Earlier this week the United Church of Christ, in which I am an ordained minister, filed a lawsuit in North Carolina defending their churches’ right to the free exercise of religion, specifically for their clergies’ right to officiate at the marriages of same-sex couples.
I couldn’t be prouder. What an amazing act of Christian witness.
As a UCC minister, I officiated at my first same-sex ceremony more than 25 years ago, at a time when not a single one of our United States sanctified such unions. I was aware it wasn’t “legal,” but that didn’t matter. I was doing it because I deeply believed that God wanted me and my church to do it. As a devoted reader of the Bible and as a seminary theology professor, I also believed that Christian scriptures and theological doctrines strongly supported it.
In 2014, I still feel this way, even more so. The sharing of the sacred covenant vows of marriage—making a deep commitment to love and care for each other for a life-time, and to use the gifts of that love to strengthen the couples’ ability to care for others and love God—is a key feature of Christian life and community.
Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t fear that the State of Connecticut would throw me in jail for this Christian act. But today, if I performed the same ceremony in North Carolina, I’d face up to 120 days in prison for presiding over a religious service that is in complete accordance with my denomination’s rites, its theology, and sanctioned practices.
This is not just unfortunate, it’s unconstitutional. Even more, it is deeply offensive to me and to the millions of my Christian brothers and sisters who share my theology.
The State of North Carolina is sadly mistaken if it thinks such legislation will stop people from following the commands of their faith. If any same-sex couple wants to get married in North Carolina, call me. I’ll happily face the consequences, and I know many other clergy in the state who are ready to as well. The Christian line is long!
When you know its God’s work you’re doing, you’re willing to face whatever persecution comes, whether its lions, the cross, or North Carolina police.
The fact that this is happening in North Carolina is symptomatic, for me, of how not just one state but also our whole country has lost track of what really matters. Family, love, community, caring for neighbors, peace, grace. These are my core Christian values. So what am I to think when good Christians are threatened with prison for wanting to participate in the sacred Christian ritual of marriage, while at the same time a so-called Christian leader publically takes the sacred ritual of baptism and blasphemes it by using it to describe torture?
This is sacrilegious.
Likewise, what are Christians to think when they see political leaders fighting for the freedom to carry weapons while also fighting against the religious freedom to marriage? You can take your guns to church and lay them on the altar but you can’t stand before the altar and marry the person you love?
It’s a moral outrage.
In my life as a minister, I have officiated and celebrated at numerous marriage ceremonies. The love, joy, and wonder I see and experience in and through same-sex unions equals—in fact, often surpasses—that in so-called “traditional” marriages. What we call traditional marriage is itself not a very Biblical notion, in fact. But what’s is clearly and truly biblical is God’s commandment that we love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.
What God has joined together, let no one, not even the State of North Carolina, put asunder.
Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York where she holds the Johnston Family Chair in Religion and Democracy. She is Vice President of the American Academy of Religion, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and author of Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World.