The Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the federal Defense of Marriage Act is a signal that society is accepting gay marriages and more states will legalize them, say several York County pastors.
One local Lutheran pastor greeted the decision with enthusiasm, but other Christian ministers were emphatic – marriage is between a man and a woman.
“I cannot condone what God condemns,” said the Rev. Phillip Jones, senior pastor at Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Rock Hill.
With a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the 17-year-old Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits – such as Social Security benefits or the ability to file joint tax returns – to same-sex couples legally married.
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Twelve states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. South Carolina does not.
The Rev. Jeff Lingle of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Rock Hill, embraced the court’s ruling.
“I’m delighted,” he said. “This recognizes the equality of marriage and the sexes. As a teenager at church said, everyone has the right to marry the person they love.
“This strengthens all marriages, allowing marriage to all people, not just a select group,” Lingle said.
Epiphany Lutheran stayed with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America because of its decision to ordain gay ministers, Lingle said. He said he hopes Wednesday’s decision will lead national church leadership to sanction gay marriages.
Other Christian pastors were split over the issue of allowing married gay couples access to federal benefits, including the right to make medical decisions for an ill spouse.
“Everyone should be entitled to equal rights,” said the Rev. Anthony Johnson of Mount Zion Baptist Church in McConnells. Friends in non-sexual relationships should be allowed to make decisions for each other, he said, “but when you identify that as marriage, I have a big problem.”
The Rev. Joey Deese, pastor at Oakdale Baptist in Rock Hill, “even if the conversation was about benefits, it is still sin. We can’t compromise.”
The Rev. Bob Shrum of Oakland Baptist in Rock Hill, said if the conversation was simply about benefits he would support it. He acknowledged that conversations about gay rights are changing and “it’s a dialogue to pay attention to.”
But it remains Oakland Baptist’s policy not to perform a same-sex marriage, Shrum said.
Shrum and Oakland Baptist were the center of a controversy with the York County Baptist Association seven years ago about Shrum’s stance against the then-proposed state amendment banning same-sex marriage. The role of women in the church was an issue at the time, too. Oakland Baptist withdrew from the association in 2006.
The Rev. Joe Long, district superintendent for the Rock Hill District of the United Methodist Church, said the Supreme Court’s ruling “definitely changes the definition of marriage.”
But, he said, the church is guided by Biblical principles. “We respect all people, love all people, but all their actions are not holy actions,” he said. “We don’t travel the road of society. we travel to a higher calling.”
Deese and the Rev. John Chambers of Remedy Church of Rock Hill said the decision should strengthen the faith community.
Deese said the mission of the church “never changes. We always have dealt with unbiblical marriages. This will make our stance stronger. Marriage is about a relationship with Christ. This should embolden the church to take a stand.”
Chambers said the decision should create a “better dividing line” between who is and who isn’t a Christian. “This is a chance to show how great Christ-centered marriages are.”
The Revs. Jones of Trinity and Johnson of Mount Zion said they had concerns over the Supreme Court’s actions separate of the issue of marriage.
Jones said he was against the federal government overriding “what the states deem best for them.”
Johnson said the back-to-back decisions on voting rights and gay marriage sent mixed signals. The court took away voting rights with its decision on pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act, while at the same time giving rights to gay marriage.
“I’m really confused,” Johnson said. “I can’t remember a week the court did things like this.”
Johnson also had some harsh words for his religious colleagues.
“The faith community has failed,” he said. “It spends more time condemning rather than redeeming. We need to reach out to people, make a difference, intervene in their lives.”