News Articles

Ala. minister backs gay marriage ‘enthusiastically’

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (BP) — Following a federal court’s legalization of same-sex marriage in Alabama, a volunteer minister at a Southern Baptist church has begun performing gay weddings.

Meanwhile, in an apparent conflict with the federal government, the state judges responsible for issuing marriage licenses have denied them to gay couples in 12 counties. In 40 additional counties, probate judges stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether Feb. 9, when the federal court’s ruling took effect.

The chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court advised probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said no probate judge will be punished for failing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Ellin Jimmerson, minister to the community at Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, has performed at least one same-sex wedding ceremony since gay marriage became legal, the church confirmed to Baptist Press. But Jimmerson has not performed a gay wedding at the church’s facility. Madison County, where Huntsville is located, was among the counties to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Feb. 9.

A receptionist at the church told BP that Weatherly Heights ordained Jimmerson and that she is a church member. Jimmerson does not, however, receive a salary from the church and is not a member of the church staff.

“One of the issues for many is whether same-sex marriages comport with biblical ideas of marriages,” Jimmerson said in a Facebook post reported by The Huntsville Times. “The truth is that people in the 21st century would not be comfortable with the kinds of marriages which are represented in the Bible. For example, we would not be comfortable with the biblical model that is one man, one woman, one concubine.

“Nor would we be comfortable with the idea of a widow being compelled to marry her brother-in-law. There is very little in the Bible which reflects the modern idea of one man and one woman united by love,” Jimmerson said.

Jimmerson added that she “agreed enthusiastically” to participate in Huntsville’s “Wedding Week,” a local celebration of same-sex marriage. She invited “everyone who will to celebrate with the couples who have waited so long for this day.”

Jimmerson declined BP’s request for comment, saying she would call back later, “probably another day.”

Weatherly Heights is a cooperating church with the Alabama Baptist Convention and the Madison Baptist Association, both groups confirmed to BP.

Though denominational records indicate that the church cooperates with the Southern Baptist Convention, those same records reflect that the church’s participation in recent years has been marginal. The last Annual Church Profile noted for the congregation in the Southern Baptist Directory Services database is for 2013. The most recent record of their having given to any convention cause in that database is dated 2012 — a contribution of $784 through the Cooperative Program out of undesignated receipts of $677,353.

The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions reported that Weatherly Heights contributed $709 through CP in 2014 out of undesignated receipts of $655,753.

Weatherly Heights is listed as a “partner” church on the website of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group formed by Baptist moderates in 1990 as conservatives gained control of the SBC.

David Freeman, pastor of Weatherly Heights, preached a sermon Sept. 29, 2013, in which he argued that “adult, loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships are not condemned in the Bible,” according to a printed version of the sermon on the church’s website.

In the sermon, Freeman explained why he believes various Bible passages that appear to condemn homosexuality in general do not apply to monogamous gay relationships. Among Freeman’s conclusions:

— The story of Sodom in Genesis 19 only speaks against rape.

— The prohibition against homosexual behavior in Leviticus 20:13 likely “meant something then that is not necessarily applicable today.”

— In Romans 1:22-32, “Paul was describing Gentile religious practices, specifically the Gentiles’ fertility cult, which involved religious prostitution, adultery, and … pederasty, where men preyed upon young boys. Paul was not referring to adult, loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships.”

In response to a question regarding Jimmerson, D. August Boto, executive vice president with the SBC Executive Committee, told BP that a minister’s endorsement of homosexual behavior can affect the relationship between the SBC and the church at which that person serves.

“Such individual departures from typical Southern Baptist practice or belief by a minister occur rarely, but when they do and rise to a level of general recognition by the church body and beyond, it is usually the case that either the church or the SBC takes the step of explicitly declaring a parting of ways,” Boto said in written comments. “Sometimes that parting is between the church and its minister. Sometimes it is between the church and the SBC, either one being capable of initiating the choice to separate. Which course will be followed in this instance remains to be seen.”

Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, and Alabama Baptist State Convention President Travis Coleman issued a joint statement Feb. 10 noting that, “The vast and overwhelming majority of Alabama Baptist leaders and other church members continue to affirm the biblical view of marriage and the historic declarations that Alabama Baptists have made concerning the marriage relationship.

“Therefore, any church that allows staff members to officiate at same-sex ceremonies is clearly outside biblical teachings about marriage and human sexuality, and they demonstrate that they are not in like-minded fellowship or friendly cooperation with Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists,” Lance and Coleman said.

The Madison Baptist Association posted a statement regarding gay marriage on its website dated Feb. 9.

“The Madison Baptist Association is committed to the Biblical truth that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, following Biblical principles (Gen. 2:18-25; Lev. 18:22; Matt. 19:3-6; Rom. 1:24-28; I Cor. 6:9-11; 7:1-5; Eph. 5:22-6:4; I Tim. 1:8-11),” the statement said. “God sanctions only the union in marriage of a man to a woman. … We are deeply saddened that, as of February 9, 2015, homosexual couples have been permitted to marry in Huntsville and the state of Alabama. The Madison Baptist Association in no way endorses this decision or its resulting actions.”

In other news, a majority of Alabama counties did not issue marriage licenses to gay couples Feb. 9 despite the ruling of a federal judge in Mobile that Alabama’s ban of same-sex marriage violates the U.S. constitution, The Washington Post reported.

Roy Moore, chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, released a letter Feb. 8 advising probate judges in the state’s 67 counties not to grant same-sex marriage licenses.

“Effective immediately, no probate judge of the state of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent” with Alabama’s state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Moore wrote.

Though Moore threatened judges who violated his instructions with reprimand from the governor, Gov. Bentley said in a statement Feb. 9 that he “will not take any action against probate judges” regardless of whether they issue marriage licenses because doing so “would only serve to further complicate this issue.”

Gay marriage took effect in Alabama when the U.S. Supreme Court denied the state’s request to extend a stay of same-sex marriages until the high court rules on the issue later this year. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented from the decision not to extend the stay.

“I would have shown the people of Alabama the respect they deserve and preserved the status quo while the Court resolves this important constitutional question,” Thomas wrote, adding that denying the stay extension “may well be seen as a signal of the court’s intended resolution” of the gay marriage issue.

Same-sex marriage currently is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia.