Churches remain divided

LEWISTOWN – More than a week after the Supreme Court began discussion over the legalization of same-sex marriage, local church representatives remain divided on the matter.

“We (the Baptist Church) believe that the Bible is very clear that marriage is only to be between a man and a woman,” said Rev. Ron Shupe, lead pastor at First Baptist Church of Juniata County in Mifflintown. “In the Bible, God makes this very explicit in Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:18-25.”

Shupe said marriage is God’s design. In Genesis, God created men and women in his own image, blessed them, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth,” he said. Shupe added that God gave away the first bride, Eve, and spoke the design of marriage into existence in Genesis 2:22 and 24.

Rev. William Weary, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic Church in Lewistown, and Saint Jude Thaddeus Parish in Mifflintown, said the Catholic church also believes marriage is between one man and one woman.

“(Marriage) will always be viewed as coming from God through nature and reiterated in the Bible, and therefore is not subject to change by the pope or by anybody,” he said.

“People may ‘re-define’ terms, but what truly counts is what God states clearly from his word, the Bible,” Shupe said. “God is the one that we will all truly answer to someday.”

Weary and Shupe said the message is clear in the Bible and cited Romans 1:18-32.

“God refers to a multitude of sins, and he addresses the sins of sexual immorality in this section of the Bible,” Shupe said.

He added that it is clear from the scripture that God has commanded people to restrict sexual activity to marriage, specifically that of a man and a woman.

First Baptist Church of Juniata County is part of the Mission Mid-Atlantic association of churches, Shupe said. He said their doctrinal statement includes a section on humanity that states, “We believe God established marriage to be a lifelong covenant relationship between one man and one woman. Marriage so defined is the only permissable context for intimate sexual expression and is the foundation for human family.”

Weary said the central teaching authority of the Catholic church also teaches that acting upon same-sex attraction is a sin.

“God loves all people, but not all behaviors,” he said. “As Christians, we reach out in love to those with same-sex attraction, and we pray for them.”

He said the church invites homosexual individuals to chastity, which means reserving sexual activity to the marriage between a man and a woman while remaining abstinent in single years.

“And that can be challenging. But with God’s grace, all things are possible,” Weary said.

He explained that there is a nationwide movement in the Catholic church to support those with same-sex attraction. The Courage Movement was founded in 1980 in New York and consists of small group meetings in a 12-step format, designed to help anyone with same-sex attraction who seeks to live biblical teaching.

“We do not absolutely require a change of orientation, but at least singlehood chastity and the desire to live a Christian life of virtue and prayer,” he said.

Gerald Wolgemuth, director of communications for the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church, said the subject is rather cut and dry in the Methodist church, where policies on same-sex marriage have been the same since 1968.

“Homosexual practice is contrary to the scriptures,” he said.

The conducting of ceremonies that celebrate homosexual marriages or conducting same-sex marriages is a chargeable offense on the part of Methodist clergy, even in states where gay marriage has been legalized.

“Not everyone agrees. We are united, but not necessarily uniform,” Wolgemuth said. “People who do not agree can live in peace with each other.”

Other denominations are moving toward accommodating same-sex unions.

Rev. David Zwifka, rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Lewistown, said the church’s general convention approved a blessing of same-gender unions for provisional use on a diocese-to-diocese basis.

“Once we receive permission from the diocese bishop, our parish can receive people of faith who desire to have a blessing of their same-gender union,” he said of the provision.

The theology behind the convention’s ruling is that the Episcopal church believes that all human relationships are covenantal, he said.

If same-sex marriage were legalized in Pennsylvania, homosexual couples would go through the same kind of pre-marital counseling heterosexual couples do, Zwifka said. But first, the congregation of each parish must come to a consensus that they will accept same-gender unions, he said.

Rev. Gary Roth, of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lewistown, said the Lutheran church has never had a policy opposing gay members of the church. However, there was a time when individuals could not be in a same-sex relationship while serving as pastor.

“That all changed a couple years ago,” he said. “The church decided that pastors that were homosexual and in relationships could be pastors.”

Roth said the Lutheran church does not have specific ceremonies or practices in place for same-sex marriages or any policies opposing it.

“They never came out with any kind of rituals for gay marriages, no rituals for civil commitments, but no kind of statement that would forbid us in a state that has gay marriages from doing it,” he explained.

Like the Episcopal church, Lutherans have a congregational policy. Some congregations may choose to allow same-sex marriage, while others choose not allow it.

Rev. Jim Thomas, of Lewistown Presbyterian Church, declined comment, saying the Presbyterian church has not reached consensus on the matter.