This morning, more than a hundred religious leaders who oppose Minnesota's proposed constitutional amendment on marriage will hold a faith summit in Minneapolis.
The proposed amendment would define marriage in the Minnesota Constitution as between one man and one woman, preventing courts and future legislatures from legalizing same-sex marriage.
The strongest support for the amendment comes from the faith community on the other side: Catholic and evangelical churches.
The debate over same-sex marriage has been playing out in faith communities for years. Different denominations have wrestled over accepting gay and lesbian members, ordaining GLBT clergy and whether to officiate same-sex unions.
Some of these conversations have picked up urgency, now that the marriage amendment is on the November ballot.
In March, Minnesotans United for All Families, the largest group opposing the amendment, hired Lutheran pastor Grant Stevensen to serve as faith director.
The group has fielded numerous phone calls from church-goers seeking information and guidance on the issue.
"People who are saying, 'I don't want my church to be a part of it, I don't want to close off the conversation, can you help us figure out what to do,' " Stevenson said. "Generally we're saying, let's have a training so inside your congregation you can have a conversation about these things."
Minnesotans United now lists nearly 90 faith partners on its website and expects up to 200 clergy to attend today's summit.
Among amendment supporters, faith communities provide the backbone of support. Catholic bishops have been at the forefront, organizing the state's largest religious denomination.
Last month, 175 Evangelical pastors gathered for a Minnesota Pastors for Marriage event at Grace Church in Eden Prairie.
"This is an opportunity for pastors to talk to pastors about God's design for marriage, why it's important, why it's good, and why it's worth supporting, and affirming and fighting for, and protecting in our constitution. And why it's appropriate for pastors to do so," said John Helmberger, chairman of Minnesota for Marriage which organized the event.
At the event, the pastors heard from Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group that helps conservative Christian groups defend their religious liberties. Lorence told them they should speak out to promote the marriage amendment.
"If you're concerned 'Are we going to violate campaign finance laws? Are we going to lose — the IRS agents are going to come and take away our tax exemption?' Let me just say this: Don't worry about it. Preach on this. Don't let that hold you back... supporting or opposing a ballot measure is not a violation of your IRS or state tax exemptions," Lorence said. According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, "churches may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status."
LESS PREACHING, MORE LISTENING
Stevensen, on the anti-amendment side, says his work with Minnesotans United for All Families focuses less on the pulpit and more on the pews. People don't want to be preached to on the marriage issue, he said. They want to be listened to.
Stevensen described a conversation he had recently with a man who sat next to him at a Lutheran conference:
"He said, 'You know, I'm actually uncomfortable with gay and lesbian people being married.' I felt like that was a really honest, open thing to say," Stevenson said. "But then I did ask him this question. I said, I'm uncomfortable with things, you're uncomfortable with things. Should we write into our constitution though, the things that I personally am uncomfortable with, or do we need to have a more open and free society where people can choose to marry the people they love?"
By the end of the conversation, Stevensen says, the man agreed that voters shouldn't write one definition of marriage into the state constitution. Stevenson hopes in the five months ahead, Minnesotans will have more of these conversations and communities will emerge in November knowing each other better and being better informed about what is at stake on the marriage amendment vote.
Minnesota for Marriage is counting on its supporters to cast their votes in favor of what they believe to be an absolute truth: that marriage can be only between one man and one woman.
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