
As efforts on both sides of the issue gain momentum and a variety of faith groups weigh in, the leaders of Richfield’s reported that, despite the church’s strong feelings about the issue, it currently has no plans to pursue the ballot initiative outside of weekly sermons.
“Our church is based on what we find in the scriptures, but I’m not up preaching every week on the marriage amendment or abortion,” said Jeremy Stephens, the head pastor at Southview Baptist Church. “Ours isn’t a political agenda, it’s a word-centered agenda.”
Southview Baptist has a small congregation comprised of roughly 20 regularly attending members. Stephens, who has been the church’s head pastor for four years, said he doesn’t foresee having to expend much energy in getting his church’s members out to vote in the 2012 election.
“I see myself reminding [congregants] that the vote is coming up, and reminding them that it is their civic responsibility, as a Christian, to be involved in the voting,” Stephens said. “But in the sense of telling them how they need to vote, I don’t anticipate involving myself as a pastor to that degree.”
Baptist Marriage Beliefs
“This [the definition of marriage] is one of those issues in our church where there’s not much discussion or variance,” said Randy Krystowiak, a deacon currently in his first year of service at Southview Baptist. “Internally we’re in agreement.”
Because Baptists generally believe in the literal word of the Bible, Krystowiak reported that congregants and leaders at Southview Baptist believe marriage, as the Bible prescribes, is a union between a man and a woman.
“Of course, I would support clarifying that definition for the state,” Krystowiak said. “We don’t get a marriage license through the church. It’s a civil covenant. To define marriage as being [between a man and a woman], that’s why definitions are made.”
Richfield Baptist Leaders Don't Intend to Offend
According to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll conducted at the beginning of November 2011, 48 percent of Minnesotans are in favor of passing the constitutional amendment, while 43 percent remain opposed.
The poll revealed stark disparities in how Minnesotans view the constitutional amendment, with respondents’ age, political affiliation, education level and geographic location all proving significant factors.
Those polled who identified as Democrats, college-educated and living in the metro were more likely to oppose the constitutional amendment. Republicans, those with no college education and Minnesotans living outside the metro were more likely to approve of the ballot measure. Age proved important as well, with 70 percent of Minnesotans over 65 saying they supported the amendment.
Critics have argued that the constitutional amendment is discriminatory. In an in May 2011, Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Richfield/Minneapolis), minority leader in the Minnesota House, disapproved of the ballot measure, arguing that, should the amendment pass, “We’re inscribing discrimination in our state constitution.”
Krystowiak said that, while his faith didn’t intend to upset or offend, he nonetheless realized that some people in the state would take umbrage at the message preached at Southview Baptist Church.
“Our goal is not to offend people, but we realize our message will be offensive to some,” he said. “I understand that some people will feel that a marriage amendment is discriminating against them, but I’m not being driven by that.”
Stephens and Krystowiak both emphasized that it was their faith, and not animosity towards same-sex couples, which prompted them to support the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Regardless of their feelings about gay marriage and the behavior of same-sex couples, they both emphasized that the position of Southview Baptist Church was not one of hatefulness.
“I want the public to know, and if there’s a same-sex couple reading this, I want them to know, that we may not agree, but that doesn’t automatically cancel out our church’s love for them,” Stephens said.
While they were unaware of any homosexual congregants at Southview Baptist Church, Stephens and Krystowiak said their congregation would welcome homosexual individuals, including same-sex couples, who were interested in visiting their church anytime.