Interview: Senior Minister Of United Church Of Christ Congregation Talks About Gay Marriage & Same Sex Blessings By Peter Menkin
Interview: Senior Minister of United Church of Christ congregation talks about Gay Marriage & Same Sex Blessings
By Peter Menkin
Senior Minister, Reverend Matt Broadbent of Los Altos, California Foothill Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, spoke with this writer by phone and webcam via Skype in February, 2010 about Same Sex Marriage & Same Sex Blessings. This is the first of a series of interviews with different clergy denomination members on the subject. Two other upcoming interviews are with The Rt. Reverend Marc Andrus of The Episcopal Church, USA (San Francisco Bay Area known as Diocese of California), and Rabbi Stephen Pearce of Reform Temple El Emanuel, San Francisco. This writer hopes to find two other people willing to talk from their denominations, making this a five part series.
1. This two part question has to do with the Church’s mission: (1) Is it mission for United Church of Christ and your congregation to proclaim and normalize the practice of Gay Marriage & Same Sex Blessings? (2) Is this a peace and justice issue, and would you comment on the remark made by the Publisher of Pilgrim Press, The Reverend Timothy G. Staveteig. I asked a similar question on whether the matter is mission for UCC and the Church Publishers remarked in an email response:
a. “From our first printing of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Measure of a Man in 1957, The Pilgrim Press has developed books and resources that have often addressed difficult and complex social justice issues. Through our historic publishing operation (since 1640), which is a gift of the United Church of Christ, The Pilgrim Press has sought out voices marginalized by a dominant culture and seeks to build fully inclusive communities.” I’m responding as a Pastor, not so much as a scholar. No. Not our Mission. Mission is to be a Christian Church and embody God for all people. It is a peace and justice issue. It is more a fairness issue, and we look at those who are marginalized. My Church is an upper middle class community, in the midst of Silicon Valley. For most of the people it is not a huge issue for them; there is a small group that is opposed. We like to date as the Pilgrim Church, 1620. They were the separatist’s movement of the Puritans who sought to purify the church. These were mainly shop owners and tradesmen, part of the rising Middle Class in England who wanted to remove themselves from The Church of England. Rev. John Robinson sent the Pilgrims off to the New World with the admonition, “The Lord hath yet more truth and light to break forth from God’s holy word.” The Presbyterian churches that seek to be open to the LGBT community call themselves the “More Light” churches. They pick up from this Robinson’s quote. The UCC has sought to be faithful to this search for God’s continuing “light and truth,” and in so doing we have experienced a lot of “first” in American religious life. We were one of the first Church groups to opposed slavery. We were the first to ordain the first to ordain an African-American pastor, and the first to ordain a woman in the 19th Century. In the 20th century we were the first to ordain an openly Gay minister, Rev. William Johnson in San Carlos, UCC… We have a long tradition of pushing the edges on the peace and social justice issues. I like to say, we are convicted by our principles, continually asking the question: How does God continually open the Church to all people? It seems natural for us to say: “Shouldn’t we be celebrating Same Sex Marriages?”
Where are you on the United Church of Christ religious spectrum? Progressive, Liberal, Conservative? What does this mean to you?
Senior Minister, Reverend Matt Broadbent: I guess I am somewhere in that range of the Progressive Liberal, but my style is traditional. I tease my congregation that I am more conservative than they are. They are trying to be up to date, whereas I’m still singing plainchant. I like the tradition.
Where is the San Francisco Bay Area United Church of Christ going with Same Sex Blessings and Gay marriage? Has a national statement been formulated on the subject?
Senior Minister, Reverend Matt Broadbent: The simple answer is Yes. We have formed a national statement. This is not a hierarchical Church, so the national organization has made a statement. It is a recommendation to local churches. It gets down to the local church. Each local church must decide how they handle the recommendation. On July 4, 2005 at the General Synod 25, the national gathering, they voted for an Equal Marriage Rights for All recommendation. Recommendation is my word, and that’s what it means, to consider support of Equal Marriage Rights for all.
If there is a key Bible vision that supports Gay Marriage & Same Sex Blessing; please give a Biblical example and explain something of your vision on interpretation? Who else shares this sensibility and understanding we might know or recognize?
Senior Minister, Reverend Matt Broadbent: My point is, if you ask the question of what is Jesus response to Gay Marriage, or same gender loving relationships. Nothing. He doesn’t speak of it at all. What has happened in this discussion is people have picked up some statements by Paul, and a few from the Old Testament. All have something to do with oppression, not loving relationships. The scripture passages that guide me are: 1st John: 4, where he says simply, God is Love. And those who Love, Love God. 1st Corinthians 13 is the Love passage of Paul, holding up this Love relationship between people is the highest value. For me the core of the Gospel text is the Great Commandment in Matthew, Mark & Luke. And it is the Jewish restatement of tradition that you are to love God and Love neighbor. That is the core of it, that is what Jesus says is the core of faith. Marriage, as such, is a social arrangement, or does these help to love God and Love neighbor. And I tell people, I am in the business of encouraging long term relationships. This is a healthy way in the world. If it is same gender loving relationships, then that is what I need to do. I would even say that in those passages that our more conservative pick out, all is about where a person is taking advantage of someone else. When he talks about men sleeping with men, or women with women, he is talking about Temple Prostitution. He is talking about relationships that are unequal, and essentially unjust. WHat Jesus calls for always is Justice and Equality in the Kingdom of God.
What book do you recommend reader’s read that leads to an understanding of your stance and your statements supporting Gay Marriage & Same Sex Blessing?
Also when people ask me, I direct them to the website, www.UCC.org .
Have you performed a Same Sex Blessing, and if so, will you tell us some of the words you used? Where did you do this?
Senior Minister, Reverend Matt Broadbent: I have, both in Santa Cruz where I was for 17 years, and here in Los Altos just a couple of months ago. I wish I could have said I’ve done more. In Santa Cruz–it was with two women fairly early in my ministry. I led that Church into an Open and Affirming relationship. We did the wedding in their home, not in the sanctuary. The reason they did it was one was an artist and the other was teaching at the University. I asked them when asked about doing the marriage, “What date were you thinking of?” The other wedding was done in Los Altos at Foothills Congregational Church UCC. The couple was legally married in Vermont. What we did at the Church is a blessing of their Civil Vows, We have a same gender, non-biased wedding ceremony. We worked with the couple, and the ceremony was pretty traditional. They said, “We want to be married, not be in a show.” What they wanted to receive was a sense of God’s blessing on their choice, their relationship. We’re speaking of the one in Los Altos. They went with the blessing, because they’d already been married.
Who are other significantly well-known and respected Church clergy leaders of other denominations, mainly in the San Francisco Bay Area, who join you in your viewpoint? Do you know their denomination? Is there one with whom you’ve spoken who has influenced you most?
Senior Minister, Reverend Matt Broadbent: In our own denomination, it is all of the leaders of the United Church of Christ in the Bay Area. I know of a couple of ministers who would have problems with it. I really don’t know of anyone else in our denomination that has a problem with Gay Marriage. There is always The Reverend Doctor Mary Susan Gast. She is the conference minister in the Northern California – Nevada region.
If there are words you’d recommend for Performing a Same Sex Blessing, will you tell us them. Where in the Bible is this supported, and if you see these as part of the Social Gospel, please tell us something of your sense of the Social Gospel that leads you to support this? Do you recommend certain Bible readings to Gay couples (man and man, woman and woman), and in their either civil union relationship, or in Gay Marriage, are there other readings or meditations on Biblical text you recommend?
Senior Minister, Reverend Matt Broadbent: In the two I have done, we had all of the Bible open for interpretation. The one in Santa Cruz, Clearly we are not going to use the one where, A woman will leave her family and cling to her husband. But the other couple in Los Altossaid [regarding the Paul statement], We can make that work. One of us will take on the role of being the husband. The Bible for them was not a problem. They looked at the issue of love and commitment and caring for one another. We looked at the argument in the Apocrypha