In the 2010 wedding proclamation class I taught at Gettysburg Seminary, we had significant discussion following the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s 2009 decision related to homosexuality. (See ELCA.org/faithfuljourney for details.)
The actions taken have also occurred in other denominations to date. Given the status of state legislation in various parts of the United States and denominational stances on same-sex couples, the vocabulary to describe same-sex weddings are sometimes described with a variety of words: weddings, blessing ceremonies, sacred unions, etc.
One the queries of student preachers after 2009 was, how does our denomination’s decisions affect text choices for wedding proclamation? One particular instance was raised and that is the use or non-use of such texts as the Genesis’ versions of the creation of male and female: “What about these texts now, given the reality of same-sex marriage or unions?” Good question!
First, I must point out that there are a host of questions that arise regarding same-sex weddings, blessings or unions that precede the preaching question. Given the controversial nature of same-sex unions, we can assume that not every congregation (or preacher) will approach the invitation to perform such a service with a spirit of hospitality. Has your congregation come to consensus about hosting such an event? Are there guidelines or suggestions provided by your judicatory regarding same-sex ceremonies in your context?
What follows is practical advice for preachers who determine that their congregation has done the advance work required to effectively and graciously host a same-sex wedding, blessing or union.
While there are several available wedding services for same-sex couples found on the Internet, there are relatively few models available anywhere of sermons and suggested biblical texts used at such ceremonies. In most instances certain types of narratives have replaced the sermon and biblical textual reflection with readings consisting of poetry and meditations on love.
If one hews to the assumption in this series of essays that the use of a biblical text best anchors a wedding sermon,
text choices become somewhat problematic and also fascinating in a major sense beyond merely the choice of one text. The reason for this is that the Bible contains both celebrations of some kinds of sexual unions and also prohibitions against other kinds. This means that choosing biblical texts for a same-sex wedding is also in a sense “using the Bible against the Bible” by choosing one text to challenge ancient cultural and ecclesial narratives that speak against such unions. For some wedding attendees, the very use of the Bible becomes a contradiction in terms for those who consider the whole event specially and rebelliously sinful in the first place.
Certainly what is at stake for this kind of wedding sermon is the fluid nature of ongoing Biblical interpretation.
Trying to preach some traditionally used biblical texts for same-sex weddings may constitute a homiletical trap, but on the other hand some of them can present new vistas. On what basis? Using such texts offers a challenge for the preacher to rethink the nature of committed relationship.
One model for consideration in text choices is that of the Hebrew “midrash.”
This is an ancient homiletical form of exegesis that looks afresh at all the gaps, silences, odd spaces and nuances of a biblical text and reinterprets them in new ways. This is a wonderful example of the Bible interpreting and arguing with itself, midrash carried on over time as God and humanity interact and reflect on that relationship biblically. This homiletical model for wedding sermon text choice seems well suited to the changes in social and theological discussions of relationships that are ongoing in contemporary societies globally. As a case in point, some students of my wedding sermon class produced some remarkable sermons from texts taken from the later chapters of the Book of Romans.
Many texts traditionally used at weddings do not make specific reference to male and female, and they can well be applied to same-sex weddings. In many instances one could listen to a wedding sermon for a same-sex couple and not be able to distinguish the import of its message from that of a sermon preached at the wedding of a heterosexual couple. The only differences may be nuanced towards using the text in relationship to certain themes or topics such as societal injustices and difficulties encountered in the relationship as well as the loss of the support of family and friends for the union and denominational opposition.
However, as with other wedding sermons, the same array of topics may well be considered: love, commitment, discipleship, and marriage as vocation. Of all types of services that a minister may preach, this does offer challenges — but reliance on traditional text resources can yield rich proclamation. Such weddings also face the church with a larger pastoral challenge: in states that have legalized same-sex unions, the question now stands: Do couples seek out the church or the justice of the peace for public narrative commentary on their union? What voice does the Gospel have in such weddings?