Monday, May 14, 2012

A Circle Cast Ever Wider-- An Op Ed by The Rev. Sara Irwin

The following op ed by the Reverend Sara Irwin, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Waltham, Massachusetts, was published in the Waltham News Tribune on Friday, May 11.

Waltham Voices: Spirituality and Same-Sex Marriage

This week, as marriage has been much in the news, I’ve been considering the way that people of faith have, and haven’t, been part of the national conversation. I was, with many friends from the fine state of North Carolina, disappointed by the decision of the voters to amend their constitution with the discriminatory Amendment One prohibiting any relationships outside of heterosexual marriage from having any legal standing. Hours later, I was delighted by President Obama’s declaration of support for same sex marriage, even more so thankful for the fact that he shared that his Christian faith was behind his change.

My Christian faith is the reason I support same sex marriage as well: not only because of the “golden rule” and not only because all people are equally children of God and deserve the same legal privileges. I support it for a bit more of a personal reason: because it enables me to do my job as a priest in the Church. Some people may say that the separation of church and state means that Christians can’t practice their faith. In this case, it means that I can.

When I was ordained, I promised to “love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.” I promised to administer the sacraments, to teach, to preach. Those promises are made without qualification. There are no exceptions to the love of God.
I am in support of same-sex marriage because as a pastor, I believe it is my duty to bless and honor the relationships of all people who might come through the doors of my church seeking that blessing. I regret that the clergy of North Carolina do not have that ability as I do in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

This past Sunday at my church, we heard the words of the first Epistle of John: “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7). I recently had the honor of officiating at a burial of someone who died at age 84. A World War II veteran, at the burial the honor guard gave the flag to the man with whom he had shared his life for more than 50 years: “On behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation, thank you for your sacrifice.” Their sacrifice was not only in that he risked death on behalf of this country. Their sacrifice was not only decades of care and concern for each other. They offered another sacrifice: a partnership that was, for much of its duration, legally invisible. Fifty years before, as young men not much younger than I, would they have anticipated the power of that moment, one receiving the flag at the other’s graveside? I wonder.

In the ministry of Jesus Christ, the circle of inclusion is cast ever wider. This was not easy for the early church, those early disciples who sought to follow God in Christ. Did new believers have to convert to Judaism first? Did they have to follow the dietary laws? Did they have to be circumcised? Again and again, the barriers were lowered. Would my daughter’s transgender godfather have been included? Yes. Would my high school friend and her wife and son be included? Yes. Would someone who was unsure about what they believed be included? Yes. Would two 80-something vets be included? Yes, yes, yes.

So, President Obama, thank you. Thank you for taking the stand that supports my church in our work. I know that not everyone in our pews agrees with my stance. I know that not everyone in our state agrees with our law, and that not everyone will appreciate your “evolution.” But I also believe that the God who animates love can also animate respect, and journeying together, persons of all faiths and no faith, can continue to work for our “more perfect union.”

The Rev. Sara Irwin is the rector at Christ Church Episcopal in Waltham. Send feedback to

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