Local religious leaders had varying responses Friday to the news that the Supreme Court had ruled that same-sex couples nationwide have a right to marry.
Some were joyful; others disappointed.
But most shared one thing in common: they were not surprised by the ruling.
Lia Scholl, pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church, felt celebratory. She quickly posted the news on the church’s Facebook page and advertised that they would perform “free weddings for everyone.”
“It’s for everyone,” Scholl said. “Marriage is for everyone now.”
Rabbi Mark Strauss-Cohn of Temple Emanuel said of the ruling, “The time has arrived, and it’s a wonderful thing, certainly for gay couples, but for all of us to recognize that really if we as people of faith use the line that we’re all created in God’s image, then we should have equal rights in our own country.”
But others took a different view.
The Rev. Ron Baity, pastor of Berean Baptist Church and president of Return America, said, “My first response was that the majority of the court declared the Bible as an outdated, ancient revelation, no longer worthy of present interpretation and consideration.”
The Rev. Laura Spangler, pastor of Lloyd Presbyterian Church, said she was not surprised by the ruling, but she had hoped there would be a different outcome.
She said, “I just think it’s heartbreaking news for our country – heartbreaking because it does not honor the design and intention of our creator God, who from Genesis 1 created us male and female, and even Jesus referred back to that in Matthew 19 and said you know that you’ve been created male and female, and that was the intention of marriage. And to see our country, our highest governing court, rule against that is heartbreaking.”
Imam Khalid Griggs of Community Mosque of Winston-Salem said he expected that ruling.
“For my faith tradition, it was not something that my faith tradition would endorse,” he said, “but I accept it as the law of the land.”
Griggs said he thinks there will be some imams who will now have to make a decision about whether they would perform same-sex marriages, based on the person’s personal conscience and personal feelings.
The Rev. John Mendez, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, also said he expected the ruling. He said he thinks everybody has a right to love, and that the decision is not a big problem for him.
Mendez said the church has already been split between more conservative and orthodox views and more liberal and radical theological thinking.
“I think the important thing is to respect each other’s perspective,” Mendez said. “We don’t all have to agree on theological perspective.”
Scholl said Wake Forest Baptist Church performed its first same-sex union ceremony in 2000 in Wake Forest University’s Wait Chapel, where the congregation meets. She said from a larger theological perspective, the stand is based on “the sense that all people are equal and all people are equally loved by God.”
Spangler’s church is part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denomination, which voted earlier this year to recognize same-sex marriage. Spangler has taken a different stand on the issue, which she said is based on her conviction from scripture. She said her opinion has led to some backlash.
“I’ve lost friends and some church members who disagree, and colleagues as well,” Spangler said.
Bill Leonard, Dunn Professor of Baptist studies and church history at the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University, said he thinks the divisions in Christian communities will continue, but so does the dialogue.
“I think one of the crucial questions here is that for many religious communities, in a pluralistic setting, what is clearly conviction in a religious community can sound like bigotry in the public square, and conservative churches are having to learn to deal with that, I think, very dramatically.”
Parallels other issues
Baity said looking at what has occurred in other countries, he believes that it will “come to our front door where even in our religious assemblies eventually we will be accused of hate crimes if we choose to speak in biblical terms about biblical marriage. In all probability we will probably be fined or lose our tax-exempt status.”
Others have expressed concerns that they would be punished for not performing marriages for same-sex couples.
Leonard said he does not think there will be legal efforts to compel ministers to perform same-sex marriages, in the same way that they are not compelled now to marry divorced couples or Christians and non-Christians.
Leonard said when he began teaching among Baptists 40 years ago, the divisive issue was divorce, and some ministers to this day refuse to marry divorced couples based on a very literal reading of statements in the gospels related to divorce and remarriage.
He said the same-sex marriage situation parallels, though not exactly, a number of other social issues that churches have confronted that link scripture and public policy, such as the abolition of slavery, issues related to civil rights and divorce issues.
Leonard said, “Those are parallel in that certain biblical passages were used on both sides of the issue, and so the way in which Christians use the Bible always raises controversy when these kinds of social issues occur.”