; charset=UTF-8" /> ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH NEWS – May : Connecting Voices
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From the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Pacific Southwest Region (Disciples of Christ) and the Southern California Nevada Conference (United Church of Christ)

by: Elsa M. J. Seifert

(The following article is by a long time lay leader in the Southern California UCC.  Elsa Seifert has become certified as a spiritual director, and thus joins others of Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and other faith orientations in this very important ministry.)

Imagine that you are sitting with someone who LISTENS to you and doesn’t judge you or compare you to another; someone who will pray with you and has a genuine interest in your well-being.  Isn’t this what we all need?

Actually, spiritual direction is somewhat of a misnomer.  The spiritual director doesn’t really DIRECT, but instead listens well and accompanies you on your spiritual journey.  She or he always bears in mind the presence of the spirit in the conversation and stays fully attuned to the leading of that spirit.  Spiritual direction is a universal gift, and can be operative in any faith tradition.  The spiritual journey can enrich your relationship with God or Spirit and seeks to recognize the ways that God is present and working in your life.  The spiritual director is a trained facilitator who can guide this process with deep listening and personal discernment.  It is not psychotherapy, counseling or financial planning.  Spiritual directors follow ethical guidelines and keep specific boundaries.

The art of spiritual direction is an historical tradition in all denominations, and in all faiths, and includes deep listening and questions to assist you in your process of reflection and spiritual growth.  Your journey can be individual or within a group.  Individual sessions can take place once each month, or more frequently, with possible recommended reading or meditative activity between sessions.  Retreats for spiritual growth are more intense and usually take place over a few days or even longer. The network, Spiritual Directors International, has a Seek and Find guide for locating spiritual directors anywhere in the world, and can be found on the SDI website.

No one listening?  Stressed out at work?   Life losing meaning?  Feel far away from God?  Maybe spiritual direction can help.

Marriage beyond Secular Law

     The United Church of Christ has filed a suit in a North Carolina court protesting a law of that state which makes it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 120 days, to perform a wedding for which a state license has not been granted.  Since some UCC ministers and couples are now performing same-sex weddings, which are not allowed in North Carolina, this creates a real dilemma, and raises many church-state issues.  Clergy are very familiar with the practice of signing a license obtained from their state by a couple wishing to marry.  The license is necessary because marriage, with all that it involves in terms of the bringing forth of and maintaining responsibility for children, also the disposition and inheritance of property, etc., is justifiably considered an interest of the state.

     The current problem is evident.   Thinking about marriage in some Protestant denominations, especially but not only the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has evolved to the point that some clergy feel that marriage between people of the same sex can be as authentic and sacred, and as blessed by God, as heterosexual marriage.  Therefore a wedding ritual can have a sacramental character and should be performed as such.  However, the UCC lawsuit is based on the principle of freedom of religion: clergy should have the freedom, with the consent of the couple involved, to perform the wedding of a same-sex couple who are willing to make the requisite vows to one another.

     This is, to say the least, an inadequate defense!  If all that is involved here is freedom of religion in the secular sense, then clergy should be allowed to perform weddings, for instance, between a man and several women, or vice versa.  In other words, weddings that would create polygamous and polyandrous marriages.   This was once the case in areas controlled by the Latter Day Saints, but at the end of the 19th century such marriages were outlawed.  One doesn’t know whether at that time the principle of freedom of religion was invoked by the Mormon leaders.  In any case, monogamous marriage was declared to be the only valid form of marriage in the United States.  And this not on the basis of anything in the Constitution or in other secular law, but on the basis of the prevailing evangelical Protestant culture which took its cues from the Christian tradition.  It was understood then, but seems to be less understood now, that secular law can neither be formulated nor interpreted without eventual reference to religion and to the ethical principles which stem from religion.
     All too many clergy and lay leaders in the ecumenical churches today fail to grasp that the affirming of same-sex relationships and same sex marriage cannot be understood or supported only on the basis of an appeal to secular law.   What if a couple came to a DOC or UCC minister desiring to be wed, and, in the course of the pre-marital counseling, declared that they did not plan to be sexually faithful to one another?   Should the minister be able, simply by invoking freedom of religion, to go ahead and perform their wedding?  There are enough people today who defend “polyamory” even for married people.  Should we allow our ministers to bless such marriages, on the sole basis that they should be free to do so?   Or are there non-negotiable aspects to Christian marriages, including faithfulness as long as both partners live?

     Many of us in our two denominations take an open and affirming stance in regard to same-sex marriage—and the present writer very much agrees.  But we need to become more sophisticated and differentiated in our thinking about these matters, and above all to understand that any secular state or nation is based, either consciously or unconsciously, on religious principles.

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