Yes, I Officiated a Gay Wedding. Yes, I Would Do It Again.

This is not the wedding I’m in trouble for. But aren’t we cute?

Almost two years ago now, I received a tentative email from a young woman asking if she could have her upcoming wedding at our church. She and her fiance were Christian. They wanted a church wedding, and a friend had told her that she might be able to get married at Peace Mennonite in Lawrence.

And by the way, in case I hadn’t figured it out by the names, she was a woman. So was her fiance.

Our church publicly states that “we welcome into the full life of the church” a broad range of people, including people of diverse sexual orientations. Our church also has a building use policy, which I sent to the young woman. I said that I would want to be in touch with the minister who was officiating the ceremony.

Turns out that the couple did not have a minister to officiate the wedding. They couldn’t find a minister in their town who was willing to do it. Would I be willing?

I said what I say to couples who ask me to officiate weddings: This will be a Christian wedding. You will need to attend pre-marital counseling sessions. Let’s meet and talk and see if this will work.

The ensuing counseling sessions, which the couple faithfully drove into Lawrence to attend, looked pretty much like other premarital counseling sessions I’ve led. Except the part where I had to explain that this wedding would not be legally binding. Except the part where I asked what Christian community they planned to be part of as a married couple and they said, “We quit going to any of the churches in our town because we were tired of pretending to be roommates.”

I proceeded to officiate this wedding with the support of my congregation. It was an honor for me to bear witness to the love these women had for each other. (And it was probably the only wedding I will ever do where I was not noticeably shorter than either of the two people I was marrying!) I believe my ministry with these women was a faithful expression of my calling as a pastor. It was an opportunity to open the church doors wide, to practice hospitality, to encourage human love and faithfulness, to lift up the oppressed and promote justice.

Not everyone agrees with my assessment of the situation.

My credentials have been reviewed and upheld by the Leadership Commission of the Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA. There were dissenting opinions, but I am still an ordained Mennonite pastor. That decision came down over a year ago. I have since moved on with my ministry, fielding only the very occasional phone calls from concerned Mennonites who want to talk about “what I did.” Most days I just pray and study scripture and plan worship and write sermons and offer pastoral care and don’t get anywhere near a gay wedding.

Then, a couple of days before my sabbatical began, I received a phone call from our Conference Minister. He wanted to let me know about two resolutions that would be coming to the delegate floor at the Western District Conference Assembly this summer. The email containing the resolutions was going out later that day to all WDC pastors and churches.

He called me personally because these resolutions concern me, personally. One asks that the Leadership Commission suspend my ministerial credentials. Mine specifically. My name is in the resolution 5 or 6 times. (And never as “Rev. Harader.”) The other is much more general—pastors should act in accordance with the Mennonite Confession of Faith or resign. (And let me see the hands of every pastor who believes and follows every word in their denominational statement of faith. Anyone? Anyone? Last I checked, the Bible was still the holy text of the Christian church.)

When I wrote my Open Letter, I quickly learned that anything I say (or write) can and will be used against me. And I do not want to fan the flames of controversy or cause further disunity in the Body. So I tell my story here with a bit of fear and trepidation.

Still, I tell it. For a few reasons.

  • Some of you want to know what’s going on. Secrecy is not helpful. So now you know. Full texts of the resolutions are available from Western District Conference churches or the office in Newton.
  • Lots of people have been and will continue to be talking about me, and I want to have a voice in the conversation as well.
  • The sexual minorities who are still within the church (God bless them!) need to feel supported and to know that many of us long for the day when they are not an “issue” but beloved people within the faith family.
  • The sexual minorities who are not in the church (and who can blame them?) need to know that not all parts of the church are hostile.
  • The Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin do not deserve to be the loudest or the official or the unquestioned voice of biblical Christianity.

So here is my story. For what it is worth.

Some of you will think I am “Super Pastor Justice Crusader.” Which I am not.

Some of you will think I am out to destroy the world in general and the Mennonites in particular. Which I am not.

What I am is a wife and a mother and a pastor who is trying to follow Jesus the best I can. In word and in deed. For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. Now and forever.

Prayers are appreciated—for me, for gay Christians, for Western District and Mennonite Church USA and . . . just prayers. Lots of prayers. And open hearts. And listening ears.

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27 thoughts on “Yes, I Officiated a Gay Wedding. Yes, I Would Do It Again.

  1. My thoughts and prayers will be with you. My denomination (The United Church of Canada) resolved in and of itself, homoseuxality was not a bar to ordination in 1988. There still continues to be dissention, of course, but the church has not split apart and has not dissappeared into a pit full of fire. The church I have attended on and off for the last twenty years originally made a resolution against ever having a gay or lesbian minister in the pulpit, which lasted until a beloved minister came out. In the years since then, a marriage policy has been adopted that states, in part, that “anyone legally eligible to be married in the province of Ontario” can be married at our church. Which includes same-sex couples. It is because this policy has been adopted that my son and his fiance will be married in our home church, and not a church to which they have no connection.

    I cannot understate the importance during this journey of pioneers who spoke up and stood up for what was right. Often the most credible and listened-to witnesses were friends of the gay and lesbian community like you. God bless, Joanna! You truly are doing God’s work.

    • And thanks to you, Ruth, for sharing part of your story–especially the part about not disappearing into a pit full of fire 🙂

  2. Your bravery in following Jesus is to be commended. I am so thankful that you did officiate at the wedding, and it would certainly be a huge loss to the Mennonite Church USA if your conference votes to suspend your credentials. I sometimes become weary listening to the songs we teach our children at Sunday school that claim “You’ve got a place at the welcome table.” We set our children up for disillusionment when they realize that everyone is welcome, except for you and you and you, unless you change who God made you. Maybe we should write a final verse that more honestly says “You’ve got a place at the welcome table” as long as you aren’t gay or transgendered or a member of the wrong political party or….

    • Thanks for your response. I love that song and will probably have it running through my head for a few days now 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing your story.

    The ultimate question… is a homosexual lifestyle “outside” or “inside” God’s will for followers of Christ. I trust that since these two said they were Christian… and you completed the ceremony… you’ve concluded the “homosexual lifestyle is pleasing to God”? Would that be a fair assessment?

    Did it matter at all to you that they were living together prior to their marriage? I presume they were sexually active since you stated that they were just “pretending to be roommates”. If a heterosexual couple were living together prior to their wedding… is that within God’s will? Do you believe that God defines intimate sexual activity “outside of marriage” a sin?

    Is there a situation where you would not perform a ceremony for a Christian couple?

    I’m not trying to be combative at all… I’m truly wanting to understand your perspective, and I’m struggling to connect some of the dots.

    • I believe that a homosexual lifestyle, like a heterosexual lifestyle, can be within or outside of God’s will. It would take another blog post to answer the question about sex outside of marriage being a sin, but I will say that refusing to marry two people who have chosen to live together seems like a failure to honor their desire to move their relationship into a more faithful place. As for your last question, “Is there a situation where you would not perform a ceremony for a Christian couple?, the short answer is “yes.” If I knew of ongoing infidelity or abuse, for example. ~Thanks for the conversation.

    • Humans, as in all time, have set forth the laws of all, and are the ones who have excluded people of the LGBT community. I believe that “an all loving GOD” created us, did not give us these restrictions, and would like us to all come to an understanding, that GOD’s love has “no bounderies”! Gays have been sexually active, yes, just the same as some heteros, however, gays were never allowed to marry. I am 60 yrs. of age, and have had to hide my lifestyle for most of these years. Although promiscuity ruled my lifestyle for a time, I was looking for “Mr. Right”, and finally, 26 yrs. ago, found my “Mr. Right”. I’d like to be legally married, in the eyes of my state, and have all the benefits as a hetero couple has, but my state doesn’t accept it, and even in states that do, gays don’t receive the rights that heteros have. Long story short, we’d like to be married like heteros are, but we do love each other, and believe that GOD doesn’t have a problem with it. GOD bless!

  4. I am sorry for your trouble and sorry that your sense of kindness is being punished in this way.
    Obviously it is an effort to shame you, just as so much that is done to those who act out of line are shamed. Shaming and shunning do not strike me as particularly Christian.

    That said, and meant sincerely, however, we also have obligations to the truth of the teachings of the Church, truths which the Church received from the Lord in the Bible. And we have the obligation of obedience. In the beginning God made woman (not a second man) as the helpmate for the man Adam–one woman, one man. The first polygamist was Lamech, a man who took precisely the opposite revenge ( 70 times 7) of the forgiveness the Lord commands we show out brother. And Lamech was also very skilled (he writes a song; he’s cultured–but he wants more than what God allows).

    Marriage has always been about the family–it’s the means of insuring future generations (be fruitful and multiply). And in the beginning God established it as the union of a man and woman. THey are equals, but not identical–and in their differences, they complement each other. The children need that parental complementarity in every aspect of their upbringing.

    So what do we do about the many, many people today who do not identify with that need for complementarity. We need to understand them, to support them, to ask God’s blessing on them. But we do not need to lie to them and pretend that the union they are forming is the same as a marriage union, that it has the same purposes and ends. The two are different. Note: I did not say “condemn” them or their union; did not say “shame them”. Simply make the appropriate distinctions.

    Perhaps we need a special blessing for their unions–that’s for individual churches to decide. But as Christians we need to tell the world that marriage is about the union of one man and one woman for the sake of procreating and raising the next generation.

    And we need to declare that this is the godly way of procreating (not the world’s way of seeing children as merely fulfilments of one or other parent’s dreams: the child born out of wedlock to a mother who doesn’t want to wed; the designer baby who is meant to please the parent because of its sex or or special qualities (possible talents inherited from its sperm donor, or perhaps hair color or some other feature); the child conceived in vitro–whether implanted in the natural mother or a surrogate–all these children conceived by the way of the world are being viewed as mere things. They are not conceived because they will become persons in the image and likeness of God; they are not being treated as people at all. They are mere things. What a pity. How much suffering they endure! How much suffering we impose on them because we will not stand up for the God’s truth.

    You have my prayers–for yourself and your community–and for church unity and Christian witness in general.

    • Thank you for your prayers and your respectful discussion with a fellow Christian who reads the bible and respects the traditions of the church in different ways than you do. (If you go to the “GLBT Concerns” category, you will find an explanation of my biblical interpretation regarding same-sex relationships.)

      • Unfortunately, the tone of respect seems to be missing when it comes to discussing those whose bodies are not able to conceive a child without using assistive technologies. There are many faithful Christians who, prayerfully and with discernment, turn to reproductive medicine to help them have a child. They do not, as the writer suggests, view their children as mere things. They are indeed conceived as much-wanted children who will bear the image and likeness of God.

  5. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing! And for being bold and being true to your deepest calling as a pastor – to follow the teachings of Jesus and to minister to all. – Tonya

  6. May you be sustained in hope, faith and peace in the days and weeks coming. Your prophetic witness to the radically inclusive nature of God’s love is an encouragement. One of tomorrow’s lectionary passages tomorrow is the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch – perhaps a reminder that God’s Spirit is alive and working outside of heteronormative bodies and boundaries.

  7. I’m not sure where to start. I have several thoughts about marriage, sex, and family. First off, I guess is the question is the sole purpose of marriage only to bring other people into the world? Second, something that I’ve noticed from reading the Gospels is that apparently Jesus was born out of wedlock. My dad once told me a story of some one he worked with on a harvest crew who steadfastly refused to become a Christian. When Dad asked why, the man said he didn’t want anything to do with a religion founded by somebody’s bastard child (the man’s exact terms.) So, that being the case, Jesus being in political terms an illegitimate child, does God really care about our little sexual constructs? If it really matters to God, why did the Creator of the Universe violate these constructs? For her sake, at least Mary co-operated, giving consent. It would be unthinkable that Our Lord was the product of rape! What kind of God would that be? Both Mary and presumably God knew the social implications in ancient Palestine when once word got out.

    I would a whole lot rather see a same sex couple, loving, devoted, and committed to each other and their relationship than I would a a heterosexual couple where one is abused, neglected, and scorned by the other.

    You of course have my respect, full support, and prayers.

      • Mary had to have had an extra marital affair with some one, human or extra terrestrial. But to concentrate on that misses the point. Joseph is there in the background. It is Joseph who is big hearted enough to follow through with the wedding and take Mary as his wife, it is Joseph who steps forward and becomes a dad to this son of Mary’s. It is Joseph to neglects to observe the sexual constructs of his age by these actions. If Joseph could do the right thing, the noble thing, how can we do less?

      • You mean… to concentrate on what the text actually says is missing the point? If you ignore what the text says (Luke 1:34-35) about the virginity of Mary (and conclude that she was sexually active outside of marriage)… why do you then trust what the text says about Mary’s marital status?

        How do you decide what text to believe and which text to ignore?

      • First of all, the translation “virgin” is misleading, if not inaccurate. If I remember my New Testament Greek, the term is actually “young woman.” If we are going to come to some understanding of the scriptures, we must start with accurate translations.

        This whole business was scandalous in ancient Palestine. No matter the actual, physical, biological circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, one must conclude based on the very scripture verses cited that Jesus was born out of wedlock. God seems to have ignored the sexual constructs and mores of the day, and gone ahead with this affair anyway. All this makes Joseph a real saint, a regular stand-up guy. Just the kind of man you want if you’re God to raise your son.

        What this discussion leaves me thinking is that there is an unspoken yuck factor in our 21st century’s attitude toward sex. Is the body inherently dirty, evil, sinful and corrupt? Or is it at its most essential good having been created as good by the same God who apparently fathered a child with Mary? If we decide that the body is dirty and corrupt, and that sex is sinful, doesn’t that make the story sort of like Christian porn?

        The point I’m trying to make is that in light of all the above, perhaps it is time for us to re-examine our sexual mores. Joseph should be our model. Joseph steps forward and does the right thing by Mary and the infant Jesus. The church should follow Joseph’s example and do the right thing. And I think Joanna did exactly that.

        Second, is that concentrating on Mary’s circumstances shifts the focus away from the central message Jesus was sent to bring, (Luke 4:18-19, Matt. 5-7) John Howard Yoder in his “The Politics of Jesus” expounds on the central themes of what could be called the socio-political-economic manifesto of the Kingdom of God. It’s a good book, and influenced me greatly in my decision to join the Mennonite Church.

      • I totally agree… “If we are going to come to some understanding of the scriptures, we must start with accurate translations.”

        I’m not sure where you took your Greek… but the phrase Mary used in Luke 1:35… in the Greek… is to “know a man” (andra ou ginosko). Not sure how anyone can get “young woman” out of that.

        Mary thought she was a virgin. She’s the one that said it. I’ll let you argue that point with her.

        If one starts with a false premise… it’s easy to take a one-time “descriptive” event about how God came to earth in the flesh… and try and make it a “prescriptive” passage about how we should “re-examine our sexual mores”.

        I’ll pray that the Holy Spirit gives us both guidance as we try to rightly divide the word of truth.

      • Why are you so combatitive? U mad, bro? The point he’s trying to make is that, virgin or not, she was NOT MARRIED and therefore it was a scandal.

  8. Kelly… I’m not mad at all.

    I totally understand that Mary was not married when she conceived the Christ. I also understand that it would have been a huge scandal within her social circle at the time. I just disagree with Mr. Krause’s interpretation of how that situation came about.

    In turn, I’ve come to a different conclusion about how the whole story should be understood. That’s all bro…

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