The Fight for Marriage

Faultlines is a collection of resources intended to inform conversations around human sexuality within the United Methodist Church as the denomination prepares for the 2019 General Conference. The collection represents diverse perspectives and attempts to fill knowledge gaps around the debate, biblical foundations, theological arguments and the impact on The United Methodist Church and her people. Visit for more information. The following is an excerpt from The Fight for Marriage: Church Conflicts and Courtroom Contests.

When a child is baptized in The United Methodist Church, the parents or sponsors of the child are asked to affirm whether they “accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” What does it mean to accept the freedom and power given by God? What happens when injustice or oppression takes the form of the state? Or the church itself? And how does one “live according to the example of Christ” and serve Jesus Christ “in union with the Church” when the church itself is not unified?

"The Fight for Marriage: Church Conflicts and Courtroom Contests" (Abingdon Press, 2018)

This book traces our attempts to answer these questions in the context of marriage equality. The story is told from the perspective of two United Methodists—lay leaders and lawyers—who live in two coexisting and overlapping worlds: the church and the state. In those overlapping worlds we simultaneously represented same-gender couples seeking recognition of their marriages by the state, while working within our local congregation as it sought acceptance of LGBTQ persons in the eyes of The United Methodist Church. While the perspective is ours, the stories are not.

In our professional lives, we are charged to give voice to those who need to be heard within our legal system. While we do so within the technical and specialized environment that constitutes the American legal system, we are actually packaging the underlying narratives. And these narratives are the essence of what conveys truth.

In many ways, our professional lives are modeled after our faith tradition in which laws and principles are often more effectively conveyed by stories or parables than by edicts or pronouncements. While some principles can be expressed through simple commandants such as “thou shall not kill,” other principles require narratives to explain and understand. Jesus frequently used parables to express deep and compelling truths. For example, one does not place a lamp under a bowl or build on ground without a foundation. And it is the smallest of all seeds, the mustard seed, that when planted becomes the largest of all garden plants. Or it is the one lost sheep that is found that creates more happiness than the ninety-nine sheep that did not wander off. And it is not just the stories told by Jesus but also the stories about Jesus that have been used within our faith tradition to express a way of life. For example, the story of Jesus casting out the demons from Legion conveyed significant political and social commentary on multiple levels that would have been readily understood at the time.

Our journey as storytellers is deeply rooted in our faith. A faith that compelled us to action and action that required our faith. It is a faith grounded in the kingdom of God, experienced right here and right now. This faith has confidence in both the church and the law. And it is a faith in and exercised through the power of the narrative.

Our interest in taking action against inequality is rooted in our own stories. Why would we want to take on a case about marriage? Lawyers are affected and changed by the cases they take and the life experiences that they encounter. The fact that marriage was available in Tennessee to opposite-gender couples, but not to same-gender couples, was, to us, unjust. Things from our past reminded us of that injustice and compelled us to act.

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