This summer, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide, and that overrides a 2005 vote in which 70 percent of Kansans said marriage should be defined as exclusively between a man and a woman.
Pew Research Center shows 55 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage, but that number varies dramatically based on Christian denomination. The study shows more than half of mainline Protestants and Catholics back the decision, but only one in four Evangelicals agree with the Supreme Court. We explored this often sensitive subject with Kansas Christians who, like the research, offered a wide range of opinions.
Our journey begins at a home in South Wichita that appears calm and quiet from the outside, but inside come the busy sounds of a budding business. Steve Einsel and Ken Smith co-founded Steve’s Jams and Jellies, and after a hectic holiday season, they’re working to rebuild their inventory. They are business partners that share much more.
“We’re buddies, we’re best friends, we’re brothers, we’re lovers,” Einsel explains.
They’ve been together for more than two decades, and just three years ago traveled to Iowa, one of the few states, at the time, that recognized gay marriage. That commitment is now legal nationwide: meaning Steve and Ken can enjoy the benefits of all spouses.
“We’re just a normal everyday couple,” Smith says matter of factly.
But not everyone sees it that way. Many Conservative Christians stand staunchly against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. At Wichita’s Immanuel Baptist Church, their stance against both is spelled out clearly on the church’s website with a very fundamental approach to the Scripture.
“We are not politically correct, we are what I like to call Biblically correct,” says Dr. Charles Boswell (see extended interview below). “And our objective is to stand on the Bible and what we believe the Bible says about gay marriage.”
But what exactly does the Bible say? The Christian leaders we sat down with interpret it differently.
“You have to go back to Genesis, and if Eve had been a lesbian and Adam had been gay, we would have never had a society,” Boswell says.
Reverend Kent Little is the pastor at College Hill United Methodist Church (see extended interview below). He understands the Scripture differently.
“In terms of long-term, committed, loving relationships between same gender couples,” he says, “The Bible doesn’t address that.”
College Hill United Methodist has long taken an open and affirming approach to same-sex couples. Steve and Ken are members of his congregation.
“These two people love each other,” Little tells us. “Who am I to decide that they shouldn’t be able to commit themselves both spiritually and legally in the world today?”
“Who am I to decide that they shouldn’t be able to commit themselves both spiritually and legally in the world today?” Rev. Kent Little, College Hill United Methodist
And still, the greater United Methodist Church prohibits its leaders from marrying same-sex couples or holding gay weddings on its properties. Little hopes that will change.
“We would certainly like to see that language lifted. We believe that God loves us all.”
Catholics make up the largest denomination of Kansas Christians with more than 100,000 in Wichita and surrounding areas. Father Mike Simone (see extended interview) points to tradition as much as scripture for the Catholic definition of Sacramental Marriage. We asked him if you can be in a same-sex marriage and be Catholic.
“You can be in the pews,” he says. “You won’t be able to fully practice your faith.”
In part, that means the Catholic Church will not perform, host or recognize same-sex weddings.
We have seen Pope Francis take a more compassionate tone to the conversation, so we asked if that could be the first step toward a change in Catholic Doctrine?
“Sometimes he’s misunderstood,” Simone explains. “If you watch him carefully, though, we will never redefine what we believe marriage to be.”
So while polls suggest the majority of society now supports same-sex marriage, our sample shows it’s a bigger struggle for gay Christians.
To that Smith responds, “What happened to the overall picture of it? Love thy neighbor.”
On that idea, we found the greatest common ground. While these religious leaders all have their own understanding of marriage as it relates to gay couples, each preached love and respect.
“I think civility is the way we should live,” Boswell says. “I would die for their right to make their choice, as I hope they would die for my right to make my choice.”
Simone adds, “My hope would be that we would treat them with respect. We believe that everybody that approaches us is a child of God.”