It’s a story 2,000 years old: People read the same words in the Bible, but come up with different conclusions.
That is center to a debate about amending the Minnesota Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The bottom-line difference is about whether religious doctrine allows gays to marry.
To the Rev. Jeff Evans, there is no doubt the amendment follows God’s wishes. It is, he said, an issue “the Gospels are very, very clear on.”
Those who oppose the amendment, Evans said, are just following parts of the Bible with which they agree. “If you cut and paste … then you can come up with anything.”
The Rev. Grant Stevensen, who opposes the amendment, reads the Bible differently.
For Stevensen and others campaigning against the amendment, the Golden Rule rules: “Treat other people as we would like to be treated.”
“I am concerned about the state of Minnesota drawing lines between people,” Stevensen added, something he sees as violating the Bible’s Golden Rule.
Evans and Stevenson coordinate religious activities for the two amendment campaigns, with what probably is the most extensive religious involvement of any state that has debated a marriage definition thus far.
The 30 states that have debated a constitutional amendment similar to the one Minnesotans will decide in the Nov. 6 election all passed it. However, amendment opponents say that in other states, faith communities that opposed the amendments did have not time to mount resistance like they are in Minnesota.
Most of the state’s conservative evangelical churches side with the Catholic Church, state’s largest denomination, in favor of the amendment. Evans is pastor for the evangelical Christ Church Twin Cities in Minnetonka.
Amendment opponents include most of the second-largest denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Jewish synagogues that have taken stands on the issue. Stevensen is pastor at St. Matthew’s, an ELCA church in St. Paul.
Those that favor the amendment say God made men and women to reproduce and raise children.
“God made us male and female in the beginning and they should become one,” said the Rev. James Adams of St. Nicholas Catholic Church in New Market.
In addition to words in the Bible, Adams said, Catholics have a 2,000-year tradition of “consistent teaching” to back up their beliefs.
Like many other clergy discussing the amendment, Adams said he sees no way to compromise “when we talk about redefining what marriage is.”
“Redefining marriage in Minnesota would be a declaration … that the influence of a mom and dad on a child is not important,” Michael Blissenbach said. “I think children would suffer as a result.”
Blissenbach, 25, is parish captain for the pro-amendment campaign at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings. He may be the youngest person in such a position and worries that allowing gays to marry and adopt children would be harmful. Besides, he added, “placing children with same-sex couples would be contradictory to Catholic teaching.”
With friends on both sides of the debate, Blissenbach said he is positive the church is right.
Gov. Mark Dayton opposes the amendment, but has said little in public about the religious aspect of it.
A federal marriage definition proposal came up when he was U.S. senator, Dayton said, and he reread the New Testament. He said he found several passages in which Jesus talked about divorce and adultery being wrong, but he never mentioned same-sex marriage.
Dayton, who took religion classes in the late 1980s, said it appears Jesus put a higher priority on the Golden Rule.
Amendment opponents say they want more discussion on the topic.
“The present challenge is not about establishing the right to marry but to allow the dialogue to continue,” said the Rev. Steve Schmit of St. Barthelme’s Episcopal Church in Bemidji.
The Rev. Linnea Papke-Larson is a Bemidji Lutheran pastor with a lesbian daughter. The pastor opposes the amendment and called marriage “a bedrock of our communal and spiritual strength.”
She added: “We see marriage as foundational, as part of God’s intention in creating us as people who inherently seek one another out to share our thoughts, our passions, our friendships, our love and our intimacy.”
Rinna Waters of Hibbing calls herself a born-again Christian and opposes the amendment.
“I was always taught to treat others as I want to be treated, to love my neighbor as I love myself,” Waters said, adding that “God loves each of us just the way we are.”
Arguments like that are not central to how Evans sees the issue.
“There are a handful of people who are confused,” Evans said.
“I won’t say it is an absolute, slam dunk,” Evans said of the amendment’s passage, but he said that even though some denominations’ leaders have come out against the amendment, congregations are split and he is optimistic.
As for amendment opponents, he added: “We love them by telling them the truth.”
Stevensen said there is room for disagreement among people of faith: “That is the nature of faith and it always has been that way.”
Brian Matthews of the Bemidji Pioneer contributed to this story.