same-sex marriage, sermon

Frank Answers About His Same-Sex Wedding Homily

Question: It was a real surprise that you officiated at a same-sex wedding. Why did you do it and what did you say at the event?

Answer: No one was more surprised than I was when I offered to officiate at my son’s same-sex wedding. I have not been an advocate for same-sex marriage, although with two gay sons I also refrained from being a culture warrior on this issue. Nick and his husband Ben are unchurched and needed an officiant, but their families are very active church people. So I thought this was one thing I could do for them and for their families that is within my area of competence (doing weddings). Maybe subconsciously I thought that this was a way of assuring Nick that I really do affirm who and what he is after he sat through sermons as an adolescent from his father/pastor that were occasionally critical of the “gay agenda” in church and society.

As an ordained minister rostered in a denomination I could easily pay $15.00 and get registered as a wedding officiant for the City of New York. This was not a church wedding but a civil marriage, even though we included a Bible reading and prayers. I did not include a blessing that proclaims a divine promise on same-sex marriage, since Scripture is silent about one. But it is always in order to pray for God’s grace in people’s lives. My intention was not to make any grand statement, just to do something supportive for my son and his partner and our families. But the negative reaction to my action was swift—about as swift as the appearance of photos of the wedding festivities on my personal Facebook page.

I joined the growing ranks of disinvited speakers in our contentious society when I was asked to withdraw from giving lectures and preaching at a theological conference because there was concern that awareness of what I did (from FB pictures) would deflect from the theme of the conference (Reformation 500th anniversary) and get sidetracked by debates over same-sex marriage.  I’ve been informed that my action has caused confusion and even anger among some members of a pastoral society which I served as a leader. I can understand that and I’m truly sorry that my action has caused stress among my fellow members.  Perhaps in time there will be opportunities for discussion of the issues involved and, more importantly, the broader question of how to minister to GLBQT members of our congregations. That would a discussion worth having. In fact, answers could emerge only from sharing experiences.

On the other hand, those who attended the wedding were comforted by what I said. Several of Nick’s and Ben’s friends expressed appreciation for my homily. My own congregation is going through an extensive conversation about how to minister to GLBTQ people and my pastors were interested in hearing about my experience. Other pastors have asked what one would say at a same-sex wedding. Some might be interested in what I actually did say—how I framed the event theologically.  I had no model to turn to, But for the record, I post it here.

Homily at Ben Bauer’s and Nicholas Senn’s Wedding

Texts: Genesis 2:18; 1 Corinthians 13

I always said I wouldn’t be the family chaplain for weddings; I’m the father. But today there was no bride to walk down the aisle, so I was available. And I’m happy about that, because there are some things I’d like to share with Ben and Nick and their families. Preparing for this wedding also gave me an opportunity to work through some thoughts in my own mind since this is not marriage in the biblical sense of a man and a woman becoming one flesh and producing a third—the kind of weddings I’ve been used to officiating at throughout my pastoral career.

Let me start back in the time of beginnings. The Lord God decided that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. So he created Eve. And together they procreated more Adams and Eves—and Abels and Cains. It wasn’t all good in that first family. But the important thing I want to bring out from that story is that we humans aren’t meant to be alone. We are meant to find fulfillment in another.

That’s the text I kept thinking about as I prepared for this wedding. The Lord God didn’t think it was good for Adam to be alone. Most humans will find fulfillment in and wed someone of the opposite sex. Some will live in singleness and find fulfillment in family, friends, or even a religious community of celibates. But celibacy isn’t for everyone, and to suggest that that’s the life gay people should live is unacceptable. Some among us are attracted to persons of the same sex, for reasons that remain a mystery. And parents, who desire their children to find someone to love and care for them, have been especially concerned about who their gay children will find to love and care for them after we can no longer do so.

Tami and Bob and Mary and I have “accompanied” you, Ben and Nick, and all our other children, all your lives. We brought you into the world and kept you safe in childhood and navigated with you through the landmines of adolescence and saw you transition into capable and productive adults. We are happy that you have found and were attracted to each other and now intend to wed each other. The laws of our nation now provide for that possibility. It’s your civil right. A recognizable place has been made for you in society.

Martin Luther spoke of the orders of creation: the church, or spiritual institution; the household, or economic institution; and the state, or institutions of government. Sometimes he spoke of that second institution as the estate of marriage. But he clearly meant the household, and we understand marriage to be establishing a new household. That’s why so many wedding gifts are household items. The spiritual estate has invoked God’s blessing on the household and government has a responsibility to protect households.

You guys are establishing a household. But that doesn’t mean everyone is in agreement with the law or comfortable with your status as husband and husband. You don’t change hearts or minds by changing the law. So on top of all the other issues of married life, you may have this to deal with this one.

Yet you are not lacking in support. Those of us who are here today intend by our presence to support you in this step you are taking. For some of us, this is our first experience of a same-sex wedding. It’s my first experience of one. We’ve had a same-sex couple in our family in Andrew and Edward, but we weren’t at their wedding. I can tell the Bauer family that there may some awkwardness as you get used to the fact that Ben and Nick are not just boyfriends but husband and husband.  But, then, it’s not easy to accept any son- and daughter-in-law, is it? Family dynamics are family dynamics, whether same-sex or opposite-sex.

Ben and Nick, since you intend to get married, what I would say to any couple applies to you.  You’re making a commitment to be exclusive to each other—to forsake all other entangling relationships and to be faithful to your spouse. Monogamy seems to be the end result of human sexual evolution. Even the Bible arrived at this conclusion only over a long period of time. Some of the patriarchs and kings in ancient Israel had multiple wives. Monogamy is asking a lot, as indicated by the rate of marital breakups in our society. And it will work only if your relationship is bonded in love.

What do we mean when we say that we love someone?  Greek gives us three words for our one English word. There’s philia, or brotherly love or friendship. There’s eros, or erotic love or passion. But then there’s the love St. Paul talked about in our reading: agape, or self-giving love. It’s the kind of love marriage requires to make it work.

Your first step toward this day was becoming friends. The kind of sharing of interests and experiences that friends enjoy will continue in marriage. But marriage is more than friendship. You have had passion for each other as you have grown in your relationship, and that will continue. But marriage is more than sex. Marriage is about caring for someone else through the best of times and the worst of times. The traditional marriage vows speak of “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” In the marriage relationship we have to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things,” as we heard in the reading from 1 Corinthians 13.

That’s not easy for us, because our human tendency (a condition of our fall into sin, if I may say so) is to be turned in on ourselves, to be focused on our own needs, our hopes, our desires. Agape love requires that we get over ourselves. And the reality is that we need help to do that.

That’s where grace comes in. It’s the help God gives to make our relationships work—whether we ask for it or not. Grace is the sheer givenness of Providence by which the world and the orders of creation are preserved. But in Christ we also have the grace of forgiveness, and I can tell you that you will need to draw upon that grace-gift and use it to preserve your union.

God gives us his grace because he does not think it’s good for the man to be alone. We need someone who will be there for us. By your marriage vows, Ben and Nick, you are promising to be there for each other. We pray, Nick and Ben, that you will be enfolded in God’s grace—his unearned lovingkindness—as you live these vows all the days of your lives. And we hope they will be many.

Pastor Frank Senn

Prayer for Ben and Nicholas

Most gracious God, we praise you for your tender mercy and unfailing care for your creation and for the great joy and comfort bestowed upon us in the gift of human love. We give you thanks for Benjamin and Nicholas, and the covenant of faithfulness they have made. By your Holy Spirit keep them in your steadfast love; protect them from all danger; fill them with your wisdom and peace; lead them in holy service to each other and the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Note: My son-in-law Ben Bauer has built this great blog platform for my use. Thanks Ben.

nick-and-ben

8 Comments

  1. Dwight

    Frank, this touched me profoundly. As a church we have yet to come to terms with same-sex marriage. (Without freaking with theological dimensions, I years ago published an apologia for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage based on puritan covenant principles.) I think your homily was outstanding in our — and frankly, your — current context.

  2. Sue Huffstetler

    Thank you Dr. Senn!! I love all my gay and straight family and friends, because Jesus told me to!

  3. Bridget

    Pastor Frank, Thank you for this courageous post. As a Christian, it deeply saddens me that you have had to endure hardship for supporting your son and listening to God’s will for your own life and family. I want to honor you for that difficult decision. God bless you and your whole family.

    • Frank Senn

      Thank you, Bridget. I expected some push-back from colleagues. I did not not expect to be silenced. I hoped and still hope that through conversation we could, as colleagues, work through the challenges these new situations present to pastoral ministry in the light of common commitments to Scripture and the Confessions.

  4. Marian Gabriel

    Beautiful!

  5. Ron Bestvater

    rbb+ (sts)
    Thanks Pastor Senn. Your sharing this is helping me in my own theological journey… almost 40 years long now…

  6. Rose Johnson

    Greetings, Congratulations on the marriage of your son and the addition of his spouse to your family. My mother-in-law served on the call committee and helped select you to be minister in her parish in Evanston years ago. (Well done Elizabeth J.) I’ve listened to many of your fine sermons at Immmanuel Lutheran. I support your choice to officiate at your son’s marriage and hope you will continue to write and share your views on this LGBT issue from a Christian perspective. Gayness is part of our human condition. Our churches must be inclusive to our children who are gay. We are all equal in our worthiness of being accepted by civil laws and church laws. An issue worth the fight. God bless you, Pastor Senn, as you seek dialogue with your church.

    • Frank Senn

      Thank you, Rose. Yes, dialogue is needed even in my own church body (ELCA). But I was thinking about dialogue with my traditional pastoral friends and colleagues in inter-Lutheran contexts. How will same-sex married couples be welcomed, received, and included in the life of congregations and by pastors, whether they approve of same-sex marriage or not.

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