Clergy offer opinions on marriage bill


Tuesday, March 24
BENNINGTON — Views sought from local religious leaders on the proposed marriage equality bill reflected the diversity of opinions one might expect on such a controversial topic.

Three pastors, three opinions

For instance, three pastors of Baptist congregations took three different approaches to the question of gay marriage in Vermont.

The Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, "coordinating minister" at First Baptist Church in Bennington, said in a statement that acceptance of gays and lesbians in the life of the church differs among American Baptists.

"Our denominational polity recognizes the freedom of believers and local congregations alike to differ from any regional and national statements," Hugenot said.

First Baptist is not considering or taking a stand on the Marriage Equality Act. However, last summer, a regional American Baptist group discussed ordaining gays and lesbians, and First Baptist "conducted conversations intended to promote respectful dialogue" on this issue.

"This process helped us realize how First Baptist is comprised of persons who differ theologically on these issues while being a part of the same congregation," Hugenot said. "Appreciating the diverse voices in our midst is part of being American Baptist."

The Rev. David H. Jinno, of the North Bennington Baptist Church, also an American Baptist Congregation, sent a column to the Banner arguing from the design inherent in creation that marriage was meant to be between men and women only.

"Male and female are designed and clearly intended to go together as a unit. Historically, marriage has been defined and understood by this self-evident design. It would be an impossible stretch to suggest otherwise," he writes. "Male and male do not serve any sexually fruitful function in keeping with that design. Nor do female and female."

He said the fact that some people may have an inherent and possibly genetic predisposition toward homosexual relationships does not mean such relationships are normal or right.

Jinno emphasized the Christian belief that creation — including every human being — has fallen from the perfection that God intended for it.

"We may sympathize with men and women who are struggling with homosexual feelings and behaviors, and the confusion, guilt, and a host of attending problems — sympathize in the sense that they are dealing with a dysfunctionality," Jinno writes. "Every one of us deals with dysfunctionality in our lives in one way or another. But if we acknowledge God as God, we cannot simply gloss over what is contrary to His all too obvious design and plan. We are called to love fallen human beings as we love ourselves."

Phillip Steadman is pastor of the Capstone Baptist Church in North Bennington, a congregation with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC's non-binding "Baptist Faith and Message," last updated in the year 2000 states in its section on the family that "Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in the covenant commitment for a lifetime."

Baptists believe in soul freedom and hold to the Bible as they understand it, Steadman said in an e-mail. He agrees with the ideas in the "Baptist Faith and Message," though he would probably articulate them differently, he added.

Steadman said that God in the Bible uses powerful imagery and metaphors to teach us about himself. "Marriage is a picture, lived out daily, that represents some aspects of the relationship between Christ and the church," he said. "As such, it does fall upon Christians to protect the sanctity of marriage. We are in essence protecting the image of Christ's love for us when we do."

Rabbi Joshua Boettiger said that while Jewish leaders speak in "a multiplicity of voices," all the major movements in Judaism other than Orthodox have endorsed the idea of civil marriage for gays and lesbians. Boettiger is leader of Congregation Beth El, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Bennington.

Boettiger testified as a private citizen in favor of the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Montpelier on March 18. Ideally, Jewish law evolves by applying timeless values to changing circumstances, he told the Banner.

His view starts with the "sense that all human beings are created with kind of an inherent dignity and integrity and equality."

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From his understanding of Judaism and Jewish law, "there needs to be a full equality: between men and women, between gays and lesbians and heterosexual relationships."

Also informing his support is a value in Judaism called kedushah, or "holiness," and "one of the ways that we make our lives holy or kind of sanctify our lives is through loving, committed relationships," Boettiger said. "And marriage is a Jewish value. Judaism has never been about celibacy, we're encouraged to get married."

"Marriage allows us to make a public commitment, it allows us to invite God into the relationship, it allows us to be witnessed by our community," he said. Marriage offers more than civil unions in that "it gives families tremendous stability, economic justice, but also just a sense of being spiritually located."

The Rev. Mary Lee-Clark, pastor of Second Congregational Church in Bennington, said in an e-mail that she wishes the church "were out of the state-sanctioned marriage business."

She added, "I'd just as soon everybody was required to get a civil license and then those who wished to have their union blessed or take place within a religious context could go to the faith community of their choice and work through the requirements/procedures there. It would give the religious ceremonies more integrity."

Since, however, that isn't likely to happen soon, Lee-Clark believes that homosexual people who wish to get married should have the same rights as heterosexual people who wish to get married. "No presider of any faith community should (or can) be forced to preside over a ceremony they do not believe in," she said. "So just as with civil unions and heterosexual marriage ceremonies, I reserve the right to participate in the ceremony or not."

The Rev. Anita Schell-Lambert, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bennington, is personally in favor of the marriage equality bill. She referred to statements by Bishop Thomas Ely, of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, who also testified on March 18 in support of the bill.

"Like the bishop, I really ground my beliefs in the Bible and in something called the 'Baptismal Covenant,' " Schell-Lambert said.

One part of this 'Covenant' urges Episcopalians "to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. So that kind of grounds me in my faith."

Additionally, the Episcopal General Convention, which meets every three years, has since the 1976 urged that homosexuals be given full protection of the laws in the U.S.

"I think the intent of the legislation that's before us in Montpelier is consistent with that voice from our denomination," Schell-Lambert said, "for respect of every human being and equal protection under the law."

Though she supports the legislation, she emphasized that "I don't speak for my congregation, and I don't speak for the Episcopal Church."

The Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches have many similar rites, and rituals, but differ widely on issues of sexual morality, including same-sex marriage.

A message left with the Rev. James Preskenis, pastor of Sacred Heart-Saint Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Bennington asking for comment on the marriage equality bill was not returned. The Rev. Patrick C. Walsh, pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church said he had no comment, adding that the church's teaching is quite clear on the matter.

Bishop Salvatore Matano, of the Diocese of Burlington, testified March 18 against the marriage bill. He has cited the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," which makes both religious and natural law arguments, in support of keeping marriage limited to one man and one woman.

The "Catechism" also states that homosexuals "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity."

Catholic bishops also have spoken out recently for the traditional definition of marriage in Hawaii, where the state legislature is also considering a marriage equality bill, and in North Carolina, where the legislature is considering amending the state constitution to explicitly limit marriage to one man and one woman.

Contact religion writer Mark Rondeau at


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