One Chaplain's View
The Protestant minister's beliefs on same-sex marriage come from years of study of theology and the Bible.
by Allison Stokes
I was surprised and delighted to see Maura Stephens's story about two married men in the "alumni couples" issue. "Breaking Tradition" tells about the love between Doug Neff '96 and Corey Rothermel '96, who wed on March 10 in San Francisco.
"My own support of gay marriage is biblical. It is based upon much study and my prayerful interpretation and understanding of Jesus' teachings, his example of radical inclusion, and his requirement of his followers to love one another. . . . I have no intention of insisting upon my viewpoint or trying to impose it upon others."I applaud the ICQ for having the courage to matter-of-factly include this pioneering couple in the cover story, and for reporting about an event that will surely be troubling to some readers. In my position as Protestant chaplain at IC, I have encountered strong feelings against same-sex unions among conservative Christians. Their opposition is based upon their interpretation and understanding of the Bible. I respect their point of view, even though I do not agree.
My own support of gay marriage is also biblical. It is based upon much study and my prayerful interpretation and understanding of Jesus' teachings, his example of radical inclusion, and his requirement of his followers to love one another. My support of gay marriage is also based upon my biblical understanding of a living God, who acts in human history. I believe that just as God spoke in ancient times, God is still speaking through the Holy Spirit. God is doing a new thing in our time in helping us to view and accept committed love between same-sex couples as part of God's plan for creation. ("Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" -- Isaiah 43:19) To my way of thinking, all creation is witness to God's delight in variety. God made us gay and straight, a fact we are beginning to wake up to and accept.
I am well aware that this progressive Christian viewpoint is not accepted by many people of my own faith, or by many people of other faiths. Even though I believe that our world would be more just and humane if more people believed as I do, I have no intention of insisting upon my viewpoint or trying to impose it upon others; rather, I trust that social values will eventually move in this direction, however slowly. In my ministry at IC I make my views on same-sex marriage known only when asked. While I do not keep silent, neither do I go out of my way to try to win others to my way of thinking and believing. I do, however, expect that members of the IC family -- students, staff, faculty, and alumni -- will respect my views.
A goal of my ministry with the Protestant community at IC in the past three years has been to build a community of faith that is "safe" and welcoming of difference. I have tried to show students that judging one's own faith to be superior to that of another, or judging that another is not "a true Christian" because that person's faith doesn't conform to one's own, is extremely hurtful and also destructive of community. We may not agree, but in order to stay in a relationship for the common good, we agree to disagree. It is not easy, but we are learning to be honest and forthright in engaging difference and refusing to ignore the elephant in the room. Thus we learn and grow.
I have the privilege at IC of chairing the Interfaith Council. Some people are afraid to encounter people of other faiths, instead keeping separate, associating only with their own. The fear, I think, is that their faith might be tested and even weakened. But in my experience, people who engage in dialogue with people of other faiths often come to a much deeper knowledge and appreciation of their own faith. If we are open to it, difference can enrich and broaden us.
My goals for the Protestant community and for interreligious dialogue on campus are very much in sync, of course, with the goals of the College itself. President Peggy Ryan Williams and those who work with her have made increasing diversity on campus an educational priority. So it is that in my ministry to students across a wide spectrum of faith and belief, I feel fully supported by the College administration. For this I am grateful.
When the ICQ cover article on alumni couples included a gay married couple, a statement was made about the values of the College itself. As an institution of higher education that is inclusive of all people, we honor and celebrate diversity.
I respect that not everyone feels that equality and inclusiveness should include the right for gay couples to marry. But I ask those among my students who may not agree with me -- and readers of this article who are of the same opinion -- to respect that I feel just as passionately that my ministry is a faithful response to God's leading.
Reverend Allison Stokes, Ph.D., is the Protestant chaplain at Ithaca College. She is also the founder and director of the Women's Interfaith Institute in the Berkshires and of the Women's Interfaith Institute in Seneca Falls.