The Greatest Commandment
Marriage equality is coming to the Equality State. Wyoming judges will likely interpret the equal protection clause of the Constitution the same as their colleagues in Utah, Texas, and elsewhere. I may officiate the first same-sex wedding in Wyoming. Though my heart is filled with thanksgiving, there is room for a measure of regret.
Unfortunately, this otherwise joyous occasion may violate Presbyterian Church USA precepts. I don’t take that lightly. Officiating this wedding exposes my congregation and me to possible disciplinary proceedings. God may call LGBTQ folks to preach the Gospel. They can even marry their own same-sex partner. But the PCUSA says they cannot preside at their weddings.
Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” As syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts observed, “On issues where it should take the lead actively advocating for human dignity, the great body of Christendom always seems to bring up the rear.”
Alas it’s true. Few of the “arcs of the moral universe” are as long as those established by the church. Yet, they too bend toward justice. Following Christ makes that inevitable.
Clarence Jordan faced similar dilemmas. Jordan wrote the “Cotton Patch Gospels.” A civil rights era preacher in the deep South, Jordan proclaimed a Gospel of inclusion in “Jim Crow” Georgia when that meant following Jesus to the cross.
After a sermon encouraging the church to integrate, an elderly matriarch approached Jordan. “Reverend,” she said, “My granddaddy fought for the Confederacy. I will never believe a word you say.”
“Well Mam,” Jordan replied, “Seems you’re gonna have to make a choice between your granddaddy and Jesus.”
I’ve been at that crossroad. In 1968, I joined the national guard to avoid the Viet Nam era draft. To this day, I regret not “preaching the Gospel” by refusing to serve in that immoral war. I was 19-years-old. It wasn’t faith but fear that led me. Not this time.
“Teacher,” the Pharisee asked, “which is the greatest commandment?” Paraphrased, Jesus said, “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. Second, love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus added, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Today he might say, “All the rules in the Presbyterian Book of Order hang on these two commandments.”
Ours is Wyoming’s first More Light Presbyterian Church, pledged to work for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church. The PCUSA Book of Order calls marriage “a gift God has given to all humankind” but struggles to define “all.”
To deny that gift because of sexual orientation denies God’s role in Creation. God created Adam and Eve. God also created Ivan and Chuck. They are members of our congregation and plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s ban on same-sex marriage. Chuck and Ivan were searching for a supportive faith community when they found our congregation. They were welcomed with open arms and minds. Their stories of marginalization in other churches led ours to join More Light Presbyterians.
They have the courage to stand up for justice. How can I wither? They asked me to preside at their wedding as soon as the law allows. While I deeply respect the leaders of the Presbytery, I’ll follow Jesus on this one.
Whether it’s Chuck and Ivan or my wife Patricia and me, God’s hope is the same for everyone committed to marriage. There’s no attribute about that lifelong commitment unattainable by our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
My prayer is that before the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision is announced, the General Assembly aligns church law with the greatest commandment.
Luke 4:14-21 was read at my ordination. The words have special meaning for those called to teach. “The Spirit of the LORD is with me because the LORD has anointed me to deliver good news to humble people, to heal those who are broken-hearted, and to set free the captives.”
I feel called to do my part in fulfilling the scripture.
Rev. Rodger McDaniel serves on the MLP Editorial Board. After practicing law for nearly 20 years, Rodger McDaniel received an M-Div from the Iliff School of Theology and was ordained in 1999. He was Director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services (2003-2007) and headed the state’s mental health and substance abuse programs from 2007-2011. He pastors the first More Light Presbyterian church in Wyoming, Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne.
McDaniel was a Wyoming legislator from 1971-1981 and is the author of “Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins-The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt” (WordsWorth 2013), biography of a US Senator senator who committed suicide after being blackmailed by senate colleagues following the arrest of his son for soliciting homosexual sex in 1953.
Rodger and Patricia have two children and five grandchildren.
His posts can be found here.