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The power of a single word: Local pastors discuss gay marriage
Marriage, the word at the heart of Washington's swirling gay rights controversy, is much more than just a word, according to those on both sides of the debate.
As defined last month by the Washington State Legislature, marriage "is a civil contract between two persons who have each attained the age of 18 years, and who are otherwise capable." This legislative action, which also struck from the law all references to "man," "woman," "husband" and "wife," was hailed as a milestone among gay rights advocates, and a disappointment to others, who feel the state's domestic partnership laws already extended all the rights of marriage to gay couples, while keeping the word sacred.
"I do oppose the redefining of marriage, because I believe it's against God's order," said Pete Battjes, pastor at the North Bend Community Church.
Pastor Roy Peacock of the Raging River Community Church in Preston agreed, adding that the state had, and still has, much more pressing issues to resolve. Since the state's 2007 domestic partnership law, gay couples "…already have… all the rights of married couples except they don't have the title 'marriage' in it," he said. "Why (did) it have to be such a high priority?"
Both pastors, members of the Convergence Worldwide denomination (previously known as Baptist General Conference), met with the Record to discuss the issue, which they followed closely in the legislature last month. They were in complete agreement on most points, beginning with adherence to God's teachings in the Bible.
"I hold to the conviction that God's order is to protect His creation and therefore He has set specific boundaries around relationships, especially marriage, as He instituted it from the beginning," said Pastor Pete. "Same sex relationships go against the laws of nature. Procreation cannot occur naturally."
Joseph Backholm, a proponent of Referendum 74 on gay marriage has a similar message. "The preferable foundation on which we should build marriage, now and moving forward, is the recognition of the fact that all children come from heterosexual relationships. We didn't make it that way, it just is."
Sex, then, is the real issue, and the problem, according to many gay couples, including Jodi and Maddy. "I think when people hear 'lesbian' or 'gay,' they immediately think of sex, which I think is odd, because it's really about the relationship," said Jodi, who's been engaged to Maddy, the only woman she's ever dated, since last summer.
Sex itself is not the issue, say the pastors, but the homosexual lifestyle is. Both men stressed that they frowned on heterosexual promiscuity just as much as on the homosexual lifestyle, but not at all on homosexuals themselves.
"God loves all people, even gays and lesbians, but not all lifestyles," said Pastor Pete.
So neither he nor Pastor Roy would consider joining a couple in marriage or a civil union, either inside of their churches or out.
"It's outside of God's will," said Pete.
"They could be best friends -- that don't have sex," added Roy.
"They can even have those tendencies, but as long as they're not practicing and they're seeking God's help to live according to God's will, we'd be fully supportive of that," concluded Pete.
Neither pastor knows of any homosexuals attending his church, although they both say they would welcome them. Both are, however, fully aware that their position on homosexuality as a violation of God's order will not be popular, and may seem insensitive, or harsh.
Pastor Roy, who worked in San Francisco until 16 years ago, and saw many friends, family members and co-workers hurt by anti-gay sentiment or killed by AIDS, takes real issue with that. He sympathizes with people who are struggling with homosexuality, too.
"Often times, we cannot control who we are attracted to…. that doesn't mean we have to act on it," he explained.
When he or Pete counsel someone on a difficult issue, "We defer back to what the Bible says… our priority is God's word."
God's word, they say, is against gay unions of any sort. "It's not normalized in Scripture, whether you call it marriage, whether you call it civil union, whatever you call it, it's not," Pastor Roy said.
Both men are confident that the gay marriage law will be repealed by voters in November. Pastor Pete notes that in 31 states that have legalized gay marriage in the past, voters have overturned those laws. He believes, and hopes the same thing will happen in Washington.
"In the end, (Roy and I) will each give an account to God for our personal faithfulness to His will, and so when I stand before God in eternity, I want to have a clear conscience that I followed God's authority, I served under God's authority, I was faithful to God's authority even though society and government and whatever else, may have operated in a different manner."
For detailed information on Initiative 1192 to redefine marriage, visit www.sos.wa.gov/elections/initiatives/Initiatives.aspx?y=2012&t=p and click "1192."
For information on Referendum 74 to repeal the state's new law, visit www.sos.wa.gov/elections/initiatives/referendum.aspx?y=2012.