Evangelical Chaplain’s Suspension Intensifies Denomination’s Gay Marriage Debate

Other ECC pastors also face disciplinary action for taking part in the nuptials of gay couples or affirming them in other ways.

The Rev. Judy Peterson, ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and pastor at its flagship North Park University in Chicago, presided at the wedding of two men in April. That act resulted in her suspension and then a petition drive calling on ECC leaders to place a moratorium on their guidelines forbidding clergy to officiate at same-sex weddings. The petition had more than 4,270 signatures as of Thursday (Jan. 11).

 

(RNS) — The suspension of a popular evangelical university chaplain has highlighted tensions over same-sex marriage in a growing Protestant denomination that forbids it but also takes pride in its willingness to allow congregants to hold opinions contrary to church doctrine.

The Rev. Judy Peterson, ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and pastor at its flagship North Park University in Chicago, presided at the wedding of two men in April. That act resulted in her suspension and then a petition drive calling on ECC leaders to place a moratorium on their guidelines forbidding clergy to officiate at same-sex weddings. The petition had more than 4,270 signatures as of Thursday (Jan. 11).

Members of the ECC — which has more than 850 churches in North America, with about 225,000 weekly attenders — have grappled with the issue much as have other Protestant denominations. Other ECC pastors also face disciplinary action for taking part in the nuptials of gay couples or affirming them in other ways.

But some congregants hope the church’s tradition of tolerance for those who take issue with its official stances could lead toward a more amicable resolution in the ECC on an issue that has split other churches.

Peterson, in a statement released by Mission Friends for Inclusion, an LGBTQ-affirming network of ECC members, wrote that in officiating at the same-sex wedding, she did not relish challenging church authority.

“This was not a flippant decision done with disregard for religious rules, but rather a discerned decision to stand with my brothers in the same way Jesus has stood with me,” she wrote in the statement, which the network said it published without Peterson’s permission.

Peterson wrote that she immediately agreed when asked by a former student to officiate at his wedding. She also said she met and prayed with a church executive before the ceremony, who told her there could be consequences for her role.

Peterson’s suspension from her school position has prompted a flurry of reaction — including an email sent to church members by ECC officials, two statements from the school, and the petition that seeks the reversal or halting of “punitive actions” against LGBTQ-affirming clergy.

“We urge you to create opportunities for our entire denomination to engage in vital, respectful, and thoughtful conversations around human sexuality that includes LGBTQ individuals and their allies without fear of reprisal so we may become the healthy church Christ longs for us to be,” reads the petition.

Some consider this a significant juncture for the small denomination known for its “freedom in Christ” affirmation that permits differing opinions on some matters of doctrine, such as ordaining women since the 1970s and allowing both infant and believer baptisms since its early days in the 1800s.

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