The Rev. Bill Smart of Evangelical Free Church in Columbia said he intends to deliver a sermon this morning about gay marriage but will not tell congregants how to vote on the issue.
“I’m going to remind them that while we should all be involved citizens who vote with godly wisdom, that it’s more important that we show love to homosexuals,” he said Friday.
At issue is Amendment 2, on the ballot Tuesday, which asks voters to decide whether marriage should be defined as existing only between a man and a woman in the state constitution.
Smart — one of many ministers in Missouri struggling with their roles in public discussions of the issue — opposes same-sex marriage but said he isn’t sure whether legislation is the best way to preserve traditional marriage.
“Christians may agree on heterosexual marriage, but they will disagree about the way to keep marriage heterosexual,” Smart said, who said Evangelical Free churches nationwide believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
This evening, other clergy will gather at a rally on the Capitol lawn supporting Amendment 2 — among them the Rev. Monte Shinkle, who serves at Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City. The sanctity of marriage, he said, must be protected.
“If the amendment doesn’t pass, it’s just a matter of time before a judge strikes down existing law,” Shinkle said, referring to Missouri’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as existing between a man and a woman.
Last month, the Rev. Jack Barden of First Presbyterian Church in Fulton spoke out against the amendment at a press conference on the steps of Boone County Courthouse. Barden said that of the responses he received from congregants, about 75 percent favored his taking a public stance.
“I spoke out because I wanted people to know that all people of faith aren’t for (the amendment),” he said.
Barden said he thinks amendments like this muddy the waters between same-sex rights, which he sees as a civil rights issue, and marriage, which he sees as a religious right. “Faith organizations should decide what marriage is,” without the interference of government, he said.
Jill Raitt, professor emerita of religious studies at MU, said she thinks many people don’t recognize the amendment as a civil issue rather than a religious one. “The civil status is what is being decided on Tuesday,” she said,
Raitt said few other political issues are so emotionally charged. “There’s a reason why people are deeply concerned — it reaches into every house,” she said.
Culture and religion are constantly in tension, Raitt said. “When cultural mores seem to be changing, the church needs to listen as well as pronounce,” she said.
At the national level, faith-based organizations have their eyes on Missouri, which will be the first of 13 states this year to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage.
“I think we’re just in the opening rounds of a prolonged debate,” said the Rev. Eileen Lindner, deputy general secretary of the National Council of Churches in New York. “This is cutting not only between churches but through churches.”
Lindner, who has a doctorate in American church history, said this is not the first time faith communities have been involved in politics.
“We saw a similar kind of struggle around desegregation,” she said. “Churches and individuals had points of view and made those known.”
— Missourian reporters Caleb Smith and Graham Wood contributed to this article.