By Kay Myhrman-Toso
This November, Minnesota voters are being asked to vote on a constitutional amendment which seeks to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Given that 31 other states have already passed such draconian limitations, where do we find our hope? What are we doing differently? The major difference in Minnesota is faith! Minnesotans United for All Families, the organization working to defeat the amendment, has actively partnered with the faith community from the very beginning of the campaign.
My church, Cherokee Park United Church, fully PC(USA) and fully UCC, has a long history of advocating for the full welcome and inclusion of ALL God’s children – no exceptions. Living from our mission statement, we are working to defeat this amendment through providing education, advocacy, and sanctuary.
One of the most important lessons learned by the unsuccessful campaigns in other states is the power of story, something that Jesus modeled well! Campaigns have traditionally focused on rights and benefits, which we now know does not work. In 2008, voters in California who knew someone who was gay and who had a conversation about the vote were twice as likely to vote no, on Proposition 8. The Minnesota campaign thus focuses on the sharing of stories, particularly stories of love, commitment, and responsibility.
The successful sharing of story, to move someone to support marriage equality, is not intuitive. Committed, well-meaning supporters of marriage equality frequently employ ineffective or even counter-productive strategies when talking to individuals who view marriage as “one man-one woman.” Recognizing this, Minnesotans United for All Families created faith conversation training, something that Cherokee Park United Church and many other communities of faith are offering. Our members are both attending and leading these conversation trainings, then pledging to seek out opportunities to engage in crucial conversations that, yes, are also often uncomfortable. Jesus never promised that living ones faith would be convenient or comfortable!
In addition to education, many faith communities are living out their mission statements, in the role of advocates. Cherokee Park United Church, CPUC, hosted a house party for Minnesotans United for All Families where the community was invited to an evening of food, music, and shared stories, while at the same time learning ways to become involved in defeating the amendment. It is clear to anyone passing by the church that our congregation opposes the amendment. A large orange banner proclaims, “People of Faith VOTE NO Don’t limit the freedom to marry.” In addition, a number of faith communities are hosting weekly phone banks or are encouraging their members to volunteer for the campaign in other ways. This is not a time to hide the light of ones beliefs under a proverbial bushel!
As people of faith, one of our unique roles involves providing support and sanctuary, particularly in these difficult pre-election times. Clergy from more than a dozen faith traditions joined together to lead a powerful interfaith service at Mount Zion Temple. In the context of worship, the goal of marriage equality was celebrated, while the need to work together to defeat this amendment was lifted up. In addition, Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis offers monthly healing services open to all in the community.
At Cherokee Park United Church, we were blessed to have Patrick Evans lead sung evening prayer at an MLP gathering in August. Members of other MLP churches, as well as members of other denominations, worshiped together, shared our stories of efforts to defeat this amendment, and rested in true Sabbath time. A tired, thirsty people were offered Spirit-filled water, to help sustain us for this essential yet often exhausting work.
From September through the election, CPUC is hosting the Family Diversity Projects photo exhibit, Love Makes a Family. The photos and stories of families who have LGBT members cover the walls of the CPUC sanctuary, clearly proclaiming that we honor and celebrate all families!
In the midst of the pain and turmoil brought on by this proposed amendment, there have also been unexpected blessings. The Greater St. Paul Interfaith United coalition formed to work collaboratively to defeat this amendment. It has forged a partnership among people who are Presbyterian, Buddhist, Episcopalian, Quaker, Lutheran (ELCA), Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and UCC.
We created conversation prompting buttons that link our “no” vote to our faith. In partnership with Minnesotans United for All Families, we created the “People of Faith VOTE NO” banner that is displayed at CPUC and other faith communities. Many of us have trained as either conversation trainers or forum leaders. Forum leaders are providing facilitation for adult education forums in communities of faith, particularly in churches where there is disagreement over this amendment. Above all, we have built community, where ideas are shared and support is given.
For those of us who live in states with ballot initiatives related to marriage, the time to speak out and act is now! Become informed. Seek out ways to become involved. Risk living your faith! As Mordecai so wisely counseled Esther, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”