Faith means freedom, intolerance
SUMMIT COUNTY – Alex Soto says she counts on her church congregation’s love – and God’s – to counteract the teasing and rejection her son Elijah may encounter from kids because he has two moms instead of a mom and a dad.She will have to count on the congregation’s love, because she cannot obtain the church’s official blessing.Although Soto’s religion denies requests for same-sex marriages, she doesn’t let it interfere with her and “Buzzy” Buswold’s participation at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church. She understands the governing church’s decision regarding same-sex marriage will hurt a group of people, no matter which side it takes, she said. “The biggest thing is to remember, ‘Hey, I’m a person too, and I’ve had my prejudices,'” Soto said.She has accepted that humans – who are fallible – run churches, but that God loves and accepts everyone, she said. David Brown, a gay man who lives east of Fairplay, had to separate society’s judgment of gays from God’s love, he said. Raised Catholic, he entered a monastery for three years after high school. But when he realized he was gay, he turned his back on God for making him gay, he said. His partner of 33 years, Jim Bannerman, so desperately wanted to avoid the social stigma of being gay that he married a woman and had two children with her before admitting he was gay and committing to Brown. He, too, had to work through feelings and beliefs about homosexuality being sinful, he said. Religious leaders open doorsSandy Stephens, pastor of Father Dyer United Methodist Church, said she promised her stepson, who died of AIDS in 1991, she would work for full acceptance and rights for gays and lesbians for the rest of her life. She since has counseled Summit parents with gay children, including Keith and Barbara Bond, who began Summit County’s chapter of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays, known locally as PFLAG. She also attends demonstrations and lobbies for gay rights.Although both Father Dyer United Methodist and St. John the Baptist Episcopal churches in Breckenridge openly welcome gays and lesbians, their larger governing bodies prohibit pastors from performing same-sex marriages, so they don’t officiate ceremonies locally.
“A big part of what I have tried to do is hold up a model of inclusiveness,” Stephens said. “The Jesus that I understand would in no way exclude people from the body of Christ.”Every four years, Methodist leaders vote on same-sex unions, and so far the majority vote has been no. But that doesn’t stop Stephens from welcoming gays.”It’s a nonissue in our church – people are welcome,” Stephens said. “Ten percent of the general population is gay and lesbian. These are our sons and daughters, our ministers, our bankers. We need in this 21st century to get with the program.”She believes Americans will eventually accept gays and give them full legal rights including marriage, and in the future people will look back at the discrimination in disbelief, just as people now look back with remorse on putting black people in the back of the bus and refusing to share toilets, water fountains and restaurants with them, she said. High Country Unitarian Universalist Fellowship has performed gay and lesbian weddings.”We have strong feelings about the fact that we shouldn’t be discriminating against a relationship that embraces love and stability,” said Don Parsons, interim president of the Unitarians.Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon formed a task force last spring to discuss same-sex marriages. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which governs the majority of the Lutheran denominations in the United States, asked congregations throughout the nation to study homosexuality relative to scripture. Currently, the church ordains homosexuals but does not allow them to have intimate relationships – a standard to which it does not hold straight pastors. The church also does not allow its ministers to officiate at gay unions.The 15-member task force at Lord of the Mountains ranged from liberals to conservative, Bible-focused believers. The members met with a Denver congregation that welcomes gays, PFLAG and a filmmaker who produced a film about gay discrimination. They also studied scripture and church materials.Last fall, the congregation adopted a statement welcoming diversity, which included the words, “Grace is for everyone, or it isn’t grace.”They told their governing church that after studying scripture, the congregation wanted to follow Jesus’ example of love and acceptance of all people. They concluded Biblical references to homosexuality have been taken out of context – when the Bible was written, the idea of long-term, committed homosexual relationships didn’t exist. Rather, the Bible condemned hurtful acts, such as rape, and religious leaders based decisions about same-sex marriage on such passages, said Lord of the Mountains pastor Kari Reiquam.The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America meets in August to discuss same-sex unions, although a panel recommended it officially maintain its position against same-sex marriage but tolerate churches that believe and act otherwise. Technically, pastors can be excommunicated for officiating same-sex marriages, but the governing body is not reprimanding pastors in an effort to leave the decision up to the specific church, Reiquam said.
Reiquam is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding same-sex unions. “Lord of the Mountains will continue to meet and converse and see where things go and what seems to be appropriate,” Reiquam said.Commitment outside churchesBrown and Bannerman bought two acres east of Fairplay in 1975 and achieved their lifelong dream of living in the mountains in 2000. This May, they celebrate 33 years together – longer than Brown’s Catholic parents’ marriage lasted – and they haven’t needed a religious promise to stay together.”We know it’s a lifelong thing,” Brown said. “We haven’t really talked about it, it doesn’t need to be said. We get along so well together that there’s nobody else that fills the bill. When we’re not together, we’re kind of lost.”The men would like the legal system to acknowledge their relationship, but they don’t necessarily want a religious ceremony because of most religions’ stance on homosexuality. However, God still plays a prominent role in their lives, he said. Brown repaired his 10-year split from God after a Catholic priest in Denver told him, “That’s the way God made you. Don’t worry about it, get on with your life.”It took Bannerman seven years of leading a double life – being married to a woman and seeing men on the side – to accept his sexual orientation. Before then, he didn’t feel strong enough to question the conservative Lutheran values his parents passed onto him and, he said, hoped marriage would change him.”I did love her,” he said of his ex-wife. “If it weren’t for the sex thing, we had a lot of things in common.”Both Brown and Bannerman reject the term “marriage” regarding their relationship because it has too many religious connotations for straight people. Frank Accosta, who started the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender series at the Breckenridge Festival of Film, agrees.”The word ‘marriage’ is highly loaded and explosive and involves a lot of emotion from people from religious backgrounds,” Accosta said. “But in an ideal world, if a religious person wants to get married, you should be allowed to.”
Indeed, Soto and Buswold say they wish St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church offered same-sex commitment ceremonies, particularly so they could show Elijah photos of the day his moms exchanged rings and pledged their love to each other in front of God, family and friends.Vail, Colorado