Although 14 months remain before Minnesota voters decide the fate of a , division over the issue of gay marriage has already taken root in many faith communities, including the United Methodist Church (UMC) community in Richfield.
Division over what does or should constitute marriage are confronting the UMC’s clergy and parishioners in and around Richfield, and the divide is reflective of larger conflicts within the United Methodist Church in Minnesota.
Richfield United Methodist Church
Headed by the Rev. Elizabeth *Macaulay, Richfield United Methodist Church (RUMC) is currently confronting gay marriage and other issues related to diversity. Although technically situated in Minneapolis, the church retains its namesake from before the property was annexed from Richfield. A number of Richfield residents continue to attend services there.
Macaulay was open about her support for same-sex unions and said she will be working to defeat passage of the constitutional amendment in the runup to the 2012 election.
While emphasizing that it was important the public understand she doesn’t speak for the entire RUMC congregation, Macaulay said she knew that plenty of RUMC congregants would be working to defeat the amendment as well.
“From a justice perspective, to accord second class citizen rights to any portion of our community based on [sexual] orientation seems indefensible,” Macaulay said. “It [access to same-sex unions] is what I am working for. It is what I pray for.”
Other United Methodist Churches in Richfield
Not all United Methodist pastors in Richfield are anticipating that they or members of their congregation will be active in efforts to pass or defeat the 2012 ballot initiative.
The Rev. Barbara Moore, who heads in Richfield did not sign a petition supporting gay marriage at June’s Minnesota Annual Conference, a meeting of United Methodist leaders. Moore declined to talk about the petition–signed by 70 UMC clergy members in Minnesota–or what it meant for the church.
“The United Methodist Church’s position is that clergy are not allowed to [perform same-sex unions],” Moore said. “I can only speak to the official position.”
Moore said she was nonetheless aware of how prominent an issue gay marriage was for many UMC clergy.
“In the United Methodist Church there are a variety of ideas and opinions about what should and shouldn’t be, and that’s one of the good things about the church,” Moore said. “We hopefully will embrace diversity.”
Moore presides over a small congregation and said she doesn’t expect too much political activity from congregants.
“[The church’s members] will probably vote their opinion, but this is an older congregation that tends to stay on the fringes,” Moore said. “I don’t see them being politically active one way or the other.”
RUMC Members in Action
Macaulay said a number of people who attend RUMC are involved with OutFront Minnesota and will be organizing to defeat the constitutional amendment.
Macaulay, who has spoken about gay marriage at the State Capitol, didn’t yet know exactly what her own organizing efforts would be but was sure she would be campaigning in an effort to defeat the ballot initiative.
“It feels like a defining sort of moment for us as a Christian movement,” she said.
The United Methodist Church holds that homosexuality is incompatible with the church’s teaching. It currently bars active or retired UMC pastors from performing same-sex marriages or civil unions. The ban has evoked opposition from many of the UMC’s Minnesota clergy, culminating in the recent petition wherein some UMC leaders publicly stated their support for same-sex unions.
Reading in part that those signing it would “offer the grace of the church's blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage,” at the 2011 Minnesota Annual Conference 70 UMC clergy members signed a petition that is supportive of gay marriage within the church.
Macaulay, along with her husband, the Rev. Cooper Wiggen of Minnehaha United Methodist Church, were two of the 70 pastors who signed the document this past June.
“For both of us it was a gift to be able to be in solidarity with colleagues around this issue,” Macaulay said.
Macaulay currently sits on a steering committee with other UMC clergy who signed the petition. They are meeting to “determine what it [the petition] means in our lives together,” she said.
As reported in the Christian Post, Bishop Sally Dyck leads the Minnesota Annual Conference and said that while it was not against UMC rules for clergy to make a statement supporting same-sex unions, clergy presiding over any such union would be in violation of UMC policy and could face sanctions.
“I can bless animals, but I can’t bless people who love each other? That doesn’t make sense to me,” Macaulay said when asked about the UMC’s official position.
Richfield United Methodist Church is a “Reconciling Congregation,” welcoming people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. RUMC is one of more than 400 United Methodist congregations to have participated in the reconciling process.
While the position Macaulay and her husband have adopted could result in disciplinary action, they both feel that recognition of same-sex marriage is important to their faith and the cause of social justice. Macaulay said she doesn’t intend to cease any of her activities on the issue.
“If we’re up on charges it could certainly affect our churches and our lives,” Macaulay said. “Both of us have been advocates for LGBT inclusion, and [right now] it feels so right, and so important."
Editor's Note: Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay's name was spelled incorrected orginally. This article now reflects the correct spelling, we apologize for the misspelling.